Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gordon Marsden: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that having a more expensive fluffy toy would be an incentive for people in the arcades to buy domestically manufactured items, which comply with British safety standards, not cheaper, imported toys that do not?

Dr. Ladyman: I agree. We must ensure that the prizes are of decent quality. Restricting the stake and the value of the prize means changing the machines so that people cannot win as often. That is the only way in which to make the machine pay. We would therefore be kidding our children; we would effectively be saying that we will pass a law that makes it more difficult for our kids to win a fluffy toy. That is not Labour policy, but the policy of other political parties. My right hon. Friend the Minister, who is loved by children everywhere for saving their seaside arcades, will be praised to the hilt if he ensures that such a law is not passed.

I represent a seaside constituency, and gambling is an important part of what we offer. Furthermore, the cranes in seaside arcades are made in my constituency, as are the

5 Jul 2002 : Column 569

pusher machines, in the tops of which people insert a coin so that a little paddle knocks some coins off the shelf. Excellent businesses in my constituency maintain and supply the machines. Apart from the casino and our seaside arcades, we have a range of betting shops and other gambling activities.

Gambling is an intrinsic part of the seaside offering to our visitors. Hundreds of my constituents rely on work associated with the machines for their livelihoods. We cannot simply tamper with them thoughtlessly. My right hon. Friend appreciates that, hence his dramatic changes to the Budd recommendations. If he takes note of my points about the prize machines and the proposed 10p stake, £5 prize category D machines, he will gain our thanks for taking that small extra step towards ensuring that the seaside in this country continues to be viable and a home for our children.

When I take my little girl, who is eight, on holiday, she loves running around seaside arcades with a handful of coins to play the pusher machines. I have said it before and I shall say it again: if she develops a gambling problem later in life, it will not be due to a couple of happy hours in Torquay or Ramsgate playing on the machines. Our legislation should reflect that reality.

1.29 pm

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on pyramid selling schemes. We all receive letters about that, and she has led a campaign on it for some time, with some success. She appeared on television this morning to speak about it, and I could not agree more with her.

From listening to the other speeches, I realise that I arrived here uneducated in some of life's realities. My father never called himself Lucifer, I have not done anything ropy with a fluffy toy since I was very small, and I had never been in a betting shop. Shortly before I was elected, however, I was invited into Ladbrokes; I discovered just how important these establishments are and had to reappraise my view of the industry.

The Budd report's recommendations made me seek to learn a great deal more about the industry. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I received an enormous number of letters from clubs, not all co-ordinated in the first instance, particularly about gaming machines in clubs. That made me find out more about the industry in general, the Government's modernisation of it and the role of the members' clubs that play such a vital role in our communities.

A modern regulatory framework for the gambling industry is essential. As the Budd report and the Minister have both said, gambling law is severely outdated. It was formed in a different age and desperately needs modernising to take new social mores and economic realities into account. Gambling is no longer a marginal moral activity, and we have to allow the gambling industry to compete properly and fairly in the global market. That means being able to respond to new developments such as the internet, new technology and new economic assumptions such as competition from overseas lotteries. At the same time, gambling must be conducted fairly and remain free of criminal influence, which has itself influenced legislation in this area until now.

5 Jul 2002 : Column 570

The broad shape of the Budd recommendations was about right, with managed relaxation of outmoded restrictions leading to extension of choice for adult gamblers but balanced by the need to protect children and vulnerable adults. Crucially, however, the Government did not accept the Budd recommendation that members' clubs should lose their entitlement to what have been described as category B gaming machines. The report effectively said that they should have only category C machines, which would provide the clubs with less revenue. That recognises that well-run clubs should be able to continue to benefit from the revenue streams that category B machines can offer in return for the appropriate siting of machines, protection of children from machines within the premises and openness to the same kind of regulation that other premises with similar machines have.

The Government's decision was very welcome and came after much anguish had been expressed by members' clubs across the country. It was finely attuned to the principles of the Budd review and to the vital role that members' clubs play in all our constituencies. There are many such clubs in my constituency. In addition to many sports, bowling and golf clubs in Falkirk, West—although there are no cricket clubs—we have two Polish clubs, and many of my constituents are members of the Royal British Legion. My constituency has the unique honour of having three senior football clubs, which have varying results, in addition to two junior football clubs, which rely heavily on their associated social clubs to keep them afloat.

These clubs offer much appreciated social services to their respective communities. I belong to the Camelon Labour club.

Mr. Caborn: A very fine club.

Mr. Joyce: Indeed, it is the finest Labour club in Falkirk and one of the best in Scotland, if not Britain.

The club has the benevolent effects of a well-run members' club, not only for its members but its community. The Camelon club serves as a fine example of the kind of institution that will benefit from the Government's decision on category B gaming machines. It was founded 40 years ago by a small group of far-sighted and community-spirited local people in an area where little social provision existed. Their achievement has endured to become one of the most valuable community-binding institutions in my constituency.

It is a matter of great pride to all members of the club that, because it is extremely well run and well patronised, it is able to contribute to many local charities and ventures that, in effect, define the community. The Camelon gala day is the village's largest community event every year; almost everybody attends it.

Recently, after a break-in at a local church, the club was able to help by providing alarms for all the churches and their community halls. Of course, it is sad that we have to put alarms in churches and halls, but they contain valuables and without the alarms the break-ins would have continued. The club's act was extremely helpful.

The club was able to use its operating surplus. I realise that not all members' clubs have a substantial surplus, but when they do I suspect that they often spend that money

5 Jul 2002 : Column 571

on good local charitable causes. It is especially gratifying to see benevolence with a community purpose in action in my constituency.

The Government's decision on category B gaming machines did not mean the difference between life and death for clubs which have a healthy surplus, such as the Camelon, although it helped the club to continue with its community work and charitable efforts. However, for some clubs, such as the two Polish clubs in my constituency, the machines provide crucial marginal revenue that keeps them afloat. Last year, the Ochiltree club had to close and had to cancel a Christmas lunch for pensioners. That was very sad, although another club took up the event, and the Ochiltree club will be greatly missed. As a result of the Government's decision, many such clubs will be able to remain open.

The debate is important because it flags up how we can modernise a major industry for the social and economic realities of the 21st century, while protecting some of the best traditions of the 20th. Community-minded members' clubs represent one of those traditions, and I speak for the clubs in my constituency when I say that the Government's approach to modernising the gambling industry, especially their decision to keep category B machines in clubs, has helped to secure the future of many clubs for some years to come.

1.37 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): Until recently, I always approached gambling from my position as a member of the Methodist Church with a healthy scepticism as to the merits of hard gambling in particular. That might make the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) classify me as a roundhead, although I am sure that the whole House will agree that the description "repulsive" is entirely inappropriate.

The debate is topical. It takes place after the World cup, which was the biggest-ever betting event. Only yesterday, I was told that I could have turned about £10 into £330 if I had bet—with Ladbrokes—that Brazil would win the cup and that Ronaldo would be the top scorer. Patriotically, of course, I backed England and have learned my lesson. In future, I shall bet only on surefire certs, so I shall back Wales to win the Six Nations tournament.

About £200 million was spent on betting on the World cup, which shows how popular betting on football has become. It is a far cry from the 1960s when smoke-filled betting shops catered mainly for punters interested in horse racing. Nowadays, betting customers have much wider interests: from the performance of the Senegal football team to the traditional performance of Duty Whip's Fancy in the 3.30 at Doncaster. Internet and telephone betting probably accounted for about £100 million of the World cup betting.

We are witnessing a radical change in the way that customers gamble in our society, so it is right that the Government embark on modernising the gambling laws. That is right, too, because of the crucial importance of gambling to our economy: more than 125,000 jobs and more than £1 billion in taxation cannot be ignored.

As hon. Members have rightly highlighted, gambling is also a key contributor to community life. The 8,000-plus betting shops throughout the country help to generate the

5 Jul 2002 : Column 572

footfall to support other key shopping outlets in district centres. Fruit machines are crucial to the running and income of local clubs. The bingo club traditionally provided a source of entertainment, which my grandparents certainly continue to celebrate with enthusiasm. More recently, the queue in the local newsagent for the last-minute lottery ticket on Saturday night has become a regular feature of life.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) for his excellent judgment in making one of his first priorities after his election a visit to Ladbrokes. Ladbroke Racing Ltd. has its headquarters in my constituency and employs some 1,000 staff nationally. It sits in Rayners Lane, a key district centre that could not support the various other outlets there without it.

I had always made it a rule never to predict the outcome of elections. That was until the last general election, when Ladbrokes persuaded me and my Conservative opponent to engage in a charity bet. I am delighted that, thanks to the good judgment of my constituents, some £400 went to the excellent Headstone Manor football club. The unkind had suggested that my opponent actually got the better deal. He—one Daniel Finkelstein—now writes for The Times, commenting on the performance of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time. I must get in touch with him, because I do not think that he does justice to the performance of the Prime Minister.

There have already been several sensible reforms of the management of the gambling industry. I think, for example, of the replacement of betting duty with the gross profits tax. That has facilitated the return to the United Kingdom of all the major gambling companies' offshore internet and telephone gambling businesses. In my constituency, that has meant that Ladbroke's has been able to create an extra 125 jobs, opening up, for example, a new telephone betting service.

I hope that I can encourage hon. Members to take advantage of that service. They might want to join me in backing the excellent Harrow Borough football club to win the Rymans premier league next season. They might want to join intelligent football fans across the United Kingdom and back Arsenal to do the double again, or perhaps if they were very shrewd they might want to join me in backing Kate to win "Big Brother" this time round.

In general I welcome the Government's response to the Budd report. I consider that, as hon. Members have said, the law has become badly out of date, but adults are entitled to much greater choice and we need to recognise that gambling is part and parcel of modern recreation and leisure. The proposals in "A safe bet for success" put in place additional safeguards against problem gambling and, crucially, to keep the industry crime-free.

I welcome the Government's proposals, which other hon. Members have mentioned, to draw a clear distinction between gambling and the use of amusement machines. I welcome their rejection of the proposal to remove from members' clubs the right to operate jackpot machines—a measure that, as was rightly said, would have threatened the income of many clubs that are at the heart of local community life. I think of clubs in my constituency such as the excellent United Services club in Pinner, which organises the only Remembrance day service in Pinner and a variety of other social events. It would have been

5 Jul 2002 : Column 573

very hard hit if the Government had not shown their good judgment once again by not accepting that proposal from the Budd report.

The gambling review and "A safe bet for success" highlighted several issues on which additional clarity in my right hon. Friend's reply would be useful. The Budd report underlined important gambling problems and the dangers of under-age gambling. It is worth restating that report's conclusion—this is perhaps not rocket science, but it is nevertheless important—that increasing the availability of gambling will lead to an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling. I hope that that conclusion will turn out to be wrong.

We certainly appear to be in the fortunate position that the number of problem gamblers in the United Kingdom is much lower than in other countries, but it is estimated that there are 275,000 to 370,000 in this country, so there are no grounds for complacency, not least because of the terrible impacts on individuals and their families that problem gambling brings. Unhappiness, depression, divorce and attempted suicide are all significantly greater for problem gamblers than for those in wider society.

Of course we need to recognise that problem gambling has an economic impact. Further research is necessary into the cost to our nation of problem gambling. The Budd report stated that, in the United Kingdom, it costs some £100 million according to the lowest estimate. In the worst-case scenario, the cost might be some £13 billion. Retrospective studies have shown that adults who are problem gamblers are significantly more likely to have started gambling in their childhood or adolescence and to have a parent who was a problem gambler.

Worryingly, too, the Budd review noted that the proportion of problem gamblers among adolescents in Britain could be as much as more than three times that of adults, but perhaps the most worrying submission that the Budd report chose to highlight was that from Gamblers Anonymous, which said in its evidence to the review that it had noticed a rise in the number of adolescents being brought along to its meetings by parents because they had a serious gambling problem.

The Budd report also makes it clear that, despite the excellent work of Gamcare and Gamblers Anonymous and the responsible attitude of the vast bulk of the gambling industry, much more needs to be done to tackle problem gambling. It highlights the fact that there is little research into the nature of problem gambling, that there are too few initiatives to treat and support problem gamblers, that little is known about the relative effectiveness of possible treatments and that little funding is in place to tackle it.

The Government and the industry were right to support the recommendation to establish a charitable trust to promote research into problem gambling. The industry deserves some praise for already delivering £800,000 in annual funding to the trust, but it is worth noting that the Budd review recommended a £3 million annual budget for the first three years. The Government should certainly retain a reserve power to secure the funding of that trust, and I welcome the acceptance of that recommendation.

The Government, the charitable trust and the wider industry need to tell us soon what progress they are making on problem gambling. It would be useful to know whether further cross-departmental work on problem gambling will take place between, for example, officials

5 Jul 2002 : Column 574

in the Department of Health and those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We need to hear that new services to support problem gamblers will be developed. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give us some clues to how the Government will make progress on that issue.

A key role for the gambling commission will be to continue to promote the highest standards of social responsibility by the industry. I hope that the Government will consider requiring at least one board member of the gambling commission to have a particular responsibility for problem gambling, and that the commission might be required to publish annually what it is doing to address, and keep aware of, problem gambling. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made the interesting suggestion of a shadow commission. I would support that being considered, and perhaps such a commission could examine early on the development of further work on problem gambling.

Were there any doubt about the need for social responsibility, not just from the majority of the industry but all of it, the BBC programme, "Kenyon Confronts", as I outlined in my intervention, offers confirmation of it. The programme focused on the establishment of betting exchanges, which, in effect, allow ordinary customers to act like bookmakers by taking bets on, for instance, horses, without a licence, from other ordinary customers. That is a recipe for all sorts of problems. For example, an innocent customer who uses the exchange does not even know whether they are betting with a race horse owner, who may already know that his horse cannot win a race or will have to be withdrawn. Every other form of organised gambling requires the bookmaker to be licensed, to prevent crime and corruption and to uphold the honesty and integrity of the British gambling industry. We need to consider urgently how we can close that loophole.

One of the other recommendations that concerns me is on the development of new casinos. In general, I support the deregulation of the law on casinos, the abolition of the 24-hour rule and the abolition of the ban on advertising, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) indicated, is entirely sensible. We must consider very carefully, however, the proposal to build casinos of just 2,000 sq ft. I am concerned that that could lead to a proliferation of casinos on the high street if the local licensing authorities were so minded. We need to bear it in mind that, under some of the new proposed powers, casinos will be able to offer customers considerably greater gambling services than they have done previously. Such an offering, were it available on the high street, would radically alter the fabric of the high street as we know it, and would not help to tackle problem gambling. A figure of 2,000 sq ft is too small, and should be increased significantly. The idea of my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) that there could be a particular designation in planning law for casinos may also help to tackle this problem. We need to recognise, however, that, in urban areas, 2,000 sq ft is far too small.

On balance, the Government's decision not to allow side-betting on the lottery was right. That needs to be kept under close review, however, as, in some countries that allow side-betting on their lotteries, it does not appear to have significantly affected lottery receipts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Member for Ryedale flagged

5 Jul 2002 : Column 575

up, Camelot seems already to have moved down that route with its Hot Picks game. Interestingly, Camelot believes that such side-betting would not affect the lottery, but it has so far refused to publish its research.

The Government's acceptance of most of the recommendations in the Budd report is entirely sensible. My concern is about the detail of some of the recommendations, such as that for a limit of 2,000 sq ft, and I also have concerns about betting exchanges. I also hope that we shall hear more soon from the Government and the industry about how to deal with problem gambling.

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to the House. Because of other commitments, I have to head back to my constituency, so I will not be able to hear all his remarks.

Next Section

IndexHome Page