Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)
MRS BRIGID SIMMONDS AND MS SUSANNA FITZGERALD QC
TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2002
80. In future years, Mr Bellringer will see more consistency in his funding?
(Mrs Simmonds) Yes. What BACTA said, particularly about looking at how we should fund gambling in the round, is the next step and we are absolutely certain and we can go forward funding a range of organisations, GamCare, Gordon House and other organisations which may be interested in a role to support problem gambling.
(Ms Fitzgerald) Keeping the idea that it is voluntary at the moment, but there are powers to make a levy, is useful.
81. One of the key recommendations in Budd is the change in the licensing system to something more akin to the Scottish system. I see you have some concerns about that. As a Scottish MP, I value our own system but I would like to hear what your concerns are.
(Mrs Simmonds) We have talked to a range of our members which operate everything from snooker to ten pin bowling to machines in clubs, pubs, bingo and casinos. They have particular concerns about inconsistencies in Scotland. They are thinking particularly of Glasgow where they have ignored the advice given to them by the Gaming Board, where certain machines are allowed in some premises in certain areas and they are not allowed in other parts of Scotland. We have said this already with liquor licensing which is that much further forward: there have to be more strong, national guidance for local authorities to ensure we have consistency.
82. Does that not run against the proposals? At the heart of them is some local influence or local control so that the local authorities can decide what is appropriate for their area and that seems to be totally in contradiction with what is proposed.
(Mrs Simmonds) The Budd report recommended that local authorities should be allowed to impose blanket bans and the Government has said quite clearly that this should not be the case. Yes, they should have local control and they will have a lot of control over the people who look after the premises licence. It will be a split licensing system which will work as well for liquor licensing. You will have a personal licence which the Gambling Commission will deal with and a premises licence which will be within the remit of the local authority.
83. In my own area in Aberdeen, for example, all licensed premises including the casinos in the city have accepted a scheme whereby bouncers would be registered. They will go through a training course and that was to deal with a specific problem. The local authorities will have much more power than I understand the courts have at the moment because a local authority can be flexible and can look at the local area and introduce requirements which were accepted by the industry and met a serious local need.
(Mrs Simmonds) The British Institute of Innkeeping runs courses for liquor licences, training courses, and I am sure they will be extended to look at machines as well and that other courses will come forward. That is one of the areas that we are looking at very seriously at the moment.
(Ms Fitzgerald) The problem we have seen with public entertainment licensing which has been with local authorities across the country since 1982, some very real problems of inconsistency, major problems, which has caused very real difficulties. The magistrates in charge of liquor licensing quite recently introduced what they call a good practice guide because there were inconsistencies. That practice guide, which is now a national guidance for all magistrates, has been immensely helpful in cutting out the major inconsistencies. The magistrates have to sign up to it. It is a voluntary code and it has been very helpful in getting consistency. It has not taken away from the magistrates the essence that they actually at the end of the day decide whether you get your licence or you do not get your licence. If they do not like the package you are putting forward, you do not get the licence. That has been enormously helpful. That is what we are looking to employ as local authorities. There should be binding guidance on local authorities issued by the Gambling Commission and, if necessary, DCMS to say, "These are the general guidelines which you must sign up to when you are going to decide these things."
84. One person's inconsistency is another person's local sensitivity?
(Ms Fitzgerald) To a certain extent but there is a very broad measure in the middle where you can get what is just good practice.
85. The gambling rules should not just be for big companies that operate all over the country. There are lots of individual, small companies which might appreciate local attitudes and local sensitivity.
(Ms Fitzgerald) We are talking about a very broad measure of agreement which can be got about what is good practice and what is not good practice, which does not take away from the local authorities their ability to decide whether someone is going to have a licence at the end of the day or not.
86. Is there anything wrong with one town deciding that they really want to have gambling and another town deciding that they really do not want to have gambling and for those two towns to make those decisions?
(Mrs Simmonds) It is a bit like zoning in pubs. Generally, it is thought not to be a good thing because it means you can move all your problems into one particular area. There are placesFrinton on Sea is the classic example that has only just had a pubbut the majority of places it should be generally accepted. You have to understand the types of facilities you are talking about. You can talk about modern casinos, modern bingo clubs. They are something that a lot of towns should want and it should be seen as a mainstream activity.
87. It is a rather Stalinist approach, is it not, to say that towns must have casinos? If we do not want one, why can we not say, "Thank you very much. Go to Blackpool or Brighton"?
(Mrs Simmonds) I was talking about gambling in the round, which is more to do with are you going to say that all the pubs in your town cannot have machines, which is what happens in some cases in Scotland, in certain areas where
88. Your point about consistency is more to do with where premises exist already and what they may or may not do within the premises, rather than whether a specific gambling premisei.e., a casinoshould?
(Mrs Simmonds) Absolutely.
89. You would accept that towns do have the right to decide whether or not they have casinos?
(Mrs Simmonds) Absolutely. The vast majority of towns do not have casinos today but one of the things we also have to understand is the economics of machines particularly in lots of premises. They can provide up to a third of the profits for that particular premises. One of the issues that has come up in "A Safe Bet for Success" is there are no grandfather rights so you will actually have to apply for all your machines again, which the industry is concerned about. If you have six machines and under the new legislation you are only going to have two, you could have them taken away and particularly in rural areas the industry is concerned at the sort of economic problems that will cause.
90. I wanted to come back to the question of the levy. Would you agree that the gambling industry is very much a part of and wound up with the greater hospitality, leisure and tourism industry?
(Mrs Simmonds) Of course.
91. Would you also agree that it very much shares many of the business characteristics, which is that there are a large number of businesses involved and quite a large number of professional bodies and trade associations involved?
(Mrs Simmonds) Yes.
92. Like tourism, like the hospitality industry generally, there are a plethora of people involved. Given that you share that view, that it is very similar, and given that we both know that it is absolutely impossible in tourism and hospitality to get anybody to agree to anything, and that probably the biggest mistake ever made was the abolition of the trading levy for hotels and catering, is it not a fact that we ought to recognise now that there is not a cat in hell's chance of any voluntary levy working at any point and that we really need to look at the fact that it is going to be statutory if it is going to work; and all the fine words from all of the big boys in the industry actually make not a blind bit of difference. If you want the 50 per cent of the industry that always opts out of everything, we have to accept that it is going to have to be a statutory levy and we might as well accept it now.
(Mrs Simmonds) I would disagree that we cannot get anything done in our industry and we never get agreement. Business in Sport and Leisure is a prime example of this because we have companies in every form of gambling and we have a unanimous submission that we make to you and to the Gaming Commission and the Government. I also think in gambling you have very clear different types of gambling and you have eight trade associations which are already contributing to the voluntary trusts, which cover the main forms of gambling. We will be able to get it together. I am particularly looking at internet gambling and we are very keen that the Government should do something about internet gambling and introduce this kite mark. How do you get all those who are not going to be part of that to contribute? That is where we have to be careful. It is not like the British Hospitality Association where there are thousands of premises who are not members. The majority of operators of casinos are members of the British Casino Association.
93. Your view isforgive me: you would say this, wouldn't you?that the industry is perfectly capable of taking care of itself?
(Mrs Simmonds) I think it has shown and it has made a very good start. Let that start continue. Let us work on it. If we cannot get it to work, by all means come back at us.
94. Given that you represent quite a variety of gaming industries, could you paint a picture of what you would like to see and what would be the difference for someone like me who never goes gaming?
(Mrs Simmonds) We have a concern for the way they have looked at particularly the machine industry. There is this concern that we seem to be allowing lots of machines in places that are clubs and we are restricting the amounts of machines in places that are pubs and we are not sure that the access to children is an issue there. We would like to see machines seen as a general leisure activity; that they have to be properly controlled by good management; that the BACTA code of practice becomes statutory so that it will be a criminal offence to allow someone to play a machine under the age of 18. It will also be an offence for somebody to play on machines under 18. We would like to see more freedom for those machines to make the economic contribution that they make, but for them to be properly controlled.
95. You would see more of them in pubs. They will not be in the back room?
(Mrs Simmonds) They will not be in the back room.
(Ms Fitzgerald) Are they in the back room at the moment?
(Mrs Simmonds) They have to be supervised and the proposed good practice would demand that this would be a real requirement under the new law. That is something we very much welcome.
97. Will that not be irritating for everybody else?
(Ms Fitzgerald) Machines are in most pubs anyway up and down the country. There are anything up to six in some large pubs. I think the concern is that these would be reduced.
98. What about outside pubs? Are we going to see a casino in every town?
(Ms Fitzgerald) That depends on the licensing process and what the grounds are on which a casino would be granted its licence or not.
99. What would you like that to be?
(Mrs Simmonds) One of the proposals at the moment is that it is done on square footage of the gaming area. We would like to see that. We do not want to see it open in every place in the country. We have these "Permitted Areas" and there are only 53 of them. We would like to see it a gentle roll out and they are governed by size. We think the size that has been recommended by Budd is too small. We would like to see a greater floor space and that is part of the discussion which we are having with DCMS in these policy working groups on developing the policy with the industry.