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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Before the noble Baroness the Lord President sits down, will she expand on what she said about the chief electoral officer having carried out research? We are not aware of that and it would be helpful if we knew what that research comprised.
Baroness Amos: I said that research is currently being carried out. However, I also said that we have speculated on a number of reasons for the 83,000 people not reregistering. Undoubtedly, individual registration raises difficulties as regards the disadvantaged, the marginalised and those in so-called hard to reach groups. The chief electoral officer has put in place a range of measures to try to address that issue. Research is being
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conducted as part of that. I shall, of course, write to the noble Lord with details of that research if that would be helpful.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: I thank Members of the Committee who have spoken on this amendment for the various views that they have expressed, which have by and large been supportive. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that although there may well be 100 categories of people, in my view there are two categories in particular. I refer to those who have written themselves off the register. They have been written to, canvassed and everything else, but their names are not on the register. As this Bill has not yet been amended, they will be put back anyway. This amendment would assist those who were never on the register in the first place. That includes young people in particular. Many of those young people may not understand that there is such a thing as an electoral register. They consider that when they are 18 they ought to be able to vote. They may go to a polling station and ask why they cannot vote as they have reached the age of 18. This amendment constitutes an opportunity to address that situation.
I appreciate that there will be a rush, but all elections are a rush. Think of the leaflets that will have to be drafted and published with regard to all the candidates who will take part in the local government elections, and possibly in a general election, in May. We know that the whole thing is a great rush but I think we are quite good at managing those rushes.
I am disappointed as there is a problem with regard to this rushed Bill. In other circumstances there would be more time to discuss the possibility of amending it, but more time does not seem to be on offer. There is a principle at stake here and I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
The House will know that when this Bill was published, it was greeted by a frenzy of media alarm about the coming invasion of mega casinos on every street corner. An innocent observer could also have been forgiven for concluding that the Bill was concerned only with casinos. But it is about a good deal more.
We need the Bill now because controls on gambling are being undermined by technology. As the House knows, the principal Acts of Parliament dealing with gambling were passed in the 1960s. Because of the age of the legislation, the Government and the regulators are losing control and, if we do nothing, there will be more and more abuses.
The Government's objective in the Bill is, therefore, to put in place a framework of new regulation that delivers strong new protections for the public and allows a gradual and controlled evolution of the gambling industry. The philosophy of the Bill is set out in its licensing objectives. They are: to exclude crime and disorder, to ensure fairness and to prevent harm to children and vulnerable adults.
At the centre of the system is a new national regulator for all commercial gambling. The Gambling Commission will police the development of commercial gambling with new powers enforced through a system of operating and personal licences. The Bill also provides a new, comprehensive set of criminal offences that combat illegal gambling and require children to be excluded from gambling that may harm them.
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The Government also want local communities to have a stronger role in deciding how gambling should develop in their areas. Local authorities will therefore have new strong powers under the Bill. They will be able to reject individual applications if they believe that the gambling proposed might represent a danger to the Bill's licensing objectives.
The House will agree, I hope, that the proposals for a new structure of regulation enjoyed a fair degree of consensus in the House of Commons. However, equally, I accept that the new choices for adults in the Bill have caused controversy. The Bill takes a different approach to gambling from that adopted in the 1960s legislation. At that time, gambling was seen as a rather seedy activity. Gambling today is a broadly accepted leisure activity, which a significant proportion of the adult population enjoys regularly.
The overwhelming majority of those who choose to gamble appear quite capable of having fun and walking away when they have spent enough, whether they have won or lost. We therefore take the view that adults should be able to access the full range of gambling products in carefully regulated environments. Of course, that does not mean that gambling can be treated like any other leisure pursuit. It obviously brings risks that need control. Some of those controls will have to be strict. But the Bill provides those controls and gives the regulators wider powers to impose tougher standards. When I say tough standards, I think it is important that we understand the scope and strength of these new powers.
The Bill gives us powers to control the speed of play on gaming machines. It can control the design features of gambling premises to remove features that reinforce incentives to repeat play. It can require information about odds and actual wins or losses to be given to players at specified intervals. For Internet gambling, it can require operators to interrupt play so that the user has to confirm that he wants to continue playing. If licensees fail to live up to those tough standards, their licences can be modified or revoked.
I now move from general principles to the specific, and say something about the Government's approach to different types of gambling. Turning first to casinos, there is no clearer demonstration of our precautionary approach. At each step of policy development, the Government have taken the more cautious route. Sir Alan Budd recommended a minimum size for new casinos of 200 square metres. We thought that too risky because it could have led to many hundreds of new casinos. We wanted a lot fewer, so our minimum size is 750 square metres, more than three times the size recommended by Sir Alan. This drove down the number of new casinos likely to emerge under the new regime.
The Joint Committee on the draft Bill recommended that unlimited prize gaming machines be permitted in each of the three categories of casinos, subject to caps. We accepted the recommendation on caps, but also decided that only the largest casinos should be permitted unlimited prize machines. We did that in part because of the evidence about the causes of problem gambling. By
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common consent, the evidence base is patchy. But what coherent evidence there is points to accessibility and game characteristics as important drivers of problem gambling behaviour. As I said, the Gambling Commission will have new powers to interfere in the detailed operation of machines. We, for our part, have been very cautious about the accessibility of new types of gaming machine.
Of course, we want a far better research base for policymaking. We are working together with the Responsibility in Gambling Trust to deliver an extensive programme of new work. But for the time being, we are acting on what the research tells us to protect the public. The evolving picture on research is another good reason why we need to keep the flexibility that the Bill provides, so that we and the commission can respond effectively to evidence of new problem gambling threats.
When the House of Commons considered the Bill, it asked the Government for a still more cautious approach on casinos, and we delivered it. The Bill has been amended to limit the number of new-style casinos to no more than eight each of new small, large and regional casinos. There will be no increase before Parliament is content that those casinos have not increased social harm. While the test is in progress, existing casinos will have to continue operating largely as they do now.
The licensing authority areas that may license new casinos will be selected by the Secretary of State, taking into account the views of an independent advisory panel. The panel's job will be to propose a range of locations that it believes will provide an effective test of the new style casinos. Subject to that primary criterion, it will be able to take into account which areas might benefit particularly from the regeneration potential of new casino developments. In that, the panel will take into account the advice of regional planning bodies. It will recommend up to 24 licensing authority areas to the Secretary of State. That work will take a little time, but we hope that the panel will be able to propose areas to the Government towards the end of next year.
I want to make clear to the House that any local authority that does not want to be considered for new casinos can resolve not to license any new casinos. If it makes such a resolution, that decision is final, even if the Government may have considered that authority an appropriate area for new casinos.
Those areas selected for new casinos will be able to invite applications for the premises licences allocated to their area. Where there are more applications than licences, the authority will have the power to choose between the applications for each licence. It will be able to take into account the range of benefits that the applicants are willing to offer in addition to the gambling facilities. Those benefits may well involve specific regeneration projects and other investment in the local area. The authority will have all the powers it needs to make sure that its area benefits.
The House will know that there have been loud and expensive complaints of late that the British casino industry is being damaged by our proposals. I have to say that I completely disagree with that view. First, existing
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casinos can and will benefit from the removal of membership and advertising restrictions. Secondly, British operators canand, I am sure, willapply for all the new licences under the Bill. They have experience of British customers. They have a long history of fair play and freedom from crime. They already have large market capitalisation and can raise capital just as well as foreign companies. They will have a head start in applying for new operator licences.
Some have demanded that all existing casinos be allowed to become new-style casinos, with many more gaming machinesup to 10,000. I have to say quite categorically that the Government cannot accept that proposal. We must be cautious about new casinos. I am sorry that that involves disappointment for some casino operators, but I fear that the public interest and the precautionary principle must come first.
The Government have been in detailed discussions recently with representatives of the British casino industry. One aspect of these discussions has been the treatment of fully automatic roulette terminals, a hybrid casino product that has emerged under the present regime. The Government are considering whether these products can be controlled effectively through a bespoke regime, rather than through the standard regime for gaming machines. If that approach were adopted, it would of course be necessary to ensure controls on numbers, design and speed of play. Those discussions continue and I will provide a further update to the House.
The Government have also reflected on the views expressed in the House of Commons on the matter of credit cards in casinos. The Bill already bans the use of credit cards in gaming machines and the direct offering of credit by casino operators to customers, but the Government also acknowledge the concerns expressed about the use of credit cards to purchase casino chips. We agree that customers in casinos should not be able to turn to their credit card if they have used up their available cash in their wallet or on their debit card. Again, I will move an amendment to achieve that.
Let me move on to lotteries. The Bill provides, for the first time, a statutory definition of a lottery, which will ensure a clearer distinction between lotteries for charities and commercial prize competitions. Only the larger lotteries will need to be licensed by the Gambling Commission. Those that are licensed will be allowed to offer rollovers. The Government also moved an amendment in the Commons to ensure that so-called ticketless lotteries will be able to continue as now. I understand that this point was of particular interest to the charity sector, and I hope that that clarification will be welcomed.
The House will know that one of the more controversial issues surrounding the Bill is the extent to which children may play gaming machines. For more than 100 years, children have been allowed to play on some low-prize gaming machines. On balance, the
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Government have taken the view that children should be allowed to continue playing on these machines. But we propose in the Bill that the Government hold in reserve a power to impose an age requirement if more compelling evidence emerges about enduring harm to children.
In the House of Commons, Richard Caborn pledged that the Government would reflect on the need for that power. Earlier this month, my officials chaired a most useful round-table meeting with industry representatives, faith groups and interested academics. The meeting was a fruitful and constructive occasion, and as a result I want to make some new proposals today.
On the general principle, we remain of the view that there should remain a power for the Government to ban children from all gaming machines, so we will keep a reserve power. But I want to reassure the House that we will not use that power without wide-ranging consultation and on the advice of the Gambling Commission. I therefore propose to table an amendment to Clause 58, adding a requirement on the Secretary of State to consult the Gambling Commission, representatives of relevant businesses and persons concerned with the social impact of gambling before she can propose to Parliament a minimum age limit.
I also propose to amend the Bill to give Ministers power to limit the effect of any new age requirement for playing machines to particular types of gaming machines. We will be able to exclude other machines, such as penny pushers and crane machines, where there is general agreement that no harm can arise. I emphasise that gaming regulation covers only a proportion of the amusement machines available in seaside arcades. We do not regulate dancing machines or computerised driving machines. We are talking only about genuine gaming machines, which need careful regulation. The risks that there may be for children demand that we ensure that the Bill has all the powers that we need to give children the protection that they need.
Lastly, the House will want to know that the Government have listened carefully to the many concerns of the family amusement industry about machines with non-monetary prizes. They are played mostly by children and often give prizes such as teddy bears. The Government recognise that the £8 prize available in such machines has not caused significant problems. We are confident that the Bill provides strong controls over machine gaming. In the light of those controls and the concerns expressed, the Government now propose that the maximum value for such prizes should remain at £8 rather than be reduced to £5.
I know that there have been some concerns about integrity in horserace betting. The Government are completely with those who believe that strong action is needed to weed out cheats. In that context, I welcome the recent report of the All-Party Betting and Gaming Group, many of whose recommendations are addressed in the Bill.
The Government propose to require every user of betting exchanges to be registered, so that we can have information about everyone using the exchange and share that information with sporting regulators. There
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have been constructive suggestions, not least from the All-Party Group, about how a registration procedure might work in practice. I want to make clear that the Bill as drafted, in Clause 77, can encompass all the proposals that I understand have been made to the department.
On the greyhound industry, I want to be clear that the Bill will maintain the exclusive right of the occupier of a track to conduct pool betting on that track. It also allows betting offices to accept pool bets on greyhounds, opening up a new market for the industry to sell its product.
On a final specific point, the Government appreciate the strong feeling that Christmas should be off-limits to commercial gambling. We intend to move an amendment to prevent licensed gambling premises offering facilities for gambling on Christmas day.
The Bill is essential if we are to protect the public. It will restore effective regulatory controls on an industry that needs to develop in a way and at a speed that is acceptable to the public and to Parliament. Central to the acceptability is a confidence that the public interest can resist commercial interests and ensure that social harm is minimised. I am certain that the Bill delivers those powers. I commend the Bill to the House.
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