HC Deb 10 May 1991 vol 190 cc957-68

Amendment proposed: No. 1 in page 1, line 11, after 'premises'. insert '(Other than bingo club premises as defined in section 20 of this Act)'.—[Mr. Favell.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 14, leave out 'three' and insert 'two'.

No. 3, in title, line 3, after 'on', insert 'certain'.

No. 4, in title, line 4, leave out from 'Act to end.

1.30 pm
Mr. John Watts (Slough)

The Committee that considered the Bill did some very good work in improving its provisions. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) now seeks to undo that good work. The amendments that were carried in Committee were modest in their impact. They would allow working men's clubs and social clubs to have three jackpot machines instead of two, as under existing law, and commercial bingo clubs to have four instead of two.

Those of us who voted for the amendments in Committee believe that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. We wholeheartedly rejected the assertion of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that jackpot machines were part of hard gaming and that if members of our working men's clubs put 20p in a slot in the hope of winning the princely sum of £150, they were going down the slippery slope to hard gambling. We thought it a nonsense then, and we think it a nonsense now.

I am sorry that the Home Office appears to have taken the rather prickly view that, because it did not agree in advance that further provisions should be included in the Bill, it will resist them. I should be sorry if, as a result of that, the changes in respect of casinos—which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport supports—must be rejected by the House.

Speaking for myself and for the clubs that I represent as joint chairman of the all-party group on non-profit-making members' clubs, I cannot accept the amendments that my hon. Friend is trying to make to the Bill, as amended. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will join me in the Lobby to defeat them.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I wish first to declare my interest as consultant to the Bingo Association of Great Britain.

The amendments counter the two amendments that were passed in Committee. One of the problems is that the whole area of gambling was set out in legislation by a previous Government, and any attempts to amend it have been left to private Members of each House. We all know the difficulties of conducting private Members' business through both Houses.

It became clear in Committee that the Government have, quite correctly, very strong views and that they feel that the Bill touches on fundamental matters. I ask the Government to appreciate that if they take such a strong hand, the time will come when they must consider legislation on gaming as a whole so that the provisions can be put together. It is not entirely satisfactory that we have to rely on the luck of the draw for private Member's legislation, with all the perils of its passage through the House, when the Government take a firm line and have a clear policy.

The bingo industry has no wish to wreck the Bill. The industry accepts that the casinos are perfectly entitled to put forward their arguments—which we have not heard this afternoon—about why the number of gaming machines or one-armed bandits should be increased. However, it is important that other sections that are affected by the legislation should also reconsider their position. The Bingo Association of Great Britain initially felt on balance that, although it would have liked an increase in the number of machines, it did not want to object to the Bill.

However, because we believe that it is important to work closely with all the others affected, we talked to the representatives of the clubs. It was decided that if the clubs were likely to seek to increase the number of machines in their premises, the Bingo Association should reassess its view. I am entirely in favour of the clubs supporting such an amendment. They are right to do so in their own interests. In some clubs, the pressure on the two gaming machines is intense and income from the machines may be important to the survival of the club.

I find it difficult to understand why we seem to get on the hook of believing that it is perfectly moral to have two machines, but immoral to have three or four. I know that it could be argued that once there are three or four, one can then increase the numbers. We do not ask for that. The amendments tabled in Committee were specific. They sought one extra machine for clubs and two extra for bingo halls.

I also made the point in Committee that, funnily enough, the increase in the number of machines would bring little benefit to the larger clubs owned by big groups such as Bass Leisure or Rank. The vast majority of those clubs prefer to use an alternative machine whose numbers can be increased by an application to the local magistrates.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. There seems to be a working-class versus middle-class approach. If one is an Arab, or one has a bow tie or a long frock on—Opposition Members know my views on this—one goes to a gaming club in central London where there are many one-armed bandits. It is different if one belongs to a bingo club or to a working men's club, as people do in my constituency. What is the thinking behind that? What sort of nonsensical attitude are the Government showing on the issue yet again? Surely they should say that we are all equal or, better still, they should give more facilities to people in working men's clubs and bingo halls who are ordinary working-class people. The Government should say to the people with bow ties or long frocks in the gaming clubs in central London that they do not need all the machines because they have more money to use on the gaming tables instead.

Mr. Fry

My hon. Friend, as usual, puts his point of view graphically and I agree with most of what he says. However, his question should be addressed to our right hon. Friend the Minister rather than to me.

After the amendments had been agreed in Committee, the Bill would have increased the number of gaming machines in bingo halls. That would not have been taken up in the large halls and by the most prosperous companies in the industry.

The section of the industry that is concerned is that which is most at risk. I refer to the small clubs, often in small country towns where there may not be any alternative entertainment or relaxation for people who like to go to bingo halls, and who do not like to go to pubs on their own. That especially applies to ladies who are over 40 years of age and who enjoy a flutter in a bingo hall. Various studies have demonstrated the social value of bingo halls to that section of the community. When the Government accepted my Gaming (Amendment) Act 1987, which established the National Game a few years ago, they recognised that point.

If the clubs that are at most risk financially are not given some form of extra encouragement, they will tend to go out of business, and this type of social activity will disappear in some areas. The Bingo Association of Great Britain merely wants a level and fair playing field. I hope that the Government recognise the differences between the various sectors of gambling. If they do not and they state that they are all the same and that the law will not be revised, they should not be surprised when amendments such as those accepted in Committee are tabled.

It is perfectly proper for the casinos to make their proposals and for the clubs to do likewise. If those proposals are accepted, the bingo industry is fully entitled to ask for equal treatment. That was the basis of our amendment in Committee and that is why it was accepted.

I do not wish to wreck the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), but I hope that he understands that I cannot support his amendments. Having won the argument in Committee, I should at least stand by the amendment that I tabled then.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

I declare my interest as a member of the all-party clubs group.

The amendments tabled in Committee were generous to the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). As has been already stated, all that we sought from the Government was fair and non-discriminatory treatment between the clubs, bingo halls and casinos. It is incomprehensible that the Government could not accept those amendments, which were tabled in good faith and accepted by a substantial majority in Committee, as the hon. Member for Stockport would concede. The Government's reasoning in Committee seemed fallacious—that the casinos should be treated differently from clubs and bingo halls for no apparent or justifiable reason. The Minister argued that the recommendations came from the Gaming Board and that the board was prepared to accept an increase in the number of one-arm bandits in casinos.

On behalf of the clubs committee, we registered the majority of our clubs under the Industrial and Providence Society. If it is argued that the Gaming Board supports the application for an increase in the number of one-arm bandits in casinos, we could argue that the Industrial and Providence Society would equally like an increase in the number of one-arm bandits in clubs. They should be given equal status.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

A classless society.

Mr. Turner

Exactly. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, as did the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). Discrimination exists, and working men's clubs, as well as Conservative, Liberal and Labour clubs and bingo halls where people go for a little pleasure—who can deny them that—should be treated equally so that they can have the facilities that they want.

Even at this late stage, I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government are prepared to treat all those important entertainment institutions with equity, so that the legislation can be passed to benefit all the interests that we have mentioned. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government have relented and want to treat everyone fairly. We can then get the legislation through and help the important institutions that we support.

1.45 pm
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

May I say at the outset that I have no interest in the British Casino Association. The Bill was introduced by Lord Lisle in another place, and that is why I am dealing with the matter here. Like many punters in casinos, bingo halls and clubs, I am in a no win situation. I have much sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr. Watts), for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). He made a sensible intervention, as usual.

I have been to casinos—although I do not think that I have ever won—and they are not confined to the nobs. I have seen people from all walks of life playing blackjack and even baccarat, and other games the rules of which I do not understand Casinos are the only places in which people can indulge in hard gaming. There are only about 100 in the United Kingdom. That is why the Gaming Board for Great Britain does not object to an increase in the number of fruit machines in gaming casinos.

The Gaming Board was set up by the Government when the Gaming Act 1968 was first introduced. It has carried out its functions extremely well. It was feared that the Mafia could come into the country if gaming remained underground or was not supervised properly. I have never heard any criticism of the Gaming Board and the way in which it discharges its functions. Therefore, the Home Office is bound to take its advice seriously.

The Minister will no doubt confirm that the advice of the Gaming Board is that it is all right for people to engage in hard gaming in a gaming casino. These days, the jackpot from a fruit machine is £250, which is not peanuts. It believes that elsewhere they should be restricted to the present numbers, because otherwise young people and others might be drawn into gambling. I am not an expert on this matter, but the Gaming Board is, and that is its view.

I am obliged to introduce the amendments to reverse the changes made in Committee, not because I do not have sympathy with what has been said, but simply because the Bill will fail otherwise. I have seen Home Office Ministers on a number of occasions and it has been made clear to me that either we accept two more fruit machines in the gaming casinos and no more elsewhere or the Bill will fail. It is as simple as that. Let us have half a loaf, which is better than none. I ask my hon. Friends to come back next year with amendments to deal with premises that are not devoted to hard gaming to see whether they can persuade the Home Office and the Gaming Board.

Mr. Turner

The argument about young people playing the machines was not advanced in Committee. The Government would not have used that argument because they would have been perfectly aware that if one wants to become a member of a club of the kind that we are talking about, one has to be 18 or over. Therefore, the argument about youngsters playing the machines is irrelevant.

Mr. Favell

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am not an expert. He may be right, but one goes into a gaming casino for one reason only—to indulge in hard gaming. When one joins a cricket, golf, working men's or even a Labour party club the main reason for doing so is not, I hope, to play the fruit machines or to indulge in gambling.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

The Government very much welcome the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). He is absolutely right when he says that the Gaming Board for Great Britain was set up under the Gaming Act 1968 to consider such proposals as the increase in the number of jackpot machines. What is in question here is gaming machines. It is, therefore, right that the Gaming Board's role should come into play.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) asked about how strongly the Government feel about the matter. He also said that if the Government feel so strongly about the amendments that he tabled in Committee, they should reconsider their stance on gaming. That may be a reasonable request, but at present we are considering this Bill. Therefore, the Government are simply putting forward the view that to amend the gaming laws in this way would be unsatisfactory.

Mr. Fry

I trust that the Government would take a similarly sympathetic view about sensible moves to reform the gaming legislation if a private Member's Bill should be introduced.

Mrs. Rumbold

It would be up to my hon. Friend to bring forward such suggestion, if he so wished. I do not intend to pre-empt the view of any future Government, but I am sure that they would look carefully at such proposals, if they were made.

As for the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner), the argument that the Government advance is that which influenced the Rothschild royal commission on betting and gaming when it considered the question of casinos versus working men's clubs, bingo clubs and Conservative party clubs. It is not a question of having one set of rules for one type of person and another set for another type of person. The fact is that casinos are different and should be treated differently from bingo and other registered clubs. That fact is underlined by the different regulations, which provide, appropriately, for a different allocation of jackpot machines.

Mr. Turner

I accept the contention that casinos are different, in the sense that hard gambling takes place on roulette tables, but I do not see how one can make the case that they are different in terms of one-armed bandits. All one-armed bandits are identical, whether they stand in a casino, a bingo hall or other club. The people who go into casinos do not put their money into one-armed bandits. They go in for the hard gambling on the roulette tables. I repeat, however, that the one-armed bandit is the same, wherever it stands. That is the best argument, therefore, for treating them all in the same way.

Mrs. Rumbold

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Casinos in Las Vegas have serried ranks of jackpot machines for hard gambling, whereas people use clubs for different reasons—possibly to take their children or to meet friends—but not for the sole purpose of hard gambling. Jackpot machines in those clubs are restricted, but their principal purpose is not an attraction but very much an aside.

Mr. Turner

The machines are identical—they all take 10p coins. One does not spend £5 on a machine in a casino but only 10p in a club. It is wrong, therefore, to differentiate between machines. I have never been to Las Vegas, but the cost of playing machines there may be graded. If a machine in a casino cost £5 to play but only 10p in a club, I could understand the Minister making a distinction, but that does not arise. The machines are the same and the cost is the same, so why not treat them the same?

Mrs. Rumbold

The Gaming Act 1968 provides for two types of gaming machine—jackpots and amusements with prizes. The latter, with their low stake and maximum cash prize of £2.40p or non-monetary prizes of £4.80p, are much more appropriate for clubs and bingo clubs. The maximum prize on jackpot machines is £150. That is hard gaming. There is a difference between clubs and casinos. Bingo is a comparatively soft form of gambling, but there is no doubt what people do at a casino, which is different from the kind of clubs that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East is talking about. One cannot make a comparison; nor can one say that there is discrimination because people can choose where they wish to go.

Therefore, the Government welcome the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport to reinstate the original provisions of the Bill, whereby casinos will be allowed four jackpot machines instead of two and clubs such as bingo halls and other working men's clubs will be restricted to two.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I am afraid—I think that the House will share this view—that the Minister is wholly unconvincing. The Government are right to be cautious about increasing people's ability to gamble. I acknowledge the special problem of gambling addiction among extremely young people.

The so-called amusement arcades in many high streets are not members of an association or federation and are badly supervised. I wish that local authorities had far more powers to refuse or to refuse to renew licences.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner)—he insists on calling his constituency Bilston, which describes it more accurately—goes to the nub of the problem. He said that fruit machines are the same wherever they are. I accept the Minister's distinction between bingo halls and casinos. Like her, I do not frequent casinos—I may have been in one or two in my life when I have been on holiday—but I cannot believe that someone who crosses the threshold of a casino does so merely to play on a fruit machine. As the Minister said, people go there for hard gambling. They may not use the machines while they are there, but that is not the point of the amendment.

2 pm

The Minister overlooked the fact that supervision in bingo halls and clubs is not just good but fierce. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East has great experience of that, as do some other hon. Members. I do not mean to criticise that supervision. In my constituency there is an ex-service men's club. I wish that it was a club for everyone who has been in the services, but that is another matter. The security at the entrance to that club is first class. It not only has cameras, but somebody is always on the door to ensure that only members are allowed in. No one could quarrel with the fact that that club is well supervised. I have no doubt that, if youngsters were seen spending a long time and a lot of money on fruit machines—their parents might have gone for a quick snorter so that the children were not properly supervised—responsible members of the club's committee would intervene and talk to the parents.

Although it would not usually be wrong for the House to overturn decisions taken at Committee stage, it would be so in the case of this Bill. Although I was not party to it, there was an extensive debate aimed at achieving equality of treatment for different gambling places. We have not persuaded the Minister about that. I never thought that I would agree with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) and he doubtless reciprocates that feeling, but he is dead right on this matter. It may be an accident of history—the Act went on the statute book in 1968—but behind the Gaming Board for Great Britain is a hint of suspicion that we are legislating against working people who cannot be trusted as much as the sheikhs who can be found in casinos tonight while Kuwait burns and whose standard of living has not changed a jot or tittle since the dreadful invasion of that country. Gambling places should be treated equally and I am sorry that the Minister denies that. I hope that the House will not support the amendments.

Mr. Dicks

I find myself in a strange position. We are almost back to the philosophy behind my speech during the arts debate.

The Home Office Ministers and those who advise them have probably never been in a working men's club or sat in a bingo hall. I have been to many such clubs, including the Conservative club in Hayes and Harlington, and, many years ago, I was a bingo caller. Those who go to such places are average people.

Mr. Turner

The hon. Gentleman is in good company because I too used to be a bingo caller—clickety click, 66.

Mr. Favell

I have also been a bingo caller.

Mr. Dicks

I was going to say, "Legs 11, two little ducks—quack, quack."

This is a serious matter for all our friends in the clubs and bingo halls. Why cannot ordinary people who go to bingo halls to play bingo, and who might want a break between one game and another, spend a couple of bob trying to win £250? The same should apply in working men's clubs. It annoys me greatly that my right hon. Friend the Minister does not seem to realise that the people in their bow ties and long skirts do not go to play machines in casinos, but for hard gambling. The machines are just an afterthought, along with the coffee and double Scotch that they have when they cannot get a table.

Knowing that the Prime Minister talks of a classless society—we all accept that—how can my right hon. Friend the Minister give us a class-ridden argument? Why can the Arabs and everybody else go to the best parts of London such as Mayfair and gamble to their hearts' content, but a little old lady who spends £1 to go in and play bingo cannot put another 50p into a one-armed bandit machine?

Mr. Watts


Mr. Dicks

As my hon. Friend says, why cannot that little old lady spend 20p? Why cannot those who use the Hayes and Harlington conservative club have the same opportunity as those using casinos? Why do they have to wait?

If my right hon. Friend the Minister is going to argue, she should talk with knowledge and understanding of the position and bear in mind that we are not all from the middle and upper classes. We do not all have first class degrees from Oxbridge and sit in the Home Office giving advice; we are ordinary, working people. We are talking about ordinary, working people—the Prime Minister is an ordinary, working chap. He talks about the classless society. My right hon. Friend the Minister should listen, accept what is happening and allow the ordinary clubs the same facilities and consideration.

Mr. Fry

Does my hon. Friend accept that the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister about Las Vegas can hardly apply to working men's clubs and bingo halls when we are talking about an increase of only one or two machines? The position is slightly different.

Mr. Dicks

I agree that there can be no comparison. When my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned that issue I wondered where she had gone in the United States and whether she could name a bingo hall or a working men's club in America. The advice that my right hon. Friend the Minister has received is bad advice. Her comments to the House have been uninformed and class ridden, and I hope that she will reconsider.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I should like to jump on the same bandwagon as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). I am little upset by some of this morning's suggestions relating to amendments, particularly those made by the Minister. How many times are examples given in this pace of what is done in Europe, Japan and America? I am bothered about what we do here. That should be our first consideration. Other places have the same problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned clip joints. I have never been into one of them, but I have heard about the goings on in them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) talked about security in some places and having to look after this, that and the other, and ensure that everything is all right. But the bandwagon of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is the correct one. The Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and talked about a classless society. The measure creates a two-tier society—with one thing for the workers and one thing for the big nobs.

Mr. Skinner

This is all about opted-out one-armed bandits.

Mr. Haynes

My hon. Friend can always come up with the right suggestion or comment straight off the top of his head.

I am surprised that the Prime Minister talked about a classless society not all that many days ago, and then the Minister stood here this afternoon and went in a different direction. It would seem that the Government are not together—

Mr. Corbett

Another split.

Mr. Haynes

Quite right. One half of the Cabinet wants to go to the country, the other half does not. One half wants one-armed bandits in the Cabinet room, the other half does not. They do not know where they are going, do they? But we are here to put them right.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East. Members served on the Committee and did all that hard work and now, in a few moments, the Government are trying to destroy it. We are not going to have it. We will vote on this one—

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend knows only too well that if there were a couple of one-armed bandits in the House of Commons on a Friday they would not make a deal of money.

Mr. Haynes

I hope that the Minister will not take up that idea. They are talking about having televisions sets in different rooms. If that happens, no one will come in here, and if one-armed bandits are installed Members will not come in even on a Thursday, let alone a Friday. Some of us, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and for Wolverhampton, South-East, try to come here regularly, but other hon. Members will be spending their time on the one-armed bandits. We cannot have that. I hope that the Minister will ignore that suggestion and will listen to our serious suggestions. I even hope that she will go into the Lobby with us now.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 21, Noes 43.

Division No. 140] [2.11 pm
Arbuthnot, James Rossi, Sir Hugh
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Boscawen, Hon Robert Sims, Roger
Buck, Sir Antony Tredinnick, David
Cash, William Waller, Gary
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Ward, John
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Wheeler, Sir John
Favell, Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Ground, Patrick Tellers for the Ayes:
Raffan, Keith Sir Nicholas Bonsor and Mr. John Bowis.
Rhodes James, Robert
Roe, Mrs Marion
Abbott, Ms Diane Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Allen, Graham Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dicks, Terry
Battle, John Dixon, Don
Bermingham, Gerald Dobson, Frank
Bottomley, Peter Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Carr, Michael Fry, Peter
Cohen, Harry Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Corbett, Robin Gordon, Mildred
Corbyn, Jeremy Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Hardy, Peter Norris, Steve
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney O'Hara, Edward
Haynes, Frank Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Rhodes James, Robert
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Holt, Richard Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Watts, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Meale, Alan Tellers for the Noes:
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Mr. Dennis Skinner and Mr. Dennis Turner.
Nellist, Dave
Neubert, Sir Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

2.21 pm
Mrs. Rumbold

It may be helpful if I put the Government's view on the Bill. We saw the proposal in the Bill, as originally drafted, to increase, from two to four, the number of jackpot machines permitted in casinos as a modest one which fits well within the established framework of gambling in this country.

I may be helpful if I set out briefly the provisions on gaming machines. These machines are regulated by part III of the Gaming Act 1968. The Act provides for two types of gaming machine—jackpot machines, which are the subject of this Bill, and amusement-with-prizes machines, that is, the common fruit machine. As their name suggests, amusement-with-prizes machines are primarily intended for amusement, not for gambling, and are therefore widely available, for example, in pubs, amusement arcades and cafes. In fact, there are some 193,000 such machines, the majority of which are located in pubs, as most hon. Members will know. The emphasis on amusement is reflected in the modest prize that may be won—£2.40 in cash or £4.80 in tokens—the low stake-prize ration which is only 1:12 in the case of the cash prize, and in the prize structure, which deliberately provides for a non-monetary prize significantly greater in value than the cash prize.

Jackpot machines, on the other hand, provide for a much harder form of gambling and are therefore confined to casinos, licensed bingo clubs and members' clubs and miners' welfare institutes registered under the Gaming Act 1986, and anything else registered under the Act. In each case, the Act limits the number of machines to two. There are some 40,000 jackpot machines in circulation—240 in casinos, 400 to 500 in bingo clubs and some 39,000 in registered clubs. Confining these machines to members' clubs, where the public do not have direct access, reflects the nature of the machines. The character of the machines as hard gaming machines is also reflected in the size of the prize—that is £150—which serves to encourage play, the high stake-prize ration of 1:750, the rapidity of play and the absence of any restraints on the length of play. Indeed, although the maximum stake is only 20p, many machines accept a £1 coin for five games, so it is possible to spend relatively large amounts of money in a short time. As many hon. Members will know, it is also possible to become addicted to this form of gambling.

As long ago as 1978, the Rothschild royal commission on gambling concluded that it was anomalous for premises expressly set aside for hard gaming to be treated on an equal footing with, for example, a village cricket club. By way of remedy, the commission adopted the proposal put forward by the British Casino Association that a casino's entitlement to jackpot machines be linked to the number of gaming tables, and recommended a ratio of one machine for every two tables. Such an arrangement is, in our view, no longer practicable.

Mr. Turner

Will the Minister tell the House whether it is the Government's intention to talk the Bill out and not allow us to vote on Third Reading?

Mrs. Rumbold

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in the Government's reasons for wishing to support the Bill in its original form. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I should prefer to continue with what I have to say.

Mr. Haynes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is disgraceful. My hon. Friend the member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) asked the Minister whether she was talking the Bill out on behalf of the Government. We can see and we know what is going on. The Minister did not have the decency to say yes or no to my hon. Friend. I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you should challenge the Minister to answer the question. It is an extremely important Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The Minister is in order, and that is the sole concern of the Chair.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is normal on Fridays for private Members' Bills to be enacted. Back-Bench Members bring Bills before the House, of their own accord, to be passed. Sometimes, as we all know, Bills can be talked out, especially on a Friday, but it is unusual for the Government to use Ministers to stop Bills. There have been many occasions when Back-Bench Members have done that, but it has not been done by Ministers. Today, it seems that the Government are intervening to prevent the progress of a Bill that they supported. They do not like it because they have been defeated in a Division, and they have the cheek to talk about democracy. The Bill was considered in Committee and it was reported. The Government wanted to change the Bill—it must be remembered that this is a private Member's Bill—and, because they cannot get their own way, they have decided, it seems, to talk it out. It is an unusual practice.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Points of order are taking up time. It would be better if the Minister were able to get on with her speech.

Mrs. Rumbold

It is important that I explain to the House why the Government feel relatively strongly about the Bill.

The royal commission's recommendation was made when gaming duty was assessed partly on the number of gaming tables, and casino proprietors were under no obligation to notify changes in the number to Customs and Excise. Duty is no longer assessed on that basis. Since 1984, it has instead been assessed on the basis of a casino's gross gaming yield, that is, the amount staked less winnings. Subject only to the available gaming area or any undertaking given the licensing justices, there are now no controls on the number of gaming tables; as a result, entitlement to jackpot machines could vary without notice as a casino proprietor increased or decreased his complement of gaming tables.

The solution adopted by the British Casino Association, to increase the entitlement to four machines per casino, overcomes this difficulty. Furthermore, by maintaining a reasonable upper limit on the number of machines, the Bill avoids the Las Vegas-style serried ranks of jackpot machines, which were opposed by both the Rothschild royal commission and by the Gaming Board for Great Britain, as alien to the character and atmosphere of casinos in this country.

The Bill, as originally drafted, quite rightly in our view, maintains the existing limit of two machines for premises other than casinos which are permitted to use jackpot machines. I am referring, of course, to licensed bingo clubs and registered clubs. Such premises are not intended primarily for hard gaming, and so are in many respects less tightly regulated than are casinos. This is particularly true of registered clubs and miners' welfare institutes as I was at pains to point out earlier today. Indeed, a case can be made for removing members' clubs' entitlement to jackpot machines on the grounds that the 1968 Act provides inadequate controls of these clubs. To obtain a licence under the Act, the proprietor must first undergo searching scrutiny by the Gaming Board; the licence is up for renewal annually and there is year-round supervision by the board inspectorate, paid for through a substantial renewal fee.

Registered clubs have no such regime. The grounds for refusal of registration are closely circumscribed, and registration lasts for five years. That relative absence of control on registered clubs opens up the possibility of fiddling. The Rothschild royal commission identified three possible means of fiddling: (i) The mechanism of the machine may be interfered with to give a lower rate of return than that specified by the manufacturer; or to give an increased rate of return for a short time to stimulate play. Alternatively, a symbol on a reel may just be altered to decrease the chance of a player winning a prize. Those 'adjustments' are not difficult to make but very difficult at present for a player to detect. (ii) Someone with—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 17 May.

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