Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I welcome the debate as an opportunity to bring some light to the subject, rather than the large amount of smoke that has obscured it so far, but that might be a statement of hope, rather than experience.

It is important to bring some perspective to the debate. Gambling is a legitimate activity that brings considerable pleasure to millions of people in this country, that generates a lot of economic activity and that provides employment and tax revenue for the Government. Betting shops are not a blight on the high street; they are regulated and controlled environments that provide employment and, in some cases, a social benefit.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that gambling raises revenue for the Government, but in actual fact the Government receive about £3 billion a year in revenue and the profit on fixed odds betting terminals is about £1.5 billion. It costs the state £3.6 billion to deal with problem gamblers, so does not that suggest that this is bad economics?

Mr Whittingdale: I shall come on to problem gambling, but it is a myth to suggest that that is entirely a result of FOBTs. There is a difficulty due to problem gambling, and a small number of people suffer from addiction—of course they need some protection. It has always been a principle that the harder forms of gambling are permitted in more controlled environments. To that extent, it was something of an anomaly that the previous Government allowed B2 machines on the high street while there were restrictions on those machines in adult gaming centres and casinos. It was ironic, too, that the previous Government wanted to introduce category A gaming machines, for which there were no limits on stakes or prizes, in super-casinos. Perhaps those anomalies should have been addressed. That was why, when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked at the problem, we recommended allowing up to 20 B2 machines in casinos and some B2 machines in adult gaming centres.

Read more ...

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) not just on securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee but on how he has led the campaign, which has been supported on both sides of the House, as demonstrated this afternoon. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has also been tireless in pursuing the matter. It is notable that four parties are represented in the House this afternoon. Sometimes MPs put aside their party differences and come together when it is plain that there has been an injustice that needs to be put right. That is certainly the case with the issue we are debating this afternoon.

There is a danger in such a debate that one simply repeats the points that have been made. We have already heard some powerful speeches from both sides of the House, such as that from my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who represents many of the Essex Visteon pensioners, as I do. As has been pointed out, it is particularly sad that it is necessary to have this debate a second time—I participated in the debate in Westminster Hall—because we all still have great respect and admiration for the Ford Motor Company. It has a proud history in this country and a strong reputation across the world, yet this is a terrible stain on that reputation.

It is perhaps because Ford has previously been seen as such a strong company that it was understandable that its employees, who had given many years of service, should believe the assurances they were given when they told that they were being transferred to the Visteon company and that their pensions could be transferred to a new Visteon pension fund. I will not repeat the quotations given by many hon. Members about how they were told that there would be no detriment and that their pensions were guaranteed under the same terms and conditions. Of course they believed that, yet today they find that the position is very different.

Read more ...

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon): Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £1.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to save Stow Maries aerodrome in my constituency, which is the last remaining, intact first world war airfield? Does she agree that Stow Maries, from which pilots flew to defend us against zeppelin attacks, would be a fitting place to start the commemorations that her Department is planning?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are not that many structures remaining for us to look at as part of our commemorations around the first world war centenary. I am sure that that airfield could play an important role in bringing this to life for new generations.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Exceptionally, I shall take the point of order before the statement.

Mr Whittingdale: I am most grateful to you for making an exception in this case, Mr Speaker. As you are aware, Lord Triesman gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of our inquiry into the 2018 world cup bid. During his evidence, under parliamentary privilege, Lord Triesman made specific accusations of corruption against four named members of FIFA’s executive committee. In the subsequent review conducted by the Football Association, Lord Triesman was careful to say in answer to questions from James Dingemans QC, who was conducting the review, that he invited him to rely on the evidence that he had given to the Select Committee, and that he did not wish to add to it. In January 2013, one of those accused, Mr Makudi, brought an action for defamation against Lord Triesman, which was struck out. However, in June this year the Court of Appeal granted leave to Mr Makudi to appeal.

This matter goes to the heart of the privilege afforded to Members of Parliament and to witnesses who give evidence to Parliament. If witnesses to Select Committees cannot be confident that their evidence is covered by absolute privilege, and that if they do not repeat the allegations outside Parliament they are fully protected against legal action, that will severely damage the ability of Select Committees to obtain the information that they require. I should therefore be grateful, Mr Speaker, if you would consider what action you, or Parliament, can take to defend the principle of parliamentary privilege, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Committee with great skill, for his courtesy in giving me notice of his point of order.

I have followed these matters very closely, and the possible implications give me cause for grave concern. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is awaiting determination by the Court of Appeal, so I will not of course comment on the substance of the case; but I will say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that I consider these matters to be of such importance for the House and for its Members, and to the protection of free speech in our proceedings, that written submissions have been made to the court on my behalf by Speaker’s Counsel. I shall of course be following developments closely, as, I know, will the hon. Gentleman. I am extremely grateful to him.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I begin by reminding the House of my entry in the register showing that I paid a visit to Gibraltar in September, at the invitation of the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association, to discuss the provisions of the Bill?

Paul Farrelly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr Whittingdale: I am not sure that there is anything on that point, but I am happy to give way.

Paul Farrelly: Following the hon. Gentleman’s discussions over the summer with the Gibraltar-based companies, can he tell the House whether they are still minded to launch a last-minute legal action in Europe against these provisions? When he was there, did he discourage them from doing so?

Mr Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Gibraltar gaming authorities whether they intend to launch legal action. They have certainly expressed concern as to whether the Bill’s provisions are legal, and it is obviously up to them whether they take legal action. I made it clear to the authorities and the gaming associations that I supported the Bill, and that therefore I would certainly discourage them from doing so. They did raise some concerns, which I shall discuss in the course of my remarks.

I wish to make it clear that my Select Committee supports the Bill’s general provisions, as do I. The Committee has spent some time examining gambling. We carried out post-legislative scrutiny in 2011-12 of the entire Gambling Act 2005. Although we examined online gaming, which is obviously the most rapidly increasing form of gambling, inevitably the main focus on the 2005 Act related to casinos, the previous Government’s abortive attempt to introduce regional casinos—super-casinos—in the UK and the provisions relating to fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops. I do not propose to explore the latter issue at great length today, although it remains one of some controversy.

Hon. Members may recall that when that Gambling Bill became an Act, the then Secretary of State declared that one of its purposes was to make the UK the world centre for online gaming and that that would be of great benefit to the UK economy. Unfortunately, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer holed the then Secretary of State amidships by setting the tax rate at a level that led to almost every operator moving offshore. There is a single exception, which I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), my friend from the Select Committee, will mention: bet365 remains the last operator headquartered in the UK. Almost all the others have moved to offshore jurisdictions such as Gibraltar, Alderney and some European Union member states.

Read more ...