Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Wednesday 15 February 1995


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. James Hill

Anderson, Ms Janet (Rossendale and Darwen)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Bendall, Mr. Vivian (Ilford, North)

Cann, Mr. Jamie (Ipswich)

Fenner, Dame Peggy (Medway)

Fox, Dr. Liam (Woodspring)

Gorst, Sir John (Hendon, North)

Grant, Mr. Bernie (Tottenham)

Hampson, Dr. Keith (Leeds, North-West)

Hood, Mr. Jimmy (Clydesdale)

Key, Mr. Robert (Salisbury)

Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)

McKelvey, Mr. William (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)

McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (West Derbyshire)

Miller, Mr. Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget (Lewisham East)

Townend, Mr. John (Bridlington)

Mr. D. W. N. Doig, Committee Clerk.

3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, & Wednesday 15th February 1995

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

Draft Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 (Schedule 4) (Amendment) Order 1995

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): I beg to move, "That the Committee has considered the Draft Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 (Schedule 4) (Amendment) Order 1995." The order provides for the relaxation of certain controls on the facilities and amenities permitted in licensed betting offices, under the powers contained in section 1 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 1984. The current order represents the first change to betting office facilities made in some 10 years, since those powers were introduced, although the powers were used in 1986 to expand the text that could be used on shop fronts. Associated changes in the controls on window displays will be made by means of new regulations to be made shortly. The main changes that the order seeks to make concern the abolition of the controls on televisions, and a limited extension of the range of light refreshments available in betting shops. They have been the subject of extensive public consultation. The order repeals the current controls which limit the size of television screens in betting offices to 30in, and which prevent televisions from being positioned where they are visible from outside the premises. A decade on the controls seem unnecessarily restrictive, given the wide-ranging changes in the availability of television, video and cable in the home. Nowadays, it is impossible to envisage a betting office without television coverage of all forms of racing. In reviewing the controls, we decided that it was sensible to abolish the size restriction completely and allow the betting industry the freedom to adopt the dimensions of television screens that were suitable for the size and location of premises. The changes also remove the requirement that televisions are not visible from the street. Most people nowadays have reasonable access to television and to many video sporting events, when they are not able to go to them. We decided that it was preferable to do away with that unnecessary restriction completely, thereby putting betting offices on a par with other high street premises such as television rental shops. Our view was that the changes could be made without substantially eroding the principle that betting offices should provide reasonable facilities for punters in the course of their betting activities, and should not be regarded as places of general entertainment. The controls also provide for an extension of the very limited range of refreshments that betting offices can currently supply. Ten years ago, the view was taken that punters should only be able to have a narrow range of snacks, such as crisps and biscuits. We now consider that the range of light refreshments should be extended to 4 include items such as pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks. Such refreshments should not however constitute a full restaurant meal. It is also an important principle that refreshments in betting offices should have to be sold and cannot be offered as free inducements to customers to go into premises and bet. I should like to reassure the Committee that we have no intention of changing the controls on licensing, which prevent betting offices from selling alcoholic beverages or being used as places where alcoholic drinks can be consumed. The changes represent modest deregulation for the betting industry without undermining the social basis of the controls. They will benefit consumers by providing them with a more pleasant environment in which to place their bets and will remove the straitjacket of somewhat petty and unnecessary controls from the industry. With that, I conclude by making it clear that I shall do my best to answer any points that the Committee raise.

4.35 pm

Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen): First, I say to the Committee that I am new to this game and I hope that hon. Members will be tolerant. I thank the Minister for his kind assistance and courtesy. Colleagues have told me that my main job on Standing Committees of this sort is to tell jokes, but, as most of the suggestions that I have had were unprintable, I do not intend to follow the advice. I offer the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) who is on a science and technology trip. There is a problem with fairly old legislation such as the regulations covering betting, gaming, lotteries, Sunday trading, and so on. As the Minister said, this is the first betting shops regulations relaxation in 10 years. There used to be a feeling that people had to be protected from themselves and that, somehow, if betting shops and other places were made too attractive they would more easily persuade people to take part in their seemingly evil activities. Times have changed. As we know, the national lottery is hugely popular. it has become a family occasion in my household every Saturday evening. My 17-year-old son, James, is convinced that he will eventually become a millionaire. The Minister has mentioned the restrictions in the previous Act that meant there was to be no food at all, no television, no music, dancing or other entertainment provided or allowed. There has been some relaxation since then and small items of confectionery and soft drinks are sold. But there has always been a sense, heaven help us, that the last thing that we want people to do is enjoy themselves and that we must make them feel guilty. We shall all remember, as I do, the days of turf accountants with frosted glass. It was a long time before I realised what was behind the glass. Hiding something in secrecy probably encourages inquisitiveness to find out what is so important that it has to be hidden. None of us would like betting shops to be places of family entertainment, but there is no reason why people should not be able to have a wider range of refreshment. I see no objections to the relaxation on televisions. The Minister said that he has consulted widely on the proposal. Perhaps he could tell us whether anyone has objected. I think it better for betting shops to be treated as 5 places that provide activity that people can enjoy without feeling that they must walk around in sack cloth and ashes. We do not intend to divide the Committee.

4.38 pm

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway): I have one question for the Minister. He has carefully said that the sandwiches must be pre-packaged, and I understand that betting shops may not have hygienic facilities, so pre-packing eliminates the problem of ensuring that they are hygienic. However, he has not done the same for cakes, which can attract just as much bacteria as unpackaged sandwiches. Packaged cakes and other things are served in our Tea Room, which is very hygienic. If the Minister does not mind about cakes, what was the purpose of pre-packaging sandwiches?

4.39 pm

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): I have two questions. Does the amendment stretch to Scotland or will there be separate legislation for Scottish betting shops? Secondly, why are such freedoms extended to betting shops in London that have no toilets?

4.40 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I had hoped to be able to support the measure whole-heartedly. But I can give it only grudging support because it smacks of massive overregulation of an activity that should be far freer than it has been. The hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) was right when she alluded to suspicion of what went on in betting shops. When the House considered the national lottery legislation, one of our objectives was to take betting and gambling out of the realm of the secretive. During our deliberations, we discovered that gambling in this country is ageist and sexist. One of the reasons why women bet less than men is that betting shops discriminate against women. Anything that encourages the female of the species to enjoy herself as much as the male should be supported. Therefore, I support more deregulation. I hope that my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, will confirm that if the regulations do not provide for "a full restaurant meal", betting shops will be deemed suitable places for the consumption of Cornish pasties, jam butties, fish and chips, kebabs and curries. All can be defined as full restaurant meals and as snacks. That should be clarified if the measure is to receive widespread support. The regulations are inconsistent with national lottery legislation. National lottery outlets are available in supermarkets, pubs and corner shops as well as airports, aeroplanes and on ships. I shall support the order, but I would support it more enthusiastically if its provisions were to be taken further later.

4.42 pm

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Thank you, Mr. Hill. Your name is especially appropriate to our deliberations! Perhaps I am the only member of the Committee who has worked in a betting shop. However, I shall not take time now to explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) exactly what happens in betting shops. 6 I support the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) made about access. As a magistrate, I had to deal with betting shop registration. We tried to encourage access, not just for women, by, for example, promoting suitable toilet facilities, but for people with disabilities. It is a pity that we are not ensuring the provision of such access. We are excluding a group of people who could enjoy participating in betting shop activities. Although I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made about discrimination against women, deregulation is the wrong way to tackle it. We need to regulate more. Betting shops now operate more openly on the high street so that people can see inside. I was distressed when I passed a betting shop in Lee High Road in my constituency the other evening. I could see litter strewn all over the place. It is an ugly sight. The order does not deal with such matters, but I want the debate to give betting shops the message that, while we open them up so that people can see what is happening inside, we want them to respect the local community.

4.45 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. It is incredible that, in spite of this deregulatory order, there will still be regulation. Why should not restaurant meals be provided in betting shops, as they are at racecourses? Such restrictions should not continue once the regulations are made. I welcome the order, however, as a moderate step in the right direction.

4.45 pm

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North): I acknowledge the order, but there are difficulties. Some betting shops in my constituency are not in the high street but in small parades of shops adjacent to residential property. Now that betting shops are allowed to open later in the evening, there has been some disturbance to to local residents. Chip bags and other litter floating down the street will create further problems. The Minister should make betting shops responsible for cleaning up the litter outside their premises.

4.46 pm

Mr. Nicholas Baker: One thing that will be allowed in betting shops is a supply of sparkling mineral water, possibly from Scotland, which will revive the punters as it has revived me. We have had a good debate and I shall deal with the many comments made as quickly as I can. The same rules about what is left outside premises apply to betting shops as to any other shop, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) will appreciate. Betting shops will realise that it is in their commercial interests to keep their premises tidy. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury mentioned meals. There is a distinction between those refreshments that will be allowed, such as packaged sandwiches and snacks, including cakes, pasties, butties and other food that can be heated in a microwave, and items such as fish and chips or other meals that have to be cooked, rather than just warmed up which will not be allowed. Although my hon. Friend may find that discomfiting, the order is a good but cautious measure of deregulation. 7 I can tell the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun that the order applies to Scotland. He and the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs Prentice) mentioned access, an important point of which I hope the industry will take account. The order is only part of a package of future measures, one of which will relate to shop signs showing the services available, and to windows, which will no longer need frosted glass, which the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwin mentioned. There will be consultation about further deregulation. The hon. Lady asked me what consultation had taken place already and I can tell her that it has been extremely wide. People throughout the industry have been consulted; there were 93 respondents and the response was generally 8 favourable to the proposed deregulation although some smaller shops were anxious about certain aspects of it. Those comments were noted before the order was presented to the House. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) to watch this space.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, "That the Committee has considered the Draft Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 (Schedule 4) (Amendment) Order 1995."

Committee rose at eleven minutes to Five o'clock.


Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)

Anderson, Ms Janet

Baker, Mr. Nicholas

Bendall, Mr.

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Fox, Dr. Liam

Key, Mr.

Lord, Mr.

McKelvey, Mr.

McLoughlin, Mr.

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget

Townend, Mr. John