Lords trump super-casino bid

PLANS for Britain's first super-casino were in tatters last night after the House of Lords inflicted a shock defeat on the government, forcing a rethink by ministers.

Peers narrowly rejected the controversial proposals for a 5,000 square metre complex in Manchester and 16 other casinos across the country, including one in Stranraer.

Ministers were stunned after peers instead backed an amendment by Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones calling for a joint committee of the Lords and Commons to look again at the decision-making process.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Richard Caborn, the minister for gambling, said: "We will have to reflect on whether we go forward or, indeed, how we go forward if we make that decision."

The vote will also be seen as a personal humiliation for Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, who had gambled on the high-risk strategy of requiring both the Commons and the Lords to vote on the complete package. In a newspaper interview before the debates, she warned there would be "no plan B quickly" if the government was defeated.

Ms Jowell said ministers would reflect on the outcome of the vote and come back to the "elected" Commons in due course with proposals on how "we will take this policy forward".

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said: "This historic victory in the Lords means the government must once again listen to those in parliament who have repeatedly expressed their concerns. The government's desperation to railroad these casinos through without proper scrutiny left a real question as to whether this legislation has been more about Treasury coffers than minimising social harm."

Peers rejected the government's gambling regulations by 123 to 120. Moments later, the House of Commons narrowly backed the government, by 274 votes to 250, but the defeat in the Lords overrides the backing given by MPs.

Opponents of the super-casino plans have included a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, those opposed to gambling and some Labour MPs angry about the choice of Manchester over unemployment blackspots such as Blackpool and Glasgow.

In the Lords, the opposition to the government's measure was led by religious leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said he felt "unease" about the way in which the argument for the casinos had been coupled with urban regeneration.

Following the vote, Lord Clement-Jones said: "Against all the odds, this is a historic victory. For only the third time, the House of Lords has rejected an order proposed by the government.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Ultimately, this is a triumph for parliament and will ensure public confidence in its scrutiny function and ability to hold the government to account. The government must listen to the Lords and make certain the right location is chosen for any regional casino in the UK."

Earlier, Ms Jowell had warned MPs about the risk to jobs if they opposed the order.

But Mr Caborn stressed there was "no doubt" that an order permitting the 16 smaller casinos - including the one in Stranraer - "could go forward tomorrow" with the support of the opposition parties.

But it was not clear whether the government intended to push ahead with those projects in the short-term.

In January, Stranraer was the only town in Scotland to win a licence from the Casino Advisory Panel to operate a casino under the new gaming act.

The small casino would cover up to 750 square metres and house up to 80 of the 4000 maximum jackpot gaming machines, as well as an unlimited number of gaming tables. Sports betting was also to be part of the package.