Tessa Wavers Now the Chips Are Down; (1) I Recognise There Is Public Anxiety ... I Will Take Seriously Proposals for Improving This Legislation Tessa Jowell Yesterday (2) Culture Secretary Finally Acknowledges That Many Are 'Afraid of the Harm' Which Could Result from Labour's Plans for a Gambling Free-for-All

Daily Mail (London), November 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Tessa Wavers Now the Chips Are Down; (1) I Recognise There Is Public Anxiety ... I Will Take Seriously Proposals for Improving This Legislation Tessa Jowell Yesterday (2) Culture Secretary Finally Acknowledges That Many Are 'Afraid of the Harm' Which Could Result from Labour's Plans for a Gambling Free-for-All


Byline: BENEDICT BROGAN

TESSA Jowell led a Government retreat on the Gambling Bill last night by offering to limit the spread of super-casinos.

The Culture Secretary admitted for the first time that the public was 'afraid of the harm' a gambling boom could cause.

It was a major shift from her position a week earlier when she dismissed her critics as a minority of 'snobs'.

Mrs Jowell said she now recognised there was 'a considerable public anxiety about the whole issue of gambling'.

Though she defended the Bill, which faces its first Commons test today, as necessary to 'modernise' the gaming laws, Labour sources say privately that plans to bring Las Vegas to Britain are now a lost cause.

Mrs Jowell has been away from London for most of the past fortnight because of a family bereavement. She returned late last week to discover that the political ground has shifted decisively against her.

The massive scale of public opposition has been shown by the Daily Mail's campaign to defeat the Bill, which has already won pledges of support from more than 100,000 readers.

Now the Bill's Commons Second Reading, which Labour Whips had thought would be routine, has turned into a test of wills between Mrs Jowell and the growing ranks of Labour MPs unhappy with the measure.

Up to 30 backbenchers are said to be ready to vote with the Opposition and a further 50 could abstain.

The rebel ranks are not big enough to defeat the Government, but Mrs Jowell has been warned to expect a far rougher ride when the legislation is examined line by line later this year - unless she offers an acceptable compromise.

The Culture Secretary is now trying to head off a damaging Commons rebellion by offering to redraw her plans. On the BBC's Breakfast with Frost yesterday she said she would be prepared to change the legislation to allow 'a more gradual approach' - effectively running up the white flag.

Mrs Jowell also said: 'I will take very seriously constructive proposals for improving this Bill that arise during its Parliamentary scrutiny.'

'Underpinning all this is what I recognise to be a considerable public anxiety about the whole issue of gambling.' The Bill as it stands would allow an unlimited number of resort casinos, packed with [pounds sterling]1million jackpot slot machines, in city centres.

MPs, academics and church leaders have joined forces to condemn a move they say will double the number of gambling addicts and do great harm to families in deprived areas. On Saturday an ICM poll for the Daily Mail found overwhelming public opposition.

Mrs Jowell conceded that the Government had been hit by a 'firestorm'.

She said: 'I understand why that has occurred, because gambling is one of those issues that sits absolutely at the apex of where government intervention and personal freedom coincide. …

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Tessa Wavers Now the Chips Are Down; (1) I Recognise There Is Public Anxiety ... I Will Take Seriously Proposals for Improving This Legislation Tessa Jowell Yesterday (2) Culture Secretary Finally Acknowledges That Many Are 'Afraid of the Harm' Which Could Result from Labour's Plans for a Gambling Free-for-All
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