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England: Archbishop of Canterbury - contribution to House of Lords casino debate

Posted on: March 29, 2007 2:36 PM
Related Categories: Abp Williams, England

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke yesterday in the debate on gambling and super casinos in the House of Lords. The Archbishop of Canterbury, along with the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the Bishop of Peterborough, voted for an amendment tabled by Lord Clement Jones to reject the order to grant casino licences in their proposed form.

The full text of the Archbishop's speech is below:

“My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the remarks made by the Minister and others about the procedural gravity of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones; but I feel the need to speak to the reasons that have made me deeply sympathetic to that amendment and to the concerns underlying it. They are both particular and general. The particular reasons have already been detailed by a number of other noble Lords. We have already heard how the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of your Lordships’ House has exposed some of the confusions and inconsistencies in the terms of reference of the Casino Advisory Panel, especially as those have related to criteria of social impact. The oscillation between discussing these in negative and in positive terms does not encourage the casual reader.

To take one example from the proceedings of the Merits Committee, I note that the question is left open of how benefits can be secured to local people rather than large investors. That question, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, was answered simply in terms of that being, so to speak, referred to the responsibility of local government to resolve. I find that an inadequate and worrying response.

Sadly, the general impression that has been given is of a piece of inadequately monitored social experimentation. The very language of “test of social impact” fails to take seriously enough the fact that social impact is not something which comes and goes within 24 hours or which can be written out of the record by another piece of research. It also gives the unfortunate impression of business being somewhat unduly hustled in the parliamentary procedure, on which other noble Lords have spoken more eloquently and extensively than I can.

My general grounds for unease do not rest primarily on a principled opposition to all forms of gambling in any shape in any place. Belonging to a church which has a mixed record on these matters, I can hardly take the moral ground with too much confidence. My objection is rather to the sleight of hand by which the whole business of the gambling industry has become coupled with the regeneration theme in ways which - I have to be candid - I find quite baffling. We have been reminded already by several noble Lords that terms such as problem gambling conceal a rather more unpalatable and extreme reality, of which some have spoken, in terms of addictive behaviour. While it is undoubtedly true statistically that casino gambling represents a relatively small segment of the overall problem of addictive gambling, none the less it represents a significant part and a social factor whose impact on its immediate environment is not restricted to addictive gambling.

But how would we react if we were discussing not this particular form of addiction but other forms of addiction? Surely, we should be extremely anxious about monitoring effects, so designing policies that they would be secure in advance, not subjecting them simply to an impact test. We should be very concerned about the resources to be made available for potential victims of this development. We recognise in other contexts that addiction is a nursery of crime as well as of poverty. In our discussion, that should be at the forefront of our minds. Why, if we raise these questions in relation to other forms of addictive behaviour, do we not raise them clearly here?

In conclusion, I should like to go back to regeneration. I have said that I find it a puzzling word to use in connection with this theme. I wonder whether the undoubted enthusiasm of some local authorities for the presence of casinos in their midst has something to do with the absence of other viable forms of regeneration policy proposed to them. Institutions that can encourage criminality and intensify irresponsibility are poor allies of social and civic regeneration. It may be - I believe that it is - that we cannot simply turn our eyes away from the social reality of gambling and the desire of people to gamble. I should be the last to wish this brushed under the carpet - to use a phrase that has already been used today in your Lordships’ House. None the less, I am left with these questions about the procedure by which this order has been brought before us and the advice on which it is based. I hold no great brief for Blackpool, but one thing that might be observed about these criteria is that they lack that through-and-through consistency which is one of the better known aspects of one of the better known products of Blackpool. I am left then with asking who in the community at large actively initiates and wants these proposals, as opposed to selecting them as the least bad alternatives in situations where regeneration is an urgent and serious priority. My belief is that that urgent priority is not best met by going down the road that is before us in the order proposed."

© Rowan Williams 2007