Archive speech: Rowan Williams vs the Supercasino

“Institutions that can encourage criminality and intensify irresponsibility are poor allies of social and civic regeneration.” – Most Rev and Rt Hon Rowan Williams, 28/3/07

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Most Rev & Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury & Lord Spiritual, 2002-12

In March 2007 the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke out in the House of Lords against the proposal to issue a licence for a new kind of ‘supercasino’ in Manchester. In the subsequent vote he and two other bishops voted against; the proposal to issue the licence being rejected by  majority of three. When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister a few months later the plan to pilot the supercasino was scrapped.

Coverage included this in The Economist, and this in The Guardian.

The full text of Rowan Williams’ speech is reproduced at the end of this post.

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Background:

On 28th March 2007 the House of Lords met to approve the Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Casino Premises Licences) Order 2007. The Order was designed to pave the way for the issue of 17 casino licences by local authorities: for one regional (or ‘super’) casino, plus eight large and eight small casinos. Although the issuing of the licences for the eight large and small casinos was broadly accepted in the House, there was controversy over the supercasino proposal.

Some objected on moral grounds to the introduction of an experiment in gambling on such a large scale, and did not accept the arguments put on the basis of regeneration. Others objected because they favoured Blackpool, not East Manchester (the choice of the independent Casino Advisory Panel) as the venue for the pilot supercasino.

Reflecting these concerns Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Clement-Jones tabled an amendment to the motion, to defer approval and put the decision back to a reviewing committee of both Houses of Parliament. Introducing the debate for the Labour Governnment Lord Davies of Oldham spoke of the serious effects of passing that amendment:

“The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is very significant, as it would repudiate and negative the order. That has happened only twice since 1975. Substantial arguments would be needed to persuade unwhipped Members of this House to support the noble Lord’s amendment.”

Lord Clement-Jones, introducing his amendment, said:

“we need to be particularly cautious in taking the decision about the location of the super-casino. There is rising concern about the growth of gambling and the issue of problem gambling. The number of casinos in total is growing rapidly…. this may not be a pilot at all. In fact, it is highly likely that this one super-casino will be the only super-casino, so the process by which we choose it is absolutely crucial. This is no laboratory test; nor can we leave problem gambling to the planning process. There is no room for error.”

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The Archbishop’s speech:

28th March 2007 (via Parliament.uk)

The Archbishop of Canterbury: “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.”

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The Archbishop was backed up in the debate by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, Rt Rev George Cassidy. Giving the apologies of the Bishop of Manchester, who could not attend, he said:

“Manchester’s religious leaders do not wish to collude with those who would prefer the proposed casino to be in another town or city. That would simply export somewhere else what they regard as a wholly unwelcome problem anywhere.”

 

In the Division on Lord Clement-Jones’ amendment the Government was defeated by three votes (123 to 120). The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Peterborough and Southwell & Nottingham all voted for the amendment. No bishop voted against it.

 

Most Rev and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams served as a Lord Spiritual from 2002 until his retirement as Archbishop in 2012. He now sits in the Lords as Lord Williams of Oystermouth, an independent crossbench peer.