he Culture Secretary is risking everything on the all-or-nothing vote, despite pressure from MPs and peers to rethink the proposal to site a super-casino in Manchester. Jowell today warned there could be "no Plan B quickly" if the Government’s proposals are voted down.
The Government is believed to be offering a regeneration pot worth millions of pounds to Blackpool, in order to win over Labour backbenchers who believe the seaside resort - and not Manchester - should be awarded the first licence for a "regional casino". But Jowell told the Financial Times: "We are not talking about buying off a rebellion. This is very much in response to specific representations by a very large number of MPs."
In the Commons, the vast majority of the 103 MPs who have signed a motion supporting a plan to site the super-casino in Blackpool are Labour. The rebels have received further tacit support from Gordon Brown over their position after the Chancellor indicated his private disapproval by slapping a tax hit on the industry in the Budget.
Westminster sources said that it was likely that the vote would scrape through the Commons, with 15 to 20 Labour MPs rebelling against the government's three line whip. In theory, the government will lose if 25 Labour MPs join every other Opposition.
The real drama looks likely to take place in the Lords. If peers vote the order down it will be for only the third time in more than 10,000 orders since the Second World War. One likely outcome is that the Lords votes before the Commons.
The Tories are understood to be preparing to vote in favour of an amendment from Baroness Goulding in the Lords which would call on the Government to refer the plans for the super-casino back to a new Parliamentary committee. If this happens, then it will put pressure on Government whips to withdraw the measure in the Commons before MPs have had a chance to vote.
A spokesman for Jowell's department said: “The order will be laid with plans for 17 casino locations. Ministers believe there is a compelling case for Parliament to accept the order in full.”
Last night the Royal College of Psychiatrists joined Church of England leaders who oppose the plans. The College was “concerned about aspects of the Gambling Act 2005 that will have an impact on excessive gambling,” it said. “The Royal College of Psychiatrists therefore advisers that the Order should be rejected.”
Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said last night he would vote against the super casino plans because the Government had become “seduced by the international gambling industry”.
“Ministers were wrong in believing that such super casinos were the way to regenerate communities. The harm would outweigh any supposed benefits, particularly the effect on young people. The idea that the British economy should be run on a roulette wheel is very worrying,” Duncan Smith said.
The former Tory leader published preliminary findings from his social justice policy group which concluded that Manchester was the “worst possible location” for the super casino. It said it could have “devastating social consequences” for an area which was already disadvantaged. Greater Manchester already had some of the highest levels of crime in the country, including the highest number of robberies, while violent crime was endemic.
According to the research, the area of east Manchester chosen for the first super casino had social problems which would be made worse by problem gambling. Half the population was economically inactive and totally dependent on the state more people were likely to get into debt, damaging family stability, as a result of problem gambling.
Historically prostitution, organised crime and gang violence centred around casinos, leading to “degeneration not regeneration”.
“The minimal claims of regeneration and employment creation are far outweighed by the long-term damage a super-casino could inflict on one of the most deprived areas of the country, especially considering the resources which would need to be ploughed into tackling the fall-out of social problems,” the study concluded.