Jowell is facing defeat in Labour MPs' casino revolt

Last updated at 23:15 01 March 2007

Tessa Jowell was facing a humiliating Commons defeat over plans for a supercasino in Manchester.

More than 80 Labour MPs are expected to rebel against the party in protest that the licence is not being awarded to Blackpool.

Also see

Supercasino will regenerate rundown area

Casino plan revolt may shorten the odds on Blackpool

Labour donor Mick Hucknall stands to make millions from supercasino

MPs have seized on remarks by Tony Blair that the rundown resort needs a casino because of its 'urgent' need for regeneration.

The Culture Secretary yesterday ignored last minute interventions by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Lancashire MPs.

Instead, she pushed ahead with the independent Casino Advisory Panel's recommendation of Manchester.

But in a sign of the disarray, Downing Street said it would allow MPs in Blackpool and the surrounding area to ignore the three-line whip on the vote next month.

Westminster observers said it was extraordinary that the Government was encouraging its own MPs to defy the party line.

It has also emerged that two years ago Mr Blair threw his weight behind locating the supercasino in Blackpool - adding weight to the protests from rebel MPs.

Asked in October 2004 why there should be a Las Vegas-style supercasino in Britain, the Prime Minister said: 'Well go and talk to the people in Blackpool who urgently need the regeneration.' Downing Street yesterday insisted the Cabinet was acting as one in support of Manchester.

But 101 MPs - including the 80 from Labour - have signed a parliamentary motion expressing 'surprise and regret' at the panel's decision in January.

They have urged Miss Jowell to convene a committee to reconsider the recommendation before taking it through Parliament.

Lancashire MP Lindsay Hoyle was one of more than 80 Labour MPs who signed the Commons motion. He said last night: 'Most MPs across the country were more than surprised that Blackpool did not get the casino licence, and the shock still remains.

'Not only did the Prime Minister feel that Blackpool was the right choice, and not only did the North West Development Agency feel it is the right choice, a growing number of MPs also feel that Blackpool is the right choice.'

It would take 33 rebels to wipe out the Government's majority of 64 - far fewer than the number who have signed the Commons motion objecting to the Manchester decision.

Tory sources said the Government could not count on the votes of Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats will vote against the Government.

Even if Labour survives the Commons revolt, it faces a rough ride in the Lords. And because it is a vote on a Government motion, rather than new legislation, ministers are unable to use the Parliament Act to force it through the Upper House.

If the Government lost the vote, ministers would be forced to go back to the drawing board.

Miss Jowell has opted for an 'all or nothing' strategy by putting the decision on one super-casino and 16 smaller venues into one proposal.

It will be laid before Parliament in an 'affirmative order' which cannot be amended, forcing MPs to accept or reject the plans in their entirety.

Miss Jowell has offered a sop by allowing three hours, rather than the traditional 90 minutes, for the Commons debate.

She said: 'Many people in this country like to gamble and it is right that they are properly protected.

'This is not Las Vegas coming to Britain. The Gambling Act brings in tough new controls on gambling, and puts an obligation for social responsibility at the heart of the operation of the new casinos.'

Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster said, however: 'The face of British gambling has changed significantly since the Gambling Bill was passed.'

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now