Climbdown saves super casino plan - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Tessa Jowell has reached a deal with the Tories to save the Gambling Bill agreeing to the creation of one regional "super casino" and not eight.

The location of the new casino will be decided by an independent panel, although the Tories say it should be a resort like Blackpool.

Plans for ID cards are also likely to be shelved as Parliamentary time runs out ahead of an election campaign.

Ministers say up to 16 of the 27 bills before parliament could be passed.

Parliament is due to be dissolved on Monday, ahead of an election on 5 May, giving MPs just three days to get legislation on to the statute book.

Commons Leader Peter Hain said the Finance Bill, which enacts the Budget, would go through all its Parliamentary stages on Wednesday.

The remaining stages of the Education Bill will be debated on Thursday and MPs could sit on Friday to consider further business, before Parliament is dissolved on Monday, ahead of a general election on 5 May.

A bill to make "incitement to religious hatred" a crime could also fall in what is known as the pre-election "wash up" period.

Mr Hain said, if discussions with opposition parties were successful, 16 bills would be given Royal Assent.

"That is more than half the programme of bills announced in the Queen's Speech," he said in the Commons.

"I think that will be a considerable achievement."

Among measures likely to be lost is the Consumer Credit Bill, which details tougher measures for tackling loan sharks.

Deal 'welcomed'

On the Gambling Bill, Tory culture spokesman John Whittingdale said the government had accepted his party's proposal for one "prototype" supercasino and on that basis they were prepared to allow it to pass into law.

Lib Dem Don Foster said: "We welcome this deal, which crucially allows for the rapid introduction of a tougher regulator whose remit will include internet gambling."

The Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, meanwhile said he believed plans for identity cards were a "likely casualty" of the prime minister calling the election a year early.

And Liberal Democrat spokesman Paul Tyler asked why the government was in such a rush for a general election when it could wait another 15 months - five years after the 2001 election.

"If there's so much vital business still to be scrutinised by Parliament, why does it have to go so early?" he asked.

Mr Hain said he could not help on the point raised, but said he was working with the opposition parties in an attempt to get "the normal orderly conclusion of business".

Shadow leader of the house Oliver Heald said the Tories were "prepared to be constructive" about the remaining bills.

But he warned, due to the "large number" still before Parliament, some would be lost.

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