Jowell imposes „all-or-nothing“ casino vote

Labour MPs will be under a three-line whip to support the Government’s all-or-nothing strategy for a super-casino in Manchester and 16 smaller casinos around the country, Tessa Jowell said yesterday.

The Culture Secretary confirmed a report in The Daily Telegraph that MPs would vote by March 29 on a single Government Order implementing the recommendation of the Casino Advisory Panel.

It will mean that MPs opposed to the siting of the first Las Vegas-style casino in Manchester risk throwing out the other 16 proposed casinos if they vote down the order.

The proposals will be laid before Parliament in an affirmative order that cannot be amended, forcing MPs to accept or reject the package in its entirety. Miss Jowell said it would be allotted three hours in the Commons, double the time usually set aside for affirmative orders.

In a letter to Don Foster, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, she said: „The debate in the Commons will be held by the end of March and there will be a three-line whip.“

Her decision to press ahead with a take-it-or-leave it package is a blow for MPs who have been pressing for a separate vote on Manchester.

They have been demanding a rethink of the advisory panel’s recommendations so that the first super-casino goes to Blackpool.

More than 100 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion expressing „surprise and regret“ at the panel’s decision in January. They have won the backing of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

Michael Jack, Conservative MP for Fylde, said the vote could be tight in the Commons as just a fifth of the 100-plus MPs who have signed the motion were Tories.

Even if the order scrapes through the Commons, it is likely to be defeated in the House of Lords. Lord Davies of Oldham, the Government Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords, said he was expecting a „lively debate“.

Miss Jowell said the Act paving the way for the new casinos made no mention of additional procedures.

„It has always been my stated intention to rely on the rigorous, independent work of the panel to inform my decisions,“ she said.

She had previously given undertakings to the Commons that she would be reluctant to reject the conclusions of the panel’s final report, she added.

Hugo Swire, the Conservative culture spokesman, said Miss Jowell was in a „mess of the Government’s own making“ and indicated that his party was unlikely to help her defeat Labour rebels.

Ministers are hoping that many Labour MPs who have one of the medium-sized casinos in or close to their constituencies will not want to risk losing them by voting against the order even though they support calls for a rethink on the super-casino.