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Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

1. Whether she plans to reintroduce the gambling prevalence survey; and if she will make a statement. (136075)

I welcome the recent announcement by the Responsible Gambling Trust of a major research project into gaming machines. A new approach to collecting data on gambling prevalence and trends in problem gambling has been adopted by the Gambling Commission; this will be cost-effective and has the potential to provide more frequent information than the old gambling prevalence survey.

Compulsive gambling ruins lives and destroys families. The most addictive form of gambling is on fixed-odds betting terminals, or gambling machines, which are described as the crack cocaine of gambling. Are the Government seriously concerned about gambling addiction, and what are they going to do to address the problem?

Yes, the Government are seriously concerned about problem gambling. This is one of those quite tricky areas where common sense suggests that it is a major problem but there is a lack of evidence to back that up. I very much hope that the major research project that is being undertaken will give us the necessary evidence and, absolutely, once the problem is proved to exist, the Government will act.

Does the Minister agree that there is currently not much evidence to prove that fixed-odds betting terminals are the most addictive form of gambling? Although I applaud his concern for the problems caused by problem gambling, will he reassure the House that he will proceed only on the basis of firm evidence when that is available?

Absolutely, in accordance with the answer that I gave earlier. It is recognised that there is an issue in this area, but there is a lack of authoritative evidence to back that up, and that is precisely what we are looking for.

I completely agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). Concern is shared across the House, so we want to see the Government doing something about it. We all know—there is bags of evidence—that gambling is blighting people’s lives, and blighting our high streets too, given the prevalence of betting shops. We need only look down our own high streets; we do not need a research project to see what is going on. The Government say that they want localism and that they are in favour of local people having a say, so will they change the planning laws so that local people have the power to prevent any more betting shops from opening up on their high streets if they do not want them?

The answer to the right hon. and learned Lady is yes, if the evidence supports that, but no Government of any colour have ever produced a policy without the backing of real evidence to support it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) was of course a Minister in the previous Government, so if she wishes to laugh that probably tells us rather a lot. She might wish she had kept her mouth shut. As I said, once we have the evidence we will proceed.