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Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on gaming machines and social responsibility.

I am pleased to inform the House that this morning I published a consultation on proposals for changes to gaming machines and social responsibility measures across the gambling industry. The consultation will run for 12 weeks, during which the general public, industry and all other interested parties will be able to voice their views on the questions raised. I appreciate that some might not understand why we have to run a consultation, but this is the right process by which to proceed if we are to address this issue thoroughly and properly.

As hon. Members know, the Government announced a review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures in October 2016. I am grateful to all those who responded, including individual former addicts, faith groups, local authorities and the bookmakers. The objective of the review was to ensure we have the right balance between a sector that can grow and contribute to the economy and one that is socially responsible and doing all it should to protect consumers and communities.

Although our consultation sets out a package of measures to protect vulnerable people from harm, the main area of interest has been the stake for B2 gaming machines, known as fixed odds betting terminals. We believe that the current regulation of FOBTs is inappropriate to achieve our stated objective of protecting consumers and wider communities. We are therefore consulting on regulatory changes to the maximum stake, looking at options between £50 and £2, to reduce the potential for large losses and therefore the harmful impact on the player, their families, and the wider community.

We are aware that the factors that influence the extent of harm to the player are wider than one product or a limited set of parameters such as stakes and prizes, and include factors around the player, the environment and the product. We are therefore also consulting on corresponding social responsibility measures, on player protections in the online sector and on a package of measures on gambling advertising. Within this package, we want the industry, the regulator and charities to continue to drive the social responsibility agenda, to ensure that all is being done to protect players and that those in trouble can access the treatment and support they need. The consultation will close on 23 January 2018, following which the Government will consider their final proposals and make an announcement in due course.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

First, I praise the Minister for the manner in which she has conducted this review. She has kept me and other Members of the House informed throughout the entire process and has shown exemplary attention to detail. It is a shame, therefore, that she does not have a completely free hand in this policy, because we think the outcome could have been very different.

The Government’s response, after a year-long process of delay after delay, and hundreds of submissions from industry, local government, charities, campaigners and Church groups, among others, is deeply disappointing. Instead of taking firm and reasonable action to counter the well known problems with FOBTs, the Government have simply kicked the process further into the long grass and announced another consultation extending beyond the Budget.

Look at the public policy challenge the House faces: 430,000 people are addicted to gambling—up a third in three years—and a further 2 million problem gamblers are at risk of developing an addiction. Some £1.8 billion is lost on FOBTs each year—an increase of 79% over the past eight years. The gambling industry’s yield—the amount it wins in bets—has increased to £13.8 billion, up from £8.3 billion in 2009, yet it paid only £10 million for education and treatment services this year, through a voluntary levy. Worst of all, there are 450,000 children who gamble at least once a week. This situation requires action now.

There is an old maxim that the bookies always win, and they have won again today. Their shares are up and their lobbyists were grinning from ear to ear in their TV interviews this morning. We have consistently said to the Government that our gambling laws are no longer fit for purpose. There has been an explosion of online and digital-platform gambling that the Gambling Act 2005 could not have anticipated. We have offered to work with the Government on a cross-party basis to make our laws fit for the digital age. The report published today could have been a significant starting point for the process, because even by the most conservative estimates, the associated harms and costs of gambling addiction are believed to total more than £1 billion a year—and I bet the true figure is far higher. The impact is felt not only through the losses that gamblers accrue but through NHS and treatment costs, in our communities as families struggle and break down, and in our police forces, which deal with the resultant crime.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office on how to measure gambling-related crime? Does she know how many people have received counselling or treatment for gambling addiction in the past 12 months, since her review has taken place? Does she know how much treatment for gambling addiction costs the NHS each year? She has said from the Dispatch Box on several occasions that the gambling industry has not done enough to fund research, education and treatment of gambling and gambling-related harm, but she has again failed to bring the industry to heel. She could have introduced a compulsory levy, and we would have supported her on that. This is a missed opportunity to settle the issue of FOBTs once and for all. Quite frankly, we expected more. The Government had a strong hand to play, but this is a busted flush.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind words at the start of his speech. I am pleased to see his conversion on this issue. He was of course a Minister in the Government who passed the legislation that liberalised gambling and caused the harm that many people have suffered as a consequence of FOBTs. It is this Government who are taking action.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the fact that we have announced a consultation, but the fact is that in 2005 the Labour Government rushed through the Gambling Act without paying proper attention to the issues with these machines, which then led to their proliferation. FOBTs did not exist in 1997, when the Labour party came to power. It is this Government who have recognised the harm that has been caused and who are taking action. There will be a consultation; it is due process, and I expect people to contribute to that process.

I welcome the announcement of the consultation, particularly as there is now information about the effect of category B2 machines that did not exist when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked into the matter around five years ago. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s position remains that any future decisions will be evidence-based?

I can confirm that to be the case. The call for evidence brought in many people’s views and made the need to take action very clear. The consultation sets out four options for the reduction in stakes, but the call for evidence makes it certain that the status quo will not be maintained.

I fear that the Government have missed yet another opportunity to tackle this problem. By announcing yet another consultation, they are attempting to kick this matter further into the long grass. The move to cut the maximum stake, while welcome, does not go far enough. In Scotland, £4 billion is spent every year on 2,000 gaming machines, and this is at a time when more people are being identified as problem or at-risk gamblers. Action is needed now. If this Parliament is unwilling to act, the Scottish Parliament is. Will the Minister start today the process of devolving all gambling powers to the Scottish Parliament?

We have already devolved a number of powers to the Scottish Parliament that it has yet to take up.

I congratulate the Minister on her announcement today. Does she not find the hypocrisy of the Opposition astonishing, given that it was the Labour Government who doubled the number of fixed odds betting terminals in shops and tried to withdraw the powers of local councils to stop betting shops being placed on high streets? Is their attitude not extraordinary at this stage?

I will be perfectly honest: I find their attitude disappointing. We have worked on this issue on a cross-party basis for a number of years. I have poured heart and soul into this consultation and feel that we have definitely taken the matter much further forward than ever before. It is this Government who are taking action on an aspect of gambling that brings great concern into our communities and affects individuals, families and society as a whole. It is this Government who are dealing with it.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to the fact that I am co-chair of the all-party group on racing and bloodstock industries.

The Minister will know that horse-racing relies heavily on the levy from bookmakers and on advertising, sponsorship and media rights. Will she assure me that she will work with the industry—with horse-racing—in the coming weeks to ensure that, while protecting those who are vulnerable to gambling addiction, which we all want to do, we protect jobs, investment and economic benefits that my constituency receives through being home to the best racecourse in the country at Haydock Park?

Horse-racing is an incredibly important sector within my portfolio, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital would not let me forget that, as he has one of the largest racecourses in his constituency. We do not envisage these changes having a particularly negative impact on horse-racing—in fact, they may well encourage bookmakers and others to focus more on horse-racing.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is clutching some newspaper article from which, doubtless, he wishes to quote.

May I urge the Minister not to listen to the shadow Secretary of State? He and I were both on the Select Committee that looked into these matters. and he was so interested in problem gambling that he did not even turn up to one evidence session. Perhaps if he had, he would be a bit more knowledgeable on the subject.

Over the summer, the Gambling Commission published its report on problem gambling. It found that the highest levels of problem gambling were in spread betting, followed by betting through a betting exchange, then playing poker in pubs or clubs, then betting online on events other than sports or horse or greyhound-racing, and only then by playing gaming machines in bookmakers. Those much higher levels of problem gambling all come with unlimited stakes and unlimited potential winnings. If the Government are so obsessed with evidence, why are they focusing so much on betting machines in bookmakers? Or are they just playing to the gallery, which most of us know this is really all about?

May I gently urge my hon. Friend to read the consultation document we published today? If he does, he will discover that this is not just about problem gamblers, but about those who may be at risk from harmful gambling. One thing we know is that there are many more people out there who are at risk of harmful gambling, of which FOBTs are just one aspect. The consultation delivers a package of measures on all areas of gambling and the risks that they may cause.

My constituency has 54 FOBTs. Some £2.5 million was lost on these machines last year and £15 million has been lost since 2008 in a deprived constituency. The recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research and GambleAware said that it is costing the UK £1.2 billion to look after the victims of gambling—people who are addicted and have various problems. What assessment has the Minister done of the cost to the UK Government of looking after people who will continue to be affected if the £50 option is chosen, because it is still such a high stake?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work on the subject. He is a long-time campaigner on the issues of FOBTs and has done an excellent job standing up for his constituents who have become the victims of gambling addiction. Four options have been set out in the consultation paper—£50, £30, £20 and £2—and separate impact assessments have been published alongside.

I am pleased to hear the Minister speak about protecting the vulnerable from harm. The Centre for Social Justice report, “Lowering the Stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals” says that

“the high stakes of FOBTs have compounded the social issues perpetuated by gambling.”

As the Minister says, the harm of FOBTs goes way beyond addicted gamblers to affect many families and children disastrously. I implore the Minister to consider that a reduction of £50 will not resolve the issue for those people.

It is clear that we have listened to all the public concerns about the risks of high-stake gambling, which is why we have published this overall package of measures. I encourage my hon. Friend and others to make their views clear on the individual stake options as part of the consultation.

Given the danger that people who want to make large bets will be pushed online to the less regulated area, would the Government consider extending the consultation to address stakes in online equivalents such as blackjack, in which thousands of pounds can be bet on one hand and lost?

The consultation addresses online gambling, in which there has been huge growth. We have announced as part of today’s package that we expect to see stricter protections as part of the licensing conditions for online gambling operators. I hope that the hon. Lady will look at those measures and respond accordingly.

I am the other co-chair of the all-party group on racing and bloodstock industries. I also have the honour of representing the constituency that is home to Cheltenham racecourse, which I would say is the best racecourse in the world.

I am a little bit concerned by the Minister’s suggestion that bookmakers might be able to transfer bets to racing from FOBTs. I do not think there is any evidence that that would happen, although I very much hope that it would. I stress the importance to horse-racing of the support of bookmakers. That is not unique to the United Kingdom; it is the same across the world. When the Minister takes her decision, will she consult fully with all strands of horse-racing, so that we do not end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

There is no intention to damage the horse-racing sector with this consultation. I encourage my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to look at the letter that was sent to me by Paddy Power’s chief executive, who recognises that the issue has become toxic for the industry and may well be driving punters away from the shops. Members of the bookmaking industry are keen to get involved with this, and there is certainly no intention to damage horse-racing or any other sporting industry.

I thank the Minister for the consultation paper, which we will study with interest. Before she makes her final decision, will she carry out an impact assessment of whether these measures will result in job losses in betting shops across the United Kingdom? Also, there are five-and-a-half lines on television broadcasting in this document, yet everyone knows that gambling adverts are doing more damage than FOBTs.

We will assess all the evidence that we receive as part of the consultation. The impact assessment has also been published today alongside the consultation document. Advertising regulations are in place. We have announced today, as part of the package of measures, that there will be a responsible gambling campaign funded by the broadcasting industry of a scale that is larger than any Government public awareness campaign. We expect that to be prevalent within the parameters in which gambling adverts are allowed. It is a fact that people can see gambling adverts during live sporting events, and we are addressing some issues around their tone and content. I think it is fair to say that, although such adverts might be annoying, the content is not beyond what is allowed by regulation. We will keep a close eye on that situation.

Is the Minister aware that many people in the Isle of Wight would like to see the limit of FOBTs dropped as soon as possible, preferably to £2. There are 55 such machines in my constituency, and they have taken £19 million out of our economy since 2008. That money would frankly be best spent elsewhere. Will she comment on the gambling industry’s irresponsible and deeply selfish attitude? It has become addicted to the profits that these machines generate. That addiction to those profits comes from getting people—generally at the poorer end of the spectrum—addicted to this style of gambling. It is deeply troubling.

I hope that my hon. Friend and many other people across the Isle of Wight who have been affected by these machines take a look at the consultation paper and reply. This is an opportunity for the gambling industry to take a long hard look at itself and reassess what it offers the British punter. We shall see what happens over the next 12 weeks.

I recently visited the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and commend the work being done by Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones in supporting people affected by gambling-related harm. However, this is the only such clinic in the entire United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that more help needs to be provided for individuals and families who have been affected by problem gambling? One way of doing this would be to put a statutory levy on bookmakers, so that they contribute more than the £8 million that they currently contribute on the back of the hundreds of millions of pounds of profit that they make annually.

I agree. We certainly mention some issues around the levy in the consultation document. At the moment, bookmakers have to contribute 0.1% of their profits. If they did that, it would amount to somewhere in the region of £13 million to £14 million, but that is currently not happening across the board. We have made it very clear in the consultation that we want that to happen. If it does not happen, we will certainly consider the introduction of a mandatory levy.

I strongly welcome the consultation. Many of us remember the disastrous legislation on FOBTs under the last Labour Government, and their intention to bring forward a generation of super-casinos. I urge the Minister to look at online gambling where people can gamble repeatedly through the night on online casinos while drinking.

We are looking at the issue of online gambling. As it stands, about 10% of the adult population participate in online gambling and betting, and 5.1% of those players are problem gamblers. That compares to 11.5% of FOBT users who are problem gamblers. We are addressing both issues, but, although we have seen a growth in online gambling, we know where the current issues lie.

On Thursday, I visited a residential gambling rehabilitation centre in my constituency, which provides a 14-week programme for about half a dozen residents at any one time. It is run by the Gordon Moody Association, and demand for the service outstrips what it can offer. Will the Minister commend the vital work of the Gordon Moody Association and commit to a compulsory levy on the industry to fund such vital work?

I am happy to commend the work being done in the hon. Lady’s constituency. There is a shortage of places dealing specifically with gambling addiction. We would like to see the situation vastly improved, and we are talking to colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that that happens. I hope the hon. Lady heard my answer to the previous question, which was that the industry should contribute more on a voluntary basis, but if it does not, we will consider a mandatory levy.

I commend to the Minister the “Victoria Derbyshire” programme this morning. At 9.15 am the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spoke, and at 10.15 am a man called Terry spoke about how, if the stakes were £2, he would not have lost everything. We ought to bring in Terry’s law. My prediction is that, on a free vote, £2 would get through and that, on a whipped vote, it would also get through.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that television and whipping advice. We are looking at all these issues, and the different options are there. The £2 figure is in the consultation paper, and that is something there has been great public demand for. We are going through a consultation process; everybody will be able to submit their views to it, and we will make a decision during the next year.

May I first thank the Minister for the helpful way she has worked with me as chair of the all-party group on FOBTs to get us to the point we are at now? She will be well aware of my concerns about the addiction to FOBTs and the consequences of that addiction. There is insufficient treatment for addicts and no residential treatment at all for women. There is the potential for criminal activity to feed the habit and for vandalism as a result of frustration about the habit, and there is a worrying opportunity for money laundering. Addicts also often put pressure on the benefits system because of their chaotic lives, and mental health issues often prevent them from working. Before the final decision is made, I urge the Minister to consider all those social consequences of this dreadful addiction to these dreadful machines.

May I first congratulate the hon. Lady on the work that she and many others on both sides of the House and in both Houses have done on this issue in the all-party group? Many of the issues she has raised are precisely why the Government are taking action and why we have published the consultation today. It is important to emphasise that we recognise that this is about not just the gambler—whether they are a problem gambler or a harmful gambler—but the associated consequences for their family and friends and for the communities in which they live.

Does my hon. Friend agree that bookmakers provide considerable employment, contribute to the economy and, for the vast majority of gamblers, provide a bit of enjoyment and light fun? We should not forget that.

That is why we are taking the balanced approach of making sure that we continue to support a socially responsible sector while protecting the most vulnerable in society.

In just one borough—Blaenau Gwent—nearly £1.5 million was lost to FOBTs last year, so I ask the Minister not to bow to industry pressure and to cap the top stake at £2.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his views. I encourage him to make those points, particularly as they relate to his constituency, as part of the consultation. We are looking at a whole variety of options when it comes to the stake, and I urge him and others to make their views known as part of the call for responses in the next 12 weeks.

It is so important that we have the right, strong protections in place around online gambling, particularly where young people and some of the most vulnerable people are concerned, so I welcome the Minister’s announcement today. Will she provide further details to the House about the responsible gambling advertising campaign her Department has announced today?

GambleAware, the Advertising Association, broadcasters and the gambling industry will come together to draw up a multimillion-pound, two-year responsible advertising campaign. It will have a budget of between £5 million and £7 million in each year, and it will include television ads, including around live sport, as well as ads for radio, cinema and print online.

I consider the Minister a friend, not least because we support the same football team—Tottenham Hotspur, the best in the premiership—but she will know that I have campaigned for over seven years on this issue, and in my view it was a complete mistake to introduce these machines to the high street. This is not just about a reduction in the stake, so will she say a little more about reducing the proliferation of betting shops across our country and our high streets?

Mr Speaker, I am not sure that the reference to my supporting Tottenham Hotspur endears me to you, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. We looked at the proliferation of bookmakers in our high streets as part of our call for evidence. We concluded that local authorities do have the powers to address the issue. However, taking the whole package of measures, I am sure there will be a reduction if the stakes are reduced significantly in the future.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling another Spurs fan immediately. Your neutrality in the Chair, of course, would not prevent you from intervening. This excellent Minister is bringing forward a really sensible consultation. What worries me is that if we make the wrong decision, we may make the situation worse by driving problem gamblers out of betting shops, which are a controlled environment, and towards online gambling. The consultation is right, but we should look at that issue as part of it.

Online gambling has, in many respects, a better opportunity to protect players, because sites have all the details of players’ practices. Obviously, as part of the consultation, we are going to look at how we can protect online gamblers, but we definitely have more opportunity to do that than we do to protect somebody going in and out of different bookmakers.

The Minister will know that the scale of harm being inflicted by these appalling machines in my area prompted Newham Council to lead calls for a £2 maximum stake. We have heard fears today that, if that happens, the number of betting shops could be almost halved around the country. May I reassure the Minister that if the number of betting shops in East Ham’s high street was halved, there would still be too many? Will she please get on and introduce the £2 maximum stake as quickly as possible?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, because it gives me an opportunity to thank Newham Council for the work it has done. I have met the leader of the council as part of the call for evidence and as part of his representation of other local authorities, including my own, which has signed up to the issues around stakes. This is all part of the consultation process, and I encourage Newham and all the other local authorities to let their views be known.

Will the consultation look at the costs that fixed odds betting terminals put on the police, mental health services and the families of vulnerable gamblers—especially the children?

That is exactly what we are doing. As part of the call for evidence, a lot of those issues came through. My hon. Friend is a member of the Health Committee, which took evidence from a professor with expertise in this issue, who, sadly, related some of the facts around suicides related to gambling. It is really important that we remember that it is not just the person who is gambling who faces the consequences of harm but the families and the communities they live in. That is why we are trying to take a balanced approach and having a full, open consultation about ensuring we have a socially responsible sector that protects those most at risk of harm.

I thank the Minister for her statement. In discussions I have had with her, she has shared the concern many of us in the House have about the need to have drastic and clear changes in the management of FOBTs. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) referred to online gambling, and perhaps I could urge the Minister to take more cognisance of that issue. None the less, the consultation is important, and 450,000 addicts cannot be ignored. The Minister mentioned the figure of between £2 and £50 for a stake. I urge her to make sure the stake is closer to the lower figure than the higher figure and to reduce the harmful addiction we have to gambling in this country.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I hope he and many others will respond to the consultation with their views. We are trying to ensure that we take all people’s views into account before we make a decision on what the stake is.

My constituents will be shocked by the figures the deputy Leader of the Opposition shared with the House. He said there were 430,000 problem gamblers and that the number had gone up by a third in recent years. Are those numbers that the Government recognise? What do the Government say are the causes of this? Were the Minister to limit the stakes on FOBTs to £2, how many fewer problem gamblers would there be?

The deputy Leader of the Opposition was absolutely correct—those are Government figures. There are 430,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain and a further 2 million who might be at risk. About 50,000 call the national helpline on gambling addiction every year, and about 8,000 are getting treatment—but that figure does not include those who get treatment under the NHS system. We are looking at all the areas of harm around this. It is not just about problem gamblers: it is also about those at risk of harmful gambling, and the consequences for and impact on those individuals and their families. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at the consultation and the impact assessment and come to a view on which will be the best stake, and encourage his constituents to do the same.

Given that £35 million was frittered away in one year in Glasgow on fixed odds betting terminals, I am disappointed that we are going for another consultation on this and not getting action on it. If the Government are in listening mode, may I make a plea that we do move to cutting the stake to £2, and will the Minister come to Baillieston’s Main Street, which is littered with betting terminals? People are obsessed with and actually addicted to these machines, so we can take action sooner rather than later?

We are following due process on this issue. It is really important that we do not rush measures through, because we have seen that hastily made legislation in this area can cause great impact and great harm, as with the Gambling Act 2005.