Before I call the Minister to make a statement, I am tempted to say that it is pleasing that he has found time in his busy schedule of media appointments to update the House. It really is for the benefit of the Minister himself, as well as Members, for the House to be informed first of policy changes. I hope that he and those within the Department who feel that this House should not hear it first will bear that in mind in the future. I have the greatest respect for the Minister, and I am sure he would agree that this is not the way that we want it to happen.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will accept my apologies for any offence caused by some of the information already being out there. I can assure you that the full details and the call for evidence document are only just now being released and made available on the gov.uk website, precisely to coincide with this statement, but I understand and accept what you said.
The Gambling Act has been the basis of virtually all gambling regulation in the UK since 2005, but a huge amount has changed since then. The internet and the prevalence of smartphones have transformed the way we work, play, shop and gamble. We can now gamble anywhere at any time. It is time to take stock of the significant changes of the last 15 years and to pull our legal and regulatory framework into the digital age, so today, we are launching the first part of our comprehensive review of the Gambling Act. It will be a wide-ranging and evidence-led look at the industry, and it will consider the many issues that have been raised by parliamentarians and many other stakeholders. We want to listen, gather the evidence and think deeply about what we need for the next decade and beyond.
Nearly half the adult population gambles each month and, for the majority of people, gambling is a fun and carefree leisure activity. It is also a sector that supports 100,000 jobs and pays nearly £3 billion a year in taxes. However, we know that, in some cases, gambling can cause significant damage to people’s lives, including mental health problems, relationship breakdown, debt and, in extreme cases, suicide. We must ensure that our regulatory and legislative framework delivers on a core aim of the 2005 Act: the protection of children and vulnerable people in a fair, open and crime-free gambling economy.
This review will seek to strike a careful balance between giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money, while protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm. We will look at whether we should introduce new protections on online products and consumer accounts, including stake and prize limits, and how we can ensure that children and young people are protected. We will also consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations and broadcasters find themselves in as a result of covid. We will look at redress arrangements for consumers where, for example, an operator has failed to step in to help a problem gambler. We will consider barriers to effective research on the causes and impact of problem gambling, and we will consider whether the Gambling Commission is keeping pace with the licensed sector and can effectively deal with unlicensed operators. We will also ensure that we have a fair playing field for online and offline gambling.
Many of those areas were highlighted in a thought-provoking report by the House of Lords Select Committee. That report and others have helped to inform our thinking and our desire to ensure that the review is wide in scope, and we are publishing our response to the Lords report alongside the review. I also know that Members across the House have seen evidence from their constituents about the harm that gambling can do to individuals and their families. We want to hear from the people whose lives have been affected by gambling, as well as from academics and the gambling industry, so that we have the evidence to deliver real and lasting change. We are therefore starting the review with a call for evidence, which will run for 16 weeks and is now available on the gov.uk website.
While this review is an opportunity to consider changes for the future, we are also taking action now to protect people from gambling harm. The Gambling Commission will continue to build on recent progress to strengthen protections as the industry regulator. Our ban on gambling with credit cards came into force in April, and new tighter rules on VIP schemes were implemented at the end of October. Further work is also in progress on the design of online slot games, as well as on how operators identify and intervene to protect customers who may be at risk, including through affordability checks. We have also just closed a call for evidence on loot boxes, and the Department of Health and Social Care will keep working to improve and expand treatment for problem gambling.
A key priority is ensuring that we have the right protections for children and young people and, again, that cannot wait. To that end, we are also today publishing a response to the consultation on the minimum age to play national lottery games. Since its launch in 1994, the national lottery has been a tremendous success, raising more than £42 billion for good causes. Since 1994, its games portfolio has evolved significantly, while consumers have shifted towards online play and instant win games such as scratchcards. While evidence shows that most 16 and 17-year-olds do not experience gambling-related harm from playing the national lottery, some recent studies point to a possible correlation between national lottery play at 16 and 17 and problem gambling in later life. Moreover, few other countries allow 16 and 17-year-olds to purchase their national lottery products.
Protecting young people from the risk of gambling-related harm is of paramount importance. We have therefore decided to increase the minimum age of the sale of all national lottery games to the age of 18. We are keen to make this change at pace while being acutely aware of the need to give retailers and the operator time to ensure a smooth transition. The legislative change will therefore come into force in October 2021, but we have asked that, where it can be done sooner, it is—for example, online. So under current plans, national lottery sales to 16 and 17-year-olds will stop online in April 2021.
The review we are starting today will be an opportunity to look at the wider rules on children and gambling, and to make sure they are suitably protected across all forms of gambling. I know many colleagues will welcome the launch of this review today and will be pleased to see us living up to our commitments in the 2019 manifesto. We intend to be broad, thorough and evidence led, so that we can ensure our gambling laws are fit for purpose in the 2020s and beyond. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for early sight of his statement. On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the main measures that the Government have announced today, and I certainly welcome the beginning of this process of review and reform. Many Members across the House and in the other place have worked very hard indeed to get us to this place. I will not mention individuals specifically, not least because I am sure they will speak for themselves shortly, but we owe them a debt for bringing this issue to the fore. I thank all of them, because when people work across the House and across party political barriers in pursuit of the public interest, it is Parliament at its best.
This is only the beginning of the process to get the reforms that we need on gambling, so it is disappointing that the Government have taken more than a year to launch this review, during which time we know there are still people who may be suffering. Gambling addiction is highly serious, and we know that we have not got the right support in place. So the delay has a cost, which is why we need to move forward together and swiftly now. What we need is fit-for-purpose regulation which can keep up with the changing nature of gambling online, both on the smartphones that we all carry and in the environment around us all the time. We believe that the law in this area should be approached from a public health perspective to protect the vulnerable and particularly children and young people—I think the Minister would accept that—but to allow others who choose to do so to gamble safely. The Minister mentioned that UK gambling legislation is some 15 years old and it is hard to quantify the technological change that we have all experienced during that time. If somebody had told me in 2005 precisely what the phone in my pocket would have the capacity to do by this point, even I would have been shocked. We need to bring the legislation up to date. There is not a moment to lose.
Millions of people enjoy gambling in a safe way, but, as I have said, given the speed of change, vulnerable people should be protected. Age verification must be taken seriously.
The pace of technological change has wider ramifications. Apps, games and online advertising within apps have shown the dangers when we are not able to future-proof legislation. Will the Minister confirm that the review will address not just problems that we know of now, but that we will use the opportunity to try to anticipate future changes? That will not always be possible, but we should at least attempt to do so.
In the review, we would like the Government to adopt the following approach, particularly in considering the legislation that we need. We know from the pandemic that public health must come first, and that is my first question to the Minister. Will he confirm that we will be taking a public health approach in the review?
Secondly, of course people are free to choose what they wish to do in a free country, but will the Minister confirm that the Government take their responsibility to protect people from harm seriously and that the review will attempt to quantify that harm so that we can target the right measures effectively to reduce it over time?
Thirdly, the legislation must be evidence-based. I do not think anyone in this House is any longer a sceptic of experts, but just to make sure, could the Minister confirm that public health experts will be able to contribute fully and transparently, so that people will be able to understand the evidence that the Government rest on?
Fourthly, all towns across the country should be able to enjoy the benefit of having a sports club at the heart of their community. Many rugby league clubs, football clubs and other sports have long-standing relationships with gambling companies. Will the Minister take those relationships into consideration? We are expecting another review—a fan-led review of football—and I do not think it makes a lot of sense to commence the gambling review without that football review alongside it. Where the issues interconnect, we can handle them both together. Will the Minister bring forward the fan-led review of football to start without further delay?
Finally, on consumer protection, companies operating for financial gain should not be able to exploit anybody, particularly the young and vulnerable, so will he make sure that consumers have better rights in this area? Will people have access to their own data—I am thinking of where people are targeted online with adverts and so on? Will the review also look at the unlicensed operators, who are one of the most worrying aspects in this area?
We welcome the review. We want to see it happen in a way that is collaborative across both sides of the House and among all stakeholders in the country, because that is the best way to make sure that it is a success. Many people in this country enjoy gambling. Everybody has the right to spend their own money enjoying themselves. However, where a harm is clear, the Government have a duty and responsibility to tackle it.
I thank the hon. Lady for the tone of her response and for welcoming the review. She is absolutely right that the measures in the review and the scope of the review have been supported by hon. Members on both sides of this Chamber and many individuals have campaigned on these issues for a long period of time.
On timing, it is important to recognise that we do not wait for the periodic reviews. We are not waiting for necessary future legislation. We have acted and will continue to act as and when necessary. Just this year, for example, we banned the use of gambling with credit cards. We have made further restrictions on VIP schemes. There is the mandatory participation in GamStop, for example, and the announcement today about the changes with national lottery is testament to the fact that the Government are willing and able to take action. There was also action just last year on fixed-odds betting terminals.
In terms of future-proofing, no Government can guarantee to future proof, but certainly the intent is for the scope to be broad and wide, recognising, for example, changes in technology and what that could mean for using information intelligently to identify potential problem gamblers, as well as looking at the scope of the Gambling Commission itself.
In terms of evidence, we are looking for evidence from all sources, including all those that the hon. Lady suggested—from health and from academics. We welcome the participation of anybody willing and able to participate in this review with evidence.
The hon. Lady made an important point on sport. As sports Minister—we both cover sport—I know the challenges that the sporting sector faces, so we need to make sure that any changes are proportionate. Indeed, as she knows, we intend formally to kick off the football governance review as soon as possible. Informally, it has already begun. Other areas such as redress and the black market will absolutely form part of the review.
No longer is gambling a case of just nipping down the bookies. We now live in a world dominated online with sophisticated algorithms and increasing artificial intelligence. Will the Minister assure the House and me that the review will place at its centre the oversight of algorithms in push marketing and fairness in bet exchanges, and that that will dovetail with robust age verification on social media platforms? In addition, when will we see the legislation to curb the menace of loot boxes? As a side point, on the banning of national lottery sales online, why do we have to wait until April next year? Surely, that is something that could be actioned relatively quickly.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for, as always, valuable comments. On using technology intelligently, I absolutely agree with him—it is vital that we do so to identify problem gambling and issues of affordability, and that that forms part of the future-proofing of the sector.
The loot-box issue is being addressed. We have issued a call for evidence, which concluded on 22 November, and we will introduce recommendations shortly. On the lottery changes, as I say, we have had conversations with key stakeholders. We want to move as soon as possible. The target date of 1 October is the latest date for changes. We want to bring the online changes forward as soon as possible, but there are notifications, technology changes and logistical considerations, as well as training considerations. It is not the kind of thing that can occur overnight, but we have had productive conversations with the operators to make sure that we can implement the measures as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister for prior sight of the statement. I welcome the overall messages in it, as they touch on many of the issues that have blighted the industry and caused great harm to many people for far too long. There is a great deal to discuss, and I shall keep a beady eye on the process and progress of the review.
In the time allotted to me, may I thank the Minister for making it clear that the evidence-led inquiry will include those who have been harmed and the families of those who have lost someone to suicide as a result of gambling addiction? Lived experience is crucial to inform the review. However, I am concerned that the Minister has caveated his concerns about advertising with the financial difficulties faced by sports organisations and broadcasters. The reduction of harm must be front and centre in the review, and must not be undermined by the eye-watering financial demands of premier-league football teams.
On the national lottery, there is no excuse for delaying the enforcement of the increased age limitation offline for 10 months. May I ask that the timescale is revisited or at least justified? I did not read anything in the statement about the voluntary levy. We need a statutory levy that funds research, education and support. That money should be paid to the UK and devolved Parliaments before being channelled to the appropriate service providers. Research into gambling harm must not be funded by voluntary contributions from the industry that causes the harm.
Finally, many people, including members of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, will scrutinise the outcome of the review. May I offer a friendly warning to the Minister? We will not be fobbed off with a partial review, and we will not accept second-best.
I can confirm that the experience of those with lived experience will form part of the review. In fact, the Secretary of State and I have met many victims and their families, and we will continue to do so. On sport, if there is evidence of harm from sponsorship and advertising, we will act. On the other considerations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I can assure him that if people have evidence, for example, that a levy is an alternative model, we would welcome those submissions in the review. I welcome the scrutiny that he and others will give to the review as it progresses.
I thank my hon. Friend for his statement, which marks the beginning of a real sea change in our attitude towards the gambling abuses that have taken place. On that point, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), whose chairing of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm has been phenomenal, and to the vice chair, the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). We have worked very hard together to try to drive this moment. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we want all the evidence we have taken over the last couple of years to be part of the inquiry. I would also like the all-party parliamentary group to appear in front of it.
May I press my hon. Friend on one particular point? He knows about the abuse of VIP schemes and about the behaviour of the gambling companies, which have been appalling in the way they have used people. Is it not now time, instead of looking only at the powers of the Gambling Commission, to get rid of the Gambling Commission altogether and institute a body as powerful as, say, Ofcom or all the other bodies that monitor and regulate these industries? Now is the time to make bold moves, to make sure we get proper control and that the abuses and the addiction end.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work in this important area, and the people he mentioned who have also campaigned for such a long time. We know that there have been problems with VIP schemes. We have acted on them already, but that does not mean that further action is not necessary. I am confident that the evidence-led review may reveal further options and avenues. I welcome his input into all areas under consideration. As I said, the Gambling Commission’s scope and resources are part of that review. I welcome his further comments.
The architects of the Gambling Act 2005 could never have anticipated that by 2020 technology would allow phones, tablets and computers to become 24/7 limitless gambling hubs. For far too many, this has led to devastation, demoralisation and, at worst, death. Can the Government assure the House that the voices of bereaved families, those with lived experience, campaign groups and colleagues and friends from right across the House will be given the same consideration when feeding into this review as the well-resourced, confrontational and relentless gambling lobby, whose sole motivation is profit, not people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her ongoing campaign in this important area. We have had many conversations on this, and I know her passion for change. I can confirm that those with lived experience and the families of those impacted will absolutely play a key role in the review. We welcome their evidence. As has already been suggested, some evidence has been brought forward in various other reviews and reports that we have seen in the House, and we welcome re-submissions of some of that data. The role of those people is vital. We all know, through experiences and interactions with our constituents, how devastating problem gambling can be. I think the whole House recognises the need for further action.
I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friends from the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm. I also thank the Minister for his statement. I know that he has done a lot of work in this area. It is good to hear that the review will be broad and wide. However, can he clarify that, when he mentioned parity between high street and online, he is not saying that high-street casino gambling will be the same as online casinos? Quite frankly, there should be one place where the highest-stakes gambling can take place, and that is not in people’s homes and bedrooms.
I also urge my hon. Friend to reflect on the Public Accounts Committee’s report around an ombudsman service. Some points that we raised were recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee, particularly around redress for people who have suffered real harm, and are really worth noting. I hope he will take note of those considerations.
As I said, the role and scope of the Gambling Commission and other areas will be under consideration. The point about the land-based system versus the online world is that, as many have mentioned, the world has changed considerably, and we want to ensure that there is an even playing field in gambling. We need to make sure that all forms of gambling are as safe as they possibly can be. The goal of this review is to tackle harms as much as possible, but also to make sure that the legitimate gambling industry is on a safe footing for a sustainable future.
I welcome the statement, but the Minister will understand that the online harms Bill, when we get it, will have a crucial role to play in this area. Big tech firms are allowing unregulated black market gambling companies to promote on their websites, and they are advertising to the under-18s. What does he think about that, and what is he going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman raises legitimate concerns about the black market—the unlicensed industry, which does exist. This will form part of the review. Part of it will include the scope, responsibilities, powers and resources of the Gambling Commission and regulatory bodies to deal with the black market. It is a very important issue.
As with all Government reviews, sectors and people fear that Government do not take into account their concerns and often adopt a “do to” rather than a “do with” attitude. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with sporting bodies, particularly in horse-racing and football, on the financial implications that the review could have for their members?
We have had very few discussions so far about the specifics of this review because we are only announcing its scope and the call for evidence today. We certainly intend to have conversations about the possible impact of some of the potential options on the sports sector. I encourage all stakeholders, including all sports bodies, to contribute to the review in the call for evidence that we are announcing. We will be happy to have further discussions about this with my hon. Friend and others.
I welcome this review, and there is clearly a need for robust action. The Minister will be aware that there have been claims from the online gambling industry that regulation should be moderated or it risks driving gamblers to the black market. Does the Minister agree with the Gambling Commission that there is absolutely no evidence for this? Does he also agree that if we want to prevent the growth of the black market, regulation to prevent harm is the solution, not the cause?
The hon. Gentleman expresses some legitimate concerns. One of the great problems, of course, is that, by definition, it is almost impossible to assess the size, scope and scale of the black market, but where evidence does exist we will welcome it as part of this review. We do recognise the problem, and that is why we explicitly include the unlicensed market—the black market—in the review. We need more work and more information, and we need to decide what action needs to be taken to tackle it. It is a very serious issue.
I welcome this review and the opportunity it presents to update our regulations in the gambling and gaming sector. I know from my time in the industry that some firms have gone above and beyond in developing tools to help to prevent and identify problem gambling. I hope that this review will be an opportunity to formalise and spread best practice. As the Minister said, over 100,000 people are employed in the sector, including nearly 4,000 in north Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent at my former employer, Bet365. Can my hon. Friend assure me, and them, that the review will look to strike a balance, acknowledging the enjoyment that millions of people from gambling in a responsible manner and how important it is that people are not driven to unlicensed operators where they would have neither basic consumer protection nor the regulatory supervision that we all want to see?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the dangers of the unlicensed market and to point out that gambling is a legitimate business in the UK, paying £3 billion in taxes and employing about 100,000 people. However, the industry itself acknowledges that harms can happen. It has played, and I expect it to continue to play, an important role in identifying harms and what we can do to minimise them. Its voice will be heard in this review, but we all have a shared goal of making sure that we do everything we can to minimise gambling harms.
I understand that today there is perhaps a focus on some of the online gambling, but can I ask the Minister not to forget those communities, such as in Glasgow East, where digital exclusion is still a massive issue? In that vein, when are we going to confront the fact that many of these working-class communities where lottery ticket sales are higher do not actually see a lot of the funding follow through? In my experience, it tends to go to more middle class areas with professional fundraisers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Again, the review is very broad in scope for exactly this purpose. Comments, information, data and evidence can be brought in to raise all these issues, and they will be looked at carefully.
I welcome this review and also the Minister’s determination that it should be evidence-based, consistent and balanced, but can I join my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) in reminding him of the enormous contribution that betting companies make to horse-racing? It is to the tune of about £350 million a year, which is a very large amount to that sport, even in ordinary times. At the moment, like other sports, it is going through very difficult times, and without that contribution horse-racing would not survive.
Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Horse-racing is of course a vital industry in the UK. I can confirm that the levy on horse-racing is not actually due for review till 2021; it is not explicitly part of this review. However, on the role that gambling has and the link with sport, we recognise that there are some challenges, but also many upsides, and we will consider those as part of this review.
Following my question in April, I welcome today’s news that the Government will extend the ban on under-18s gambling to the national lottery, but the Minister will be aware that the recent online ban on gambling with a credit card does not apply to the lottery. If a betting shop in Barnsley rightly does not accept gambling on a credit card, then why should it be allowed on the national lottery?
I thank the hon. Lady. I am well aware of her campaigning on this issue over a long period of time, and I thank her for that input. There is a difference between lottery-based games and other forms of gambling. There is evidence to suggest, for example, that the gambling harm is lower in the lottery than in other forms of gambling, and therefore there is a difference between the types. As I say, however, this move is an important one today, and I appreciate that she welcomes it.
Given that the recent Public Accounts Committee report on gambling regulation declared that the Gambling Commission
“do not know what impact they are having on problem gambling, or what measures would demonstrate whether regulation is working”,
will the Minister use the opportunity of the review to assess whether the Gambling Commission itself is fit for purpose, or needs to be replaced by a new body to provide the real leadership needed on the issue of gambling regulation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am aware of the comments made in the Public Accounts Committee report. I appreciate the work that it and, indeed, many others have done in providing input on this issue for a long period. As I have said, I do not wish to pre-empt any of the conclusions of the review. This is a call for evidence at this stage, and therefore recommendations and suggestions for future regulation will be welcome.
The Minister will be aware of some the work I do on social media, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social media. One of the key areas where we are seeing huge increases in people taking up and partaking of gambling is through influencers. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) asked a question about the online harms Bill, so I would like to understand from the Minister what work he is doing now on tackling influencers who are able to target particularly children and young people and try to encourage them to gamble. That really does need to be addressed long before this review is concluded.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are considering action on the broader issue of online harms and the role that social media companies play in that. That work will be undertaken alongside this review, as well, and we will certainly work together. I will work with colleagues in the rest of the Department to make sure that we are very much aligned.
Some 200,000 customers used an unlicensed gambling operator last year, resulting in an estimated £1.4 billion in turnover. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with online platforms to tackle this black market in gambling?
Like several other Members, my hon. Friend raises the important issue of the black market. As I have said, that will be considered as part of the review. We welcome evidence and suggestions from all stakeholders, in helping to scope not only the size and scale of the black market, but what further actions could be taken to tackle it.
We know that too many people have a problematic relationship with gambling, which has a really bad effect on their wellbeing and mental health, even leading to suicidal thoughts and feelings. I welcome the recognition of that in the Minister’s statement. How will the review consider that issue in the next period?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, which is working on clinics particularly relating to the treatment of gambling. Three are already up and running, and we have an ambition to open far more. The industry is contributing towards the financial costs of some of this treatment, as well as to research and education overall; we have a commitment over the next four years of £100 million. Of course, this review will be an opportunity to assess whether that model is appropriate or whether other alternatives should perhaps be considered.
It is estimated that 37 million people in the UK enjoy playing video games on a daily basis—this includes random content through loot boxes, which they use to enjoy their gameplay. Done right, free-to-play games with additional purchase elements can be a good model. So does the Minister agree with the Gambling Commission that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined to those games and cannot be cashed out, they fall outside the Gambling Act 2005?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that, without wishing to be pedantic, there is often a debate about whether loot boxes and games of chance, or those where there is not a financial benefit at the end, are actually “gambling” or “gambling-like behaviours”. However we wish to define them, we are taking action. That is why it was important that we had the call for evidence on loot boxes, which was completed recently, and further action will be taken, on recommendations, by the Government.
Every year, the gambling industry spends £1.5 billion on advertising to encourage us all to gamble more, which is 25 times more than we spend giving help to people with a problem with their gambling and 80 times more than it is required to give to the Gambling Commission, which is supposed to regulate it. The commission will never be able to regulate the industry properly when it relies for its funding on these tiny scraps that fall from the industry’s table. Will the Minister therefore agree to look seriously at having the Gambling Commission adequately and directly funded from the public purse, so that it is independent and, more importantly, can be seen to be independent of the industry it is attempting to regulate?
The Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority both currently have a role in reviewing advertising relating to gambling, and they have significant powers. However, many legitimate concerns have been raised on this issue, so both the advertising and the scope and resources of the Gambling Commission will be part of this review.
I am pleased to hear the Minister say that loot boxes fall within his remit of work at the moment, because they encourage people to spend more on in-game purchases than they otherwise would do if this were turned into a game of chance where there were no published odds. Will he also say something about social media targeted advertising by gambling companies? I am aware that social media companies are allowing online betting companies to target known problem gamblers with incentives to bet, which is completely unethical. It should be outside the rules and it should be part of the review.
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about this area as well, and I thank him for his comments. Let me be clear: the call for evidence relating to loot boxes is separate from this review; it is a separate activity being undertaken by the Department. I should also be clear that any advertising that is deliberately targeting children or vulnerable groups should not be happening, and therefore it is a major concern. The questions raised in this review and the call for evidence seek to ask how effective the current rules are, and those will be major considerations as part of the call for evidence.
Liberal Democrats welcome this review very much, as issues such as online gambling have needed to be addressed for some time. Given the impact of gambling and the damage it causes, and given that the work that needs to be done to rectify it stretches across a number of Departments, what consultations has the Minister had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Department of Health and Social Care and other Ministries about the review?
The hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that DCMS constantly engages with the Treasury on a range of issues, and certainly the Department for Health and Social Care has a very strong interest. The Health Secretary—a former DCMS Secretary of State—is very knowledgeable about the gambling sector and the harms, and we are working closely on treatment. The Department of Health and Social Care is looking to expand the number of treatment centres, and we will continue that dialogue and work across the Departments.
I have several leading casinos in my constituency, and they have worked hard to deal with problem gambling. Does my hon. Friend agree that casinos are important for our international tourist economy?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Casinos form an important part of the attractions. They are why many people come into the country, and they are important for in-bound tourism. I understand exactly what she is saying. Casinos play an important part, and the whole point of the review is to ensure a legitimate gambling industry that is on a sound footing for future growth. I look forward to working with the casino sector to ensure that that happens.
I thank the Minister for his statement about the review of the gambling industry, and I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her leadership on the all-party group. Time is of the essence, so will the Minister assure the House that reform will happen quickly? Will reform happen outside the formal review, for example on loot boxes and the video games that others have referred to? Could such reforms be implemented with a faster time frame?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Northern Ireland regulation on gambling is separate from that of Great Britain. He raises an important point, and we will work with the devolved Administrations. Loot boxes fall under a separate review. The call for evidence has just ended, and we wish to consider the feedback from that as soon as possible. The other aspects that he raised will form part of that review. We completely understand the need for action, and as I said in my statement, we have taken action where necessary, with legislative and non-legislative measures from loot boxes to changing the rules on credit card use, as well as today’s announcement on the national lottery. We are willing and able to move quickly.
I fully welcome this review, which will surely protect my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland from gambling harm in the long term. However, the Minister will know—we have had a number of conversations about this—about the issues regarding the horse-race betting levy, and the urgent need for reform to support racecourses such as the one in Redcar. Will he update the House on any steps he has taken to fix that situation, so that Redcar can keep on racing?
I know what a horse-racing fan my hon. Friend is, and we have had many conversations about that issue. The horserace betting levy is not part of this review, but we are having ongoing conversations with the horse-racing industry. I look forward to further conversations with my hon. Friend.
I broadly welcome today’s announcement, but given this Government’s unforgivable delay to the online harms Bill, many questions are left unanswered. It is vital that young people are protected in their online space, so what considerations have the Government made to include age verification requirements for gambling providers as part of the online harms agenda? When will the Bill finally be brought to Parliament?
The issues of age verification, product, and the way such things are marketed will be part of this review, and they are also ongoing considerations of the Gambling Commission. This will be a 16-week review. We recognise that in these challenging times of covid, responders may need a little more time to respond to the call for evidence, and therefore the review is slightly longer than normal. We will then produce a White Paper with Government recommendations. As I said, the review is deliberately broad, and the issues raised by the hon. Lady will be part of it.
I am clear that online harms are increasing risks to our children, and I note that families have spent much of the past nine months in lockdown. As a parent, I am worried by addiction to games such as Fortnite, when our children could be outside playing. Will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department will consider an outright ban on gambling incentives such as loot boxes, as well as better educating parents, carers and teachers about the dangers of online gaming?
The issues around loot boxes that my hon. Friend articulates are legitimate; hence the call for evidence on loot boxes. That call for evidence ended on 22 November. The Government are currently considering the evidence that has been brought forward, and we will respond in due course. My hon. Friend raises legitimate concerns that have been raised by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and many others over many years.
The bookies form a key part of our high streets and provide a supervised environment for responsible gambling. In contrast, the online gambling space is like the wild west. We have heard so much about black market operators that have caused extraordinary levels of harm, so it is right the Government are looking at this issue. However, that will only be effective alongside good online harms legislation, which we have been promised for three years now. When will we see it?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the online harms legislation was a commitment. It is absolutely a commitment. I know that it gets support on both sides of the Chamber, and we will be hearing more in due course.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement as a vital step in bringing up to date the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005, but may I ask him for some reassurance about how any test of balance will be weighted so that prevention of harm can rightly take centre stage, while we ensure at the same time that the millions of people who gamble responsibly are not in some way stigmatised, and, as others have said, that activities are not driven underground?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out the absolute necessity in this review for a balanced, evidence-led approach. I assure him that we will strike the right balance between giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money, and protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm. It is a balancing act, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
Last year, the vice president of EA described loot boxes as “ethical”, “fun” and akin to buying “Kinder eggs”. However, research has linked some loot boxes with problem gambling in older adolescents, so we clearly need to take action. I hear what the Minister is saying about the call for evidence just finishing and that that is part of a separate review, but how will that review feed into this wider review of the Gambling Act overall?
Yes, I can confirm that the call for evidence has concluded, and we will be responding to that soon. Legal definitions were one of the reasons that it was a separate review from the one on gambling, but that should aid the process, rather than hinder it.
I warmly welcome this review and today’s announcement. As the Minister has said, the way that people gamble in 2020 is completely different from how the majority of gambling took place when the Gambling Act was passed in 2005. Does the Minister agree that, in line with these changes, the Government should be considering boosting the powers and resources of the Gambling Commission to ensure that it can keep pace with the licence sector and tackle the black market?
Indeed; the scope, roles, responsibilities and resources of the Gambling Commission will form part of the review. It is right that we consider the structure of governance and regulation for the industry, and any recommendations and suggestions that my hon. Friend has would be welcome as part of the call for evidence.
I thank the Minister for his statement and welcome the review. However, it is believed that, in the UK alone, members of the armed forces are eight times more likely to develop gambling addictions, especially if they have experienced past traumatic events. Given this distressing statistic, will the Minister confirm whether he has had any discussions with Defence Ministers about measures to prevent the spread of problem gambling among our armed forces personnel?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that certain demographics and roles are more susceptible to problem gambling than others. I have not had specific conversations with the Ministry of Defence yet, but we would welcome input on this issue as part of the evidence process. She raises the important point that different segments of the population are impacted and targeted differently, and the scope of this review includes looking at targeting and the prevalence of gambling among different demographics.
I fully appreciate that the focus of this review will be on the technological advances in recent years, but I still have major concerns about the number of gaming centres and venues for gambling in Peterborough, particularly in the Millfield area of my city, and the subsequent risk of gambling-related harm to some of the most vulnerable local people. I welcome this review, but will my hon. Friend consider giving local councils such as Peterborough City Council further powers to close problem high street gambling venues and restrict the number of venues in any one particular area?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. There are already regulations and rules if there are problems, and social and behavioural challenges, in terms of the powers that local government has. He raises important points, though; as I said, in terms of responsible gambling across the board, we intend to ensure that this review is evidence-led and looks at a whole variety of issues, including the ones he raises.
I very much welcome this review. As the statement has exposed, a huge breadth of issues need to be considered. Will the Minister say something about the extent to which the amount of gambling that now takes place online creates opportunities to gain much better information about who is gambling and for ensuring that issues that are raised by the review are targeted at those who are problem gamblers? Will he ensure that that information is more widely available?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. Just last year, for the first time, gross gambling yield was greater online than offline, so we have now reached that cusp where more gambling in the UK is online. We should therefore be able to use technology, and emerging technology, in a far more sophisticated way, as he suggests, to make sure that we identify problem gambling and potential problem gambling. I would expect information on that to be part of this review.
In my experience, in the past the gambling industry has been able to exert a great deal of influence over the Minister’s Department. I welcome his commitment to an evidence-based review, but if the review is to be effective, it will need access to data from the industry and to up-to-date research. Will he commit to ensuring that this wealthy industry pays for fully independent research to be carried out, which we are all going to need if we are going to carry out this review effectively?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the historically poor level of information, data and research in this sector. It is improving, and we hope that this evidence-led review will add to the base of information. His characterisation of the Department, though, is wrong, as evidenced by the obvious and significant changes we have made to gambling over the last few years, with FOBTs last year, the changes to credit cards, VIP schemes, mandatory participation in GAMSTOP and the changes that we are announcing to the national lottery today, as well as a whole host of other issues. This Government have shown that we are willing to act when necessary.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. Clearly, having consumer protection at the heart of any new regulation is key, so will he describe what sort of action my constituents in Dudley North can take if they believe that an operator is in breach of social responsibility requirements?
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. He is absolutely right that legitimate concerns have been raised by many, including in this place, about redress in the gambling sector. That is why the call for evidence will specifically ask for information and evidence on potential future redress procedures, and all options are open at the moment.
If I may, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to take my first opportunity in the Chamber to pay tribute to one of my predecessors, Maria Fyfe, who served in this place as Member for Glasgow Maryhill between 1987 and 2001 and who sadly passed away on Friday. She was hugely respected during her time in this House and in the constituency, and our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and comrades at this time.
One of Maria Fyfe’s enduring legacies is the Community Central Hall on Maryhill Road, which is an incredibly important focal point, providing a wide range of services for local residents. Over the years—many years—it has benefited from lottery funding. What steps will the Minister take to ensure, especially in these difficult times and in the context of the announcement that he has made today, that such organisations are able to continue to get the funding they need, whether through the lottery or perhaps other, more sustainable sources?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Maria Fyfe on behalf of the whole House; I know I can do so because the shadow Minister and I had a conversation about Maria before we came into the Chamber. She is a great loss. I know she was an incredible champion for women’s rights in particular and made a great impact on the British political landscape.
In terms of the lottery and the changes we are announcing today, the estimate is that the impact of 16 and 17-year-olds’ not being able to play the lottery will likely be something in the region of a £6 million potential loss to good causes. That is out of a total distribution of around £1.8 billion, so it is a relatively small amount.
I would like to say thank you to all those who have played the lottery and continued to play the lottery this year. Lottery revenue, and therefore distributions to good causes, has stayed up remarkably well, partly because it has been made very clear that much of the money has gone to institutions, bodies and groups in desperate need during coronavirus. I encourage people to continue to play the lottery safely, in the full knowledge that the money is well spent and well targeted.
May I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and the Minister, Nigel Huddleston, for their kind words about the late Maria Fyfe? She was a popular Member, who was well respected in all parts of the House and remained active in her local party after leaving this place. She will be missed by her family and all who knew her in Parliament and beyond. One of the best features of this place is how hon. Members appreciate and acknowledge the qualities and achievements of their predecessors, irrespective and regardless of party.
I hope the review will recognise the important role that high street gambling venues play in employing local people, and the Minister will recognise that it would be rather strange if the review had the damaging impact of moving gamblers from the relatively safe, supervised gambling premises on the high streets into the unregulated, unsupervised online world. I hope the review will look to bolster gambling on the high street, rather than on the internet.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that many gambling entities take their responsibilities for safe gambling incredibly seriously and do a very good job. It is important, therefore, that we strike the right balance between enabling people to gamble safely and protecting those who are at risk. There is nothing wrong with legitimate gambling that is well regulated and enacted in accordance with minimising harm.
We all know that the gambling industry got it very wrong on the campaign on fixed-odds betting terminals. Does the Minister agree that this review is an opportunity for the British gambling industry to get it right and produce an outcome that maximises the fun for people who want to gamble, but minimises the harm? We all know that prohibition does not work; what we need is effective reform.
The hon. Gentleman, who I know is well versed in the industry and is very knowledgeable, is absolutely right. We must get the right balance here, and we expect the stakeholders, the key gambling operators, to play a role in providing evidence in this review. They have contributed already and made some voluntary changes, but I think we would all like to see further changes. They can make those voluntarily; there is always the option of legal regulation at the end of this review, but we do not necessarily need to wait for legislation for the gambling industry to do the right thing. We have seen some positive moves in the right direction and I welcome that constructive contribution. If we need to regulate and implement laws we will, but I would also like to see further changes voluntarily conducted by the industry, as I am sure he would too.
Last but never least, Simon Fell.
Thank you for battling to the end of the call list, Mr Deputy Speaker; I appreciate it. I warmly welcome this statement. A few months ago, I met Furness Gamblers Anonymous, which does incredible work to support those who suffer most from addiction. I welcome the fact that such organisations will be able to feed into this review—that is right and proper—but what consideration has my hon. Friend given to the fact that many of those who have the most powerful stories might want to feed in anonymously?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. I have a great deal of confidence that many of the charities and third-party organisations working in this sector—many of the key stakeholders—are very articulate and knowledgeable, and they have done a very good job of feeding in information already. We encourage them to do so, and I hope they will be able to provide further information, while recognising that some of this is extremely sensitive and therefore may need to be confidential. We recognise that information from all sources is valid, and I encourage all stakeholders to do what they can to get involved in the review.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for responding to 39 questions for exactly one hour. We will now suspend for a few minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).