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Gambling Review White Paper

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

I know that both Members have taken an active involvement in this issue and, like all the House, are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of our Gambling Act 2005 review. It remains a priority for the Department, and we will publish a White Paper setting out conclusions and a vision for the sector in the coming weeks.

We know that the Department has considered gambling-related harm to be a public health issue and preventing harm is an essential objective of gambling regulations, so may I gently press the Minister to confirm whether key public health-based reforms, such as a smart statutory levy, the introduction of online stake limits, an effective affordability assessment and controls on gambling advertising, will be included in the forthcoming White Paper?

I know how passionately and seriously the hon. Gentleman takes this issue, as do we on this side of the Chamber. That is why the review was comprehensive and covered many, if not all, of those areas that he mentioned. I ask him to be slightly patient, because we will be responding to the review in due course.

Many countries are ahead of the UK in regulating loot boxes and video games and require games to display the odds of receiving certain loot in the box items. It is essential to ensure that we are not subjecting players to blind gambling, yet Diablo Immortal’s “rift” feature finds a loophole apparently in this, and is essentially a loot box that is contingent on skill-based gameplay. The skill-based element means it is not technically gambling and does not have to display odds, but it is a loot box. Will the Minister commit to exploring in the gambling review how to close that loophole, and will the Department meet with the game developer Blizzard to discuss how to close the loophole in Diablo Immortal?

Again, this is a topic that has consumed the attention of the whole House. The gambling review was looked at separately from the specific issue of loot boxes, where we recognise there are also issues and concerns, and we have been conducting a review. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that protecting children, both on loot boxes and in the gambling review, is front and centre of our thoughts.

It is not just children who can be impacted by loot boxes and other gambling mechanics; it is also people with other vulnerabilities. It is critical that the Government take effective steps to close loopholes, and do not just bake in the problem for ever more creative tech companies to exploit.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point about ensuring that the review we conduct and the conclusions that come out of it are comprehensive, but it is important, as technology evolves and changes, and becomes ever more sophisticated—as it does, particularly in the online gambling and gaming space—that we keep a close eye on developments, and we will be doing that going forward.

I thank the ministerial team for their continued good work. Specifically on fixed odds betting terminals, would it not be a pragmatic and sensible consideration to display the average return rate for five seconds at the beginning of play, so that users can make an informed decision to weigh up enjoyment against the likely returns?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The White Paper will be looking at those issues, and the Gambling Commission of course looks at those kind of issues on an ongoing basis. He raises important points about targeting, in particular of the most vulnerable in society, and it is something of which we are very aware.

One could be forgiven for failing to notice a news article yesterday regarding No. 10 policy advisers who have links to gambling companies. It would be unforgiveable, however, if either of those advisers had attempted to influence the White Paper in a way that could be considered to favour the industry. Can the Minister assure the House that that is not the case?

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s passion and commitment on the subject; we have had many conversations. She will be aware that we have engaged extensively with stakeholders in the course of the gambling review.

When the Government publish the White Paper, which I very much look forward to, will they ensure that it makes it clear who will be responsible for the issue of affordability—the Government or the Gambling Commission?

Again, I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of the review, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. The Secretary of State in particular is aware of that and we will be communicating more in due course. Affordability is an important point.

I am not at all surprised to see the Secretary of State still in her place; I had no doubt that she would be the last woman standing in support of the Prime Minister while all around her collapses, including her ministerial team. I wondered whether, by this morning, she would hold not only all the ministerial offices in her Department but several other Cabinet posts as well.

For many months, we have heard that the gambling White Paper is imminent. It has still not been published, although its content has again been trailed to the news- papers. Apparently, Ministers are dropping the gambling levy, which has widespread support, and other measures that would bring the analogue gambling regulation into the digital age. Is that true?

Well, we now know from the former gambling Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), that the White Paper is with No. 10 for sign-off—good luck with that. We have also been promised the media Bill, a White Paper on football regulation, a review of women’s football, a review on the future funding of the BBC, and a data Bill—all before the summer recess. How is that going? The truth is that we have chaos, paralysis and a total collapse of Government, with huge swathes of vacant ministerial posts and parliamentary business on hold. Is it not the reality that not just the Prime Minister has lost the country’s trust, but the entire Conservative party?

This is about the gambling review, and the question should be about that. The Minister should answer on the gambling review.

I hope the hon. Lady will wait to respond to the gambling review. I appreciate her giving a comprehensive list of all the policy areas and manifesto commitments on which the Government are committed to delivering. She could have gone further and mentioned safe standing, the delivery of the Commonwealth games, which start in three weeks’ time, or the Euros—well done to the Lionesses for last night. I thank her for giving a list of the Government’s achievements.

I also do not want the Minister to wander off topic. Let us go to someone who will put us back on track—John Nicolson, the SNP spokesperson.

In what could be our last exchange across the Dispatch Box, I recognise that the Secretary of State cannot bind the hands of her successor, but as we move away from post-truth politics and culture wars, perhaps she can leave doing some good. The lottery is the country’s principal gambling addiction. For most, it is innocent fun; for some, it is a problem—an affliction. The now resigned tech and digital Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), confirmed to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week that tickets can be charged perfectly legally to credit cards, building up huge debts. When Camelot is replaced, can that be reformed?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the final part of his comments and for drawing attention to the fact that we constantly review the lottery. We have made significant changes over time, such as to the age limit for who can play it. As he is aware, people can use a credit card if the ticket is bought with other shopping. That is the norm in many other countries, but we constantly review those exact areas.