With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s proposals for gambling reform.
Gambling is a hugely popular pastime, which has been part of our British life for centuries. Ours has always been a freedom-loving democracy where people are entitled to spend their money how they please and where they please, and millions choose to spend some of their hard-earned money on the odd bet on a match or a race without any problems. This popularity has seen our betting companies balloon in size and become big contributors to both our economy and, in the taxes they provide, to our public services.
But, with the advent of the smartphone, gambling has been transformed: it is positively unrecognisable today, in 2023, from when the Gambling Act was introduced in 2005. Temptation to gamble is now everywhere in society, and while the overwhelming majority is done safely and within people’s means, for some the ever-present temptation can lead them to a dangerous path. When gambling becomes addiction, it can wreck lives: shattered families; lost jobs; foreclosed homes; jail time; suicide. These are all the most extreme scenarios, but it is important to acknowledge that, for some families, those worst fears for their loved ones have materialised: parents like Liz and Charles Ritchie, whose son, Jack, took his own life while travelling in Hanoi after years of on-off addiction. Gambling problems in adults have always been measured in terms of money lost, but we cannot put a cost on the loss of dignity, the loss of identity and in some cases the loss of life it can cause.
We need a new approach that recognises that a flutter is one thing, but unchecked addiction is another. Today we are bringing our pre-smartphone regulations into the present day with a gambling White Paper for the digital age.
Before I go into the details of how we remove some of the blind spots in the system, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp) and for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale) and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), as well as my predecessors my right hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) and for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), who have all led the work at various stages, and in particular the Minister for sport, gambling and civil society, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who has driven this work in government over recent months. There have also been some outstanding contributions to the debate from individual Members of this House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), my hon. Friends the Members for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), for Shipley (Philip Davies), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), and the hon. Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), and from the other place.
The proposals encapsulated in our blueprint draw on that knowledge and combine it with the best available evidence and insights in the 16,000 submissions received in response to our call for evidence. That is what this White Paper will deliver, with proposals for reform that cover six key areas. These proposals build on our strong track record of acting in punters’ interests through measures such as: cutting stakes on fixed odds betting terminals in 2019; banning credit card gambling and reforming online VIP schemes in 2020; introducing new limits to make online slots safer in 2021; and upgrading rules on identifying and intervening to protect people showing signs of harm in 2022.
First, we want to tackle some of the challenges unique to online gambling. Campaigners have told me that one element that differentiates problem gambling from many other forms of addiction is that it often takes place in secret, so we will force companies to step up their checks on when losses are likely to be unaffordable or harmful for punters. Companies must already intervene when they know that a customer is spending vast sums, but this change will better protect those least able to afford even small losses. We also plan to bring online slots games more into line with bricks-and-mortar equivalents by introducing a stake limit on online slots of between £2 and £15, subject to consultation.
Secondly, we know that many addicts find that each time they break free from the temptation to gamble, they are drawn back into the orbit of online companies with the offer of a free bet or some free spins. To help to stop problem gamblers being bombarded, the Gambling Commission has beefed up its rules on online VIP schemes—which has already resulted in a 90% reduction in the number of those schemes—and will now consult on ensuring that bonus offers are not being deployed in ways that only exacerbate harm.
That brings me to the third item, which is our regulator. We can all agree that we need a robust, data-savvy and proactive regulator that can stand up to the giant companies that it regulates, so my Department will ensure that the Gambling Commission has the appropriate resources to support this work and deliver the commitments in the White Paper. No one should be denied an innocent flutter, but the public should not have to bear the cost of treatment when a punter becomes an addict. One important element that will be introduced—backed by campaigners and also by many in the House—is a statutory levy to turn the tables on problem gambling, requiring gambling companies to fund more groundbreaking research, education and treatment.
Fourthly, we need to redress the power imbalance between punters and gambling companies when things go wrong. People who find that they have lost out owing to operator failures need to know that all is not lost. We will work with industry and the Gambling Commission to create a non-statutory ombudsman who will give customers a single point of contact.
I know that the fifth element—doing more to protect children—unites the whole House. Gambling is an adult activity, and it must remain an adult activity. That is one of the main reasons why I applauded the decision taken by the Premier League a fortnight ago to remove gambling sponsorships from players’ shirt fronts in the coming seasons, and it is the reason why we are ensuring children cannot engage in any form of gambling either online or on widely accessible scratchcards.
Finally, we know that the status quo disadvantages casinos, bingo halls and other traditional premises in comparison with their online equivalents. A number of assumptions that prevailed at the time of the 2005 Act now appear increasingly outdated, so we plan to rebalance regulation and remove restrictions that disadvantage the land-based sector.
Nearly every Member of Parliament will have met constituents whose lives have been blighted by gambling harm. The online world has transformed so many parts of life, and gambling is no exception. It is our responsibility to ensure that our rules and regulations keep up with the real world so that we can protect the most vulnerable while also allowing everyone else to enjoy gambling without harm. I look forward to working with every Member of the House to bring our gambling rules into the digital age, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for that update, and for advance sight of her statement. I, too, pay tribute to all the campaigners who have long been calling for better regulation and reform of the gambling industry. I should also inform the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), the shadow Secretary of State, had given her apologies for her absence today long before we knew of the statement.
What we all know to be true is that updated gambling regulation is long overdue. The most recent legislation is from 2005, long before the huge rise and growth in online and mobile gambling opportunities. As a consequence, people can now gamble constantly and make huge losses in a very short time. I have met many people whose lives, and whose families’ lives, have been devastated by gambling harm. It is because of them that Members of this House are coming together from across the parties to call for better regulation of gambling. Anyone can fall into gambling addiction, so we need a modernised, robust system that is fit for the future.
Some forms of gambling, from bingo to the races, are of course a traditional British pastime. Around half of adults participate in some form of gambling, the vast majority with enjoyment and in moderation. Indeed, bingo halls are important in sustaining our local communities, especially in coastal and rural towns. Let us be clear: bingo halls, adult gaming centres and casinos face pressure as a result of sky-rocketing energy bills, and concerns about the sustainability of their business model in the face of significant online competition. It is therefore welcome that the announcement distinguishes between bricks-and-mortar bingo halls and low-stake adult gaming centres on the one hand, and the unique dangers of the online world on the other.
However, I must push the Secretary of State further. We have waited a long time for the statement, but it is very light on substance. Can she confirm exactly how the levy contributions of land-based and online gambling forums will differ? That is an important point, and I urge her to clarify that for the industry and the 110,000 people employed in it. What is the Treasury’s economic impact assessment of this announcement? The Government have delayed the White Paper many times. Everything that they are announcing today was ready to go a year ago. Six gambling Ministers and four Culture Secretaries have promised to publish this White Paper imminently. That being said, we welcome many of the measures announced; they are things we have long called for, and are a move in the right direction.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Premier League’s voluntary ban on gambling adverts on the front of shirts. That really is quite weak. It does not cover hoardings, or even the side or back of shirts. It also will not come into effect for three years. In that time, what is to stop the Premier League from reversing the voluntary ban once public attention has moved on? Will the Minister press the Premier League to go further?
There are further points arising from today’s announcement on which I must press the Secretary of State. First, as I say, we welcome the levy, but can she tell us exactly what the levy will be? Labour welcomes the new powers for the Gambling Commission, but she must confirm whether it will get extra resources to match the additional responsibilities. The National Audit Office has already found that the Gambling Commission has insufficient capacity to regulate the industry, and now it will have more to regulate. Is she confident that it will have the capacity for the expanded role that it will take on? On affordability checks, further sharing between gambling companies is badly needed, and I await details of the checks after the consultation. However, it is vital that rules on affordability checks be set independently, not by the industry. Will the Secretary of State provide reassurance on that?
The Secretary of State refers to stake limits and “safer by design” mechanisms, which of course we welcome, but will stake limits be based on how dangerous a product is? Who will decide that? It took years, and the resignation of a Minister, to get stake limits for fixed odds betting terminals, so will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the limits will have teeth, and will reduce harm from day one?
Finally, it is clear that we need greater protections for children and under-18s, so will the measures provide for stronger action on loot boxes, and other in-game features that are proven to make young people more likely to experience harms relating to gambling and problem gambling, harm to their mental health, and financial harm? Labour has been clear that we stand ready to work with the Government to tackle problem and harmful gambling; we have been for a long time. We have repeatedly called for updates to the completely outdated legislation. The Government have a real opportunity here to do the right thing, and make positive, real-world change. The Secretary of State must commit to getting these updates over the line in good time. The time for more and more consultation has been and gone. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all the necessary statutory instruments will be passed before the House rises for the summer? She must crack on and make good on these long overdue promises. I look forward to further clarification from her on the points that I have raised, and to working together to tackle gambling at its root.
I thank the shadow Minister for her comments. The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), made her apologies to me, for which I am grateful; I understand the reasons for her absence.
I am pleased that the shadow Minister said that we need to update the rules, and that the measures will have cross-party support. I very much look forward to working with the shadow Front Benchers on this matter, which is so important. She mentioned the delay; I would reiterate a number of points, including the fact that we have taken measures over the past few years, including cutting the stakes for fixed odds betting terminals, banning credit card gambling, reforming online VIP schemes and introducing new limits to make online slots safer. She will know that I have been in post only two and a half months, but this has been a priority for me. I have brought this White Paper in with some speed and timeliness, I would say, and she can be confident that we will continue to ensure that these measures make it into the necessary regulations. We are bringing many of them through via statutory instrument, which will speed up the process, and I very much look forward to the co-operation of those on the Opposition Front Bench in ensuring that we can do so as soon as possible.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on finally—finally—getting this White Paper published. I particularly welcome the introduction of the statutory levy, which she will know has great support in all parts of the House. The most disturbing fact I have learned in preparing for the Select Committee’s upcoming investigation into gambling is that at this moment there are something like 50,000 children in this country who are problem gamblers. That is a truly shocking figure. Can she expand more on the essential measures in her proposals that will protect children from this terrible scourge?
My right hon. Friend makes some important points. I think all of us across this House want to ensure that we protect children. That is why, in addition to measures already in place, such as ensuring that there is no advertising targeted towards children, there are a number of new measures in the proposals, including the voluntary ban on gambling advertising on football shirts, but not limited to that. As I mentioned, we are ensuring that monetary gambling is illegal until the age of 18. We will be making it illegal for children to use scratchcards or slots that produce cash. The statutory levy he mentions is also important, because through that levy we can continue to look at research on how gambling affects children and take any necessary measures in due course.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. We have consistently encouraged and pressed the Government for action in this area and, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said, a dozen Ministers responsible for gambling have come and gone since change was first promised. The 2005 Act is clearly out of date and grows less relevant to modern gambling realities by the day. Those vulnerable to harm, especially children, are not well protected under the current legislation.
My party and I will approach this important discussion with constructive dialogue to support evidence-led legislation from the outset. Will the Secretary of State outline the precise role of the ombudsman, especially when it comes to protecting children? I know that hon. Members on all sides are deeply concerned by the huge rise in gambling among children. We know that gambling destroys lives. I pay tribute to the many charity workers and others who have pressed for these changes, including hon. Members across the House—particularly, on the SNP Benches, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), who has worked tirelessly on this. We will work constructively with the Government in assessing the right way forward to protect the vulnerable from harm.
I am very grateful for that constructive approach and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on the measures as they progress. He mentioned the non-statutory ombudsman, which is an important measure to redress the balance between punters who feel that their issues have not been addressed sufficiently and the companies involved. That is why we are bringing it forward, and we will be consulting on it in due course.
I welcome this announcement, and I pay tribute to the members of the all-party parliamentary group and its leadership, the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). The hon. Lady is with us today and has driven this with unstoppable power, like a force of nature, so I pay particular tribute to her.
I welcome this announcement because it is at least a start. It is a positive start, and it includes most of the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm, which is welcome, but there are a couple of other areas to mention. First, we should recognise that gambling is an online harm, with most of the harm being caused by online companies. Physical betting shops and so on are not part of that process, and the Minister will recognise that the majority of the statutory levy should be borne by those causing online harm.
The second area is advertising and children, on which the announcement simply does not go far enough. I do not mean to be churlish, because I welcome the announcement, but it should not be voluntary for football clubs to take gambling advertising off their shirts. I am a season ticket holder at Tottenham, whose shirts do not advertise betting companies, but many clubs’ shirts do, and children wear these things and sometimes go to school in them. They are therefore advertising gambling companies on their shirt. We need to recognise that this is a permanent process. Even if advertising is moved to the sleeve, in two years’ time, who knows, it might creep from the sleeve to the front. After the consultation, the Government should come back with a decision that we need to take control.
I welcome this announcement. It is a step towards security, safety and common sense, and that has to be welcomed by the House.
I commend my right hon. Friend for all the work that he and others have done in this area. It is because of their tireless campaigning, along with that of people and families who have suffered harm, that I am standing here today to introduce this White Paper.
My right hon. Friend mentions young people, and I share his concern. We must do more, which is why we are taking steps to make gambling illegal, in many forms, for under-18s. I welcome the Premier League’s announcement on banning gambling advertising from the front of shirts. Footballers are role models for our children, and we do not want young people to advertise gambling on the front of their shirts. They like to wear football shirts, so I welcome the Premier League’s voluntary move, which my predecessors and I encouraged.
Of course, we will look carefully at the evidence on the funding from the statutory levy, and we will keep all these matters under review.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. I have just managed to get a copy of the White Paper. It was widely reported that it might introduce restrictions on over-18s, but it appears to be more of a commitment to consult on asking gambling companies to think 25, rather than think 21, when verifying people’s age. Given that we are trying to address the real issue of gambling by children, can she explain the thinking behind that provision?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is appropriate to protect people who are aged between 18 and 25. When he reads the whole White Paper, he will see that it proposes a consultation on reducing the amount of money that young adults, aged between 18 and 25, can bet on online slots.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her officials on their work to produce this review. I agree that the Gambling Commission needs to be a data-savvy regulator. Can she confirm that it will be able to run independent background affordability checks without causing friction in the system? Importantly, many of the industry rules covering the gathering and use of data to target the advertising that drives customers towards loot boxes were written for the pre-smartphone world. The Gambling Commission needs to make sure that vulnerable players are not being data-profiled and targeted.
As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with him, given his expertise and knowledge of this area. He mentions player protection checks, which will largely be seamless and frictionless background checks that affect only 20% of people, most of whom will not know they are taking place. These secret checks are important in ensuring that gambling companies are taking their responsibilities seriously.
My hon. Friend will know that the Government are working with companies to ensure there are protections on loot boxes, too.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm, I welcome this long overdue White Paper. In the APPG’s 2019 interim report, we asked for affordability checks, parity between land-based and online stakes, an independent ombudsman, a curb on advertising and, most importantly, a statutory levy. Job done.
The APPG pushed for all the reforms the Secretary of State mentioned earlier against a strong backlash from the industry, not least on fixed-odds betting terminals, VIP schemes and credit cards. Today’s announcement shows progress. It may have taken eight years of campaigning, nine Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport and ten changes in my hair colour, but it is progress none the less.
Today is a momentous occasion that many thought, and many wished, would never happen, but now the commitments need to be fulfilled. We do not need more consultation—we have had two and a half years since the review. We need swift action, immediate implementation of the proposals and urgent legislative change where necessary. After 18 years of the gambling industry’s dominance over this agenda, now is the time for levelling up. Will the Secretary of State commit today to ensuring that these changes are brought in as a priority, with no delaying tactics? Let us protect those whose lives have been affected by gambling-related harms and let us stop lining the pockets of an industry that has had it its own way for far too long.
I thank the hon. Lady and commend her hugely for all her work. As she has highlighted, we have listened and taken action. I really do commend and thank her for her work.
I have been in post for two and a half months. I have brought this proposed legislation forward and she can be reassured that I, together with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), will continue to ensure that action happens swiftly. As she will know, following a White Paper, various technical consultations need to take place. We will bring forward these measures largely through statutory instruments, and she has my utmost commitment that I will ensure that process is done as speedily as possible.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. How many regular punters did the Secretary of State speak to before bringing forward these proposals, particularly in relation to the affordability checks, including the bizarre and arbitrary figures of £1,000 in a day or £2,000 over 90 days, which amounts to £22 a day by my reckoning?
The Conservative party used to believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility, but that seems to have gone out of the window with these affordability check proposals. Will the Secretary of State tell me who decides whether or not an individual can afford the amount that they are gambling when an affordability check is made? Will it be the Government, the Gambling Commission, the bookmakers or the banks? Do the punters themselves get any say at all about how they spend their own hard-earned money?
I thank my hon. Friend for his engagement on this issue. I know that he, like many others, wants to ensure that people—punters—who enjoy a flutter are not prevented from doing so. He asks what engagement we have had. Some 44% of adults gamble, and we have spoken to quite a lot of them. We have had 400 meetings on the issue to ensure we take all perspectives into account.
The White Paper is about balance and ensuring that people can go about their business, doing what they enjoy, without restriction, but at the same time protecting those people who need protection. Most people will not even know that the checks he talks about are happening. They will be frictionless and happen behind the scenes: 80% of people will have to do nothing at all and 20% will have a simple check on whether they have been made bankrupt or have a county court judgment against them. They will not know that that check is taking place. Those sorts of checks take place in a variety of different instances, but they are there to ensure that in the very small percentage of cases where an operator needs to double-check whether somebody might be going down the wrong road, they can do so. I should emphasise that those checks are already taking place; gambling companies already have a responsibility to ensure the protection of those who gamble with them. We are trying to protect to people such as the nurse who spent £245,000 over a few months, when the gambling company knew that she had a salary of £30,000. Those are the sorts of instances that we want to stop with our proposals in the White Paper.
I welcome today’s White Paper, but may I ask a question on the statutory levy? It is all well and good imposing a statutory levy, and I welcome that, but how that money is used is vital and has to be independent of the industry. The researchers must have free and open access to the data, and they have to be free to choose what research they undertake. Those in the gambling industry should not have any sway over what is researched and what is not.
I welcome the tone that the Secretary of State is striking today. Tackling problem gambling and, in particular, protecting vulnerable people is, of course, essential. Does she recognise that the gambling industry, whether it is to everyone’s taste or not, has a symbiotic relationship with grassroots sport in this country, and not just horse- racing? What steps is she going to take to ensure that with the regulation that she is rightly taking forward we do not damage grassroots sport in this country?
I am very grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention, because he has made an important point. We have a world-class industry that has revenues of billions of pounds and which is putting in money, through its taxes, to support many of our public services. For the majority of people, it is offering something that they enjoy, so we are trying to strike a balance between allowing that to continue and protecting problem gamblers, of whom we estimate there are 300,000.
I welcome the statement, although I have not had time to read the 250 pages of the White Paper. I am sure that the devil will be in the detail. I am not as enamoured of this statement as other Members seem to be. I am delighted that our hard work has been recognised, and it is important today that we recognise the hard work of the campaigners, the people with lived experience and the people who have lost loved ones who have committed suicide because of their addiction to gambling. We must recognise the hard work they have done to bring me to this place and allow me to express their opinion too.
I was delighted to hear in answer to the question about the levy that the industry is not going to have its fingers in that pie. That money must be ringfenced and channelled through the NHS so that it is used properly. I see one line in the statement reads:
“work with industry and the Gambling Commission”
I urge caution, because they are part of the problem. If we are going to work with them, we have to work with people who have experienced gambling harm in the first place, in order to get a balanced view.
I echo the sentiments of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who said that we are taking gambling adverts off the front of English Premier League team shirts on a voluntary basis—that should be enshrined in law—but what happens to kids who follow a team in the Championship, League 1, League 2 or the Scottish Premiership? Those children will still be exposed to the adverts, even though we acknowledge that they do harm. If the adverts do harm, they have all got to go: from all shirts; from all around the stadium and all around the pitch; and from in between games on the television and the radio. Advertising does harm, so all advertising has to go.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done in this area. He rightly recognises the work of a range of gambling campaigners, and I am really pleased to have met many gambling campaign groups to hear their stories and see how they have been affected. He is right to talk about advertising aimed towards young children, which is why such targeting is already prohibited. We must welcome what the Premier League has done and, as I said, the statutory levy will enable us to look at this issue further. If necessary, of course, we can take other steps in the future.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My right hon. and learned Friend said that she wants to protect the vulnerable with this review, which is an aim that everybody in this House shares, but Members will understand my surprise that there was no mention in her statement of the fact that in just under half an hour people can google non-gambling-aware bets and find more than 400 regulated sites with no protection or checks for the vulnerable. There was little or no mention of protecting the vulnerable from the scourge of scratchcards. I also did not hear her mention companies that are for-profit fundraisers, which openly advertise to the vulnerable as well. Does she agree that unless gambling is considered in the round and in a balanced way, the aim of protecting the vulnerable will still be being debated in this place in the next 20 years?
I thank my hon. Friend for his points. This is a very extensive White Paper. Many people have mentioned its 250 pages, within which there are a lot of provisions to protect a lot of people. He rightly mentions that we need to stop punters going to the black market, and strengthen Gambling Commission and local authority power and resources. That is one of the things highlighted in the White Paper, which Members will have an opportunity to read when they have a little more time. The regulator will be able to block or take down black market operators, and where necessary suspend or take away licences from companies that break the rules. As I mentioned, we are also increasing the age for a number of other types of gambling.
I thank the Secretary of State for acknowledging the work of my constituents Liz and Charles Ritchie, and for her engagement with them, and indeed that of her predecessors. While warmly welcoming much in the statement, as I do, I know that Charles and Liz will, along with other families bereaved by gambling addiction, be deeply disappointed by the failure to tackle advertising, particularly in football. The Secretary of State rightly highlighted, as have others, the shocking number of children who are addicts or have problems with gambling—those 11 years old and younger. For many, football is the hook. The Premier League recognised in the action that it took that advertising is harmful, but a front-of-shirt ban is not enough. Fans are exposed to an average of 700 ads at every premier league game. Other countries have acted. Will the Secretary of State think again on that issue, because the campaign for comprehensive action on advertising will not stop?
I thank the hon. Member for his points. It has been an honour to speak with the Ritchies, who have articulated their case so well. I know that they and others would like us to go further, as I am sure the gambling companies would like us to go less far. The White Paper seeks a balance between allowing people who are not suffering harm to go about their lives, and protecting those who unfortunately are harmed. It is already the position that advertisements should not target children. We have seen the measures taken by the Premier League. The Government were very firm and made their position very clear to the Premier League regarding the action that it ought to consider taking. As I mentioned, we will look carefully at any further research that comes out, and take action if necessary.
I know that society lotteries bring in valuable revenues that are enjoyed by communities. One of the changes that we are making relates to raising the age to ensure that we protect young people, but I am always happy to continue looking at the work that such lotteries are doing.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Minister read out almost a race card of her predecessors, so let me congratulate her on the short time in which she has managed to get out this White Paper to enable much better public debate. Is there not a danger that any regime will be vulnerable to offshore, out-of-jurisdiction operators, who flout the regulations and undermine legitimate companies? Will she mobilise a whole-of-Government approach—including the crime agencies, the Treasury and the banks—to tackle the gambling black market and ensure the success of her reforms while protecting a major British industry and its workers?
The right hon. Member makes an important point. People have said to me, “If you tighten up the rules in relation to legitimate gambling, all you will do is drive punters offshore.” In this White Paper we are stopping punters going to the black market, because we are strengthening the powers and resources of the Gambling Commission and local authorities. The regulator will now be able to block or take down black market operators and, where necessary, suspend or take away licences from companies that break the rules.
My question is very much in the same vein. I welcome so much of today’s announcement, and the Secretary of State is quite right that it is with the advent of smartphones that we have seen such a change in gambling behaviour. Some people might choose not to pursue a legitimate operator because they do not want to go through the affordability checks or other elements of the new regime. If that is the case, they can just use Google to find many more options, so will more be done really to clamp down on the black market, particularly when it is so accessible through hand-held devices?
About 400 people take their own lives each year owing to gambling harms. It is rather a personal issue for me and my home community, because a much-loved local GP did exactly that in 2007, and is still missed today. We all mourn his passing; there is a very moving memorial to him outside the local health centre. Can I ask the Government to crack on with this as fast as humanly possible? If we had had this legislation some years ago, that gentleman might still be with us.
My thoughts are with all those who have lost family members. I hope that they will look on today as a moment to which they have contributed. I know it has taken some time, but this is the largest reform of the industry since 2005, and it is game changing. It is of course right that we take the time to get the regulations right when we bring them up to the smartphone age.
I welcome today’s statement and look forward to reading the measures in the White Paper. However, there is a sense of déjà vu in that every time we look to clamp down on an area in which vulnerable people are being exploited and the gambling industry profits from that vulnerability, the sector moves on to find a new platform or new method by which it can exploit. What confidence does the Secretary of State have in the future-proofing of these measures? Will she commit to ensuring that there are constant reviews of the legislation? The gambling industry is powerful, and has a big and very persuasive approach to this place, and it is important that vulnerable people are protected.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course we need to keep matters under review. The statutory levy will help us to do that, ensuring not only that we keep up with what is happening in technology, but that we have the evidence to back up any policy changes that we need to bring forward.
The end of gambling company sponsorship on premier league team shirts is a welcome step, but it will not come until the end of the 2025-26 season—three years hence. It is not good enough; there is not enough urgency in that. Everyone who watches sports coverage, particularly football on TV, is constantly bombarded with images and repetitious advertisements urging them to partake in gambling games, spot bets and betting offers for particular scores or match outcomes. What are children watching those matches on TV meant to do—hide behind the sofa, cover their eyes, put their fingers in their ears? They are being constantly bombarded. It has become far too normalised, and we know it is damaging lives with regularity. Action and urgency are imperative.
I recognise the points that the hon. Member is making, but I would like to congratulate the Premier League on the action it has taken. It has talked about it for a long time, and it has now taken action. The White Paper today brings in a large number of actions that will make a significant difference. We will obviously keep matters under review, but the statutory levy will help us and enable us to do that.
It was ever thus that when Governments ban or curtail legitimate activities, underground markets bubble up to fill that void. I was struck by some evidence from the Institute of Economic Affairs that shows that even without things such as stake limits, 5% of UK gamblers have used unlicensed and unregulated sites and half could name a site where they could gamble in an unregulated way. While I hear the measures that the Secretary of State has outlined around greater powers for the Gambling Commission to shut down black market operators, what assessment has she made of the volume of current gamblers who could move to underground gambling? Does she think that the Gambling Commission, even with its new powers, would be able to keep up with that?
It is important to ensure that we protect people from legitimate gambling where we have problem gamblers, but also from the black market. I emphasise one important point, because some of the measures we are bringing in today are already in place for some companies. Some responsible companies have already taken the measures we have announced today, and they have punters and successful operations. The issue is that not all companies are doing the right thing, so our measures seek to ensure consistency across the board to ensure that the system is not prejudiced against companies doing the right thing and that we protect those who might become problem gamblers.
The Secretary of State said in her statement that she will ensure that children can “engage in no forms of gambling”, including online gambling. Can she confirm whether that will be through an age verification process, and how exactly will that operate?
Clearly there is a delicate balance between addiction and the safe enjoyment of gambling, and as always the devil will be in the detail. What assurances can my right hon. and learned Friend provide that these proposed reforms will not negatively impact people’s enjoyment of a day at the races, a football bet on a Saturday, a night at the bingo or our much-loved British sports, including horse-racing, that employ thousands of people directly and indirectly across the UK?
For those who are betting occasionally and as a matter of enjoyment, these measures will not make any difference—they will still be able to enjoy their leisure activities. These measures are designed to help and protect those who are problem gamblers, whose lives are potentially going to be ruined. I encourage those who want to still to take part in an enjoyable leisure activity, which is what it is for millions of people across the country. We are trying to strike the right balance here.
I welcome a number of the measures that the Secretary of State has set out today, including the statutory levy, but also, importantly, for most if not all of us in this House, the protections for children and young people, particularly in the online sphere. Given that technology moves at great pace, and that many of the technological advances we have seen since 2005 and the problems associated with that when it comes to gambling could not have been foreseen 18 years ago, what assurances can she give that not only the rules she is setting out now will be updated in future, but that the powers, resources and capacity of the new regulator will be kept up to date with the moves in technology?
It is fundamental that we continue to consider this issue as technology changes. The hon. Member mentions the statutory levy. The statutory levy will enable us to have research and make evidence-based policy, but it will also allow, if appropriate, the education of young people, so that even when technology changes, they understand the issues they may face.
I thank the Secretary of State very much for her statement on the Gambling Act review. Many of us feel that there has been positive progress, so I say well done, Secretary of State. I have concerns about the accessibility of gambling on smartphones. Photographic ID proving age is necessary on betting apps, so some under-18s have been buying fake IDs to enable them to bet online. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with large betting organisations about more in-depth scrutiny of the legitimacy of the IDs used for betting?
As vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and welcome the long-awaited White Paper. I do not agree with parts of it, but that is for another day. This month saw the opening of the UK’s first women-only residential treatment for gambling addiction. It caters towards women’s needs, including a consideration of childcare demands, which means that, on average, women spend less time in treatment than men. Does the Secretary of State agree that that highlights the need for an intersectional public-health-focused and free-to-access treatment programme offering tailored support to those who require it?
I was very pleased in my engagement to speak with clinicians who are dealing with gambling harm, and I am pleased that the statutory levy will ensure that NHS trusts will take the funding that they have previously turned away because of where the money was coming from. The measures that we are bringing forward will help those people to get the support that they need.