My Lords, as the Gambling Minister made clear in his speech at the GambleAware annual conference in December, our review is looking at a very wide range of issues and our call for evidence received 16,000 submissions, which we are considering carefully. We will publish a White Paper setting out our vision for the sector in the coming months.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but with more than one gambling-relating suicide every day, delaying reforming our outdated gambling regulations is putting lives at risk. We do not have to wait for the White Paper to make changes, as we have seen, for example, in banning the use of credit cards for gambling. Given that strict stake and prize limits apply to land-based gambling but bizarrely not to online gambling, will the Government fix this harmful omission now and commit to a regular review of limits in years to come? Frankly, chaos in Downing Street should not be an excuse for delay in protecting lives.
As the noble Lord rightly notes, we have made significant progress in recent years to make online gambling safer, including a ban on gambling with credit cards as well as new rules to reduce the intensity of online slot games. But we recognise that more can be done to protect people who gamble online. Our review is looking closely at the case for greater protections for online gamblers, including protections on products and for individuals. We called for evidence on protections including the pros and cons of stake limits as part of our review, and of course, we are considering all the evidence carefully.
My Lords, the Government have had the House of Lords report, which is an excellent report, led by the noble Lord, Lord Grade, that made strong recommendations on a system that would protect the vulnerable as well as give some certainty to the industry. Given that unlicensed sites have now grown, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, from £1.4 billion to £2.8 billion, when are the Government going to do something to safeguard the vulnerable and give some certainty to the racing and sporting industries?
The noble Lord is right; it is an excellent report. I had the pleasure of serving on that committee before joining Her Majesty’s Government. The recommendations and evidence contained in it, as well as the 16,000 submissions we have had to our call for evidence, are all forming part of our careful review of the Gambling Act. We will come back with our proposals in due course.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for that response. One of the lessons of the implications of the outdated nature of the 2005 Gambling Act, which the Government are addressing, is that there was a serious lack of accountability on the Gambling Commission. It had many powers to stop many of the abuses that have led to such tragedies as we have heard and as we read about in the newspapers almost every day. We are very interested to know what the Government can do to increase the accountability of the regulator in this sector.
The Gambling Act review is looking at the Gambling Commission’s powers and resources, and how it uses them. The Commission has a new chairman and chief executive, who will be working closely with DCMS as they implement their vision for the organisation, but between April 2020 and March 2021 the commission imposed more than £30 million in financial penalties for breaches of its licensing conditions.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform. The British Medical Journal said:
“We do not allow tobacco companies to design tobacco control policies, yet the gambling industry, through the organisations it funds, shapes our responses to … harms”.
Does the Minister agree that the system of voluntary levies is part of the problem, because the industry is controlling the messaging, and that what we need are statutory, smart levies to give total independence to research, treatment and education if we are really to tackle gambling-related harms?
The Government have always been clear that they will look at the case for alternative funding mechanisms if there is a funding gap. All options remain on the table, including a statutory levy such as the right reverend Prelate suggests. The Department for Health and Social Care is working to improve care and treatment pathways to support the 15 clinics that were committed to in the NHS long-term plan. NHS England has also worked with GambleAware to design effective treatment.
My Lords, I welcome the campaign by GambleAware, which highlights that up to 1 million women are at risk of harm through gambling, while stigma and shame prevents two in five women experiencing such harm seeking help. What help is being given to spot the early warning signs of harmful gambling, focusing on women aged 25 to 55 who gamble online? Can the Minister confirm that the review and the ensuing White Paper will consider and refer to the impact of gambling on women, as well as those who are close to them?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. We have seen already, through the evidence gathered by Public Health England, the way that there are differential impacts on certain groups of people, whether by geography, sex or age. We want to improve the evidence base in the research so that we can ensure our policies are based on good and concrete evidence. That is part of the review of the Act that we are undertaking.
My Lords, in the speech to the GambleAware conference to which the Minister referred, the Gambling Minister recognised that affordability checks were key to reducing gambling harm. Are the Government aware of the research by the Social Market Foundation showing that £100 spent per month was the right threshold above which gambling operators should be obliged to make affordability checks?
That research by the Social Market Foundation was, I know, noted in the letter sent to my honourable friend the Gambling Minister. We see a clear role for considering an individual’s financial circumstances to help stop devastating losses, but to be workable and to prevent harm, checks need to be proportionate and done in a way that is acceptable to customers, too. We continue to work with the Gambling Commission on this issue in the run-up to our White Paper.
My Lords, further to the answer the Minister gave to the right reverend Prelate, can he give a categoric undertaking that the gambling industry will have no influence whatever in how the levy is allocated to research, harm prevention, education and the treatment of those affected by gambling addiction?
The Government have always been clear, as I said, that we will look at the case for alternative funding mechanisms and all options remain on the table. Of course, we are taking views from industry, as we are from everybody with an interest in this area. We will take all those views into account as we prepare the White Paper.
My Lords, I declare my position as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform. In Washwood Heath Road in Ward End, Birmingham, there are three bookmakers next to each other and another a few metres away. It is known to the locals as the bookie belt. We know from studies last year that bookmakers are 10 times more likely to be in the poorest areas of the country than the richest. This takes away choice in food and other essential shops. Should not the Government’s levelling-up White Paper have dealt with this issue of place-based gambling dominance?
My Lords, it is also important to remember that a great number of people gamble legally and enjoy doing so without harm. We want to strike the right balance to make sure that people can conduct this legal activity, while addressing questions of regional disparities. That is why we have put out our call for evidence. We are glad to have received so many submissions and are considering them carefully.
As my honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for gambling has made clear, we will respond to the review in the coming months. My noble friend makes an important point about the role of children. We have looked at the impact of gambling on children as part of our review, and protections are already in place—for instance, to limit children’s exposure to advertising—so we are not waiting for the review to take action where it is needed.
My Lords, gambling addiction can lead to poverty and homelessness. Does the Minister agree that local councils should ensure that front-line staff are provided with training on harmful gambling so that they can recognise potential cases and are given the opportunity to help those in the greatest need?
Yes, there is an important part for local authorities to play, just as there is for the NHS. It is right that the industry contributes to treatment costs, and the largest operators have committed to provide £100 million for treatment over four years. As I say, these are all areas that we are considering as part of the review of the Act.