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Gambling Legislation

Volume 808: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2020


Asked by

My Lords, yesterday, we launched the first part of our comprehensive review of the Gambling Act with a call for evidence. This is an opportunity to take stock of the significant changes in gambling over the last 15 years. We want to make sure we have the right protections and balance between protecting freedom of choice and preventing harm. I take this opportunity to thank all of your Lordships who served on the Select Committee for your work.

My Lords, I welcome the reply from the Minister. She will be well aware of the significant concern in this House and wider society about the extent of gambling advertising. As was pointed out by the excellent Select Committee report on the social and economic impact of the gambling industry, the industry currently spends around £1.5 billion a year on advertising. This budget has substantially increased since 2014. Will the Minister first confirm that, in the review promised by the Government, strong consideration will be given to implementing restrictions on gambling advertising to protect individuals who are vulnerable to gambling-related harm? Secondly, will the noble Baroness confirm that the needs of Northern Ireland will be considered, as many forms of advertising are UK-wide rather than solely regional? Finally, can I ask the noble Baroness—

I reassure the noble Lord that progress is being made on advertising. We are calling for evidence on gambling advertising but obviously, we cannot prejudge the findings. The Advertising Standards Authority’s strict rules on gambling advertising apply across the UK.

My Lords, I welcome the review, but have concerns about the process. The overreliance on written evidence will inevitably favour gambling companies and marginalise their victims. I urge the Government to establish a truth commission or Leveson-type inquiry, so that victims of the industry and their families can speak and corporate executives who have failed to honour their promises can be examined under oath.

The noble Lord raises an important point: that the voices of those who have been harmed by gambling should be heard. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s first meeting on this issue was with a group of experts with lived experience of gambling harm. I encourage the noble Lord to submit evidence to this review.

My Lords, I am disappointed that significant parts of this statement read as if they were written by the gambling industry. They pointedly ignore the facts with which we began the Select Committee report: there are nearly 400,000 problem gamblers, plus 60,000 teenage gamblers, materially affecting the lives of 2 million people. Just last night, I spent an hour with yet another family who had lost their 25 year-old son to gambling. As most of the recommendations in the Select Committee report do not require legislation, why will Her Majesty’s Government not implement them now to save lives? Why will they not make this a public health issue?

I am genuinely surprised and disappointed that the right reverend Prelate reads the response in that light, because we felt that the report of the committee on which he sat was extremely helpful and constructive, and it has informed much of our thinking. There is no way that we are waiting for the outcome of the review to make gambling safer, and we have announced significant progress in the last 12 months, in particular the ban on gambling with credit cards.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. Does the Minister agree that part of this welcome review should consider the benefits of the gambling industry in terms of employment, revenue to the Exchequer and social cohesion—for example, racecourses and lotteries? A measured, regulated industry, as proposed in recommendations by the Lords Select Committee, would avoid the increase in black market activity that has been so prevalent in, for example, Sweden.

The Government absolutely recognise the contribution of the industry, both in fiscal terms and in employing some 100,000 people in this country. We also acknowledge that a gap exists between what the industry says it is doing and what some people experience, and we are keen to close that.

My Lords, it is well established that loot boxes are a form of gambling disguised within innocent online games played by children. This is a huge concern to parents and child protection organisations, including the Children’s Commissioner, who want loot boxes to be defined by gambling legislation as a form of gambling. What plans do the Government have to regulate loot boxes within any new legislation?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We are delivering on our manifesto commitment to tackle issues around loot boxes. We had a bespoke call for evidence, which closed on 22 November. We plan to publish our response early in 2021.

My Lords, I share the late Lady Thatcher’s discomfort with gambling, which encourages addictive behaviour. I am keen to know what key issues the Government intend to focus on in the forthcoming review of gambling legislation.

I thank my noble friend for his question. The scope of the review is intentionally very broad, because we aim for it to be as comprehensive as possible. The three big priorities are the safety of children and whether we are doing everything we can to keep them safe; whether advertising and promotion are carried out responsibly; and whether the regulatory framework is working. Within that, are the voices of those with lived experience being heard?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, for his dogged and unwavering determination, which led to the creation of GAMSTOP and 173,000 people availing themselves of online exclusion. But this does not extend to unlicensed websites. Will the Government therefore consider further action to deal with this, specifically IP blocking, which would protect British people from unlicensed illegal sites? They could at least include this in the review the Minister mentioned.

I reassure the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead that unlicensed sites are within the scope of the review. Again, we very much encourage your Lordships and those in your networks to submit evidence.

My Lords, following up on the question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I welcome the review, although we point out that it is much delayed. I particularly like the Secretary of State’s description of it as a review of

“analogue law in a digital age”.

As has been said, most of the egregious behaviour is caused by companies that, in this digital age, operate outwith our boundaries and so evade UK statute. We will surely need digital solutions in a digital world. Will the review really consider this issue?

I am slightly puzzled by the noble Lord’s question, because the location of the gambler is where our laws prevail, irrespective of the location of the operator.

The Government continue to have an open mind about the role of an ombudsman. We are gathering evidence on the effectiveness of the regulatory regime and whether the Gambling Commission needs additional powers. We are already considering commission proposals for a fees uplift.

My Lords, I declare my role as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm. Do the Government recognise the link across addictions, which means that we need an alcohol strategy linked to a gambling strategy? Almost a quarter of gamblers drink as a coping mechanism while gambling, but the incidence is much higher among veterans. When they drink they also use gambling to enhance the adrenaline buzz, which fuels both addictions.

The Government absolutely understand that different addictions are interrelated and interconnected. The Department of Health is leading on a cross-issue addiction strategy.