John Penrose (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative)
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr McCrea.
I will endeavour to respond to the points made by my hon. Friend Philip Davies in order, if I possibly can. I am delighted that he has taken the trouble to air this important and potentially tremendously troubling issue in Parliament. It is a topic that does not get enough balanced and careful debate, and I therefore pay tribute to him for raising it. Some of the issues surrounding the problem deserve a fuller and more careful exploration and I welcome his initiative in seeking to do so.
I also welcome my hon. Friend’s opening comments. He is absolutely right to say that, for the vast majority of people, gambling is fine if it is done carefully and in moderation. In many cases, gambling causes no problems and is a source of innocent fun and enjoyment. It is the same as enjoying an occasional glass of wine or pint of beer—it causes no problem for anybody. He also rightly went on to say that, sadly, that is not the case for a small but real minority of people. I am sure that everybody here regrets and is concerned about the current figure of 0.9% of people who gamble turning into problem gamblers. In focusing on those unfortunate people and what we can do for them, however, we should not lose sight of the fact that, for the vast majority of people who participate in gambling, it is a harmless and enjoyable
source of fun. He is absolutely right to put the matter in context and to lay out that framework before we get into the detail.
I must confess that I was a little concerned when my hon. Friend started to make the point that he is not sure whether gambling companies should be funding research and help for problem gambling. He then moderated his point a bit and said that it is entirely reasonable—he gave the example of the Portman Group in the drinks industry and in doing so seemed to accept the principle—for companies involved in these kinds of industries to contribute something. His point is not that it is wrong in principle; rather he is arguing about the level of contribution. It is important we accept that principle and that all hon. Members agree that companies involved in such an industry, whether we are talking about alcohol or gambling, accept that they have a broader social duty to act and behave responsibly towards the small minority of people whom their products potentially harm.