John Penrose (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport; Weston-Super-Mare, Conservative)
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I think goes back to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley: are there any examples of public policy research, funded by the Responsible Gambling Fund, that have made an impact on any of my decisions, or those of my predecessors?
One issue that I have raised with the RGF is that I am concerned that there is no significant research into establishing the kind of causal links, which I think the right hon. Gentleman suspects that there may be, between particular kinds of gambling and problem gambling. For example, many people believe that fixed-odds betting terminals are more likely to contribute to problem gambling than other kinds of gambling. The difficulty for someone in my position is that, while that is a
widespread suspicion, there is no academically solid underpinning as yet to justify it. From my point of view, therefore, it is extremely difficult for any Gambling Minister to take effective decisions about whether particular kinds of gambling should be expanded or reduced, because there is not an adequate evidential basis on which to build a proper business case, or a proper political consensus. Into that vacuum rushes everybody with their favourite prejudice. Everybody has an answer about the reasons why we have this amount of problem gambling here and that amount of problem gambling there, but nobody has enough facts to form a solid evidential basis on which to build a reason for changing the law. I have therefore asked the various bodies to prioritise research that will provide that kind of evidential basis, and they have agreed to do so. Clearly, they must then decide what that will be—it needs to be at arm’s length from Government to be credible. In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, it is vital that we have that kind of evidential basis for the benefit of sensible and objective fact-based public policy making in future.