I shall be brief. I did not intend to speak, but I heard so many interesting and fine speeches on this issue that I wanted to make my own contribution. I shall visit my own local bingo club on Friday, and I shall express the same views there as I do here.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Foster and I share his concern about gambling addiction, which I believe is a very serious matter. I was strongly against the super-casinos, which loomed large for a long time, but have now been dispensed with, I am glad to say. Bingo is a very modest form of gambling: it is easily contained; it is not addictive; people do not lose large sums of money. Furthermore, there are even health benefits, as many people who play bingo are middle-aged and might otherwise sit at home; going out and mixing with people is beneficial to health, particularly psychologically, but probably physically as well. It is the same argument that we hear about free travel on buses, as getting people out and about is beneficial to health. The issue is not just about being fair to people, as improving the health of the nation is also relevant. I say that especially since smoking in public places has been banned, which has really made a difference.
I am afraid that the provisions have the hallmark of Treasury officials all over them. I am not blaming the Exchequer Secretary, but Treasury officials, having been forced to get rid of double taxation, are getting in their little revenge by raising levels of tax in order to get their own back. But we are talking about tiny sums of money—£30 million or £40 million—compared with the £12 billion cost of reducing VAT, the £4 billion we lose as a result of tobacco smuggling, and the £37 billion we lose as a result of tax avoidance. If the Treasury wants to raise more money, as we undoubtedly need to do to pay the vast bills that have arisen from the banking crisis, it should look at those much larger sources of income, rather than adding relatively small amounts in taxation on bingo, which will have a disproportionate effect on those on modest and low incomes. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to consider more productive areas that will raise large amounts of revenue.
I am slightly worried about the presence in bingo clubs of fruit machines, which are addictive. However, bingo itself has every kind of benefit, including social, and it is not addictive as far as one can see. Habitual playing of bingo is a bit of fun every week, and is not serious gambling in the same sense as other activities. If we can encourage more people to play bingo, and fewer people to stay at home gambling online, a lot of people would be saved from addictive gambling, losing money and pain. There is everything to be said for encouraging bingo through lower taxation, and discouraging other forms of gambling through higher taxation and more regulation.
The overall tax gap between the tax that should be paid and that which is actually paid could be as large as £100 billion. If we addressed that, we could raise a lot more revenue. If we could make a 10 per cent. inroad into that, we would have £10 billion a year extra—hundreds of times more than the small amount that would be raised from taxing bingo disproportionately and unfairly. I hope that my few points register with my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary.
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