Permanence of the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government

Part of Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 4:15 pm, 24th January 2017

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government have the opportunity to accept that we could lead the way in Wales. The Secretary of State has already pointed out that he is aware of the social and economic problems that these machines cause, and despite the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s review, the Bill represents an opportunity. We know what the problem is, and we know we could deal with it right now.

The Secretary of State says that the Government’s intention is simply to match the powers given to Scotland, but the devolution arrangements for Wales, England and Scotland are already different—they are not in alignment—so there is no reason why the Government could not accept our amendments today and agree to the lowering of the stake and that all current and future machines should be covered. Anything less than that would be a bureaucratic nightmare for the Assembly and only half a solution to an already accepted problem. It is unacceptable for the Government to refuse to give the Welsh Assembly the full powers that it needs to deal with this problem simply because Scotland does not yet have them.

There has been a 50% increase in betting shops in Welsh town centres since 2004, but that overall statistic masks the true story. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling shared with me some research from Geofutures showing what many Labour MPs already know: there are four times as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment than in areas of low unemployment. The machines are deliberately placed so that people who are least able to cope with the drain on their finances that problem gambling can cause are subjected to the highest exposure to those machines most likely to cause it.

These terminals allow players to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds, which is why, although only 3% to 4% of the UK population use FOBTs, those players account for 66% of all UK gaming machine losses. Already massively profitable bookmaking companies benefit even more from the losses on those terminals, to the tune of £1.7 billion just in the last year across the UK.

It is not only Opposition Members who think that this is a problem. Polling carried out by 2CV for the campaign showed that 82% of betting shop customers perceived the use of fixed odds betting terminals as an addictive activity, with 32% of those borrowing cash to feed their habit. It also showed that 72% had witnessed violent behaviour emanating from players using the machines. Other research has backed this up, consistently showing that fixed odds betting terminals are one of the most addictive and problematic forms of gambling. One study published in a journal from the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, found that the terminals had a fourfold correlation with problem gambling, which is higher than any other gambling product available in the UK.

The machines are already causing real and lasting damage to some gamblers and they exacerbate problem gambling more than any other form of betting. If the UK Government will not tackle this issue now, they need to give the Welsh Assembly the power to do that in Wales. The power to regulate existing machines is crucial to tackle the harm that they are causing in many communities across Wales, and our amendments would help to ensure that all such machines could be regulated. I urge the Minister to follow his own logic, to be innovative and to accept our amendments. If he does not do so, I am ready to test the will of the House, certainly on amendment (a).