Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:39 am on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:39 am, 1st November 2018

It was a very good day for both sides of this House back in May when the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch, announced this document and that the Government would reduce fixed odds betting terminal stakes. Everyone on both sides of the House was led to believe that that cut would take place in April 2019, at the start of the new tax year. Why was that? Because in answer to a written parliamentary question, the Minister herself said that the enabling statutory instrument would be taken this autumn and verbally confirmed, in a minuted meeting of the all-party group on FOBTs, that that would be the case.

On Monday this week, the Chancellor announced that the cut in stakes would be further delayed by six months. This is extremely disappointing, not least because the Secretary of State’s predecessor also implied to Ronnie Cowan that April would be the date.

Research shows that half of people struggling with problem gambling have had thoughts of suicide. The bookmakers will pocket an estimated £900 million because of this delay. This amounts to a betrayal of the promise made by the Secretary of State’s two predecessors and of the Government’s own three-year review, which was meticulously conducted by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford. When the Government themselves have admitted the social blight of FOBTs, it seems incomprehensible and inconceivable that they would delay a policy supported by many people on both sides of the House and in both Chambers.

Has the Minister resigned? If not, why is she not here answering this urgent question or sitting by the Secretary of State on the Front Bench? She has presumably had time to freshen up since travelling on the red eye from the US.

When did the Secretary of State read the report on gaming machines and social responsibility measures? He failed to answer the question earlier in oral questions from my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan. Had he read it when he indicated to the DCMS Select Committee that the policy could be delayed? What discussions did he have with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford before he decided to delay the policy? On what dates—I have informed his office of this question—did he meet Philip Davies, a well-known advocate for the industry, to discuss FOBTs?

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford did the right thing in announcing this policy, and the House supported her, as did those working to eradicate gambling addiction. In capitulating to the gambling industry, the Secretary of State has not just let the victims of gambling addiction down; he has let his own team down, and ultimately he has let himself down.