Finance (No. 3) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 9:20 pm, 12th November 2018

It is, as always, a pleasure to listen to David Linden, who treats the House to the usual rendition from the Scottish nationalists of why they stand for independence—in truth, that is all they stand for.

I rise to make a short contribution in this debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and I will restrict my comments to clause 61. I am mindful that I did not agree with my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch on the issue of safe standing at football matches, but I have nothing but admiration for the principled stand she has taken on the matter of resetting the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals to £2, with that measure to be effective by next April at the latest. I completely agree with her position, which is why I have been willing to attach my name to future amendments to this Bill brought forward by friends. Apparently its implementation will take so long, but I really do not believe that that stands up to scrutiny. The Government currently say that it needs to be put in place for next autumn, but I really believe it does not need to take that long.

The simple fact of the matter is that the longer we wait to implement this measure, the more damage is being inflicted on the most vulnerable people in our society. Some 43% of the people using fixed odds betting terminals are either problem or at-risk gamblers, and when we consider that 230,000 sessions on these machines in a single year resulted in losses of more than £1,000 each session, we see that any further delay in reducing the maximum stake to £2 is not justifiable in societal terms. It is also not justifiable in terms of the time that is really needed to make this adjustment happen. It is not justifiable in terms of the ongoing social costs, with the misery that occurs when individuals lose control of their decision-making faculty to a gambling addiction. And I simply cannot accept, on the grounds of any sort of morality that I would wish to be associated with, that the special pleading of the betting firms should take any sort of a priority over the damage is inflicted on society, on families and on children by those who are suffering from gambling addiction and for whom these machines are an outlet.

The startling statistic is that for every second of every day these machines cost their players £57 in losses. There are 33,000 of these fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops across the UK. A helpful live ready-reckoner on the website of the all-party group on fixed odds betting terminals calculates to the second how much has been lost on these machines since the Government first called for evidence on what the maximum stake for these terminals should be. That happened way back in October 2016, and the last time I checked, which was earlier today—so after 749 days—this figure is in excess of £3.7 billion. I am not prepared to stand by—I could not do so as a matter of conscience—and do nothing when action is required. The Government have already accepted that that action is necessary and described these machines in the most disparaging terms, so I ask simply that the measure be implemented in April, at the soonest point.

Perhaps a justification will be put forward that somehow it will cost the Treasury lost revenue, but at what price? Are we really saying that there is not a more productive use for these billions of pounds of economic activity in our country? I think that there is. We should not underestimate the devastating effects of the vice-like grip of an addiction such as gambling. The Government should act now to do what they have already resolved to do—not in 12 months’ time, but by April next year at the very latest.