I beg to move amendment 16, page 44, line 23, leave out “
This amendment provides for the increase in the rate of remote gaming duty to take effect from
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 11, page 44, line 23, leave out “
Government amendment 17.
Amendment 12, page 44, line 25, leave out “
Amendment 13, page 44, line 32, at end insert—
“(4) In this section, ‘the prescribed date’ means the date prescribed in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State
(5) The Secretary of State may not make regulations under subsection (4)—
(a) to prescribe a date before
(b) unless regulations under section 236 of the Gambling Act 2005 have been made that amend the definition of sub-category B2 gaming machines so as to define such machines as having a maximum charge for use of no more than £2 with effect from a date no later than
(6) In this section, “sub-category B2 gaming machines” has the meaning given in regulation 5(5) of the Categories of Gaming Machine Regulations 2007/2158.”
Clause stand part.
Clause 62 stand part.
That schedule 18 be the Eighteenth schedule to the Bill.
New clause 12—Review of public health effects of gaming provisions—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the public health effects of the provisions of section 61 of and Schedule 18 to this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the effects of those provisions in reducing the negative public health effects of gambling, and
(b) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of—
(i) those provisions,
(ii) the operation of the law relating to remote gaming duty and gaming duty if those provisions were not given effect.”
This new clause would require a review of the public health effects of gaming provisions.
New clause 13—Report on consultation on certain provisions of this Act (No. 3)—
“(1) No later than two months after the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons a report on the consultation undertaken on the provisions in subsection (2).
(2) Those provisions are—
(a) section 61, and
(b) Schedule 18.
(3) A report under this section must specify in respect of each provision listed in subsection (2)—
(a) whether a version of the provision was published in draft,
(b) if so, whether changes were made as a result of consultation on the draft,
(c) if not, the reasons why the provision was not published in draft and any consultation which took place on the proposed provision in the absence of such a draft.”
This new clause would require a report on the consultation undertaken on certain provisions of this Act – alongside new clauses 9, 11 and 15.
New clause 16—Review of remote gambling duty—
“(1) The Treasury shall undertake a review of the increase in the rate of remote gambling duty introduced in section (Remote gambling duty (rate)) of this Act.
(2) The review shall consider, in particular, the effects of the rate increase on—
(a) the public revenue,
(b) betting shops, and
(c) gambling related harm.
(3) The Treasury review must include independent advice on the feasibility and impact of bringing forward the date of the increase in remote gaming duty to
(4) The Treasury review of the effects of the rate increase in remote gambling duty under subsections (2) and (3) must also take into account any effects of reducing to £2 the maximum stake on B2 machine games with effect from
(5) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy of a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons no later than 28 days after this Act is passed.”
This new clause requires the Treasury to review the feasibility and impact of bringing forward from October 2019 the implementation of an increase in remote gambling duty, which is linked in paragraph 3.68 of the Budget 2018 Red Book to the implementation of a £2 maximum stake on B2 machine games (fixed-odds betting terminals).
As you have just described, Dame Eleanor, we begin today’s consideration of the Finance Bill with clauses 61 and 62 and schedule 18. The parts of the Bill that we are about to discuss concern rates of remote gaming duty and other gaming duty measures. Gambling policy more generally and its related legislation, such as the Gambling Act, are matters for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and lie outside the scope of a Finance Bill, but I want to explain both the fiscal measures in this Bill and how they interact with wider important matters, such as fixed-odds betting terminals.
Turning briefly to clause 62 and schedule 18, which deal with changes to gambling duty accounting periods, this Government are committed to reducing administrative burdens on businesses and to making the tax system more effective, efficient and simpler. The changes will bring gaming duty paid by land-based casinos in line with other gambling duties. They will allow casinos to roll forward losses and will remove the requirement to pay duty on account, reducing administration for businesses and for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The changes are expected to have a negligible impact on the tax take from casinos, which will continue to be subject to a tax structure that ensures that the most successful casinos pay up to 50% of their profit to support public services. That take will total £250 million to the Exchequer in the current financial year.
I shall turn now to Government amendment 16 and amendment 12, which is in the name of Carolyn Harris. Clause 61 deals only with remote gaming duty but, as I said in my opening remarks, the issue is inextricably linked with fixed-odds betting terminals. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have explained the Government’s position to the House since the Budget. The Government have recognised the significant harm that fixed-odds betting terminals can cause to individuals both in money lost that cannot be afforded by many and in mental distress to the gambler and to their friends and family. That is why, having listened to the campaigning voices outside of Parliament and a number of determined colleagues in this House, to whom I will return in a moment, the Government decided to cap the maximum stake of B2 machine games at £2—going considerably further than the Gambling Commission’s recommendation of a cap of less than £30. All the indications are that a state cap at such a level will result in a significant reduction in the amount of money lost by people on these machines, as well as a significant reduction in the number of FOBTs on our high streets—possibly even their complete disappearance.
I hope to speak later if possible, but this is a rare example of when parliamentary arithmetic has got the Government to do something that will be good for them and good for the population. I pay tribute to Carolyn Harris, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fixed odds betting terminals, who has led a cross-party group over the years—this is not just about those who have come in lately—to ensure that the arguments are right, as well as the parliamentary arithmetic.
I praise my hon. Friend for his role in this matter, and I will come in due course to the hon. Member for Swansea East and other colleagues who have played a decisive role in these events.
In deciding on a date for implementation, the Government were obliged to consider not just those who would have been harmed by FOBTs, but the impact on wider society—the tens of thousands whose livelihoods would be at risk following the new stake. Stakeholder evidence varied considerably, but it was widely acknowledged that there would be a significant impact, whether as a result of the cap in itself or because the decision to change the cap would bring forward wider changes that were already likely to occur in a sector undergoing a great deal of change as a result of new technology. The Government have not wavered from their commitment to set a £2 stake and considered the best way to mitigate the negative impacts of the policy on the individuals and their employers, giving them time to prepare for the impact if possible. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published a written statement confirming that a £2 maximum stake will be implemented from April 2019, and we have tabled Government amendment 16 to reflect that.
I will now briefly describe the events leading up to this point. When we announced the decision to reduce the stake, implementation in April 2020 was a date that I discussed with the hon. Member for Swansea East when she came to the Treasury in late spring to talk about the matter. A decision was then taken by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to consult informally with stakeholders and it was then proposed in the Budget to bring forward the date to October 2019. The decision was, I believe, intended in good faith to represent a balance between expeditiously bringing an end to the harm caused by FOBTs and enabling those working in the sector to prepare for the implications for them. None the less, it became abundantly clear that a large number of colleagues disagreed and wished to see the stake change implemented sooner, which is exactly what we have done.
I am grateful for the counsel and the campaigning zeal of a number of Members on both sides of the Chamber, including my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith, Ronnie Cowan and, of course, the hon. Member for Swansea East, whom I respect and whom I have enjoyed working alongside throughout this process.
I admire my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, who was an outstanding Sports Minister and is a great Member of Parliament. She clearly played a decisive role in the Government’s decision to reduce the stake in the first place and, indeed, to do so expeditiously in April 2019. I have always believed that, in politics as in life, all we have is our reputation, and she chose her principled belief that this change must be implemented as soon as possible over her role in government. I respect that, and I am sure Members on both sides of the Committee do so, too.
I fully accept what the Minister says about the reputation of my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, but does he agree that these things should not have necessitated her departure when she was doing such a good job? I do not expect the Minister to express an opinion, just that it would have been better otherwise.
I clearly hear my right hon. Friend’s point, and I have fairly set out the chain of events that led to this moment. As I said, I enormously respect my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford and her decision. When I was first elected to Parliament, an elderly constituent sent me a quote by John Quincy Adams:
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
On this occasion, of course, my hon. Friend is not alone, and I am grateful for her work in this area.
Government amendment 17 complements Government amendment 16, both of which relate to amendments 12 and 13. As I have just set out, the Government recognise the strong will of the House that the implementation date for the new maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals be brought forward to April 2019. The Treasury has been clear throughout the process that we do not seek to use the issue of FOBTs to increase Exchequer revenues, but we do have a responsibility, which I hope Members on both sides of the Committee will recognise, to protect the public finances and to ensure that we have the means to fund our public services. The cost of eliminating the damage caused by FOBTs must not be paid for by our having fewer doctors, fewer teachers and fewer people working in mental healthcare.
I welcome this change. In my constituency there are betting shops sandwiched between pubs and chemists giving out substitution treatments. Does the Minister not agree that the savings to the public purse from preventing people from falling into problematic debt, and preventing highly addicted people from falling into other troubles and needing to rely on the NHS and other services, will be far greater than the tax received from these gambling machines?
My hon. Friend makes an important point that has been raised by many others and that I am sure was a significant contributor to the decision of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to take this action.
The point I am making is a separate one; that in making the decision to reduce the cap on FOBTs, we want to ensure that the Exchequer can protect its revenues so it can continue to fund public services. To do so, clause 61 increases the rate of remote gaming duty to 21% from 15%, and amendment 17 complements amendment 16 by ensuring that both changes are implemented at the same time in April 2019.
Throughout this process the Treasury has been clear that we want to raise only a commensurate sum of money to protect public services, and that we want to ensure that both the stake change and the change in taxation occur at the same time. That is exactly what we intend to do. This increase applies to anyone who offers online games of chance to UK players, including online roulette, online poker and online slots. This change should ensure that we take decisive action on FOBTs without having to cut services or raise taxes on those outside the gambling sector. To recognise this, I ask the Committee not to press amendments 12 and 13 and to support Government amendment 17.
New clause 12 would require the Chancellor to prepare a report describing the public health effects of the gambling clauses in this Finance Bill, for publication before the House within six months of Royal Assent. The Government take the impact of gambling on individuals’ health seriously, which is why we have listened to Members on both sides of the House and taken the action we have on FOBTs. This summer the Gambling Commission published a well-received paper on how to measure gambling-related harms, setting out how it intends to move forward in such a large and vital area of analysis. I hope that colleagues on both sides of the Committee agree that the Gambling Commission should be left to carry out its important work in this area without the Treasury attempting to carry out its own competing analysis on the very limited effect on public health of a change in accounting periods, which is what the new clause would bring into effect.
I welcome that assessment, but does the Minister accept that the assessment needs to look at the various forms of gambling and that it also needs to consider the amount of gambling advertising presented to people on our television screens?
As a parent and as a citizen I am concerned, like the hon. Gentleman is, about the amount of gambling advertising on television and elsewhere, but that is not a matter for the Finance Bill; it is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and for the Gambling Commission.
As I have just described, new clause 12 would achieve only the Treasury producing a very limited analysis of the public health impact of the change in accounting period set out in the Finance Bill. I therefore urge the Committee not to press new clause 12.
New clause 13 proposes a report on the consultation undertaken on the detail of clause 61 on remote gaming duty and of schedule 18 on gaming duty. Although we have had much debate on the content and implications of clause 61, it is in fact very simple: it is a rate change, and the Government would not normally consult on such a change. I reassure the Committee that we have gone over and above the usual convention in such cases. The increase was originally proposed in May 2018, and my officials, alongside the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, have since worked with interested parties on its detail. We believe we are in a good position.
I fully reassure the Committee that the change made by clause 61 was consulted on last year. In addition, schedule 18 was published as a clause in the draft Finance Bill in July 2018. It has therefore been subject to scrutiny and comment by stakeholders ever since. I hope my comments will reassure the Committee that there is no need for a further report into our consultation on these issues, and I therefore ask that new clause 13 not be pressed.
New clause 16 returns to an issue with which I began this debate. The new clause asks for a review of the feasibility of bringing forward the rise in remote gaming duty in clause 61 to April 2019. As I have tried to reassure right hon. and hon. Members, we have already covered these matters—they were considered before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor tabled amendments 16 and 17, which will bring forward the date to April 2019—and I therefore respectfully ask that new clause 16 not be pressed.
I look forward to listening to the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members to this debate. The Government amendments to these clauses represent the action on FOBTs that the country demanded and for which Members on both sides of the House have campaigned assiduously over many years. The changes will now be delivered as expeditiously as possible and in a fiscally responsible manner that protects public services. I commend these changes to the Committee.
Well, where to begin? I can sum up the Minister’s speech as, “Nothing to see here.”
Before I move on to the detail of this issue, I want to pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House who forced the Government to bring forward the FOBT stake reduction from October 2019 to April 2019, which will be implemented through the amendment before the Committee. Particular recognition goes to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who is to be warmly congratulated on her tireless work for social justice, in all its incarnations, and to my hon. Friend Tom Watson, the shadow Secretary of State, who is not in the Chamber, but has spoken about this issue many times from the Dispatch Box.
I also want to recognise the unique contribution made by Tracey Crouch, whose principled resignation eventually shamed the Government into action. She has spoken of the human cost that prompted her resignation and the Government’s U-turn. She said, simply, that she had
“held the hands of too many addicts who have contemplated suicide, or the families left behind because loved ones saw no other way out... to be able to justify or even explain the delay”.
She added last week:
“I don’t feel vindicated by the welcome decision to ditch the delay and bring forward the stake reduction to April next year. I just feel relieved.”
I think I speak for Members across the House when I say she has indeed been vindicated. Her relief will be shared not just in the House but, more importantly, outside it.
The six-month delay that the Government had wanted to implement would have affected hundreds of lives—even worse, it would have threatened them. These are lives that matter to people’s families and those around them, and to the former Minister. So just what arguments were used and, apparently, accepted by the Chancellor, to argue for that delay? It was said that the industry needed time to “adapt”—come on, really? The sector could hardly claim ignorance of the will in this House to take such steps. Let us be brutally honest with ourselves: this was ultimately just another way of saying that profits come before lives.
Of course, we also heard a strong hint that there was slightly more to this. In her resignation letter, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford told of how the planned delay to reduced stakes came as a result of
“commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.
What a damning indictment that statement is. It is an accusation that goes right to the very top of this Government, where those decisions were made. This is the Government who repeatedly tell the House they can be trusted when it comes to tackling vested interests—from tax avoiders to exploitative slum landlords; from rogue bosses to rip-off utilities. The Government say that they will tackle “burning injustices”, but I am afraid that the shoddy debacle of this ignominious U-turn suggests very much otherwise.
Let us go back to the supposed evidence on which the Treasury based the original decision: the 15,000 to 21,000 job losses in the betting industry that were supposedly threatened. That was what the Chancellor himself admitted when he appeared before the Treasury Committee. The estimate comes from a KPMG report funded by the Association of British Bookmakers. Both the Government and the industry have refused to make the report available for public scrutiny, but I have a copy of it here, and I believe it is right that this House scrutinises it. Frankly, the report should never have had such an integral role in determining Government policy. Such policy is meant to act in the interests of all citizens, but this Government based their decisions not on evidence, as we would expect, but on pandering to corporate vested interests.
The report claims that the average betting shop, of which there are 8,500, will make on average, before the change to legislation, a net annual profit of £87,291. Page 11 describes what “at risk of closure” actually means, which is that once the £2 cap is implemented, just under half of those shops would make a net annual profit of £20,000 or less.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. If the gambling industry was so concerned about employees, perhaps it ought to have given consideration to the number of single-staffed bookmakers that have arisen because of FOBTs. We are talking about young and vulnerable female staff working late at night in the bookmaking industry. It is too late for the industry to complain about the staff now when it did not care about them in the first place. Does he share that view?
My hon. Friend makes his excellent point well, and I agree with it entirely.
Page 11 of that report describes what “at risk of closure” actually means. It means that once the £2 cap is implemented, just under half of those shops would make a net annual profit of £20,000 or less. Are we seriously to believe that a net profit of £20,000 a year is terminal? KPMG did not think so. The report concludes that these shops would not close, but would simply be “less profitable”. The threat was not to our constituents’ jobs, but to corporate profits. Can the Minister assure Members that the Treasury will never again seek to justify resisting evidence-based policy on the basis of secret reports and clandestine meetings?
By choosing to take such an approach, the Treasury ignored the recommendation in the May 2018 gambling review that the £2 limit should be adopted within nine to 12 months. Let us remember that that policy was designed to reduce the harm caused by gambling addiction. The evidence of harm associated with FOBTs is overwhelming, with that harm disproportionately felt by the poorest in our society. Put simply, there are twice as many betting shops in the poorest 55 boroughs of the UK as there are in the most affluent 115.
Even in narrow economic terms, viewing the delay as merely a reduction in tax income to the Exchequer makes little sense. As we have heard today, the social cost of addiction, crime and debt that accompanies the ever-increasing losses on FOBTs is estimated by the Centre for Economics and Business Research to cost the UK £1.5 billion a year. It has an impact on many aspects of social welfare, including employment, mental health and financial stability, so the awful human cost, about which we have heard so powerfully, is matched by an economic cost that we all bear as a society and as an economy as well. Perhaps the Minister would address whether the Government have factored into any of their fiscal calculations the prospect of alleviating the cost to public services, given a decline in gambling-related harm and crime?
Of course, the most important reason for an immediate stake reduction is a moral one—an issue of social justice that must be resolved. Lives are being destroyed, and this policy change is a milestone on our journey to tackle this harm. Labour Members are proud be part of taking that step forward, and we will keep striving to carry on making these changes until eventually we get to the bottom of what the gambling industry actually is: something that preys on people’s vulnerabilities. Labour Members recognise that quite clearly.
I want to summarise some of the issues relating to the amendments standing in my name and those of many others, including, most importantly, my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan)—they are hon. Friends in this case, although I am not sure they will want to be pursuing that one further. This genuinely was a very cross-party process. Interestingly, the list of names of Members who support the amendments tells us everything we need to know about the strength of feeling that existed in the House.
We accept the Government’s change, to which I shall come back in a moment, but it is worth reminding ourselves that this process has had a long gestation. I remember having conversations with my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch probably two years ago, at least—
It was a long time ago, and even then we discussed the specific problems with fixed odds betting terminals, along with wider issues. There was this long process of gestation, and then the hon. Members for Swansea East and for Inverclyde got involved and the all-party group was formed. I congratulate them on managing to get things on to a much more even keel in respect of this being a cross-party process, in which I played a part.
We arrived at the point when we had finally persuaded the Government, with massive internal support from my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, that it was necessary for us to make this change, given that these machines, although not alone in this, were peculiarly addictive. It was accepted that they led to a higher level of addiction and had dramatically changed the nature of betting shops. Years ago, when gambling was liberalised under a previous Government, I said, given my involvement in some of the studies, that I thought that was a mistake. When it comes to widening and liberalising gambling, the situation is not like in any other industry. It really is not just about jobs and businesses, because change involves people making decisions that are not about positive life outcomes. Thus, the situation needs to be treated separately. I remember the discussions about super-casinos, when I said that I was appalled by the idea that establishing a super-casino would somehow regenerate a town. I said, “It won’t regenerate the town. It will make it descend, and everything will then hinge around the behaviour of people in and around the massive casino.” That is by the by; liberalisation became the process.
I was really pleased when the Government finally agreed to reduce the stake to £2. My goodness, what a peculiar argument we had. We heard the Gambling Commission and the gambling industry asking many times why we would not go to £30 rather than £2. The slow extraction of teeth in this process was fascinating to behold. The worst bit for me and, I am sure, for my colleagues, was hearing the endless testimony about the families’ lives that had been blighted by this terrible addiction. Even though I was opposed to FOBTs, I had not been aware of the real human harm being caused, because one does not see it, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford knows, that was the real driver behind why we wanted to act. It was really quite moving to hear the stories at first hand and to see families’ dedication to never allowing others to get into such a situation.
I was really proud of my Government for making the decision and accepting that there was a need for change. We thought the process was done. I argued for making the change this October, because there was no point in hanging around. I thought that we did not need to worry about the gambling industry, because it would make whatever changes were necessary and it gets a lot of money anyway, so I was not that bothered about it. I remember the discussion about why we were not acting in October, and we reluctantly agreed that perhaps
All of a sudden, the Government then said that they had agreed to make the change in October 2019, which they said was an advance of six months, and we said was a delay of six months. We established that the gambling industry would make well over a billion pounds during that six months. The real problem was why there was a delay, as it was clear that, as Clive Lewis said on behalf of the Opposition, the gambling report said nine to 12 months, and nine to 12 months from the date of the original decision took us to approximately April or May the next year. All that was part of the consideration. We had debates about why the date had gone back and, although I will not make a big thing about this, I did say to my right hon. and hon. Friends in government that they needed to put it back to
I am genuinely sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford eventually had to make her statement. I have resigned, and it is not an easy process, but the worst thing is when someone resigns only to find that days later the Government then actually do what they were being asked to do internally. I know it is politics and that all things change, but I say to my hon. Friend that all is not lost, in the sense that she has gained the respect—if she did not already have it—of a number of people in this House. More important, I hope, is the recognition that people of honour and decency in a Government can never be long outside that Government. I therefore hope that the Government pay attention and rectify the situation as soon as possible.
I was very keen to get the change brought forward, but I was told that there was no way on earth that we could force the Government to bring it forward, because by convention we could not bring forward a tax, because it is a tax rise. I thank enormously the Public Bill Office and the Clerks, who helped us to figure out that although we may not be able to raise a tax, we sure as ever can make sure that the Government can never raise a tax. Once the amendment was tabled and everyone signed it, the position was obvious. Our amendments and new clause have been the key driver modifying the Government’s opinion on this matter, which is never a bad thing. I am glad that they have listened. I fully accept that my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary recognises that this is the right thing to do.
In agreeing that we will not press our amendments and new clause to a vote, for obvious reasons—the Government are committed to making the changes, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary on doing so—I should say that I understand that a report to be published tomorrow that will show that gambling addiction among young people is now spiking at its highest ever level. That report is not out yet, so I guess it is not reportable, but it will show the very thing we have been on about: there is a genuine and serious problem that strikes at the heart of the lives of those who can least afford it. This addiction to gambling—we are given on television the constant sense that unless someone is a smart, clever, successful individual who gambles, they must be odd and pointless, and we see the idea that a person is successful because they can do the odds and get them right—is perverse and damaging.
I say to my hon. Friends and colleagues in this campaign that it is not over. We now have to turn our attention to the next level, as it is high time that we looked carefully at what is going on through the advertising and promotion of an industry that may well damage huge numbers of lives. In accepting the Government’s position, I put down a simple point: I will continue to campaign with my colleagues and move on to the next level. It is time for us to bring the issue under control, and this is only the start.
May I say what a pleasure it is to speak today, Dame Eleanor? I am delighted to say that the Members who tabled and put their names to the amendments and new clause will not press them to a vote because—in case anybody has not heard—the Government finally saw sense and backed down on the implementation date for the reduction of stakes on fixed odds betting terminals. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you.
I stand instead to make a point: the power of the Back Benchers cannot be ignored. This House is fortunate to have so many Members, on all Benches, who are prepared to put principle before both profits and politics. I pay tribute to the many colleagues in this place and the other, and I pay special tribute to the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), to Mr Duncan Smith, to Sir Peter Bottomley and to Tracey Crouch, whose principles led to her resignation. I thank them all for their support, dedication and downright determination to force the Government’s hand.
The result has been a long time coming, but this issue has demonstrated the very best of this House, where politicians of all persuasions came together, united in seeking to make sure that the Government were held to account for their reluctance to put people’s lives ahead of company profits. The Government had so many opportunities to do the right thing, but they seemed determined to pander to the whim of an industry set to make nearly £1 billion of profit in the six-month period between April and October 2019. It is regrettable that it took strong-arm tactics by Members to convince them to make the change and that they did not come to a principled decision on the morality of the problem—the devastation that these machines have caused to individuals, communities and families.
I thank the hon. Lady and everyone who has played a part in this campaign. Is it not tragic that it has taken this House 17 years to sort out the matter? We are congratulating ourselves on having achieved something, but, in those 17 years, we are fully aware of the lives that have been wrecked by our inactivity. Thank goodness that we have got it right now.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman.
May I just say that I cannot thank the Government? As much as I respect and like the Minister, I can say only one thing: learn lessons from this and never underestimate the power of principle.
I wish to take only a few minutes of the Chamber’s time on amendments 11, 12 and 13, which I signed, and on the Government’s amendments 16 and 17 that relate to the reduction in stake for fixed odds betting terminals and the increase in remote gaming duty.
I am relieved that the Chancellor reconsidered his position on the timeframe for the increase for RGD and therefore the reduction in stakes from £100 to £2. Although it was not technically necessary to link the two, the whole House does, I think, understand the financial challenge that the Treasury faces and therefore the need for fiscal responsibility.
The Government made the right decision to reduce stakes on B2 machines as part of their gambling review, not least because it was proven throughout the review that players of these machines have the highest rates of problem gambling and that 32% of players are considered at risk of harm. Concerns around problem and harmful gambling were further amplified by the location of B2 gaming machines in areas of high deprivation. The review also found that those who are unemployed are more likely to most often stake £100 than any other socioeconomic group.
Although the review looked at very many aspects of gambling, it was right that there was a wider public and parliamentary focus on FOBTs and that we took decisive action. The impact assessment made it clear that we expected an implementation date within nine to 12 months and the Government’s amendments honour that expectation.
I am grateful that the Chancellor listened to the House on this matter, although I am sorry that it needed the much louder collective voice for the message to be heard. All that needs to be said has been said, except my personal thanks to the 3,000-plus people who have contacted me since my resignation, the faith leaders who spoke out, the 100-plus colleagues who put their name to the all-party group’s amendments and the brilliant Clerks who helped to craft them.
I have just one other question for the Minister, and it relates to new clause 12. Although the new clause is very limited and there is already a strong framework within the Gambling Commission, I ask that, as an extra protection, the Minister consider supporting this additional review today.
I have no intention of shadow-boxing the new Minister, my hon. Friend Mims Davies, who is a friend and will be excellent in her job, but others have noted that there are many challenges on gambling, including harm to children, online harms and advertising. The review sets out many recommendations to tackle those issues, and I look forward to watching her progress with interest.
I have met many people over the past few years who themselves have been addicted to gambling or who have lost loved ones to gambling. The treatment services that are there for them are very good and are run and supported by excellent people, many of whom are volunteers, but they are still the Cinderella service. I am pleased that the Health Secretary has continued his interest in this matter. I am sure that new clause 12 will help further that public health aspect.
I am in no doubt that what this Government have done today with these amendments will save lives from devastation and that is surely what we all go into politics for.
I rise to speak to new clauses 12 and 13. We are all fully aware that the Government have declared their intention to introduce a new £2 maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals, as has been documented already this afternoon. Getting the Government to this stage has not been easy, but thankfully they have seen the light. After considerable cross-party pressure, they have also agreed that the date of implementation will be in April 2019. That is extremely welcome news, and it came about because they were forced to look at the evidence gathered by the all-party group on FOBTs and not rely on the flawed KPMG report that was steered by the bookmakers’ parameters.
I now expect the Government to do the decent thing and amend the Bill accordingly. This would not have happened without the superb work and commitment of Carolyn Harris, Mr Duncan Smith and Tracey Crouch. That brings us nicely to new clause 12, entitled, “A review of public health effects on gaming provisions”, which stands in my name. Not that long ago, gambling was restricted to on-course and off-course bookmakers. Other types of gambling existed, but, for the majority of people, casinos were the stuff of James Bond movies, while bingo and the football pools were once a week and deemed to be sociable and aspirational.
Over time and with the advent of new technology, the face of gambling has changed. Through our mobile phones, we have access to gambling 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The first and most obvious outcome is that there is no cooling-off period. Gamblers caught up in the heat of the moment will not run out of races or be asked to leave the premises; quite the reverse, pernicious advertising with offers of free spins and money-back guarantees are used as bait to lure the most vulnerable gamblers, and eventually many are hooked. When I googled “Gambling Clinics UK”, the first two hits on the list were not organisations offering me help, but paid-for adverts for casino sites.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a very powerful point, and I did not want to interrupt him mid-flow, but will he add to that list of problems the misuse of gambling accounts? That needs to be looked at, because gambling accounts are misused so that people become addicted. When people fall away and manage their addiction, they are dragged back in through gambling accounts, and that should be something that this House considers.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. A second point is that there are dormant betting accounts with money in them but we cannot access them. If that money could be released and freed up for gambling care, there would be more money in the pot to do some good.
Meanwhile, our TVs are haunted by advertising aimed at the most vulnerable. We even have products aimed at grooming children to be the next generation of gamblers. The gambling industry has to ask itself some very serious questions about its marketing strategy. I wish to thank Hamleys toy store for moving swiftly to remove a product deemed undesirable from its shops across the UK when I brought it to its attention. Our children must be protected. For the majority of adults, gambling is fun.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and also for all the work that he has done as part of the all-party group. Does he share my concern about the number of apps aimed at young children, which are effectively based around the concept of gambling? Although they may not be what he or I would consider to be gambling, the sort of behaviour and the risk-reward elements involved seem to ingrain that behaviour from a very young age, which is deeply concerning.
It is particularly disturbing when we know that people are sitting back and designing these apps in precisely that manner. They know exactly what they are doing, but they do not seem to have any conscience that will stop them from doing it.
For the majority of adults, gambling is fun—if it is under control. Many people can set a limit and not go beyond it. While I would pay for a ticket to a concert or a rugby match, their chosen form of expenditure for entertainment is gambling, and I am not questioning their choice. However, when we offer a licensed product that has the potential to damage the customer, we need to take steps to ensure that the possibility of damage and the consequences of that damage are as limited as possible. Gambling-related harm caused by an addiction to gambling is as much a public health issue as damage caused by drugs and alcohol, but it is not always seen that way.
The hon. Gentleman, together with every Member who has spoken so far, joined me at the launch of Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by two of my constituents who lost their son to suicide as a result of gambling addiction. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the significance of suicide as a consequence for many who are addicted to gambling, given that half those who are addicted consider suicide at some stage? Set within the range of public health issues, this simply underlines the powerful points made by every Member so far.
I categorically agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. I will briefly touch on that matter later. It is a very sensitive subject; the wonderful new organisation, Gambling with Lives, should not have to exist in the first place, but we all recognise the terrible need for it.
People with drug or alcohol addictions are often more visible in society. Problematic gamblers often seem to be living perfectly normal lives, even to those closest to them, yet we know that suicide due to gambling debt and/or addiction is all too common.
Further to the point made by Paul Blomfield, it is worth remembering that Thursday will be the anniversary of Jack Ritchie taking his own life. It is therefore really important that we think about suicide as an important issue in this debate. It is certainly one of the issues that drove my position for many years.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point.
A report issued by the Gambling Commission in August 2017 found that more than 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or are at risk of addiction, that the number of over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers has grown by a third in three years and that at-risk gamblers are most likely to be aged between 16 and 24. The National Problem Gambling Clinic—there is only one—is based in Fulham, under the watchful eye of Henrietta Bowden-Jones. I have visited the clinic, but I wonder how many Ministers with responsibility pertaining to gambling have? I believe that the Health Secretary has and all credit to him for doing so. The evidence is out there, but we must go looking for it.
GamCare tells me there are plans to create a gambling clinic in Leeds. I applaud that and hope that such a network can be built across the UK. That brings us to funding. The current funding model is not adequate or robust enough. Relying on a voluntary levy means that long-term planning is, ironically, a gamble. The practicality of a statutory levy must be investigated and realistic sums of money must be guaranteed if we are to take the necessary action to support and guide those affected by problematic gambling.
The new legislation around fixed odds betting terminals is proof that with the proper evidence, a little persuasion and the desire to do the right thing, this Government can improve the situation. That is why the Scottish National party is calling for a review of the public health effects of gaming provisions and a report to be laid before the House of Commons within six months. Only by gathering valid data from independent sources can the Government take an evidence-based approach to gambling legislation and thus ensure that the industry can continue, while fulfilling its moral duty to protect vulnerable gamblers.
Early-day motion 61 of the 2016-17 Session, tabled on
Although this situation started during the time of the last Labour Government, none of us was awake to what was happening. Although Labour can take responsibility, we should all share it for allowing that to happen. We can also share some of the credit for the way in which the Government, without too much pressure, disregarded the rather wishy-washy advice of the Gambling Commission, which proposed a minimum stake of “£30 or less”. I hope that the commission will review why it did not come forward with a straightforward recommendation of £2.
There was a time when the Government announced that they would bring the stake down to £2, but it was likely that that would take place in April 2020. Then the announcement came that the change would be introduced in October 2019, prompting the resignation of my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, because although the newly announced date was an improvement on the expected date of 2020, it was not as good as it could have been. We all ought to recognise that a combination of events—the powerful way in which my hon. Friend expressed her view, both inside Government and outside Government, having to change her status to do that, and the way that the Government recognised the reality of parliamentary arithmetic—means that we can now welcome the fact that the terrible effect of these high stakes will be reduced earlier than it otherwise would have been.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly. I am sure that he would add that our concern extends to the people of Northern Ireland, who are not covered by the measure and where this affliction persists.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that I was going to come on to indirectly, but I will now make it directly. These fixed odds betting terminals were not allowed in betting shops in the Republic of Ireland, so how could the Association of British Bookmakers go around thinking that it was normal? That leaves open the question that he has raised: how can we make sure that people in Northern Ireland get the change they need? If it is a devolved matter and we need a Northern Ireland Government to solve the problem, I do not have an instant solution.
Yes, it is a devolved matter and it would take the Assembly to make those decisions. We do not have a working Assembly, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In the meantime, therefore, nothing happens in relation to legislation that is passing here. It is my intention, after discussions with the Minister involved and with the support of the House, of course, to try to ensure that this legislation is Northern Ireland-bound, as it should be.
The Committee will recognise the importance of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I am very grateful for it.
Some of the tactics used by the betting shop owners have been disgraceful. I hope that some investigative journalist will write it up, page by page, date by date, and explain how it has been counterproductive for these companies’ own shareholders. GVC, which in March this year confirmed the takeover of Ladbrokes Coral, will pay £800 million less because of the date of the change to £2. Three years ago, William Hill’s share price was about 400p a share. At the time of the discussion about whether the fixed odds betting terminal limit would come down to £2 either in October next year or in April the year after, its share price fluctuated between 300p and 220p per share. It is now less than 180p. For every month it went on with its campaign, it destroyed the value of its shareholders’ stake in the companies that were taking profits—as was the Treasury, in tax—from these unbelievably unjustified machines.
When Paddy Power said that these machines were not needed for betting shops, other gambling companies should have paid attention. When people write up this failure of lobbying and the counterproductive tactics used, I hope that they will take it as a role model. We need a word to describe Parliament asserting itself to Government, but another two words to respond to the way in which Government have reacted to that, and those words should be, “Thank you.”
I very much welcome the UK Government’s decision to abandon the delay in implementing a maximum £2 stake on fixed odds betting terminals. It is a cause of great regret that this delay was even considered,
“due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests”,
according to the former Minister, Tracey Crouch, to whom I pay tribute for the stand that she has taken on this issue throughout. It is truly disappointing that it has taken so long to achieve the reduction in the maximum stake for these machines—so much time, despite the cross-party support for it across the House, and the loss of a Minister. Parliament has the power to do good, and when it decides to do good it should do so as quickly as it can without fuss or drama—even more so when vulnerable people’s lives literally depend on it.
Like many Members, I am sure, I have a particular constituency interest in this issue. In North Ayrshire, most of which I represent, there are 137 of these machines in 37 betting shops, with £5 million lost in 2016 alone. Two problem gamblers take their own life every single day in the UK. Any delay to serve vested interests would be unforgiveable. Many of us have been profoundly impatient, but I am really grateful, as so many people are, that this Government have at last seen sense and that these machines, which truly are the crack cocaine of gambling, will now be the focus of targeted action.
Conducting a public health review of gaming provisions is absolutely the right thing to do. Gambling-related harm is simply not accorded the attention that it needs. It is a profoundly serious public health issue, and a public health approach is essential. New clause 12 would require a review of the public health effects of gambling. Public health and gambling are issues that cannot be separated, and that is why new clause 12 is so important.
I used to work in a high street bookmaker, long before the advent of fixed odds betting terminals, and despite what bookmakers might tell us now, I have yet to meet a bookmaker who is living in poverty. These shops are open simply to house these machines. Bookmakers might talk about the threat to jobs posed by the reduction in the maximum stake, but the biggest threat to jobs in the betting industry is the use of self-service machines for people to put their bets on, which does away with frontline staff.
The Gambling Commission has pointed that out that any public health approach needs to address not only those who have lived with the addiction of gambling for some time, but the effects on young and vulnerable people. According to the Gambling Commission, children and young people need a specific focus among those who are potentially vulnerable. Their needs are different, and we may need a different approach to reducing gambling-related harm. We have heard today about apps targeted at children. Primary prevention efforts can be targeted at young people, often aiming to reach them before they have gambled. Treatment for young people with gambling problems needs serious and separate consideration from adult treatment. In most cases, it is likely to require a lower threshold for intervention and other co-occurring problematic behaviours to be addressed.
It is also essential that a public health approach addresses the effects of gambling on the families and close associates of gamblers and on the wider community, as well as on those who suffer harm from their own gambling. The approach needs to recognise that a successful strategy cannot focus solely on individual gamblers, but needs to encompass products, environments, marketing and the wider context in which gambling occurs. It needs to understand that restrictions on, or interventions related to, any of those aspects can form part of a balanced approach, backed up by accurate, objective, accessible and understandable information. It should seek to ensure efficient distribution of resources for prevention and treatment based on need.
It is important to remember that we are not starting from scratch. Vital work in this field has already been done by the Gambling Commission, among others. We know that most people gamble responsibly with no difficulties. However, some individuals experience significant harm as a result of their gambling. It is estimated that there are around 373,000 problem gamblers in England, 30,000 in Scotland and 27,000 in Wales. According to the Gambling Commission, those estimates are likely to be conservative. For problem gamblers, harm can include higher levels of physical and mental illness, debt problems, relationship breakdown and, in some cases, criminality. It can also be associated with substance misuse.
In many cases, it is difficult to attribute those negative effects solely or directly to gambling, but according to the Gambling Commission, the association is far too strong to ignore. Younger males and people from certain social and ethnic groups are potentially more vulnerable than others. About 1.7 million individuals in England, 180,000 in Scotland and 95,000 in Wales are classified as being at risk of problem gambling. There are also some gamblers who would not be classified as problem or at-risk gamblers, but who may on occasion experience harm as a result of their gambling.
Gambling-related harms are not all directly health harms, but many of the harms, such as debt, are connected with poor health status. A public health approach is absolutely integral to any war on the effects of problem gambling. All the evidence suggests that this is a significant public health issue. It has not yet received the attention it should have relative to other population-level concerns, but that is now in order—the time has come.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point about the public health impact. Does she agree that people in some of the communities that she and I represent are already struggling with multiple deprivation, and gambling being concentrated in their areas only makes that worse and worsens their life chances?
Absolutely. There is a correlation between multiple social deprivation factors and problem gambling, which is why certain communities have a higher concentration of betting shops housing these machines—the crack cocaine machines of gambling—than there otherwise would be.
I say to the Minister, and I know he is listening, that we absolutely and urgently need a review of the public health effects of gaming provisions. On that basis, I urge the House to support new clause 12—
Before the hon. Lady concludes her remarks, may I draw her attention to two things? I am told that Public Health England has been asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to inform and support action on gambling and its related harms as part of its follow-up to the DCMS review of gaming machines and social responsibility. Public Health England is also being commissioned by the Gambling Commission to do an evidence review on problem gaming, which I hope will go some way to answering the questions that she and others have raised today.
On new clause 12, which the hon. Lady raised—other hon. Members have also done so, including my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch—I am content for the Government to support it, but I would simply say that it is very limited in scope. I would not want to raise expectations that it will achieve all of the goals that the hon. Lady seeks. However, that, allied to Public Health England’s work, will perhaps help to continue the public debate on this matter.
I am glad that the Minister has given us that clarification. As he says, I would be more comfortable with a broadbrush approach encompassing lots and lots of factors, such as I those I set out in my speech. However, I have listened to what the Minister has said, and I will certainly give it some thought.
I thought Kevin Foster was going to go before me, but he has not bobbed, so he is obviously not going to. I always follow in his footsteps—I am always glad to do so, by the way, as he knows—but on this occasion I miss his comments, which I am sure would be more than helpful to us.
We are all very aware of the reason for these amendments. It is tremendous to be in the Chamber among many Members from across the House who are of the same opinion, including—he will forgive me if I say this, but I have to say it—perhaps a wee bit belatedly, the Minister, who is also committed to where we are on this.
If she does not mind my saying so, I would like to commend Tracey Crouch for her principled stand, her courage and what she has done to make this happen. The commitment she has shown does my heart good and does the heart of everybody else good. By the way, I am not surprised that she said 3,000 people had contacted her afterwards. I did not have 3,000 people contact me afterwards, but I had a large number and, for the record, every one of them commended the hon. Lady for her obvious commitment. The reason for the amendment is simple: the need for a massive lowering of stakes is clear.
I also thank my good friend, Carolyn Harris, for all her endeavours through the all-party group on FOBTs, which has done tremendous work. Mr Duncan Smith and Ronnie Cowan have also endeavoured, through the APPG, to ensure all that hard work came to fruition.
The one thing that sits in my mind is this: why was it important to have those six months slip back from October to April? It is very simple: as has been said, 300 lives—maybe more—were saved. That is a fact.
I am mindful that last week we had the Gambling with Lives event, which Paul Blomfield referred to. I thank him for initiating that event. I was very glad to be there with other Members and to support him. There were two people there who I knew long before the start of this FOBT campaign, which began about 18 months or two years ago. They are Mr and Mrs Peter Keogh from Enniskillen, who lost their son, Lewis, to a gambling addiction and who even today feel the heartache of that event.
It is for those people that we do these things. It is for our constituents whose lives will be saved because of it, and for those who have lost loved ones and feel the great pain of the loss of someone close to them, that today we can collectively make this legislative change in this House. That is why we make the effort.
The Government accept that they need to lower the stakes; they accept that damage has been done to individuals and families; they accept the fact that the ability to bet as much as £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games such as roulette is shocking; and they accept the campaign by anti-gambling campaigners that highlights the fact that machines let people lose money too quickly, leading to addiction and social, mental and financial problems.
The Minister responded to the previous speaker, Patricia Gibson, about things we must address, including online gambling and how it is promoted on TV. At this early stage, I would also like to put down a marker about scratchcards. I was just telling a story to my hon. Friend Paul Girvan. One day, I saw a lady with two children in a shop. She probably did not have £5 to spare. She was ahead of me in the queue and she put down £5. I was not being nosy, but her wallet probably only had two fivers in it, yet she spent £5 on scratchcards. She went outside to rub the numbers off them and by the time I went outside I saw that not one of the cards was successful.
I thought to myself, “How very sad.” That lady was probably looking at her financial needs for that week being provided by the turn of a scratchcard, which did not deliver. Other things need to be done, but I look forward to the things that the Minister referred to in his intervention on the hon. Lady.
Those arguments had all been accepted, but rather than looking at the human cost it appears that the Government wished to shore up the finances and allow thousands more people to gamble everything away. The situation is like cancer research finding a cure to cancer and the NHS saying, “Well, we have all the chemotherapy, which needs to be used, so we won’t pay for the life-saving drugs until stocks are down. We can’t afford to do this.” That is horrific. I say to the Minister, with respect, that the more I see of this Government's ability to put blinkers on and look only at one aspect—the pounds and the pence—rather than at the entire argument about the need to lower stakes, the more disheartened I become.
The Salvation Army, which deals with the problems that gambling brings to the community, has said:
“It is well acknowledged that FOBTs have caused concern across the political and social spectrum. FOBTs have been labelled the ‘crack cocaine’
of gambling. One gambler told us that he spent £2,000 a day on FOBTs at bookies without being challenged.”
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s reference to the Salvation Army. One of the other issues that I have major concerns about—I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees—is the accounts of people being given a line of credit of £1,500 without any credit checks on their ability to pay it back. People have been given a £1,500 line of credit and unfortunately it ends up being a potential noose—and I mean that—around their neck. That problem is arising and it is caused by those who do not do checks. Any other financial industry would do checks to ensure the person had the ability to pay the money back.
I thank my hon. Friend for his wise intervention.
The Salvation Army also says:
“Another man who became homeless as a result of his addiction and who was helped by the Salvation Army lost over £30,000 on gambling machines.”
I do not think that there is one Member in this Chamber who would not be able to recollect a story of this kind from their constituencies. It is the story of the man who plays on a FOBT machine on a Friday night and puts all his wages on it, before going home to his wife, who is looking for the money to buy the groceries, and their children. Those are the stories of real life; those are the stories of addiction; and those are the stories that we want to stop in this Chamber today.
That is why we are keen for the Government to implement as soon as practicable the proposed maximum stake limit of £2 for FOBTs. It is of some concern that in the Budget the timeframe for implementation was to have been delayed to October 2019. We note that some campaigners said it would be possible to implement it in April 2019 and that the Government have acceded to that. That apparent delay was deeply disappointing. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green referred to the amendment with over 100 Members’ names on it. What changed the Government’s opinion was those 100 names from across the Chamber. I am very pleased that we have achieved that change.
I agree with the change and I ask the Government simply to do the right thing. They seem to have been held to ransom by the gaming industry. Therefore, it should not have surprised me to see how the EU—I use this comparison; I am sure many Members will understand it—has held this proud nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ransom, and how our Government have capitulated at the cost not of £400 million, the estimated lost tax revenue, but £39 billion, and, most importantly, the sovereignty of Northern Ireland and the sanctity of the Union.
You may not believe that the two are linked, Dame Eleanor, but they are. You may not believe that that should be mentioned in this debate, but it has been. The Government’s decision making is as flawed here as it is in selling Northern Ireland and the backstop. Do the right thing, stop allowing gambling addictions to destroy families and protect people from themselves, in the same way that people must wear a seatbelt whether they want to or not. Step in and step up. I support the amendment and I look forward to working with hon. Members to do even more in this Chamber to address gambling addiction in the years to come.
Amendment 16 agreed to.