Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 4

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 30th September 2019.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 8:48 pm, 30th September 2019

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Of course, as I have said, the hon. Lady—my hon. Friend—has a particular and well-known interest in this, but the Members who brought forward the legislation are not here, and I think that is a fair point to make. It is important for my constituents out there watching this event to understand who really cares about these issues, and to see that we are left to mop up the political issues that Members bring before us.

I am sorry to say to the Minister that this report on the Executive Formation Act and gambling is utterly irrelevant. It says that there is no work done in this area. In 2016, the Department of Health, and then the Department for Communities and Local Government, commissioned a report on the prevalence of gambling. They found that the levels of gambling in Northern Ireland were slightly higher—about 2% higher—than in England, about equal with Scotland, and slightly higher than in Wales. That is not mentioned in the report. It did not talk about those issues of prevalence. It was about setting down a measurement of where the issue of gambling rests. We should be targeting issues that it has identified, such as how we cope with problem gambling—the actual figures.

Facts are stubborn things. The facts were recorded by the Departments, and that should have been reflected in this report. I do not blame the Government for bringing forward an utterly irrelevant report. They were asked to commission a report in a fit of pique by some Members of this House, and now they have rushed into bringing forward a report that is irrelevant because it has not even dealt with some of the issues that exist.

The laws that pertain to gaming and gambling in Northern Ireland are already very different from those that obtain in the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, this matter, as Members across the House have rightly said, ought to be left to the Assembly unless we are prepared to introduce a root-and-branch change to all gaming and gambling legislation in Northern Ireland and make it identical to the rest the UK. Let us look at where things would then be different. For example, in English high streets we see four or five competing gambling companies running the same shops, neighbour to neighbour, on the same street, whereas in Northern Ireland we see maybe one gaming or gambling shop in a street, and then several streets away there might be another one.

I have heard Members of this House demanding that that sort of thing should happen in England. The fact is that it happens in Northern Ireland by agreement among the betting shop owners. There are, in effect, only about three major betting shop owners in Northern Ireland, and they have made that agreement among themselves. Yet that is not reflected in the report either. Would we like to import what has happened in Northern Ireland, which is a good thing, to the rest of the United Kingdom, or would we like to import what has happened in England and have numerous betting shops lined along street after street in Northern Ireland? I think that my constituents, and all my colleagues, would object to seeing their streets having loads of these shops. We do not have the prevalence of these shops that England has. We have no Sunday betting at all. In England, people can bet seven days a week. It is not possible to go into a betting shop in Northern Ireland on the Sabbath and bet; we have that restriction. Will we just import those regulations into Northern Ireland and change Northern Ireland’s culture? That would be crazy.