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

Yes. I will come back to that point, because it is very important that we change the law in that way.

I turn to the matter of FOBTs. It has been said in the House tonight—wrongly—that people can walk into any gambling shop in Northern Ireland and place a £100 bet. They cannot. Betting on FOBTs is now the same by agreement in Northern Ireland as it is in England, with only up to a £2 stake. Whether we would like to see that stopped altogether is a completely separate matter. The fact is that Northern Ireland’s betting shops regulated themselves. They recognised that this was changing, and instead of waiting, as they could have, until the Northern Ireland Assembly came back and continuing to rake in the funds that FOBTs would have given them, they decided to self-regulate and impose that restriction themselves. It is therefore not possible for someone to walk into a betting shop and place those bets.

People can, however, walk into an illegal club and place bets on FOBTs. They can walk into a pub that should not have FOBTs and place those bets. Most of those pubs and clubs are run by paramilitary organisations, but is there any regulation or policing of those matters? I understand that when the betting shop owners ring up and report those illegal clubs, dens and vices, the police say, “That’s too much hassle for us. That could cause major problems. We don’t want to run into the paramilitaries on those particular issues.” That is where the real problem lies, and that is where we should be focusing our attention and pushing to ensure that those illegal activities are stamped out.

The major contribution that betting shops make to horse-racing in particular in Northern Ireland is very different from how horse-racing is regulated here on the mainland. Horse-racing is regulated through a completely different system. The only reason we have a racetrack—one functioning racetrack—now in Northern Ireland is that betting shops have to pay a levy. Every single shop that exists in Northern Ireland has to pay, I think, £1,600 per year to the company that runs the racetrack. If we regulate betting in Northern Ireland in the same way it is regulated in the rest of the United Kingdom, racing will come to an end in Northern Ireland. That is a fact of life. As the betting shops will tell you, people bet more on athletics, football and other things than they do on horse-racing. The betting shops subsidise the horse-racing industry in Northern Ireland, and that would go.

Those are the facts. People can make their own judgment on whether that is a good thing, but those matters need to be addressed, and they are not addressed through this report. If we bring things into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, those would be the impacts. The big issue is illegal gambling. That has to be addressed, and the sooner it is addressed, the better.

My hon. Friend Emma Little Pengelly put her finger on the key point: we have a largely unregulated industry. It is done by voluntary agreement. It is run by 35-year-old legislation. That is completely and totally unacceptable, and it needs to be brought up to date. But there is only one place competent to bring it up to date. It is not this Chamber—look who is interested. Let us not kid ourselves. It is the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is why the Opposition Members who pressed the Government to legislate should have realised how big a mess they were creating, because they are not addressing the real issue. That 1985 legislation is so antiquated that only the Assembly is fit to grapple with it.

That is why we would like the Assembly to be encouraged. That is why I encourage the Minister, as I did in an earlier debate in the House, to call a meeting of the Assembly tomorrow at 10 am and see who turns up. My party will turn up in total and other parties will turn up, but I bet that not one Member from Sinn Féin will turn up, because they have the Government and this House over the barrel. They do not have to turn up, and that is where the real disgrace lies.

Nationally, as my hon. Friend intimated, the issue is online gaming. Someone drunk can pick up a phone and gamble away to their heart’s content. They can lose their wage by playing with one of these toys or a gaming machine all night. Someone drunk cannot go into a betting shop and cannot be served alcohol in a betting shop, but they can drink away and play on a phone. Where does the money go when they play on this? It goes to Spain and other parts of the world, and the Government reap no benefit from it whatsoever. Unless the Government grapple with this issue, the companies that run online gaming are going to make the most out of gambling, and the taxpayer and the tax collector are going to receive zero.

The report touches on one other absolutely crucial matter, which is that there is no support for people who require treatment. Fiona Bruce touched on that. It is a disgrace that there is no assistance. The Government are quite happy to lift the levy from betting shops, but put that levy elsewhere. That money should go towards the treatment of people who are problem-gambling. I will leave those thoughts with you, Mr Deputy Speaker.