Consumer Rights Bill — Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 26th November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 9:30 pm, 26th November 2014

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has had to address these very important issues in such an empty House. Her comments deserve a better audience than they are getting at this time, although of course they will be reported in Hansard and, it is hoped, will be read.

The noble Baroness has been such a doughty campaigner on many issues of relevance and salience to various Bills over the last few years that one almost takes it for granted that she will pop up with something that we have heard before but which is none the less important. However, this time she may be beginning to sense, as I certainly do when listening to her—I hope that the Minister is also feeling this—that she is being given a bit of a run-around. This is a substantial issue dealing with real detriment in the real world, where people who have problems with gambling or who just wish to partake in it as a form of recreation previously had to deal with gambling operators located outside the UK and, hence, outside the regulatory net of the UK. Even though some of them were very close physically, there was no way in which the UK Government could operate to protect those who were in danger or provide services for vulnerable people who got involved in it.

The gambling Bill comes along and the noble Baroness puts forward a series of amendments aimed at reflecting the issues that she has just been talking about. She is told, first, the usual rubric that a voluntary arrangement would be the preferred solution and that there is not really an issue here because taking place elsewhere are conversations that will sort all this out. Of course, the pressure of time and, presumably, the pressure of the Government’s need for business mean that we do not get any further with it.

The fact is that, although the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act is a major step forward, unlicensed gambling is continuing and people are still partaking in it. The latest saga—which is why I think the noble Baroness should recognise that she is being spun a line here—is that somehow the existence of a deal on a voluntary basis with four major payment processors will be sufficient to deal with the issues that she genuinely believes are of concern. I share that concern, which I feel needs to be addressed by the Government if they have a sensible interest and a public policy in this area.

Because of her assiduous research in this area, the noble Baroness has discovered that it is possible to have unlicensed gambling operators that are based offshore and over which the Government have no obvious or direct way of prevailing in terms of trying to block or stop their activities. There is now a mechanism that people can use, and would often want to use for the reasons that the noble Baroness gave, to ensure that the payments they make to these unlicensed gamblers are not caught, not visible and not made available. Therefore there is no effective blocking in place. The Government owe her a very full response on this issue—something that will lead us to better understand why they feel defensive when it is so clear that action is required. If they will not accept this amendment, which I am sure they will not, on their previous track record, they should at least give her a sense of how this matter can be taken forward. Surely, it simply is not acceptable for the Government to say that they recognise that there is an issue, to explain that they think their voluntary arrangements work when they patently do not but then to make it more and more difficult for the noble Baroness to bring forward proposals.

The noble Baroness has a very good case, and I look forward to seeing how the transactions that are currently made can be made more visible, because if they are made using an e-wallet or Ukash and are not being caught, that is obviously a problem. Why is it not possible to underpin this on a statutory basis, so that we can get at the financial transactions that are at the heart of the unlicensed operators? If they cannot get their money they will go away. What future-proofing can be brought forward, given that, as she so rightly said, this is only going to bring us up to the current state of knowledge about the technology and its use? What can be done, either now, if it is possible, or in the next piece of legislation—perhaps the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will be an opportunity—to really get to grips with this very difficult issue, which needs resolution?