I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment, which seeks to block transactions with illegal, remote gambling operators and I applaud her tenacity. I confess that I thought we had got it sorted, so there is no intention on the Government’s behalf or indeed on my behalf to try to pull any wool over anybody’s eyes.
I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness on the importance of protecting consumers. During the course of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill 2014, I met several problem gamblers and was really very moved by their plight, as indeed were other members of the Government. As a result of the 2014 Act, all remote gambling operators selling into Britain will be required to hold a Gambling Commission licence, so they will be subject to robust and consistent regulation by the Gambling Commission, thereby increasing the protection for British consumers, supporting action against illegal activity, including on sports betting integrity, and establishing fairer competition for British-based operators.
The Government share the noble Baroness’s concern that the new remote gambling regime must be enforceable. As this House has heard before, the Government and the Gambling Commission believe that it is. In addition, the issue has been recently considered by the High Court. In a recent, unsuccessful, attempt to judicially review the 2014 Act, the High Court concluded that,
“there is no evidence or reason to believe that there will be a major enforcement problem”.
Therefore the Government have actually done what they thought was the right thing, and thought that they were going along the right track. As I explained during the debate in Grand Committee, the Gambling Commission has reached agreement with three payment systems organisations to work together to block financial transactions with unlicensed operators.
The Act came into force only this month and so these arrangements are in their early days. However, as I mentioned in Grand Committee, the Gambling Commission will report back to Parliament on its effectiveness in enforcing the Act. We must be guided by what the evidence tells us, and presently, up until just before the noble Baroness started speaking, the Government had found no evidence of a problem that required a legislative solution.
We are fully confident that we can make the arrangements effective. No payment system organisation can afford to be associated with illegal activity, and this shared objective underpins the agreement with the three main payment system organisations. My noble friend had a constructive meeting with the noble Baroness last week and we assure the House and the noble Baroness that we will keep the issue under review. The Gambling Commission will provide an assessment of the effectiveness of these arrangements as part of the annual reporting. This will enable the Government to ensure that the Gambling Commission continues to have all the tools it needs.
On the issue of e-wallets, which I think are the new player in this game, I do not have an answer here in my note for the noble Baroness. I have spoken to my officials and we have decided that the safest thing to do is to offer to write to the noble Baroness. We will do some research on this and work with the Gambling
Commission to see what it knows and then get back to her. Given these assurances, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.