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Policing and Crime Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:36 pm on 7th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 6:36 pm, 7th December 2016

My Lords, I refer to my interests as a Newcastle City councillor and vice-president of the Local Government Association, inasmuch as parts of the amendments to which I shall refer would impact on local government.

I wish to speak to the two amendments in this group in my name and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. Fixed-odds betting terminals, even after a reduction from £100 to £50 on the amount that can be wagered every 20 seconds, are a source of large profits and social and economic damage. The 35,000 machines to be found in betting premises are concentrated in poorer areas of the country, where they divert money from the local economy and are the scene of 40% of all serious crimes against businesses. As I pointed out in Committee, police callouts to attend incidents at these premises increased by 51% in 2014 from the previous year. Seven thousand machines a year are destroyed and assaults on staff are increasing. The London Borough of Newham, with no fewer than 87 of these shops, sees police being called out on average once every day to premises harbouring these machines. The Local Government Association backs Newham’s campaign for more control over this growing industry.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling commissioned a report on these machines which referred to the claim of the Association of British Bookmakers that increased regulation would cause a substantial loss of jobs in the betting sector. But whereas the £1 billion that is spent in fixed-odds betting terminals supports 7,000 jobs in the gaming industry, that diversion from other forms of consumer spending destroys 13,000 jobs in the wider economy. If the industry continues to grow to double its size in the next 10 years, the net cost to the economy will be the loss of 11,000 jobs, with the total annual wage bill affected by a loss of £650 million at today’s prices compared with the level obtaining in 2013, on which the comparative figures are based.

The report also deals with the tax revenue flowing from the use of these machines. This year it is estimated that the duty received by the Revenue will be £78 million, but the amount of income tax and VAT lost will be £90 million. By 2023-24, the net annual loss will be £50 million. These figures do not, of course, reflect the indirect cost to the taxpayer of the consequences of the social damage arising from gambling—for example, in family breakdown or costs to the National Health Service, let alone the crime to which I have alluded.

BACTA, the body representing the manufacturers, suppliers and operators of 310,000 amusement machines —not those in betting offices or casinos—has come up with 12 proposals which it is submitting to the consultation being undertaken by DCMS. Interestingly, these include a new machine with a maximum stake of £10 instead of the current permitted stake of £50; a suggested jackpot limit of £125; and a high-percentage payout of 90% on the money staked, bringing the industry closer to the concept of amusement arcades rather than high-risk and expensive gambling.

All of this suggests that greater control of the industry, as envisaged in Amendment 173C, in the name of the right reverend Prelate, is required. In addition to the impact of the industry on society, however, there is also, quite literally, the impact on staff. In Committee I referred to the revealing fact that in many shops, where it is now usual to have only one employee, staff are housed in what is described as a cage, which they are permitted to leave only after 6.30 pm. Tellingly, Ladbrokes is now purchasing chairs weighing as much as 35 kilograms for customers—too heavy, it is assumed, for a disappointed customer, or indeed a criminal, to use in an assault on staff or to do damage to the premises. That is an indication of the seriousness of those issues.

Amendment 173B, in my name, prescribes that at all material times, at least two members of staff must be on the premises to deter violent behaviour and, if need be, to seek assistance. The noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, replying to the debate in Committee, referred to the power conferred on the Secretary of State to set conditions by way of secondary legislation—under existing primary legislation—including staffing levels, and indicated the Government’s awareness of,

“the dangers posed by fixed-odds betting terminals”.—[Official Report, 9/11/16; col. 1232.]

She repeated this at a meeting she kindly organised and said that the Government would consider proposals emerging from the review they launched on 24 October, in which the call for evidence closed two days ago. Can the Minister indicate when the Government expect to release the results of the consultation and their response to it? Of course, I do not expect her to give an indication at this stage of what that outcome will be.

However, I hope that the Government will not be swayed by the self-interested testimony of the industry or, for that matter, by the views enunciated in an article for ConservativeHome—described as “the home of conservatism”—by Christopher Snowdon, who rejoices in the title of head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and who in a recent article dismissed concerns about this industry and the terminals, concluding that they,

“might not be to everybody’s taste but they have a place in the modern industry and existing regulation and taxation is more than adequate, if not excessive, for a gambling product that is only available in licensed, adult-only establishments”.

The evidence contradicts that bland assertion of acceptance of this side of the gaming industry pretty comprehensively. One can only hope that, unlike the appointment of Brexit Ministers, the Prime Minister will not be tempted to appoint Mr Snowdon to be involved in the review or to advise the Government. I look forward to the Minister giving assurances that the Government recognise the need to change the regime under which this industry, which blights too many high streets and too many lives, operates, and that they will act quickly after receiving and considering the review report. I beg to move.