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Policing and Crime Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 7th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 7:00 pm, 7th December 2016

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has explained, these amendments would have the effect of devolving power over licence conditions for gambling premises and gaming machines to local authorities. Such conditions would, among other things, enable licensing authorities to impose minimum staffing levels on premises with such machines. I thank the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol for again bringing this important matter to your Lordships’ attention. Let me emphasise that the Government are alive to the concerns about the dangers that fixed-odds betting terminals can pose.

It is worth reiterating that, as we speak, the Government are holding a review into the regulation of gaming machines, gambling advertising and the effectiveness of social responsibility measures on gaming machines, with a specific look at potential harm caused to players and communities. As part of this, we are liaising closely with the Local Government Association, among others, and we have received submissions related to the devolution and/or creation of additional powers for local authorities which we will of course consider alongside other proposals and evidence received.

I emphasise in particular that, as part of the review, the Government and the regulator, the Gambling Commission, are carrying out a thorough process which will look at all aspects of gaming machine regulation, including categorisation, maximum stakes and prizes, location, number and the impact that they have on players and communities in relation to problem gambling and crime among other things. All of these factors are potentially relevant and interrelated, and all should be considered together when looking at whether changes could or should be made to current gambling entitlements. We believe that the correct mechanism for looking at these issues is in collaboration with the regulator, the Gambling Commission, drawing on the best evidence available and subject to open consultation.

In addition, before we take any decision on this issue, we would want to ensure that the following risks were properly considered and consulted on. Any local authority which sought to exercise a power to change the number of fixed-odds betting terminals allowed on licensed betting premises would be likely to find its decision the subject of legal challenge. If these legal challenges are considered robust enough, we may be in a position of devolving a power that could not be effectively deployed. Local authorities have had a number of high-profile legal challenges from bookmakers on planning matters and may be reticent about utilising additional powers if it led to costly and protracted legal cases. We would therefore want to consult with the Local Government Association and local authorities on this issue. Again, I reiterate that the current review process is the appropriate mechanism to assess this, rather than immediately launching into these amendments to the Gambling Act.

We are also mindful of the possibility that piecemeal reform could give rise to unanticipated consequences. For example, if a local authority decides to reduce the number of fixed-odds machines, it may have the effect of encouraging operators to seek to open additional premises, furthering the problem of clustering.

We have already taken steps to tighten the controls on these machines and we have set out our plans for the review of gaming machines, gambling advertising and social responsibility which will include a close look at the issues related to fixed-odds betting terminals. I emphasise that we are taking this very seriously and that the review is looking into all these issues. When the review was announced on 24 October, it was stated:

“The review will be considering robust evidence on the appropriate maximum stakes and prizes for gaming machines across all premises licensed under the Gambling Act 2005; the number and location of gaming machines across all licensed premises; and social responsibility measures to protect players from gambling-related harm (including whether there is evidence on the impacts of gambling advertising and whether the right rules are in place to protect children and vulnerable people).

The review will include a close look at the issue of B2 gaming machines … and specific concerns about the harm they cause, be that to the player or the communities in which they are located.

In launching this review I want to ensure that legislation strikes the right balance between allowing the industry to grow and contribute to the economy while ensuring consumers and communities are protected, including those who are just about managing”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/16; col. 1WS]

On the timetable for the review, as noble Lords know, the call for evidence closed on 4 December. An enormous amount of evidence was generated and there was a great deal of interest from the general public as well as from a variety of interest groups, local authorities, trade bodies and industries, and we will be looking in depth at the evidence that was submitted before considering proposals, which we hope to announce next year.

Given that this process is in train and that we are taking it extremely seriously, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.