Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 7:15 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 57 and 58, which seek to amend government Amendment 56. These amendments have been bizarrely grouped with the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just spoken. These amendments are about fixed-odds betting terminals. We were really pleased when the Minister suggested in Committee that he would be minded to devolve the regulation of fixed-odds betting terminals in Wales, and we are grateful that an amendment has been tabled by the Government on this issue. However, a detailed reading of the amendment reveals that it does not go nearly far enough in addressing the issue of concern to us.

The government amendment will enable the Welsh Government to address fixed-odds betting terminals in Wales under the Gambling Act 2005. It states that Welsh Ministers may legislate for the number of machines in the betting establishment for which the maximum stake exceeds £10. In other words, the only machines that would come under this provision are those where you have to spend at least £10 every time you play. At least, that is my understanding of the Government’s amendment; perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong on that point.

Under the current Gambling Act, up to four machines are authorised per betting premises. Our amendment would enable the Welsh Government to make laws that would affect machines where anything over £2 could be gambled. I am not saying that we need to regulate the 2p slot machines in Nessa’s Slots in Barry Island where, like thousands of others, I frittered away my coppers in years gone by, but we need to lower the amount that can be gambled at a time. This is something which has exercised many experts in the field. We are aware that a review of betting machines is being undertaken by the UK Government, and this issue has been taken up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. There seems to be all-party support to reduce the maximum bet to £2. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the amount could be reduced if the matter is devolved? It would be good if the Minister could indicate that to us. If the amount could be amended here, that would be the ideal situation, but if not, will he give us an indication about how it could be done in future?

However, that is not my biggest concern with this amendment. My real concern with the Government’s amendment is that it would apply only to new betting premises. In other words, all the betting shops that exist in Wales today would be entirely unaffected and the Welsh Government would have no powers whatever over fixed-odds betting terminals currently in Wales. I know what the Government will say. They are going to say that that is what the Scotland Bill said. That is not good enough. Just because the SNP was not keeping an eye on its Bill does not mean that we will wave this Bill through when it is fundamentally flawed. It is important that we take note and the Scots should take note as well. They were not keeping an eye on their Bill. They flagged through the Henry VIII clauses as well. A message should be given to the SNP that it should step up and keep an eye on things.

Gambling is causing massive social, economic and health problems in Wales, and we want the tools to deal with them. Research conducted by the Gambling Commission identified 1.1% of the Welsh population as problem gamblers. Figures show that nearly one-fifth of problem gamblers in the UK have reported debts of between £20,000 and £100,000, while counselling sessions increased by 29% between 2013 and 2015. This is happening now, it is an epidemic and we need to do something to stop it. These machines are phenomenally popular. It is estimated that on average £3,000 a day is wagered on the 1,500 terminals in Wales. You can lose up to £100 every second on these machines. The gambling prevalence survey, a major study of British gambling, found that these machines are most popular among young, male, low-income gamblers, particularly the unemployed, as well as among students and those from ethnic minorities. Where have bookmakers decided to concentrate their efforts? They are putting them in high streets in poorer areas. To date, the UK Government have not done nearly enough to curtail the proliferation of fixed-odds betting terminals, so if the UK Government are reluctant to act, they should give the Assembly the freedom to act to reduce the maximum stake to £2 and make sure that the Assembly can act retrospectively, not just in the future. The problem exists now, and the Assembly is expected to wipe up the mess.

I guess I should be grateful that the Government have brought something forward, but I am afraid that, in its current form, I am disappointed with the amendment. I hope the Government will take on board our amendments on this important issue.