My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to speak in today’s debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, for bringing this important issue before the House, and indeed, for his excellent, informative speech. Like other noble Lords, I apologise in advance for the fact that my own will include some inevitable repetition.
Last year the Gambling Commission published the latest figures on how many young people are gambling, where young people are defined as 11 to 15 year-olds. The data suggest that more young people are gambling than smoking or drinking. The overall rate of gambling among 11 to 15 year-olds is around 16%. This figure compares to 5% of 11 to 15 year-olds who have smoked and 8% who have drunk alcohol in the last week, while 6% have taken drugs in the last month.
While the commission rightly points out that this is a similar number of young people to previous years, it is also telling us that more needs to be done generally about problem gambling. Indeed, on Tuesday of this week the Gambling Commission issued advice to undergraduate students to ensure that students avoided debt and missing lectures as its latest survey reveals that two-thirds of students gambled in the last month. That compares with just 48% of the population generally. One in eight students missed lectures due to gambling.
As long ago as November 2013 Ofcom reported that there had been a 600% increase in television gambling advertising since the implementation of the Gambling Act 2005. No doubt today the figure is even higher. As the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, said—I think we would all agree—this is a very concerning situation.
In my speech, however, I wish to focus particularly on the challenges of gambling advertising which is located online. This is particularly important given that last year’s Ofcom survey of media stated that for the first time children are spending more time online than in front of the TV, which is especially true of 12 to 15 year-olds. I stress that in highlighting this development I am not seeking to suggest that there is no challenge in relationship to television advertising and that we must now all focus on online adverts. What I am saying is that both are important. Children still spend many hours watching television.
The Gambling Commission’s November 2016 report showed that 63% of 11 to 15 year-olds have seen gambling adverts on social media, 24% more than once a week; and 57% on other websites, 19% more than once a week. Nine per cent of young people follow gambling companies on social media. Of these, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has already said, one in three has spent their own money on gambling activity in the past seven days, making them twice as likely to have done so as children who do not follow any gambling companies online.
The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling, in the 2015 edition of its code for responsible gambling, said that its code applies to social media, as does the CAP code on non-broadcast material. However, its document states that,
“it is understood that the government intends, in co-operation with the industry and other stakeholders, to undertake further work to ensure that under 18s are suitably protected when using social media”.
This constitutes a significant undertaking. When the Minister responds, will she provide an update to the House on what the Government have done in relation to this important commitment and, specifically, what targets have been set? If she is unable to provide details today, will she write to Members participating in this debate with the information and place a copy of her letter in the Library?
The young people surveyed said that the advertising did not have an effect on them but, as reported in the results,
“the survey does not uncover the potential subconscious effects of advertising and social media posts which may or may not be influencing young people’s gambling behaviour”.
To that I add the impact of gambling advertising during sports matches, either directly during the programmes or indirectly through the clothing the players wear, a point mentioned by many other speakers.
I know that the Government and the Gambling Commission take the involvement of children in gambling seriously and have acted against unlicensed websites. In 2016, the individuals behind the FutGalaxy website were prosecuted because:
“The defendants knew that the site was used by children and that their conduct was illegal, but they turned a blind eye in order to achieve substantial profits”.
The effect of online gambling on children was rightly described by the court as “horrific” and “serious”. However, this case demonstrated, in the words of the Gambling Commission,
“the significant role social media plays in promoting these unlicensed gambling websites seeking to associate themselves with video gaming”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on any further work that the Government and the commission are doing specifically on the links between advertising on social media and underage gambling on e-sports. How is the Gambling Commission monitoring the number and depth of involvement of UK children and young people, the sums of money being gambled and the type of websites involved?
I am sure that the Minister will tell us that this is all going to be addressed in the response to the Government’s Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures, which I understand is to be published this autumn; I sincerely hope that it is. This is a connected generation so I hope that there will be read-across to the Government’s Green Paper on internet safety, so that there is joined-up thinking on how to ensure that children and young people are safe on the internet.