Children: Gambling Advertisements - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 14th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 1:00 pm, 14th September 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, for securing this debate and introducing the topic so well. The words, “Poacher turned gamekeeper” popped into my mind, but he elegantly evaded that charge and spoke persuasively from the heart on a matter which I know has engaged many noble Lords who participated in what has been a very good debate. It is also very nice to be opposite the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, again: I think we both thought last year that we would not be doing it, but here we are again. I have news for her, because I want to introduce our new Front-Bench lead on DCMS, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, who is still at the learner stage but will be flying solo from October with support from me—but, I hope, very little. I hope the whole House will welcome him and give him its support.

The key questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, slightly rephrased, were: are we happy about the current amount of gambling advertising when children are watching television; does what we see honestly portray gambling as dangerous and damaging to society, as we know to be the case; is gambling increasingly being put forward as glamorous and socially enhancing; and are we being encouraged to think that it is a natural part of sport, leisure and even our family life? He asked what we are going to do about it. I agree with most of his analysis and I will say more in support of it as I go, though I will go further in some areas, picking up on points made by other noble Lords, and I have additional suggestions for the Government at the end.

The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, said he had never met a failed bookie. I have one example to share with him. I live in a house that was once owned by a bookmaker. The local gossip is that he made a killing on the National one year, invested it in our property and moved out there. He then divorced his wife, put her in one part of the house, remarried and sold off the rest of the estate, which allowed us to buy what was left—just about—which was just the house, and finance his lifestyle, moving away from bookmaking into property development. He died a broken man, unfortunately; things went wrong for him, which is why we are in that house. So there is a moral there, but I take the noble Lord’s point.

The issues that need to be addressed in this debate are the review commissioned by the Secretary of State; the narrow question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, about the proportion of gambling ads on commercial television and their impact on children; and the effectiveness of current regulatory structures to protect children. However, other ways in which children get exposed to gambling have been raised by noble Lords. We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, for his comments about the evidence that now exists for gambling as an addiction. The key point that has emerged from this debate is that the public policy issue we need to crack is not so much the amount of gambling advertising on commercial television, but what package of measures will best deal, head-on, with the protection of children and vulnerable people who become problem gamblers. This is on the assumption, which I support, that problem gambling is a substanceless addiction. Problem gambling is characterised by the same issues of dependence as alcohol and drugs and leads to the same devastating impacts on personal relationships, health and society. It is a public health problem which needs attention and resources, and until we do this, we are simply applying a sticking plaster to a rather grievous wound.

There is an elephant in the room, in that, until we get the review we are in the dark as to what the Government intend. I commend the Secretary of State for calling for this review and I have great hopes for it, but it is not with us. Also, it is not a Green Paper or a White Paper; it is just a review and there may be a problem, in that there will be a considerable delay while whatever policy implications teased out in the report are considered and consulted on. I hope that when the Minister replies she can not only shed some light on the thinking in the report, but confirm when it is to be published and reassure us that that the issues raised today will be covered.

Turning to the proportion of gambling ads on commercial television, my feeling is that the case for a causal relationship between advertising and gambling has not been made. However, the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, spoke for us all when he said that until they can make their own decisions and personal choices, children—I would add vulnerable adults—should not be unduly influenced by inappropriate advertising on traditional media, or increasingly, as we have heard, on social media. Surely, we have to protect and, very importantly, educate children until they can make informed and balanced lifestyle decisions for themselves. Is the current situation satisfactory? I do not think so. Could schools do more? Of course they could. As the noble Lord said, a majority of people in the UK think gambling should not be encouraged, that it is dangerous to family life and too easy to do online and by phone.

The industry relies very heavily on the Ofcom figures mentioned already, which showed that in 2012 children saw, on average, just over four gambling advertisements each week on television. Common sense suggests that that is a gross underestimate. In any case, companies would not advertise if it did not work: as the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, told us, budgets for advertising in the gambling industry reached £312 million in 2016, a 63% rise since 2012. Of this, about half was accounted for by television commercials, but by far the largest increase, as we have heard, was in online and other advertising. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, warned us, we have this thing called affiliate marketing, which works very heavily against the situation we want and requires significant attention.

I think that the question of the watershed was first raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. It is obviously true that this is less effective in its operation simply because the way television is now consumed has changed so much, but he is right to point to mixed messages in the way advertising operates pre and post-watershed, particularly around live sport. Excepting bingo from the rule about not showing such adverts before the watershed definitely needs to be looked at again—bingo is not classified as gambling, when it clearly is—and sports betting adverts themselves need to be looked at very carefully.

What should we do? The knee-jerk reaction would be to try to go back to the pre-2007 days and ban the advertising of gambling pre-watershed, but I have some problems with that. I do not think there is a causal relationship, as I have said—I do not think that seeing one or more gambling ads makes you a problem gambler—but there is a correlation and experts tell us that the damage done is not negligible. I agree with the ASA that if a product is not illegal, or prohibited for good reason, companies should be able to advertise it. However, this is not an unconstrained right where it would fuel addiction. More needs to be done, therefore, to balance the adverts for gambling with better awareness of the damage that gambling can wreak. Signposting help is also required and we should think seriously about the idea that, for every advert broadcast around a sporting event, there has to be a balancing message showing where help can be obtained and pointing out the dangers, as I think is going to happen in Australia.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for mentioning the very interesting paper from the anthropology department at Goldsmiths, University of London, in which Professor Rebecca Cassidy points out that although we have been talking up to now about commercial television, public service channel broadcasts of football highlights, which do not include formal advertisement breaks, are none the less completely saturated with gambling ads and advertisements for other risky products. She made the following points, which I think are important. There was more advertising of gambling, alcohol and fatty foods during sporting highlights broadcasts on the BBC than there were during live broadcasts of football on Sky. Across both kinds of broadcast, online gambling constituted the majority of brands advertised. The majority of all advertising seen while watching both highlights and live matches was for online gambling, mainly seen on pitch-side billboards. There is a lack of responsible messaging and counteradvertising across both kinds of broadcasts. Although not directly the subject of today’s debate, this needs to be picked up by the Government and I hope the Minister will respond to these points.

Professor Cassidy also notes in her report—this was picked up by other noble Lords—that children are wearing replica shirts which advertise alcohol and gambling, although the voluntary codes say that this should not happen. It is clear from her watching of matches and reporting on them that children, apparently under 18, are wearing replica kits advertising alcohol and gambling. For instance, the Everton shirt advertises Chang beer, and Swansea is supported by BetEast. This, again, needs a lot of attention. It is not directly related to the commercial advertising but it is still getting the message across that somehow sport and gambling are intertwined, they are not a problem, and that there is something glamorous about alcohol or sports betting being involved in the sport we are watching. We need to do more in this area.

I now turn briefly to the structures around the regulatory area. I have previously shared with your Lordships’ House a principled view that where the Government have established a regulatory structure, it should be done by a properly constituted body, not a private company. Previous examples have included the BBFC. Here, we are talking about public trust and reassurance that the area we are concerned about is being regulated properly. The present structure does not work. There is absolutely no doubt that the ASA has done a good job up until now, but surely what matters is getting it right for the future.

Now that the BBC has Ofcom as a regulator, the press and the advertising industry are the only remaining self-regulators in that most important area of our life—information—and we have seen what vested interests are doing to stifle attempts to reform press regulation. Leveson analysed the insufficiencies of self-regulation in his excellent report on the press. In a debate last year, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, commented that those also applied to advertising, and I support her. The ASA is not a government agency; it is not a statutory body, and its work is not subject to parliamentary process. It is funded by the advertising industry through the levy collected by the Advertising Standards Board of Finance—ASBOF. The chair of the ASA is appointed largely by ASBOF. The codes of practice are written by an industry committee, which shares an executive with the ASA. The ASA is not subject to freedom of information requests. Three industry panels advise the CAP and the ASA. ASA is not accountable to anyone outside the industry; it is hermetically sealed. It is time to look very carefully and change this system.

In conclusion, where should the Government go now on this issue? They must think hard about whether there should be any gambling advertising around live sport before the 9 pm watershed. They need to think harder about the way in which children are interacting with that and the messages they are actually—not allegedly—receiving. We should look again at advertising on football shirts. Such advertising should be banned and should not be shown on television; it seems to align the wrong impulses and children will not see the difference unless it is stopped. I am thinking in particular of replica shirts, which should not show adverts for gambling or harmful products.

We need to look at the way in which online advertising is changing and how it is targeting gambling and other harmful products. Again, the problem is the reach to children and those who might be vulnerable to addiction. We should reform the regulatory structure. It is really important to think about the balance. We do not want to stop advertising. We want to make sure that it is properly balanced, so there must be warnings and signposting. The current taglines do not seem strong enough and do not properly explain the dangers of gambling’s addictive nature. As the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, said, if an advertisement does happen to be seen by a child, that child should be alerted to the dangers and risks involved. There needs to be much more education about gambling in the school curriculum—maybe maths classes are a way of getting into that—and much more funding for gambling research. GambleAware does a fantastic job but it needs to be supported.

I have two final points for the Minister’s consideration and delectation. There are still issues about the role gambling plays in the provision of fair sport and too many instances of match-fixing. The regulatory environment and the legal framework are still not satisfactory. We tried to deal with this in the House before but were not successful, so I hope the Government are taking that on board. There is a much broader issue. Gambling gets a free ride from sport. Gambling works only if the sport in question is widely televised and broadcast. Yet gambling makes very little contribution to sport itself. Is it not time to think again about sports rights and a way to ask gambling to contribute more to those who wish to get into sport—at the grass roots? We should look at that very seriously.