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Problem Gambling - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:35 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 3:35 pm, 2nd July 2019

My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Statement and thank the Minister for repeating it. I and others will welcome those who have made the commitments that were described in this Statement and recognise that it is indeed a step in the right direction.

I am just back from Birmingham, if I may start autobiographically, from the Methodist conference. Some 25 years ago I was the president of that conference, and I was installed in my office in Leeds town hall. It was the year that the National Lottery was launched, and I was launched into putting the Methodist position on the National Lottery almost from the time I left Leeds. I confessed to myself that it was useless to put what some noble Lords would recognise as a traditional Methodist position on gambling: it was here to stay, it was part of our culture, so where was the room for manoeuvre?

I remember going on television with my noble friend Lady Bakewell on a Sunday evening; I limited myself to two points, which I have stuck to ever since. First, the proceeds of the National Lottery should not be used to spend on programmes that were properly the responsibility of government—they would be extra, over and above. Secondly, since there was a proven percentage—I had the facts at my fingertips in those days—of those who gamble becoming problem gamblers, a levy should be imposed on the National Lottery to deal with the problem gamblers that were going to be produced by that industry. This was directed towards the National Lottery at that time, but why not impose it on all lotteries? Those were my two points 25 years ago; they remain my two points now.

The Statement is good, as far it goes, but we have to recognise that this voluntary levy is simply not producing the goods. My O-level maths, which is where I left the subject formally, in the year that King Uzziah died, suggests that the agreed percentage of the turnover of the gambling industry should produce something like £145 million a year. It produces £10 million. The voluntary agreement is not working. The Statement says that we should be prepared to recognise that what has been proposed is for now, but it will take a year to produce the necessary legislation to achieve the mandatory levy. Let us do what has to be done now, and do the legislation a year hence also. We can wait a year, but we cannot wait for things to happen until we come back and say, “Let’s do it”, because then it will be a year after that. It seems necessary for us to move inevitably towards a mandatory levy.

I know that these figures were given in the other place an hour or two ago, but they are worth repeating. SportPesa, which sponsors Everton, and Fun88, which sponsors Newcastle, gave £50 last year. Both are white labels of TGP Europe. Best Bets gave £5: I have just paid more than that for a taxi to get here. GFM Holdings Ltd gave a pound. What on earth would you get for £1 anywhere these days, even on the high street? Pounds shops are giving up on that one.

We have 430,000 gambling addicts, 50,000 of whom are children—it is just not acceptable. The mandatory levy is the step that we have to take, and I urge the Minister not to just echo his master’s voice from another place in suggesting that because it will take another year it is better to settle for what we have. It is necessary to take the first steps towards imposing a levy now, so that the National Health Service, which picks up the cost of dealing with problem gamblers, can perhaps have—even in a hypothecated way—the proceeds of such a mandatory levy to deal with the problem.

I trust that your Lordships will see this point of view, which makes a lucid and obvious case, and that the body language, if not the words, of the Minister shows that he agrees.