My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. We have heard some very powerful cases for other amendments in this group, but I will confine my remarks to supporting Amendment 27. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for tabling it.
As the chair of Peers for Gambling Reform and a previous member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on gambling, I have spoken to dozens of people who have been affected by problem gambling. We know that there are at least a third of a million problem gamblers in the UK—probably far more. We know that, on average, very sadly, there is one gambling-related suicide every single day. We know that for every problem gambler, six other people are adversely affected by gambling-related harm, which causes huge problems for families, individuals and society, as well as huge costs to society through lost tax receipts, welfare and benefit claims and costs to the NHS and the criminal justice system. With the growth of online gambling, unless action is taken, the problems will get even worse.
I am therefore enormously supportive of the Government’s decision to conduct a review into the Gambling Act 2005, but we should never forget that, while gambling companies have no incentive to drive customers to financial ruin, they have every incentive to keep them gambling even when problems are looming. The greater the problem, the greater the profit to the gambling company.
When people with gambling problems seek to address their addiction, we should do all we can to support them. One of the most crucial tools available to them, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate, is gambling-blocking software. While self-exclusion schemes such as Gamban and GAMSTOP are effective in preventing access to gambling sites, albeit only to those sites registered with the services, bank-based gambling blocks are a much clearer and more effective method of preventing gambling transactions and therefore better supporting those suffering from gambling-related harms and seeking to help themselves.
Recently published research from the University of Bristol entitled A Blueprint for Bank Card Gambling Blockers shows that bank-blocker mechanisms, as described in the amendment, offer great potential in helping people to control their gambling. This has been demonstrated by many customers of account providers who already provide such an option. The research from Bristol University made five recommendations: first, blocker technology should be made available digitally, by phone or in writing and, ideally, to a single point regardless of the account provider; secondly, all account providers should routinely raise awareness about blocker technology; thirdly, every blocker should be built around a time-release lock, as the right reverend Prelate suggested, of 48 hours, preventing impulse relapses from people suffering from a gambling addiction —this cool-down period would give users time to assess the implications of their request to bypass the block; fourthly, each blocker should allow limitations on cash withdrawals to prevent cash being used as a workaround for any gambling block; finally and most crucially, any form of blocking system, if it is going to be watertight, needs all account providers to be involved, not just those who choose to introduce such a system.
It was for this reason that a coalition of banks, campaigners and clinicians, led by Monzo, recently wrote to DCMS urging it to introduce a new requirement for all account providers in the UK to make sure every consumer can access a gambling block. This is the essence of Amendment 27, as outlined by the right reverend Prelate. I, too, wrote to the Secretary of State about this issue. On his behalf, John Whittingdale MP, Minister of State for Media and Data, who is now heading up the gambling review, replied just a few days ago. He correctly pointed out that NatWest Group has now joined the account providers which already have done so by introducing a 48-hour gambling block on its debit card and most Santander UK customers have been moved to Mastercard, which also has a gambling block. This is welcome news, and it means that a high percentage of customers have access to one form of gambling block or another.
However, crucially, not all customers have that option. Equally, not all schemes have the same degree of effectiveness. John Whittingdale’s response continued by saying that, “Of course further progress can be made to increase the effectiveness of gambling blocks and I hope that banks continue to strengthen these tools, as we have seen in recent months. Last week, I discussed this issue with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, and we are looking to banks to help customers manage their gambling”.
Surely the best way of achieving the desired outcome of ensuring that all account providers have strong, effective gambling blocks in place is not by encouragement but by the Government adopting the amendment or their own version of it. I hope we will get an encouraging response from the Minister. I look forward to hearing it.