My Lords, Ministers and officials have worked tirelessly on the Gambling Act review for 18 months. We remain committed to delivering our manifesto commitment and will publish the White Paper as soon as possible.
My Lords, sadly, the Minister is back-tracking on his usual reply, which is “within weeks”. He will know that there are already one or more gambling-related suicides every single day, and that 60,000 children are already classified as gambling addicts. The consultation on measures to reduce those figures began over two and a half years ago. The resulting White Paper has been delayed five times; it has already been approved by the Cabinet on two separate occasions. Does the Minister accept that each delay is costing lives and sets more young people on the road to becoming addicts? Will he press for the rapid delivery of the White Paper, full and undiluted, as the former Gambling Minister, Chris Philp, intended?
I take the opportunity to pay tribute to my honourable friend Chris Philp, who led a lot of the work on the preparation for this White Paper. There will be a new Prime Minister in place in a matter of weeks, and we want to ensure that the hard work that has gone into the review sees its speedy publication. We have not waited for the review to take action where it is needed to address the sorts of harms that the noble Lord points to. For instance, we have banned gambling on credit cards; tightened restrictions on VIP schemes; strengthened the rules for how online operators identify and interact with people at risk of harm; and updated the advertising codes of practice to make sure that content that has a strong appeal to children is banned.
I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his appearance at “My Fair Lady” last night, indulging his passion for musical theatre. It was a great pleasure to see him. I also congratulate him on the real progress that he has made in publishing the Government’s response to the call for evidence on loot boxes. I congratulate the Government on adopting a light-touch regulatory but vigilant approach on the use of loot boxes in video games—and could he tell me when the video games body mentioned in that response will be established?
It is always a pleasure to see my noble friend at cultural events. To quote the musical:
“Every duke and earl and peer” was there last night. We are committed to ensure that video games are enjoyed safely by everybody, and we undertook the call for evidence to look at loot boxes. We believe that the games industry can and should go further to protect children and adults from the risks of harm associated with loot boxes. If that does not happen, we will not hesitate to consider legislative change. As my noble friend points out, we will pursue our objectives to get better evidence and research and improved access to data through the technical working group led by DCMS and through the development of a video games research framework.
My Lords, many people are disappointed by the Government’s decision to defer this matter again. The Lords committee that looked at this made some strong recommendations, which I think that most people agreed with, and which struck a balance between allowing people who want to have a flutter to do so and protecting vulnerable gamblers. Will the Minister look at whether the Government can use their existing powers to implement some of those changes now?
I had the pleasure of serving on the committee which the noble Lord mentions. As I say, we have not waited for the publication of our review—the most extensive review of gambling laws since 2005—to take action where needed, including banning gambling on credit cards and raising the age for playing the National Lottery. We are taking action while making sure that we give the issue the thorough consideration that it deserves.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of Peers for Gambling Reform. We should be shocked at the statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, gave—60,000 young people not just gambling but addicted to gambling. How many children who should not be gambling at all are caught up in this? This is damaging lives and families every day of the year. Surely we need to take some firm action, such as addressing this ubiquitous advertising on sports occasions which is normalising gambling instead of encouraging people simply to participate and enjoy sport for its own sake. When will the Government take some action on this?
The right reverend Prelate is right to point to the need for better data. We welcome and encourage work to build the high-quality evidence base which is needed to inform policy. As he knows, that is an area we looked at through the review, as is the question of advertising. We have considered the evidence on that carefully, including the different risks of harms associated with certain sports and on children. We will set out our conclusions in the White Paper.
My Lords, the government response on loot boxes says that all players will have access to spending controls. Will this involve a compulsory cap on spending for young people and, if not, why not?
The Government’s response makes clear that the purchase of loot boxes should be unavailable to all children and young people unless they are enabled by a parent or guardian, and all players should have access to and be aware of spending controls and transparent information to support their gaming. That is the right approach to address this issue.
My Lords, as noble Lords have already pressed home, each delay to the long-awaited gambling White Paper potentially puts people at greater risk of falling into problem gambling, with all the human and societal costs that it brings. Does the Minister recognise that, in addition to the delayed review of gambling, the online safety agenda has stalled again, broadband targets are constantly watered down, and creatives are still waiting for support initiatives to come on stream? Why does DCMS struggle so much with delivery?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is being a little unfair, particularly on broadband. Our rollout of gigabit-enabled broadband continues apace, bringing connectivity to many more households across the country. The department is still hard at work on all six Bills that we have this Session. I enjoyed speaking to her this morning about the Online Safety Bill and look forward to debating that and other measures in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is quite correct in what he says, and I support fully his remarks. I had responsibility in the Home Office in the 1990s for gambling and the Government at that time were extremely cautious about allowing the development of gambling, particularly its effect on young people. I remain deeply concerned about what is actually being talked about. My noble friend also must take into account the views of the responsible gambling organisations, which actually feel just as strongly as the rest of us that gambling should be properly regulated and that we should be careful to ensure that it does not do untold damage to young people in particular.
My noble friend is right. Through the work that we have done on the review of the Gambling Act we have, of course, engaged with lots of people, including from the industry, many of whom have been taking forward important actions to make sure that people can gamble safely, fairly and without a problem. All the thoughts we have had through that consultation will be reflected in the White Paper.
The Minister has said that he needs better data. What better data does he require than the fact that 60,000 children in this country are addicted to gambling? Surely, for most of us, that data is sufficient for the Government to be taking far stronger action than he has outlined.
We are also looking at the way that we can collate data from the industry and from academia to make sure that we have proper evidence-based data such as the noble Baroness suggests fed into the review, which will be published in the coming weeks.
My Lords, one problem gambler is of course one too many, but the vast majority gamble safely. Will the Minister make sure that any affordability checks do not force customers to provide intrusive personal information such as pay slips and bank statements? Will he also tell us what modelling DCMS has done on requiring customers to consent to companies accessing private financial data? That would cause—as it has in Europe—an exodus of gamblers from the regulated industry to the growing, unsafe, unregulated, online black market.
The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to the dangers of taking action that would drive people further into the black market, which is unregulated, pays no taxes and does not have protections for people. He is also right to say that the vast majority of people who gamble do so safely and legally. We have conducted the review to take all these issues into account, which will be reflected in our White Paper.