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Clause 3 - Advertising of gambling by way of remote communication: Great Britain

Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 19th November 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 14—Advertising watershed—

‘The Secretary of State shall consult on the current regulatory position concerning advertising of gambling before the nine o‘clock watershed and shall lay before the House a report of the findings not later than the final sitting day before the summer recess 2014.’.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The clause amends section 330 of the Gambling Act 2005 which governs the territorial application of the offence of advertising unlawful gambling by remote communication. Currently the offence of advertising unlawful gambling applies only to operators who have at least one piece of equipment located in Britain. Following this amendment it will also apply to operators with equipment that is capable of being used in Britain. The effect is that an operator will commit the offence of illegal advertising of gambling under section 330 if their facilities for remote gambling are capable of being used in Britain and a remote operating licence is required for the gambling to take place as advertised and the operator does not have one.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I support clause 3, so most of my comments will relate to new clause 14 and gambling advertising before the 9 pm watershed, which generates a considerable amount of concern. The gambling industry’s code of practice for socially responsible advertising prevents gambling adverts from being shown before the watershed with the exception of bingo and sports betting around televised sporting events. Bingo is recognised because of its social aspect. When people go out to enjoy a night of bingo, there is a social-club atmosphere. Following that recognition, however, we now see online bingo operators advertising before the watershed, which  was not envisaged at the time. There is an issue there, but we should perhaps examine the whole situation to see whether we are happy with it.

The national governing bodies of sport are concerned about the saturation of gambling advertising when sport is televised. It was not foreseen nine years ago when the 2005 Act passed and it is time to examine what happens when a football match is shown on TV, which is when many children will be watching with their parents. We should check whether it is acceptable or needs reviewing. If the sports themselves are concerned about the image now being portrayed now that there is so much remote gambling advertising, is it time to review the regulation?

Last week, the industry indicated that it was open to such a review. In answer to my question, Clive Hawkswood of the Remote Gambling Association said:

“I wrote the industry advertising code…If there is evidence of harm, we would of course be happy to review that.”––[Official Report, Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill Public Bill Committee, 12 November 2013; c. 17, Q45.]

We should welcome that responsible attitude.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

To what degree are straight-to-web TV, Netflix, Sky and recorded TV making the watershed increasingly irrelevant? While new clause 14 is interesting, it is perhaps flawed in that it misses the marketplace. More and more frequently, people do not watch timed TV.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

That is a very good point, but it is an argument that says we should examine the matter and not one that says that there is nothing we can do. I am not suggesting that there is something that we must do, but we are the regulators and we are elected to Parliament to be responsive to the concerns and issues of those whom we represent. I confess that I get concerned about the aggressive nature of some of the in-play betting advertisements when I watch football on TV. Should children as young as primary-school age be exposed to such adverts when they watch the FA cup final or an England game with their parents? It is a legitimate question. I am not suggesting that I have all the answers, but we should examine the issue.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

If it is a legitimate question, would it not be better placed in a broadcasting Bill or for Ofcom to investigate it, rather than simply looking at it through the prism of gambling, which is simply one form of advertising that concerns hon. Members? There are actually an awful lot of other types of advertising, such as alcohol advertising, that are even more sensitive than gambling.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman may well be right about that, but we can only deal with the legislation before us. The provisions are about advertising remote gambling, and we are discussing advertising of remote gambling at the time of sports events, so it is reasonable to make suggestions to the Minister.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 10:00 am, 19th November 2013

The hon. Gentleman has put a pertinent point to the Committee for consideration. The legislation may offer an occasion to address an issue that I know is a problem among my constituents. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s raising  the issue and I hope that the Minister can address some of the issues that concern me, concern the hon. Gentleman, and should concern us all.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and am grateful for his comments. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East, I am not suggesting that we must ban pre-watershed advertising, or that we must act now; I am merely responding to growing concern about such advertising. Perhaps, in response to today’s discussion of the issue with the Minister, the industry itself will take a look at what it is doing and, without any form of regulation, say: “Perhaps we need to look at how we are doing this and the amount of advertising for in-play gambling that goes on during sports events.”

I understand that sports such as horse racing are so closely related to gambling that they would perhaps not even be on television if it was not for gambling advertising. A ban could harm a sport that is a great tradition in this country. I understand that the issue is not simple, but, as the people responsible for legislation and regulation, we would be criticised if we overlooked it in a Bill dealing with remote gambling and advertising.

There has been a large increase in complaints about gambling advertising, largely relating to remote gambling. In his evidence, Gareth Wallace said:

“In 2011 there were 154 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about gambling adverts; in 2012 there were 873.”––[Official Report, Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Public Bill Committee, 12 November 2013; c. 45, Q19.]

That shows a significant increase in concern about the standard and type of gambling advertising, which suggests that we have a duty to investigate.

There must be concern about the impression that advertising of gambling is having on young people, most of all about such advertising before the watershed. Professor Jim Orford said that pre-watershed advertising was

“making it very difficult for parents to resist the pressure from their children to take part in online gambling.”––[Official Report, Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Public Bill Committee, 12 November 2013; c. 45, Q19.]

There has been very little research into the issue, but I have identified some from Australia. An Australian Psychological Society letter dated 4 March refers to research indicating that

“an increase in exposure to gambling advertising and opportunities is a risk factor for the development of gambling problems”.

That gives rise to a number of concerns about how gambling advertising is contributing to the background noise that young people hear on social media, where we see free gambling, which we will come to shortly. The issue is similar to concerns about the impact of tobacco advertising. There were concerns that young people were presented with a lot of advertisements for tobacco when they went into shops to buy sweets and other things. Should gambling advertising be shown when young people are likely to be viewing TV?

Some anomalies are thrown up. Young people can watch a football match on TV, but a gambling company cannot put a logo on a junior football club shirt. Gareth Wallace used that example; he held one up and pointed out that in football there is a restriction on putting a gambling advert on a youth strip, but not on putting  one on an adult strip. That is nonsense when there is pre-watershed advertising, and we should take the issue on.

We are not talking about a blanket ban or taking action without consulting first, but I am eager to hear whether the Minister thinks the current situation should be looked into. Does she feel that the present intensity of advertising, particularly at times when young people watch sport such as during an England game, is what Parliament envisaged when the Gambling Act 2005 was debated nine years ago?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South

I support what my hon. Friend is saying. In evidence to the Select Committee, the former Cabinet Minister Mr Richard Caborn admitted that the 2005 Act was not perfect. Negotiations took place towards the end of the parliamentary term. I do not say there were back-room deals, but perhaps negotiations were not based on factual evidence.

One of the consequences of the Act was advertising. I put my hand up and say that I got it wrong, as the Minister responsible. We wanted transparency in advertising. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East is right that the matter needs to be considered in a wider sense. The intention was to be a bit more transparent and—returning to the idea of consumer protection—ensure that people betting with recognised companies were safe and protected. The idea was to allow advertising around major sporting events.

What I did not realise at the time was that competitiveness in relation to people’s access to sporting events went across all the channels. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East has pointed out that people can watch different sports at different times of day now. We did not expect the severity of what happened with advertising. I am a big fan of Ray Winstone, who is a fantastic actor, but at half time at football matches he begs people to bet on who will score the next goal, or do this or that. That is not how I expected the advertising to work. We need to think about that.

I know that the Bill is a short, sharp measure and the Minister wants to get it through, and I understand why. However, it provides us with an opportunity to discuss gambling issues in detail. We need to re-examine advertising. I take the point about the inappropriateness of the watershed now, because different platforms are available, and people can watch TV at different times. However, advertising has gone further than we expected it to when we liberalised it.

The relationship between sport and gambling is being thrown into question. I asked at the evidence sitting last week about sports rights and betting rights. Who is the owner of the right? The sporting organisations should be in control of who is allowed to bet on their sport. Betting now takes place on the next goal, the next corner or the next time the ball will go out of play, and that is fine—I have no problem with it; but the sport should be in control of it. Unfortunately, younger players or those not at the top level—in the second and third divisions of football or the lower leagues of other sports—are getting involved in match fixing and cheating.

Who controls a sport’s betting rights and how the sport is advertised on TV is a real issue. I am sure that we shall have a wide-ranging debate about the scope of advertising, and how it influences people. I ask the  Minister to examine the situation. We said that we would review things after a time, and unfortunately that never happened. We need to look at the impact of advertising in the gambling industry.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Member for Eltham for highlighting with new clause 14 the current regulation of gambling advertising. The regulatory arrangements already put in place a number of controls that are set out under the codes administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice and the Committee of Advertising Practice. The codes seek to ensure that adverts do not glamorise gambling, exploit vulnerable people, appeal to children or suggest gambling as a solution to financial difficulties.

Gambling operators wishing to advertise in the UK need to comply with the relevant advertising codes of practice. The conditions set out in the codes already apply to remote gambling operators licensed in other jurisdictions and will continue to apply under the new regulatory regime. Adverts that breach the advertising codes have to be amended or withdrawn. If serious or repeated breaches occur, those breaching the codes can be reported by the Advertising Standards Authority to the Gambling Commission and to Ofcom.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I do not want to stop the flow of what she is saying, but there is concern within the industry on where the industry is with advertising. As we know, the gambling industry is very competitive. Voices within the industry are saying that things have gone a little too far, so perhaps—not necessarily today, but at some future time—the Minister can return to this issue and speak to the industry about its concerns.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as he always does on many of these issues. If he bears with me, he will hear from me what is happening. A number of individuals and organisations are aware of some of the dangers and concerns, and I will explain what we are doing about them.

The gambling industry has developed its own code: the gambling industry code for socially responsible advertising. That code provides for a 9 pm watershed on all broadcast gambling advertising, with the exception of bingo and lotteries, and sports betting based around televised sporting events. There are high compliance rates with each of the advertising codes.

While the Government are satisfied that strong codes are in place, I acknowledge the growth in gambling advertising that has occurred following the introduction of greater freedoms to it in 2007. I note what the former Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford South, said about that. Nevertheless, I am keen to understand what impact that greater freedom might be having on the licensing objectives of the Gambling Act 2005.

To that end, the Government are already exploring a range of issues on gambling advertising with Ofcom, the Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority. While those regulators have received anecdotal evidence of public concern about the frequency and volume of gambling advertising, and the potential exposure  of children, there is no firm evidence that gambling advertisements are jeopardising the licensing objectives.

To better understand the prevalence of gambling advertising on broadcast media and how much children are exposed to it, the Government requested data from Ofcom earlier this year on trends in volume, scheduling, frequency and exposure since gambling advertising arrangements were relaxed a few years ago. Those data, which were provided to me last month and published this morning, show that the total amount of gambling advertising has roughly trebled since restrictions were relaxed in 2008 from approximately 500,000 spots per year to just less than 1.4 million in 2012. However, the scheduling restrictions imposed by the 9 pm watershed have limited children’s exposure to gambling advertising. In 2012, advertising for betting services accounted for a relatively small proportion of gambling advertising—just 7%—and less than 1% of all advertising shown on television.

Additionally, more than 84% of all betting adverts are shown after 9 pm, with nearly 60% shown after 11 pm. Although the data indicate that the current scheduling restrictions are working to limit children’s exposure, I continue to pursue robust evidence that any increase in gambling advertising might be affecting the licensing objectives.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:15 am, 19th November 2013

Those figures are interesting, but there is no question that anyone is breaching the code. The question is whether the code is sufficient in this modern, advanced industry to protect the most vulnerable, particularly children. Also, the statistics that the Minister read out do not deal with when pre-watershed adverts run. The point being made, particularly about sporting events, is that many such adverts are on air at times when children will be watching. It is about the concentration of pre-watershed advertisements around events that attract the attention of young people.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I respectfully suggest that he grab a copy of the Ofcom data, maybe in the gap between sittings today—

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, and the hon. Gentleman can put further issues to me later.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Labour, Bradford South

On a related point, does the Minister know whether the national lottery is included in the statistics? If she does not have the answer immediately, she might want to write to the Committee, because the relationship between the national lottery and gambling is interesting.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am certainly happy to write to the hon. Gentleman; I cannot give him the answer at the moment.

In addition to the data and the reassurances that we have received about the effectiveness of the watershed and the scheduling restrictions, we are concerned to ensure that compliance rates remain high. The Advertising  Standards Authority is therefore producing new guidance to operators on gambling in general, with a specific focus on free bets. That guidance will be launched shortly.

We are doing everything that we can to keep up the pressure. There is no complacency here whatever, although I accept that there has been a considerable increase in advertising since 2008, when the restrictions were relaxed. I reassure the Committee that the Government are already taking action to understand the facts around gambling advertising and establish where it might be having an impact on licensing objectives. Although I do not rule out consulting on proposals to improve the regulatory arrangements in future, I believe that a statutory obligation to consult on the specific issue of the 9 o’clock watershed is unnecessary at this time.

Finally, Committee members will also know that advertising provides an important revenue stream for sport, which is why it is important that we establish the facts before considering what action may be necessary. I therefore do not believe it appropriate to accept the new clause, and I hope that in the light of the information that I have provided, the hon. Gentleman will agree not to press it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.