Clause 104 - Amounts of gross gaming yield charged to gaming duty

Part of Finance (No.2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 27th April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 10:00 am, 27th April 2021

The disadvantage of not speaking on every clause just for the sake of it is that sometimes people forget that someone is there.

I hear what the Minister says about new clause 4, but there is still a need for more reporting to Parliament. I appreciate that it is yet another one of those cases where the main responsibility lies with a different Government Department but the impact on the Treasury is substantial, which is why it is part of this Bill.

The Minister said that the increase is in line with inflation. Although that is technically correct, the headline rate of inflation is 3.1% and all of what are effectively income tax bands for the gambling sector are going up by 3.1%. Any increase in gross gaming yield is not caused by a price increase, as would apply anywhere else. If the gaming yield increases by 10%, that is because people are spending 10% more on gambling. The price of a bet on the grand national does not increase. What is happening is that either people are choosing to bet more than they were before, or more people are getting into heavier gambling than they were before.

Debt inflation is relevant to the income of low-paid workers, yet earlier when discussing clause 5, I think, there was a decision for them to get virtually no increase in their income tax bands for the next five years—0.5%, which is then frozen for four years. I would be interested to learn from the Minister’s response why the gambling industry needs to get its tax bands uprated for inflation every year, but hard-pressed workers who are only just making enough to get by are effectively seeing their tax bands increase by about a 10th of a percent compounded year on year.

Last year, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee reported on gambling regulation. Again, while the regulation is a matter for a different Department, we cannot ignore it here. Before the pandemic started, gambling was taking over the lives of 395,000 people in the UK. Of them, 55,000 are children under the age of 16. Another 1.8 million people were at risk of becoming problem gamblers, and it is likely that quite a few of those 1.8 million are now problem gamblers. No matter how locked down someone is, one thing they can do is gamble online, often with money they do not have, for 24 hours a day.

We do not know how much problem gambling costs public services. The lowest estimate is over a quarter of a billion pounds, and the highest puts it at well over £1 billion. The financial year on which those two reports are based, 2018-19, showed that the total gross gambling yield, so the money they take in minus the winnings they pay out—effectively the gambling industry’s gross profit—is £11.3 billion. There are indications that in the following year it was up to £14 billion. Gaming duties bring in about £3 billion to the Treasury, which is why we are discussing it today. The Gambling Commission, which is supposed to regulate all of that, has a separate levy by way of the application of licence fees paid by the industry and set by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. That brings in the princely sum of £19 million—million with an “m”—to try and regulate an industry with gross profits of £11 billion, with a “b”. It is clear that it is not an equal contest.

As with so many of the clauses we are discussing, the impacts on thousands of our constituents and, in the case of problem gambling, the horrific and often tragic impacts on them, may not be in the scope of the Bill, but it would simply be unacceptable for us to ignore those impacts when we consider the relatively small part that the Treasury plays in the Government’s relationship with the gambling industry. It is not acceptable to look at clause 104 as just a revenue raising exercise for the Treasury, although sometimes it seems that that is all the interest the Treasury takes in it.

I commend the work of my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm for their work in developing recommendations for the improved regulation of the industry. When the time comes for the Government, led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to implement those recommendations or something very similar, which they will have to do, the moral imperative is now on the Government to act. It will simply not be morally acceptable for the Treasury’s interest in that £3 billion to get in the way of addressing what is now one of the greatest social diseases affecting these nations.

Why is it that children cannot watch major sporting events without having gambling advertising forced at them all the time, for example? Why are they allowed to advertise gambling during peak-time TV when children are watching? The reason that is relevant to the Bill is that advertising is designed to encourage people to gamble more, and by gambling more they are helping to fill the Treasury’s coffers. I can understand the reluctance to let go of any part of that £3 billion, and I know that there are hard decisions to be made about how to replace it, but 395,000 lives being scarred and sometimes ended by problem gambling is an issue we cannot afford to ignore.