Problem Gambling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:15 pm on 17th May 2011.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) 1:15 pm, 17th May 2011

I completely accept what I think is the right hon. Gentleman’s underlying point: that one figure—it was just into the area of statistical significance, although it was right at the borderline—in the recent gambling prevalence survey shows that there has been an increase in the number of problem gamblers. That figure has partly been driven by the fact that more people are gambling, many of whom create no problem at all. However, the fact that the total number of gamblers has increased and that a proportion of those are problem gamblers means that there has been a statistically significant increase. He is absolutely right to point that out. I hope that I struck the right balance in my earlier remarks about the need to put that into context. We are not doing too badly internationally and, relatively speaking, other countries have higher proportions of people who are problem gamblers, but I am sure he agrees that that is absolutely no cause for either complacency or relaxation. We need to ensure that we remain alive to the matter, so I am glad that he made that intervention.

To return to the earlier comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, I am delighted that he accepts the principle that it is right for companies involved in this kind of industry to contribute and to remain responsible. To be fair, almost without exception, the vast majority of people I have met in the gambling and gaming industries are keen to ensure that they recognise and live up to that duty. They are delighted to let it be known that they want to do that. There is an acceptance in the industry, and I think in society as a whole, that that is appropriate for companies involved in the industry. There may be an argument about the level of collaboration and involvement, which is entirely appropriate, but there is a broad cross-party consensus.

I accept my hon. Friend’s point, however, that it is not only up to the industry. Clearly, Government and public health have a role. Organisations are starting to move into and participate in this area—the NHS has been participating for some time. It is interesting to note that—if I can call it this—the medicalisation of problem gambling is far less advanced than the medicalisation of other kinds of addiction. The treatment provided in the NHS for other kinds of addiction—for example, substance abuse—has been longer established than that provided for gambling addiction. There are moves in the NHS to do more, but he is right to say that there has to be a partnership between the industry and publicly-funded bodies to address the issue.

My hon. Friend has discussed the current arrangements. He is right to say that they have been in place for not quite two years. They stem from a report in 2008 and were implemented in 2009. I must confess that when I began my current role as Minister with responsibility for this issue, just under a year into the new arrangements, I looked at the history. It is true to say that there was a series of different attempts before the current arrangements were set up. I think that this is either the second or the third set of institutional architecture that has been imposed in this area. While there were people who made the precisely the same points as my hon. Friend on the concerns about the bureaucracy and cost in the current structure, a third or fourth reorganisation would have been something that both the industry, and to be fair problem gamblers, probably needed like a hole in the head at that point. He is, however, right to make the fundamental point. It is always correct for everybody to want to get the maximum possible value for money from any funds put towards treating an addiction problem, such as problem gambling. It is therefore sensible for us to look periodically at whether we are getting the best possible value for money.

The small caveat that I add to my hon. Friend’s remarks is that, yes, the Government need to be comfortable with this, but we also need to bear in mind that the organisations that he talked about are overwhelmingly—exclusively, in this case—funded by the industry itself. This is industry money, not public money. We are not talking about a public bureaucracy, or an executive agency of either my Department, the Department of Health or any other branch of Government. Those organisations are, rightly in my view, funded and organised by the industry, and they include people who are involved in treating and dealing with gambling addiction. They share a very heavy proportion of the burden of trying to ensure that the maximum possible value for money is achieved.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that the new arrangements have been in place for nearly two years, so there is beginning to be enough of a track record to evaluate whether they are effective. In the course of the coming 12 months, that track record will be well bedded-in, and it will be sensible to start evaluating whether the value for money that everyone wants to see is being achieved. He is enunciating a very sensible principle. The plea that I would make, and the principle that I want us to establish, is that while Government clearly have an interest, we would expect the charities concerned and the industry to take a leading role as well.