Dormant Betting Accounts

– in Westminster Hall at 4:40 pm on 5th July 2016.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 4:40 pm, 5th July 2016

In the third part of our Scottish National party afternoon, we now move on to the important subject of dormant betting accounts. I call Ronnie Cowan to move the motion.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered dormant betting accounts.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this Westminster Hall debate. Members here today will know that problem gambling continues to blight too many communities across the United Kingdom. Like alcohol or drug addiction, gambling has the terrible power of being able to destroy a person’s life and inflict financial and emotional misery on victims and their families.

In recent years, there has been greater recognition of gambling-related harm and the damage that it can cause. Despite the greater awareness and increased funding for support services, it has been suggested that there are still around 450,000 problem gamblers in the UK. The sheer scale of the problem makes it clear that the UK Government have a responsibility to do more. I have devoted much of my time as a parliamentarian to pursuing this issue. I believe that the money contained in dormant betting accounts could, and should, be used as an additional source of revenue for organisations to assist people with gambling-related harm.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate and I share his concern about the devastating impact of gambling addiction, but does he recognise that the gambling industry has started to take some measures in that respect, such as the “When the Fun Stops, Stop” campaign, which is very high profile? Betting is a private transaction between an individual and a bookmaker and we must be very careful about setting a precedent for the state confiscating private property, even in such a worthy cause.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

I have no issue with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I agree that “When the Fun Stops, Stop” is a very strong campaign led by the gambling organisations, and they should take credit for that. I am not here to lambast gambling as a concept; what we are looking at is problem gambling and facilitating a trigger that I believe we can use to help people who find themselves in that unfortunate situation.

Photo of Paul Monaghan Paul Monaghan Scottish National Party, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

Does my hon. Friend agree that gambling and debt are often symptomatic of economic and social decline and that the creative use of dormant bank accounts could benefit and bring some relief to such communities ?

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and colleague, and hopefully I shall shine some light on that later in my speech.

Why do dormant betting accounts exist? When I was a boy in the ’60s, I used to enjoy watching the racing on the television with my Uncle Charlie. We would spread out the pages of the newspapers in front of us and gamble. We would watch the racing, pick our horses and calculate how much to bet. Spread betting taught me more about checks and balances than my economics teacher ever did. Because Charlie was a regular gambler, he had an account with the local bookies. From the comfort of his living room he phoned the bookie and placed his bets. Charlie would drop into the bookies during the week and pay his debts or pick up his winnings. The bookie knew Charlie, and the books were balanced weekly.

As technology has advanced, so has our ability to access gambling, which we can do from our phones or tablets at any time of the day. We also now live in a more disposable world. People once worked their entire lives at the same company, lived in the same street all their married lives, banked with the same bank and went to the same place on holiday every year. Now it is easier to change, and we are encouraged to change and move and to take up new offers.

Betting companies tirelessly promote free bets and other generous offers to encourage new customers to sign up. It is not unusual for people to have half a dozen or more accounts with different companies to take advantage of those offers. People can only remember so many user names, passwords and accounts, and eventually, they lose interest or forget about an account that may only have a few pounds in it. Over the passage of time, the accounts become dormant, but do we know how many accounts there are and do we know how much money they contain? The answer to both of those questions is no.

In preparation for the 2010 Department for Culture, Media and Sport report, companies were approached to give a financial breakdown of the amount of money involved in dormant or similar accounts. A majority refused, either on the grounds of commercial confidence or because they claimed to be unable to produce the figures. Betfair provided data about the size and scale of dormant betting accounts, but on a confidential basis. Under the current arrangements, dormant betting accounts are simply reverted to the company profit line after a specified amount of time.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he defines as dormant betting accounts? For exactly how long does he think there has to be no activity on the account for it to qualify as dormant?

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

I shall certainly go on to do that because it is an area of some concern. There is no definition of that as yet and I think there should be.

Companies have different definitions of “dormant”. For instance, Gala Coral define it as 400 days of no activity whereas Ladbrokes define it as 12 months. The report commissioned in 2010 for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport proposed that when a betting account became dormant, 25% should be added to the company profit and 75% should be transferred to good causes. The report also concluded that if a voluntary scheme could not be established with betting companies, legislation should be enacted requiring them to contribute 75% of the unclaimed amount. Dormancy in this instance was defined as 18 months of no activity and the money was only taken once all efforts had been made to contact a customer regarding their account.

In April this year, I wrote to Ladbrokes, Gala Coral, Paddy Power, William Hill and Betfred regarding their policy towards dormant betting accounts and problem gambling. Unfortunately, Betfred and Paddy Power did not respond to my letter. William Hill, Gala Coral and Ladbrokes gave me the courtesy of a response, but all strongly rebuked my statement that the issue of gambling is one that blights a number of communities and households.

The response from Ladbrokes was perhaps the most insightful for people wishing to learn how gambling companies view their own services. It said that

“rather than a blight on local communities and individuals as you suggested in your letter, I strongly believe that our shops are a real part of their local areas. Many of our colleagues know their customers by name and face and our shops often provide a social outlet for customers to meet other people, over a cup of tea or coffee, whilst having a flutter on their sport of choice.”

Betting companies may paint a rosy picture of gambling as a harmless pastime, but that is a misconception. The reality is that the proliferation of betting shops on our high streets is seen by my constituents as an unwanted symptom of economic and social decline.

Online betting accounts are also part of the problem, making it easier than ever for problem gamblers to become bankrupt, fall behind on their mortgage payments or experience divorce or family troubles because of addiction. Is that the experience of most gamblers? No, it is not. Do the majority of punters bet responsibly? Of course they do. The experience of the problem gambler—that is who we are seeking to help—and the wide-reaching ramifications of their actions far outweigh the experiences of the majority of punters who visit the bookies for a cup of tea and a £2 bet. For example, I am aware of one problem gambler who stole almost £850,000 to fund his addiction. The Gambling Commission concluded that Gala Coral had failed in its duty to prevent money laundering and problem gambling and added that the company’s safeguards against both were inadequate. Gala Coral agreed to pay back £850,000 to the victims of the crime and to pay £30,000 to the commission for the cost of the investigation.

Some will say that enough has already been done to tackle problem gambling and that adding money from dormant betting accounts is not necessary. They will highlight the financial contribution that betting companies already make to organisations that assist with gambling addictions. Figures released by the Gambling Commission show us why we should be sceptical of those who say that enough is already being done. Last year, British gamblers lost £12.6 billion and losses have risen every year since April 2011. Online betting accounted for a third of the total losses. In 2014-15, the charity GamCare reported an 18% increase in calls from problem gamblers and a 39% rise in clients receiving treatment.

We can conclude without hesitation that betting companies have no interest in voluntarily signing up to a dormant betting account scheme such as that envisaged in the 2010 Government report. Their view has been unambiguously stated through their unwillingness to outline how much money is in dormant accounts and their hesitation in engaging with me on the subject.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister takes away three points from my contribution. First, the UK still has significant and worrying levels of problem gambling. Secondly, betting companies have no interest in voluntarily signing up to a scheme as proposed in Don Foster’s 2010 report. Thirdly, only the UK Government have the power to ensure that good causes benefit from the potential funding locked in dormant betting accounts. The UK Government have a duty of care and the time for paying lip service is over. It is time for the UK Government to act on the recommendations laid out in the 2010 report, and in turn help the many individuals and families who have been affected by gambling-related harm.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Because of the injury time carried over from the previous debate, this debate can, in theory, go on until 5.53 pm. The recommended limits for the Front-Bench spokespeople are five minutes for the Scottish National party, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, but obviously we have a lot of time to play with.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran 4:51 pm, 5th July 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan on securing this important debate, and I declare an interest as somebody who spent seven years of her life working in high street betting shops.

The potential negative effects that gambling behaviour can have on those who develop an addiction is an issue that does, and should, cause great concern.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

I understand the concerns about problem gambling, and I think we all share those concerns. However, for a moment, we ought to consider the fact that the gaming industry creates thousands of jobs, and 70% of the population take part in some form of gambling during the year without any poor side effects. Gambling is not always a negative story.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran

I take on board the point that the hon. Gentleman makes so well. He encourages me to jump forward to something that I was going to say later, which is that, although most people gamble responsibly, we have to recognise that in some cases gambling causes huge problems and distress not just to families but to communities. The proposal to use dormant betting accounts to help deal with the damage that gambling often causes for too many people has something of a beautiful synchronicity to it. I take nothing away from the fact that gambling, for most people, is an enjoyable pastime. One thing does not necessarily preclude the other. We can recognise the benefits and the negative consequences of gambling.

The problems caused by gambling should make us pause for thought from a public health and policy perspective. Indeed, the prevalence and ease of access to gambling should give us all cause for concern, even those of us who do not have a particular problem with gambling. Gambling behaviour is increasingly a subject of public health and policy interest, and there is widespread recognition that some people who engage in gambling activity can experience harm. I think we can all agree that the deregulation of gambling in 2005, allowing online gaming companies to advertise on UK media, gave rise to potentially worse problem gambling while, at the same time, offering greater leisure opportunities for those who enjoy gambling in a healthy spirit.

The online gambling industry is worth nearly £2 billion a year in the UK, which shows that it makes a significant contribution to our economy, but we must not let that blind us to the difficulties that it throws up and that we have to deal with. There is plainly a need for more education and support, and the matter of dormant betting accounts has already been visited in this place.

There are a number of reasons why dormant betting accounts arise. It might be that the account holder has died or has decided no longer to engage in gambling at all. Given the current competitiveness in the market, customers may regularly transfer their credit between betting accounts held with different companies, meaning that old accounts can easily be forgotten.

In the event that a betting account falls into a dormant state, betting companies will try to contact the customer to make them aware of it. However, companies will often use the dormant account as a way to coax customers back with promises of free bets. In the event that the customer does not reactivate their account, the money left in the dormant account reverts to the company’s profit line after a period of time through an accountancy procedure. For the information of the hon. Member for Chester on the definition of a dormant account—

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

I think the hon. Lady meant me when she said the hon. Member for Chester.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

No, that is very perceptive as I was actually born in Chester.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran

That must have been what I was thinking of. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for changing his constituency without consulting him.

For the information of Julian Knight, the definition of a dormant account may vary depending on who is asked. If we were to move the matter forward, that is an argument we could have. Would an account be dormant after, for example, 12 months or 18 months? There is a debate to be had about that. Today, that is beside the point because we are talking about the principle of dormant accounts, not ones that have simply been unattended for a few months.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

Has the hon. Lady gathered any evidence as to exactly what steps the betting companies take to locate the person who holds the dormant account? It is often the case that people deposit from their credit or debit card, and can withdraw money at will. Betting companies hold people’s debit and credit card numbers. In the hon. Lady’s estimation, would it help if funds were just returned automatically after a certain amount of time, if that card is still live? Might that obviate some problems we are discussing?

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran

It might obviate some of the problems but, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, debit and credit cards also fall into disuse. I own credit cards that I have not used for months or years and that I probably could not use now. Cards get changed and personal identification numbers get updated, so I am not sure that that would be a permanent way forward. The problem is that, when betting companies make contact with people who have dormant accounts, it is very often a lever to encourage them to gamble more. I am not sure that that is helpful.

The way forward is to use the funds from accounts that have fallen dormant to do some good for those who have difficulties with gambling. To be quite honest, I cannot see what is controversial about that. Hon. Members might throw up all sorts of issues such as privacy and the intrusion of the state but, in the long term, we are talking about doing something for the greater good.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

The key point is whether the amount of money required to administer such a measure would swallow up virtually all the money that is brought back from the dormancy arrangement. There are no definable figures, so a good starting point would be to pressurise betting companies to find out exactly how much money is in dormant accounts. We would then know exactly what good that money could do.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Scottish National Party, North Ayrshire and Arran

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point; he talked earlier about the voluntary participation of the betting industry. To establish the exact sums involved—which I believe are significant, although I could be wrong—we really need the betting industry on board. Companies are quite reluctant to go down this road, for reasons that I am sure they could explain well enough themselves. The proposal has some merit, but how much money are we talking about? Let us have that conversation. Why would anybody be afraid or reluctant to have that conversation? I leave that thought hanging in the air for the hon. Gentleman to mull over at his leisure.

I have no doubt that the sums held in dormant accounts may be surprisingly large. Why do I say that? For the National Lottery, which allows 180 days for people to claim their prize money, unclaimed winnings, although not the same as dormant accounts, amounted to 1.5% of sales in 2008-09. That is not a high proportion, but it amounted to £78.2 million, a sum that any charity or group of charities would be delighted to have. We are talking about significant sums of money that could do much to mitigate the harm, damage and distress that gambling addictions all too often cause. We are not talking about a hill of beans; we are talking about quite a windfall—pardon the pun—for gambling charities. In 2009-10, unclaimed pool betting dividends on UK horse races totalled £944,000. Again, such dividends are not the same as dormant accounts, but the figure indicates the kinds of forgotten sums that could be put to better use rather than sitting in some account or being used on somebody’s profit line.

Of course, as with any proposed change, we will have naysayers, not least in the gambling industry, telling us that it cannot be done. They will say, “This is the intrusion of the state. Where is people’s privacy? Where are people’s rights? We cannot ensure that the money will minimise gambling-related harm.” Why not? What is the obstacle here? I know the gambling industry is an obstacle, but surely policy cannot be made due to pressure from companies with a vested interest in the status quo. Whenever someone makes a proposal on any aspect of public life, there are always a hundred reasons to say no, but in this place surely we can look to the greater good and find enough reasons to say yes.

We are not starting from scratch. A way forward can be found by implementing the findings of previous reports, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde, in the form of a voluntary scheme for high street betting shops, while requiring online and remote gambling operators to have their accounts annually audited to identify accounts that have been unused for, say, 18 months—the amount of time is up for debate. As a starting point, the operators could then provide 75% of the money in those accounts for good causes. What could possibly be wrong with that? Using money left in dormant accounts to help fund organisations working to minimise gambling-related harm would have a beautiful synchronicity that I find quite compelling, and I can honestly see no downside. All that is required is political will.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Ronnie Cowan gets two minutes at the end to try to sum up the debate, which I am sure he is looking forward to. I am looking forward to the next speech from the hon. Member for Luton North. What a great day it is to see such a stalwart of the Back Benches propelled on to the Front Bench of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 5:03 pm, 5th July 2016

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will try to live up to your flattery—it may have been a compliment, but I feel flattered.

I congratulate Ronnie Cowan on securing this debate. I want to call him my hon. Friend, because he is a friend. Although he is not a party political friend, we are both members of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs and we have spent many happy hours discussing matters on that Committee. Patricia Gibson made another excellent speech. I agree with both speeches in their entirety, but I will share a few thoughts of my own.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde is seeking effective Government action to address dormant betting accounts, which is a matter of great seriousness. He has, not for the first time, raised the issue of problem gambling—compulsive or addictive gambling—about which I, too, have been concerned for many years. I sympathise with his view. I am, of course, old enough to remember the first betting shops opening in the 1960s; later in that decade the first UK inland casino, Caesars Palace, opened in my Luton North constituency. There has since been progressive relaxation of regulations governing gambling establishments, the use of fruit machines in places of entertainment, and so on.

The last Labour Government were pressed by the gambling industry to allow the opening of many mega casinos across the country, which I and many others in my party opposed, and the proposal was largely seen off by the House of Lords. But that Government made the installation of fixed odds betting terminals possible. I think I was the first person to use the term “crack cocaine of gambling” in the Chamber to describe FOBTs, although I did not coin the phrase.

I occasionally gambled moderately in my youth. I bet a shilling each way on a horse or two, which shows how old I am. One of my dearest friends, sadly now deceased, wisely observed that gambling is a pleasure for which he usually had to pay. We would do rather better if we all had that attitude. However, that sensible attitude is not given to all gamblers. The opportunities and temptations to gamble dangerously have increased over the decades, and gambling addiction is now an enormous social problem. We need Government action and legislation to reduce harmful gambling, and I do not accept the spurious notion that freedom means that the state should not involve itself in such matters. The state has a duty to help protect us from danger, as with alcohol and other things.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten us as to what other prohibitions he would like to see introduced?

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I will address some of them later, but I will not be specific. I have only been in my job for a few days, and I have yet to be fully briefed on where my party stands on this matter, so I have to be careful—I suspect that I would go further than my party might like—but I hope to persuade my party to pursue proper action. I will not specify that action today but, so long as I am in this job, I will seek to persuade my party.

The notion of freedom is overplayed. We were the last country to make wearing a seatbelt compulsory in cars and, of course, a lot of people died because they did not wear their seatbelt. We all started wearing seatbelts after it became compulsory, and hundreds of lives have since been saved every year. That is just one of many examples where the state intervenes to protect us from ourselves and to make us more sensible than we would otherwise be. Most of us are sensible, but some people are not and require a little encouragement from the law.

Fixed odds betting terminals are, of course, responsible for much of the most problematic gambling in our communities. As gambling has been progressively relaxed, we have seen the problems increase. FOBTs continue to cause immense damage to people’s lives, destroying families and driving some of our poorest people into penury and massive debt.

Today, we are discussing what should be done with the considerable sums left in dormant betting accounts and suggesting practical ways of using those sums for beneficial social purposes. One suggestion is to find appropriate ways of using the moneys to help support problem gamblers, and detoxing is one way in which they could be helped. There should be a suitable public agency—here we go, perhaps my left-wing views are coming out now—or public fund to which these moneys could be transferred with appropriate safeguards. If all dormant betting accounts were required by law to be declared and specified in the accounts of gambling companies each year, we would know how much those accounts were worth. We could then decide what to do with them. The sums might be very small, and it might not be worth doing anything with them because the administration would be too expensive, but like the hon. Members for Inverclyde and for North Ayrshire and Arran, I suspect that the sums will be considerable—they will be in the many millions and possibly even billions.

The 2010 Department for Culture, Media and Sport report by the former right hon. Member for Bath, Don Foster, who has now been elevated to the other place, suggested that new bodies should not be created. Although I applaud his good work, I beg to differ. A publicly accountable body that operates transparently could provide a useful and secure home for such dormant account funds. Former ownership could be registered with all necessary and available details so that if the moneys were ever claimed, they could be returned to the rightful owners, but many owners will have forgotten or lost the money, or died or whatever. Considerable sums could be collected and used for beneficial public purposes. Support for sporting activities, especially for the young, would be another obvious use. No one would lose, and claims by rightful former account owners would be honoured.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

The hon. Gentleman says that no one would lose, but surely if money is taken away from companies, the employees and the shareholders lose?

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Well, yes, profits might be dented a bit, but I doubt that employees would lose, especially if they were properly represented by trade unions, as many of them are. I am frequently lobbied by members of my own union about their jobs in local casinos. It is possible that profits might be affected by the interest earned on such accounts, but the money could be used for good social ends rather than being wasted through lost opportunity costs.

Legislation would be required, of course, to facilitate such a system and require bookmakers and others to release the funds, but I see no downside for the public in what I suggest. I hope that these thoughts take hold at least within my own party, and hopefully with the Minister too, who I know is socially concerned. I hope that she, like me and the Scottish National party Members, is concerned about the damage caused to many ordinary people by dangerous gambling. I do not wish to say any more. Perhaps in another debate I might branch out rather further into my interventionist approach to policies to make people’s lives better and safer.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

We look forward to that. Meanwhile, in this debate, we can in theory go on until 5.53 pm, but we do not have to.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 5:11 pm, 5th July 2016

On day two after returning from maternity leave, I already have the honour and pleasure of serving under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I place on record my thanks to my colleague and right hon. Friend Mr Evennett for covering my portfolio for the past five months. I also take this opportunity to congratulate Kelvin Hopkins on his appointment. We have worked together on many issues, not least due to our shared interest in alcohol addiction. This is an opportunity for him to use his freedom to make policy while nobody is looking. Go for it!

I congratulate Ronnie Cowan on securing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss dormant betting accounts and the incredibly important issue of research, education and treatment for gambling-related harm. I thank the other hon. Members who have participated in this debate for their informed and helpful contributions.

Gambling is a legitimate leisure activity enjoyed by many people, but I am absolutely clear that we must do all that we can to protect vulnerable people from gambling-related harm. Hon. Members may well be aware that I am extremely passionate about this issue and have championed it for many years. I will touch on that in more detail in a bit, but first I will concentrate on dormant accounts and unclaimed winnings, which is worthy of consideration in some detail.

“Dormant accounts” tends to refer to online or telephone accounts in which a customer has deposited funds and which have then seen no activity for a set period. That time period, as others have said, varies between operators and can be anything from a few months to more than two years. If the account remains dormant beyond that period, many operators will absorb the funds into their profit line.

The previous Government commissioned an independent report to investigate whether unclaimed winnings or money in dormant accounts could be put to good use. The report was undertaken by Lord Foster of Bath, and acknowledged a number of practical, technical and legal issues that would need to be considered in order to take forward any proposals in the area. One of the report’s key findings was the lack of information about how much cash was lying dormant in such accounts. Further work would need to be explored, either in voluntary discussions with the operators or by introducing a new licence condition via the Gambling Commission, although I heard what the hon. Member for Inverclyde said about his own approach to getting some of that information from the operators.

In my view, any additional money for the treatment of gambling harm must be a good thing. Therefore, I see the potential benefits of directing funds that have been left dormant for a set period of time towards education on gambling-related harm, research into it, treatment and prevention. Members may be aware of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act 2008, which allows the Government to direct money left untouched in bank and building society accounts for more than 15 years to good causes.

In March this year, a new independent commission on dormant assets was established to support Government, to identify additional pools of unclaimed assets and to work with industry to encourage the voluntary contribution of those assets to good causes. The commission will report and make recommendations to Government on the feasibility of expanding the dormant assets scheme before the end of the year, and it is considering unclaimed gambling winnings as part of its asset scoping work. Relevant sector organisations, including the Gambling Commission, have provided submissions to the call for evidence. Officials from my Department are in contact with colleagues at the Cabinet Office, and I will stress to them the need to work closely together, to see what progress can be made as part of the forthcoming recommendations on the feasibility of expanding the dormant assets scheme.

I have taken a close interest in gambling addiction for some time. By all accounts, it is the silent addiction—the one that gets the least interest and funding, especially compared with drugs and alcohol. Sadly, there is often a link between gambling addiction and other addictions that might not always be identified. Therefore, as the secondary harm, gambling addiction might well go unnoticed until it is too late. Research indicates that the vast majority of those who gamble do so without problems and overall rates of problem gambling remain low, at less than 1% of the total adult population, yet I am sure that we are all acutely aware of the devastation that gambling addiction can cause. The NHS website estimates that there are nearly 600,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain. I was struck by GamCare’s estimate that for each problem gambler, there may be 10 to 15 other people whose lives are adversely affected by their activities.

The health implications of problem gambling are such that there is a clear overlap with public health policy and practice, especially on mental health issues and substance misuse. I have spoken with my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health, and officials from that Department and mine have met to discuss the issue. My officials continue to take this work forward.

Returning to funding for gambling-related harm, it would be remiss of me not to highlight that the gambling industry contributed more than £7 million to the Responsible Gambling Trust to fund research, education and treatment for gambling-related harm last year. Under their current licence requirements, all gambling operators must make an annual financial contribution to one or more organisations that perform research, education and treatment. The vast majority choose to contribute to the RGT, the leading charity in the UK committed to minimising gambling-related harm, which aims to prevent people from getting into problems with gambling and ensure that those who do develop problems receive fast and effective treatment and support.

The RGT’s funding priorities are guided by the national strategy advised by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board and endorsed by the Gambling Commission. I was heartened to see in the national responsible gambling strategy that the gambling industry is now committing significant resources to harm minimisation, over and above its voluntary contributions to the RGT.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The Minister mentioned the staggering figure of 600,000 problem gamblers. That requires more than rehab and treatment; it requires measures to prevent people from getting into that situation in the first place.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I agree completely. I know people who have lost everything in their lives to gambling. We must ensure that we work across Government not just to tackle harm but to prevent people from getting into such situations in the first place. The one thing that I know about gambling is that it is pretty indiscriminate in terms of who becomes addicted, much like addictions to alcohol or drugs. When we talk about vulnerable people, and especially when we talk about gambling in general, we often think about deprived communities—I see it in my own community in Chatham—but the truth is that people from any walk of life can become addicted to gambling and lose absolutely everything as a consequence. That is why we have to do much more on prevention and treatment of gambling.

To return to what we are doing in research, education and treatment, it is clear from the strategy that gambling-related harm is a complex area—I know that at first hand from speaking to people in my constituency, from knowing individuals and from reading the letters I have received as Minister responsible for gambling policy. I therefore welcome the work undertaken by the RGSB in the national responsible gambling strategy published in April. For the first time, the strategy was put out for public consultation and subsequently agreed by all those who have implementation responsibilities. It will help the industry, the Gambling Commission and the Government to focus our responses, and indeed our resources. The areas that the strategy will support include setting research priorities and determining best practice in preventive measures, effective treatment and targeted interventions aimed at reducing gambling-related harm. The RGSB is now working with the RGT to estimate the costs of the activities identified in the strategy, and the Government will work very closely with the Gambling Commission and the RGSB on its implications.

Patricia Gibson made the point that this is a debate about principle, and she is right. Let me be clear: I am sympathetic to the principle. There are practical issues that need to be discussed, but my view is that every extra pound put into preventing or treating gambling harm is a good thing. I thank the hon. Member for Inverclyde again for securing this debate and other Members for their valuable and informed contributions. I take problem gambling seriously and am deeply committed to ensuring that the gambling industry makes appropriate contributions to these important areas, including funding programmes of research, prevention and treatment of gambling-related harm. It is clear that Members who have spoken so passionately on this issue today and in other debates share that aim.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 5:21 pm, 5th July 2016

I believe we are heading to a vote, so I shall be extremely brief. I welcome the Minister back from maternity leave; I hope the transition is not too difficult for her. I thank Kelvin Hopkins for his kind words—keep the faith, comrade, despite your new lofty position! I also thank my comrades the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) and those Opposition and Government Members who were here earlier.

I am not lambasting all gambling. The issue is problem gambling, and we have to address it in some way, shape or form. The funds are potentially there to be partitioned off and used responsibly. BetVictor is based in Gibraltar and many other betting companies are based abroad. They have the technology, and their first option must always be to trace the owners of the money. If they cannot do that, let us see what we can do with it in a positive fashion.

I believe I heard words of progress from the Minister. My one reservation is that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s report, which was written by the then Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, was published in 2010 and we do not seem to have moved any further since then. I hope we are now starting to move in the right direction.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered dormant betting accounts.

Sitting adjourned.