Statutory Gambling Levy — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 9:30 am, 7th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered proposals for a statutory gambling levy.

Today, we will consider the introduction of a statutory gambling levy to replace the inadequate voluntary model, and it is a pleasure to do so under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that at the back of the room we have bereaved families of people who gave their lives up to gambling addiction. I thought it only fair to highlight that at the start.

As we all know, the gambling review was launched over 18 months ago, and most of us thought that by now we would be discussing the detail of the White Paper in the Chamber, but unfortunately, that is not the case. I am hoping that good things come to those who wait. With just a couple of weeks to go until the highly anticipated publication of the long overdue Government reform of our gambling legislation, I am pleased by the shift in direction towards reform that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has signalled. Press reports over the past few weeks of the Government’s plan to introduce limits to online stakes and to pioneer an affordability system to prevent people from gambling beyond their means are welcome indeed.

Stake limits online should be comparable to those for land-based venues, and to be effective, any system of affordability must be run independently of the industry and have a single customer view. This is not the time to take half measures, and only banning front-of-shirt sponsorship without tackling the dozens of other ways in which gambling firms advertise would represent a missed opportunity. That would not address the harm that advertising can lead to, nor would it reduce children’s exposure to advertising as they watch sport on their screens.

Given that the previous gambling legislation review took place well over 15 years ago, the White Paper needs to make meaningful, robust and significant proposals. However, we are here today to discuss a specific proposal that I believe is vital to the success of the gambling review and which must be at the centre of the Government’s plan: a statutory levy on gambling operators to provide long-term funding for research, education and, most importantly, treatment of gambling-related harm.

Gambling is leading to significant harm in this country, and more than 55,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are gambling addicts. The gambling industry spends more than £1.5 billion a year on advertising, and 60% of its profits come from the 5% who are already problem gamblers or at risk of becoming so. On average, one problem gambler commits suicide every single day, and we have families here today who have experienced such loss.

Funding for research, education and treatment with respect to gambling-related harm in the UK is facilitated through a system of voluntary contributions from gambling operators, which should be 0.1% of their gross gambling yield. That goes to GambleAware, and each year, at current levels, that equates to donations totalling around £10 million. From there, funding is allocated by GambleAware to a range of third-sector organisations, academic institutions and two NHS providers. That might sound like a sensible amount of money and a seemingly sensible system, but if we consider the scale of the cost of gambling harm and how poorly the voluntary levy is operated, it soon becomes clear why this is a woefully inadequate method of providing funding for research, education and treatment.

Because of the voluntary nature of the contributions, operators can vary the size of donation that they send to GambleAware, which means there is a lack of consistency in the amount donated each year. Operators even have discretion over how much they contribute, with some operators giving as little as a few pounds. Alongside that ridiculous situation, operators are able to decide when donations are made. As a result, there is a complete lack of stability in the voluntary funding model. Recipients cannot plan budgets effectively, or ensure that long-term research projects or education programmes are properly funded, when they have no idea whether there will be enough money to continue them.

To make things worse, operators are able to determine who their contribution goes to, meaning that the voluntary system allows the gambling industry to retain a sense of control over the funding. That damages the independence of the service providers, academic institutions and other third-party recipients of funding, as well as the effectiveness of the levy in reducing wider gambling harms in the UK.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I will make some progress, because I have a long speech and a lot of people want to speak.

Earlier this year, NHS clinicians announced that they would stop taking money from the gambling industry to treat people with addiction. While I agree with the sentiment, I worry that that will only hurt treatment services in the long run. We need to find a better long-term solution to allow the NHS to access funding that comes from the industry but is not controlled by it.

The all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm and Peers for Gambling Reform have recognised and commented on the limitations and failings of the current voluntary system. That view is shared elsewhere. Back in March, Lord Foster of Bath, chair of Peers for Gambling Reform, received a reply to a letter, from Andrew Rhodes, chief executive of the Gambling Commission. In his reply, Mr Rhodes stated that

“the current voluntary system does not provide long-term certainty of funding to support planning and commissioning, it does not impact on all operators fairly, and it is perceived as allowing gambling operators too much control over the availability and destination of funds.”

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I am not giving way. Even GambleAware, the charity that receives voluntary donations, commented recently on the woefully inadequate nature of the voluntary levy. Its chief executive, Zoë Osmond, said in April that the industry has never reached its target of achieving 0.1% of GGY—gross gambling yield—from the voluntary industry levy. The vast majority of the industry continues to donate in support of research, education and treatment at extremely low levels.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. She referred to expenditure being tied to donors, but the industry puts billions into the Treasury through taxation, so should that not be properly done through the national health service? Also, will she say what she actually wants for the industry? Does she want to close down gambling, or does she acknowledge that millions of people enjoy gambling perfectly safely and that abuse is going down?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

If my right hon. Friend listened to the rest of my speech, he might hear some information about where that is not the case. As for me being anti-gambling, I am certainly not. I spent last Thursday night at Ffos Las racecourse having a thoroughly good time placing bets on horses.

Clearly, the voluntary levy is not fit for purpose. It lacks consistency, transparency and, crucially, accountability. So, what is the solution?

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

What the hon. Lady is trying to achieve is admirable, and she will find that she has a lot more support than she realises. My big concern, which I expressed in the previous debate on this subject as well, is the black market—the offline, unregulated areas. Black market gambling is growing at a huge pace, including, believe it or not, over WhatsApp, which is highly encrypted and hard to tackle. If we are to have a levy, how does she propose that we tackle this area? I fear that it will, sadly, push people into the black market.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the comments of Peers for Gambling Reform and the Gambling Commission about the industry’s expression of concern about the black market being extremely over-exaggerated.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

That is such a scary comment to make. I point the hon. Lady to the report “The State of Illegal Betting” produced by the Asian Racing Federation, which includes Australia, Japan and Hong Kong among its 17 members. It states that 61% of online gambling is unregulated, illegal and on the black market. Would she like to refute that evidence?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention, again, to the Gambling Commission’s own words that the scare around the black market has been grossly overestimated. That is from the Gambling Commission, not from me.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I was involved in the campaign to regulate the payday lending industry. Does my hon. Friend recognise that in order to protect its profits, the sector’s big argument was, “Don’t touch us, because the threat is the black market”?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I agree entirely, and I will talk about exactly that later. It is clear to see that the voluntary levy is not fit for purpose. What is the solution? Well, a solution is already in place and available: it is set out in the Gambling Act 2005. There are already provisions in legislation for the Government to place the collection of levy donations on a statutory footing should the voluntary arrangement be shown not to work, which clearly it does not. DCMS should use existing powers to require operators to pay an annual levy to the Gambling Commission. A joint advisory levy board should then be given oversight of the levy paid. That would be a formal cross-Government working group led by the Department of Health and Social Care. The levy board should oversee a comprehensive assessment of the evidence base of gambling-related harm and the limitations of the current voluntary system.

It is also crucial that the levy is graduated or smart. By that I mean that when considering the options for calculating the statutory levy, officials have devised a formula that requires companies offering potentially more harmful gambling products to pay a correspondingly higher proportion of the levy—more simply known as a “polluter pays” principle. This has precedent in New Zealand, where the gambling problem levy is set by an Order in Council and reviewed every three years. A lottery provider, bingo hall or high street bookie or casino will pay far less than a giant monopolised online gambling operator. There is also precedent in the UK: the Financial Conduct Authority already operates a similar system for financial services organisations, where a statutory levy is imposed on firms to fund free-to-client debt advice according to the “polluter pays” principle.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

The problem with having a statutory levy is that it would hit land-based gambling companies—casinos, bingo halls and the high street shops—when they are just emerging from the pandemic. I appreciate that the hon. Lady suggested they would be levied at a slightly different rate, but the problem is that if those businesses go out of business, we could see a huge cost to the Exchequer from loss of taxation revenue, lost jobs in communities and an economic hit on the high street. Does she not consider that to be a likely outcome of a statutory levy?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I certainly do, but I just stated that the statutory levy would be graduated so that land-based high street bookies, on-street casinos and bingo halls would not pay the same levy as online companies who make a lot more profit than the individual companies, who will also have overheads of staffing costs and business rates. I acknowledge all that, but the proposal is aimed at making sure that the polluters pay the most.

If it was brought in by the DCMS, a 1% levy on industry revenue would provide £130 million of funding for research, education and treatment. That would massively improve the disparity between other nations’ spending and that of the UK. Australia spends £368 per gambler, Canada spends £329 per gambler and New Zealand spends £413 per gambler. The UK spends £19 per gambler. If we had funding for research, what could we do? We would finally be able to hold a proper prevalence survey, not wholly inadequate telephone surveys of a few hundred people, to ascertain exactly how many people in the UK are suffering gambling-related harm, so that we can get them the help they need. There would be improvements in research and data for clinical outcomes, along with the quality of data collection, to ascertain how gambling treatment clinics are performing and what more could be done to improve treatments.

With better and more certain funding for education, we can prevent people falling into the hands of gambling operators in the first place. We can highlight ways to set up banking blocks, deposit limiters, advice services and many more tools, not only to teach people about the dangers of some gambling products, but to signpost those who are already addicted towards help.

Finally, and probably most importantly, we come to treatment. Treatment for gambling addiction in the UK is completely inadequate. Chronic underinvestment in the gambling treatment system, as a result of the current voluntary levy, has led to a scenario in which treatment is unregulated, unaccountable and fails to use the evidence base in its strategies. Only between 2% and 3% of people with gambling problems enter the treatment system, all of whom are self-referrals. With a statutory levy, that can change.

It is clear that the statutory levy is vital to the success of the gambling review, but the industry would disagree. It would say that the largest companies have donated £100 million already, with more to follow, and it would label as anti-gambling those of us who call for this levy. I would call the industry anti-reform. That £100 million is well under what would have been collected by a statutory levy, and there is no continuity or certainty in that funding. Clinicians, the Gambling Commission and GambleAware all say that current funding levels are insufficient.

The industry claims that the introduction of a flat- rate levy would be unfair to some land-based sectors, such as casinos, bingo and high street bookies, because those sectors might contribute to less harm but would be disproportionately affected by a levy as a result of the potential impact on jobs. That is a deliberate misinterpretation of the position. The whole point of a levy is that the less harm that is caused, the less need there is to pay for the consequences of that harm. If some sectors harm less than others, it makes perfect sense for them to pay less. That is what is meant by a smart levy, based on the “polluter pays” principle.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I should refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As the hon. Lady knows, because we have spoken about this, I do not particularly disagree with her about the principle. The one thing that does worry me is that she and some of her colleagues might never be satisfied with the rate at which the statutory levy is set. If it was set at 1%, they might say it should be 2%; if it was 2%, they might say it should be 3%; if it was 3%, they might say it should be 4%. We would have a never- ending arms race.

Because I do not disagree with the principle, could the hon. Lady give me some reassurance that she would support a fixed, unamendable figure for a statutory levy, for example 1%, with a lower rate for land-based sales—I agree with her about that—to prevent the arms race I am worried about?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

I find myself in the position of matriarch of the anti-gambling brigade, which I am not. I have no interest in persecuting the industry; I merely want it to pay for the damage that it has caused. I have no intention of forcing any argument that the levy should increase. I am just asking for common sense, and for the worst polluters to give 1%. I will then walk away from this argument, quite satisfied that my job is done.

The truth is that the most toxic forms of gambling, which cause extensive harm, have the means to pay for the harm they cause. The industry will say that levels of problematic gambling are low. Tell that to the families at the back in the Gallery who have lost children. Tell them that problem gambling rates are low. We are having this debate because of the industry’s reluctance to do the right thing. It reacts to our reform recommendations with petty name-calling and offers feeble attempts at self-regulation. For a cash-rich industry, its commitment to repairing the damage that it causes or to preventing it from happening in the first place is both pathetic and insulting. If a statutory levy is introduced alongside tackling the question of affordability, ensuring that people are not gambling more than they can afford, we can stop the vast exploitation that we have seen in recent years. If that is brought in alongside stake limits for online gambling, to give parity with land-based venues, we can ensure that people do not fall into the depths of addiction. If it is introduced with meaningful reform of gambling advertising, sponsorship and direct marketing, along with the ending of inducements to gamble, we can prevent the poisonous hold that operators have on people through their addictive products. It is clear to me that, without a statutory levy at the heart of the White Paper, this Government will have missed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring analogue legislation into a digital era, to radicalise a toxic environment and—without a shadow of a doubt—to save lives.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

I am just observing how many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. There are five. That means a guideline of about seven minutes for each Member before we come to the winding-up speeches.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South 9:51 am, 7th June 2022

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and thank Carolyn Harris for securing the debate.

With the current review of the Gambling Act 2005 drawing to its long-awaited close—hopefully; we have been here many times before over the last 18 months—this is certainly an opportune moment to be debating this subject. Far too often, emotion, instead of evidence, drives the debate about betting and gaming in this country. Nowhere is that felt more keenly than in the discussion about how problem gambling is tackled through research, education and treatment—RET.

Some 22.5 million British adults enjoy a bet every single month. According to the independent regulator, the rates of problem gambling in the UK are falling, having reduced to 0.2% now from 0.6% just 18 months ago. Although of course one problem gambler is one too many, those figures are positive compared with other European countries. The rate is 2.4% in Italy, 1.4% in Norway and 1.3% in France. One could therefore conclude that the regulated market in Britain is relatively successful in keeping rates of problem gambling fairly low.

For the past few decades, the industry has rightly shouldered the financial responsibility for that work by paying a voluntary levy to fund independent charities tackling problem gambling. Despite that, anti-gambling campaigners are demanding a new, statutory levy on the industry—a tax by another name—to fund RET. That poses one obvious question: would funds generated through a statutory levy and given to the Department of Health and Social Care really make a tangible difference to the delivery of RET and to problem gambling in the UK? The clear answer is no.

The current system is making good progress, and in any event, a blanket levy would not raise materially more money for RET than is raised at present, but it would disproportionately hammer casinos and bingo halls, where just a 1% hit on turnover equates to a 10% hit on profit. That could put many bingo halls, casinos and other land-based operators in places such as Blackpool out of business, costing thousands of jobs and the Exchequer vital revenue, as I alluded to previously.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The hon. Gentleman says that the current system is making good progress, but the latest National Gambling Treatment Service statistics from GambleAware show that 49% of users have a risk level that indicates that they remain at risk at the end of their treatment. Does he think that that is good progress?

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

There is clearly more work that we can do in this area, but it would help if the NHS had a long-term strategy for dealing with the issue, which it lacks at present. I will say more on that point in a few moments.

Under current arrangements, all companies regulated by the Gambling Commission are expected to make a voluntary contribution of 0.1% of turnover. To put that in context, in 2019-20 that figure was £10 million. Most of the funding goes to GambleAware, which is a totally independent charity. The industry has no say whatever on how that money is spent. In its five-year strategy published last year, the charity says that it expects to see that income increase to £39 million by the year ending 2024. As the hon. Member for Swansea East alluded to, the four largest gaming companies—Entain, William Hill, Flutter and Bet365—have agreed to increase their contributions to 1% of turnover. That is an additional £100 million over a four-year period to tackle the issue, with all of that funding going towards tackling and preventing the causes of problem gambling.

As I said in response to the intervention from Paul Blomfield, the NHS still does not have a long-term strategy to tackle problem gambling. It was only in 2019 that the Department of Health announced it would open 15 new NHS clinics for addicts. Despite that, only five are open so far, with three more supposedly coming online later this year. Meanwhile, it is the industry and charities that have spent the last two decades trying to tackle the issue. Currently, charities use about 160 locations for face-to-face counselling services—part of an already mature network of clinics, treatment centres and outreach programmes that are making a real difference right now.

A statutory levy would risk charities’ existing funding models by taking cash out of their coffers and putting it into the NHS, which, sadly, is not yet set up to delivering those services.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure)

Has it crossed the hon. Member’s mind that the difficulty for the NHS in rolling out its plan for 15 clinics is the lack of guaranteed funding, which is exactly the strategy that a smart statutory levy would cover?

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

The issue has been around for decades. Obviously, the gambling review is long awaited. Hopefully, that will help to address the issue, but it is unmistakable that the industry has taken voluntary steps over the years to try to tackle the problem. What we need is a consensus on the most appropriate way forward. For the reasons outlined, I do not think that a statutory levy is the answer, but I am open to hearing all Members’ views, so I am attending the debate to hear both sides of the argument.

A clumsy one-size-fits-all approach would have a disproportionate effect on land-based operators, which are only just recovering from the pandemic. In truth, it would be catastrophic on those businesses, because, like the rest of the hospitality sector, they have many fixed costs to fund, including staff, business rates, tax and licences. A tiered system would take that into account and better protect jobs.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

If the hon. Gentleman refers to Hansard to read the comments I made earlier, he will see that I reiterated everything that he has just said, so I do not quite understand his comments.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

I suspect the hon. Lady is referring to her opening remarks. I appreciate that she spoke about the differential system between online operators, which she suggested were the worst polluters, and land-based operators. The problem is that many land-based operators run on a very small profit margin, so even a very small statutory levy could put them out of business. The high street is already struggling, and I am afraid it would be a double whammy when we simply do not require it.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

The one area where we already have a levy is the horse-racing sector, which has a strong link with gambling and betting. What does my hon. Friend feel that an additional levy on that sector will do to those jobs and on horse-racing?

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

Time is short, so I will not directly respond to the points made by my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker, but I suspect he knows my feelings about an additional statutory levy, which is essentially a tax. It could create problems for horse-racing at a time when we are already considering other prohibitive measures that would affect sponsorship, and other elements of the debate that could have a further impact on horse-racing and, indeed, all sports.

Third sector charities are already effective and are making real progress. In contrast, a statutory levy looks like a retrospective solution to a problem that simply does not exist at the level that anti-gamblers want policymakers to believe. Is it really designed to help research, education and treatment, and the wider public as a whole, or is it a punitive measure to placate the anti-gambling lobby? A statutory levy will not boost funding for RET. The money is already in the system, and there is a bigger, broader commitment for the future. The Government need to tread carefully if they are to avoid hurting businesses and putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 10:01 am, 7th June 2022

It is a real delight to contribute to a debate under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her comprehensive and powerful statement of the case, to which it is difficult to add anything.

I simply want to draw on the experience of my constituents, Liz and Charles Ritchie. I am delighted that Liz has been able to join us this morning. Their son, Jack, was one of the more than 400 people estimated each year to take their life due to gambling addiction, but he was never diagnosed with a gambling disorder; he was told by health professionals that he had an addictive personality that he would have to learn to live with. During the inquest into his death, the coroner described gambling warnings, information and treatment as “woefully inadequate”. The coroner’s “Prevention of future deaths” report states:

“The treatment available and received by Jack was insufficient to cure his addiction—this in part was due to a lack of training for medical professionals around…diagnosis and treatment”.

Jack took his life in 2017, but unfortunately things have not changed enough since then. As I said to Scott Benton, according to the latest data from GambleAware, National Gambling Treatment Service statistics show that 49% of users still have a risk level of 3+, indicating that they remain at risk when their treatment has finished. We need to acknowledge, as the gambling review does in a sense, that we need to do more and much better.

Despite the wholly unfortunate characterisation of those of us making this argument as an anti-gambling lobby, I thought the hon. Member for Blackpool South helped our argument considerably when he talked about the inadequacy of provision in the NHS. He is right; that is at the core of our argument. Treatment, public messaging and prevention of harm are not sufficient in the UK to combat the severe harm experienced by gamblers exposed to dangerous products.

The Advisory Board for Safer Gambling explained the problems with the current voluntary system: a lack of transparency, a lack of equity across operators, a record of insufficient funding, and unpredictable voluntary funding that creates barriers to distributing money where it can have the most impact, such as the NHS. We have begun to hear the arguments this morning. The Betting and Gaming Council often boasts about how its leading members volunteered to boost their joint funding of education and treatment services to £100 million during the 2019-23 period. That figure of £100 million—plucked from the air—over four years is not generous; it is a tiny proportion of the extraordinary profits those members make from other people’s difficulties. Most importantly, it does not come close to tackling the scale of the task we face.

As the hon. Member for Blackpool South pointed out, there are only five gambling treatment centres in the UK, with two further centres planned to be opened this year. That is against a background in which research published by Public Health England last September estimated that about 0.5% of the adult population—about a quarter of a million people—are likely to have some form of gambling addiction, with some 2.2 million either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.

According to research by the University of Bristol—this is a figure that we really need to stop and think about—55,000 children under the age of 15 have a gambling addiction. Jack’s addiction started while he was at school. A statutory levy is vital to ensure we have the sufficient funds to meet the challenge presented by gambling as it operates now. The levy must be independently collected and channelled into the NHS, so that the industry does not have undue influence over its allocation; my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East made that point powerfully.

There is a recent proposal from the Social Market Foundation to administer the levy through an independent levy board, which would allocate resource and ensure that the NHS services required are sufficiently funded. Existing organisations funded by the industry have an obvious conflict of interest and cannot fulfil that function. We are beginning to move away from the individual responsibility model and attitude to gambling problems towards a public health approach. As we do that, we need to change the Gambling Commission’s third objective, so that it has a clear responsibility to minimise gambling harm by protecting the whole population.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the statement made by my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who argued that the black market is greatly overestimated? I caution that that is always the response of the bureaucrats who provide the figures. It was true on cigarette smuggling, red diesel fraud and self-employment fraud, as well as many other areas. There is always a tendency to underestimate what goes on in the sub-economy. Is there not a danger that this issue will also be underestimated, if we over-regulate?

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, from my experience of tackling the payday lending industry on a cross-party basis, the argument that it came up with to defend its own profits was, “Be afraid of illegal loan sharks, so do nothing about us and the misery that we are causing, because there is that threat out there.” We need to tackle both. That strategy needs to be developed and funded by a statutory levy.

Let me return to Jack’s case and the conclusions that were raised at his inquest by the coroner, who insisted that, despite small changes in regulation and treatment since Jack’s death, significantly more needs to be done by the state to protect people. Crucially, Jack did not know his addiction was not his fault. Liz and Charles think that if his addiction had been recognised as a health problem and treated more effectively—if he had been given the correct information and the doctors had been better informed—he could still be alive today, and so would many others.

Medical experts agree. Dr Matt Gaskell, who leads the NHS Northern Gambling Clinic, explained to the inquest that the treatment Jack received was insufficient, and he spoke about the impact gambling has on the brain, causing major changes as addiction develops quickly. He underlined that the whole public are at risk, not just a vulnerable few, and I know that that is also the view of the Minister responsible, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Philp, who has previously said that gambling harm could affect any of us.

Obviously, a new approach is needed—one that promotes harm prevention and information about risk, as well as treatment and provision for early diagnosis. We have the skills and knowledge in our NHS, but we need the investment to make those services available to all who might need them. The hon. Member for Blackpool South said the NHS should be doing much more, and he is right, but the big flaw in his argument is that that should not be at the cost of other NHS services. It should be based on the “polluter pays” principle: those who do the harm should cover the cost of addressing it.

On the intervention made by Philip Davies, the levy should be set at the rate necessary to cover the costs of mitigating the harm and providing the treatment. If the problem gets worse, the levy may have to go higher; if it is reduced as a consequence of effective treatment, the levy may go lower. The levy should be responsive and based on the “polluter pays” principle. However, I am conscious of the time and of the fact that you are glaring at me, Mr Betts, so I will finish on that point. I hope that the Government recognise the power of these arguments.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The guideline is now that speeches should be six minutes. Can we try to stick to that, to make sure all colleagues get in?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 10:11 am, 7th June 2022

It is always a privilege to serve under your suzerainty in these matters, Mr Betts. I am sorry that there is not a whole bank of media here to report this important debate. Something else seems to be going on in the House that has taken them away, although I cannot think what that is or was.

We do not have a lot of time, so I will keep this short. I say to some of my colleagues who have interests—I have nothing against that; it is important in helping them to keep in contact with what goes on outside—that I wish they would not keep repeating the idea that anybody who wants to deal with the harms that occur as a result of gambling, much as we would if we were talking about alcohol or illegal drugs, is somehow completely and utterly opposed to things that are legal.

The reality is that I, for one, happily bet when I go horse-racing, as I do occasionally. I like to go to the ring, because it is the most free market area of all, and I love it—I love walking around looking for the best odds. That, for me, is fine. I do not, therefore, have any problem with gambling, and I defend it endlessly. Some of my constituents have businesses in the ring, although many lost their businesses when the National Joint Pitch Council was formed, which was a travesty.

I simply say to my colleagues: please stop this nonsense that people such as Mr Dugher and others go on about! It is nonsense to suggest that someone who is in favour of some kind of help, support or assistance for those who have serious difficulties—as the families present are—is opposed to the whole idea of gambling. We could not stop gambling tomorrow if we tried, because people like to bet on things. That is the nature of it. However, the case for the statutory levy being debated today makes absolute sense. The argument that having a levy will somehow drive everybody into the black market is silly. I have always found that when one makes extreme arguments in this place, one loses the case.

I say honestly to some of my colleagues—those who have interests—that it would be a good idea to say to the gambling industry that things have to change. We did all of this in relation to fixed odds betting terminals, and we were given the same arguments then: it would be a disaster, it was terrible, it would end up with gambling collapsing and people going into the black market, and all the rest of it. Those extreme arguments do not work, because they lessen the point.

I come back to my genuinely hon. Friend Philip Davies, for whom I have huge regard, as he knows. I agree with him on pretty much everything, and I agree with him today. He is taking the right course, which is to look at how this issue can be resolved, rather than simply saying, “If you do anything, you are going to destroy gambling.” The gambling industry will destroy itself if it spends its whole time opposing everything with these doom-and-gloom scenarios. That will just make people think that it has something to hide.

I will not repeat my arguments on the statutory levy, because I do not have a lot of time. My hon. Friend Carolyn Harris—in this case, I will call her my hon. Friend—made her arguments well, so I will stand on those. It is true that all the reports show that we have to have a statutory levy. Not to have one would be unfair to many of those responsible companies that wish to do something but that find that others—some of which have a lot of money but are irresponsible—do less than they should. The way to do this is to find a way to pay a proportion back to help those who have problems and to improve things.

I agree with the comments that have been made about the health service. Every time money is put into it, that money goes into all sorts of places, but not necessarily where we might want it to go, so a statutory gambling levy must be ringfenced to tackle the harms that are created. In a way, ringfencing would limit the amount we need, because as we put more money in, we hopefully reduce the harms. In terms of some of the other reforms, if things such as the abuse of VIP rooms are taken out of the equation, I sense that the level of harm would be reduced to a manageable level—I doubt it will ever be eradicated, but we would get it to a manageable level.

I just want a bit of common sense in this debate. Let us engage with the idea of a levy. Personally, I would be happy to look at the case for saying that we do not shift it for a set period of years. Perhaps we can look later at varying it in degrees if there is a reduction in the level of harm, but that is a debate to be had. What we should be debating is how that levy comes in and is managed, and how we can give some guarantees to companies that this is not simply a rolling tax increase. I accept that that is where we should be with this debate.

In a previous debate, three hon. Friends, who are not here today, read out speeches written by Bet365, and I did not think that that did this place any good at all. In truth, we are here for our judgment, not for somebody else’s judgment. I have no objection to Members standing up for the gambling industry and defending it; that is absolutely right and exactly what this place is all about. However, I do object to the fact that we sometimes think that we have to just say what the industry wants us to say—we do not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is right that we should recognise that there is a problem and that there may be a way of dealing with it. We must come together, across parties, to resolve that problem. I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to tell his colleagues in Downing Street, “Just think about how we could do this, not whether we should do it.” If we can get to that point, the White Paper will make sense. We should make sure it is a proper paper that deals with the problems and recognises that the industry will not simply go away.

If the harms can be dealt with, we can have a reasonable, decent industry that recognises and faces up to its issues and problems without running away from them. We will then have fewer people, and their families, being destroyed by addictions that have come about because of the pressures that have mounted up on them. If we can do all that, we will have done a service in this place. On that basis, I would be happy to discuss with anybody how we get this done.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 10:17 am, 7th June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris and congratulate her on securing the debate and on the passionate way she outlined the case for the Government to act faster to introduce a statutory levy.

Gambling-related harm is an issue that many, including myself, care deeply about, not least because of the detrimental impact it has on society as a whole, but also because it is far closer to home. Gambling-related harm runs through my constituency. Its impact is felt by people with lived experience of gambling harm and their family and friends. Faced with the real-life stories of my constituents, I simply cannot understand how anyone does not support reform. The mere fact that gambling harm is happening every day is proof enough that our current gambling regulatory system is failing us.

The voluntary system, which relies on the goodwill of the industry, has been woefully inadequate. The current system has no integration of NHS services, as we have heard, and also no consistency on funding decisions and no co-ordinated oversight of research into harms. What is more, there are serious questions to be asked about the independence of the voluntary system from the influence of the gambling industry.

We can see that the scale of the problem is huge, and yet there is so much to uncover. A mandatory levy in statute is an essential step for generating funding towards research, prevention and treatment services. Researching and growing our knowledge base will allow us to better understand the extent of the issue and, importantly, tackle it effectively, driving support and funds towards NHS treatment and support networks. Most importantly, that would be free from the influence of the industry that is perpetuating the harm that we are trying to treat.

The time has come for the onus to be placed on the betting industry to address gambling harms. It must be held to account for the damage it has inflicted through dangerous marketing and customer practices. The asks that myself and my colleagues have outlined today are rooted in a desire to help build a society where the risk of real harm from gambling is no longer accepted. The time for that is now long overdue, and the Government must take action. With the publishing of the White Paper, and everything that comes with it, there is an opportunity to take action. To keep to your time limit, Mr Betts, I will conclude by saying that I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope he can reassure us that the Government are listening and will take the appropriate action.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Last but not least, I call Jim Shannon. If the hon. Member can finish before half-past 10, that will allow time for the winding-up speeches.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:20 am, 7th June 2022

I will keep to your timeframe, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend—she certainly is my hon. Friend—Carolyn Harris on securing the debate. There are very few debates that she secures that I am not here to support, but this one is of particular interest to me, and I will explain why. I should also declare an interest as a member of the all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm.

There have been some incredible speeches from Opposition Members, and also from Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who put forward in a very succinct and helpful way what is very much my own line of thought. This is not about being anti-gambling; it is about how we can use the levy in a way that addresses the issue of addiction, while hopefully giving some of the money to the NHS, as the hon. Member for Swansea East said.

It is clear that gambling addiction is a significant public health issue: it ruins families, marriages and communities, and in extreme circumstances it can lead to suicide. Paul Blomfield referred to one of his constituents who had been affected, and there are families in the Public Gallery today who have also been affected. I am ever mindful of Peter and Sadie Keogh from County Fermanagh—they are not my constituents, but they came to my attention some time ago because of the issue of addiction and gambling. I have examples from my constituency of people who have been addicted to gambling, and although it did not lead to suicide, they found themselves under incredible pressure that affected their families. Gambling can lead to financial pressures in the house, arguments and ultimately the break-up of marriages.

Peter and Sadie Keogh lost their son Lewis. Their story is mirrored by the stories of those who are here today and by the stories of addiction told by others. Lewis found himself gambling and did not realise how deep the problem was getting. His mum and dad were probably not aware of everything that was happening, but they were when Lewis unfortunately took his own life. That came about because his debts had overcome him. His ability to respond and to discuss matters in their totality with his parents and friends led him to think there was only one way out. I am here today for Lewis, Peter and Sadie Keogh from Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, and for all the others in Northern Ireland who have succumbed to suicide because of gambling addiction.

The harms of gambling addiction are an indisputable fact, and yet we have limited protections in place to support the most vulnerable in society. Chronic under-investment in the gambling treatment system has led to a situation where treatment is unregulated and lacks consistency, transparency and accountability. Between only 2% and 3% of people with gambling problems enter the treatment system, and nearly all of them enter through self-referral—we need to look at that. The gambling industry is hugely well resourced, and it could and should be doing so much more to identify and protect vulnerable people.

A 1% smart levy on the industry’s revenues would provide £130 million—an increase of over £100 million on what we currently receive. What the hon. Member for Swansea East and most of us here today are saying is that that is not a big amount for the sector, but it will make a big difference. If the DCMS introduces a smart statutory levy on the gambling industry—that is already within the power of the Secretary of State—it can take control of the funding for research, education and, ultimately, treatment back from the bookies, set up a long-term funding commitment, allow clinicians and academics to commit to projects and programmes properly and safeguard the independence of research and education to ensure that the gambling industry can no longer mark its own homework. If such a levy were based on the “polluter pays” principle, it would not punish the bingo halls and the high street arcades that support local high street communities across the UK, but instead would force gambling operators who are all too often based offshore to pay for the harm that they undoubtedly fuel.

Compared with the other regions of the United Kingdom, the level of participation in gambling in Northern Ireland is higher. In England, the rate is 62%, and in Wales, it is 61.3%, but the rate in Northern Ireland, which is similar to the most recent recorded participation rate in Scotland, is 67.8%. Compared with the other regions of the United Kingdom, the proportion of the population in Northern Ireland found to be problem gamblers is also higher, at 2.3%. In Wales, it is 1.1%, in Scotland, it is 0.7%, and in England, it is 0.5%. We have a serious gambling problem in Northern Ireland, and our numbers outstrip those in the other three countries put together.

I always look forward to seeing the Minister, who is always incredibly helpful. He looks to help and reassure. I ask him what discussions he has had with his counterpart in Northern Ireland about gambling addiction and the fact that the rate in Northern Ireland are higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom put together. What steps can be taken to assist, help or advise the Northern Ireland Assembly Ministers?

The report on participation in gambling identified the four most common types of gambling in Northern Ireland as the national lottery; scratchcards or instant win; betting on an event or sport; and other lotteries, raffles and ballots. Sometimes, when I am in the garages back home getting petrol or diesel, I see people buying scratchcards, and I sometimes feel quite moved. That scratchcard is their hope of getting money to help with whatever it may be—to pay the bills—but that scratchcard is a gambler’s chance. It is very unusual for it to lead to any income.

Some types of gambling cannot be regulated in a meaningful way, but some can, and I believe that the levy is an essential tool in regulation. I encourage the Government and the Minister to see where the problem lies and to tackle it at the root. The purpose of a gambling statutory levy is to generate moneys to help those with addictions and to assist their families, and to help the NHS. It is right that the gambling sector should pay more. In my opinion, and that of many others, the publication of a White Paper cannot come soon enough. I urge the Minister and his colleagues in Government to take the opportunity to deliver meaningful change where the industry quite clearly has not yet done so.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

We move on to the Front Bench spokespeople, who have 10 minutes each. After that, there will be a short time for the mover to wind up at the end. I call Ronnie Cowan for the SNP.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure) 10:28 am, 7th June 2022

Thank you very much, Mr Betts. It is a pleasure to be here this morning. I thank Carolyn Harris for bringing forward this debate.

Gambling legislation is reserved to Westminster. The UK Government must publish the gambling review White Paper and that must include a smart levy on the gambling industry. In December 2020, Westminster announced a review of the Gambling Act 2005, which generated some 16,000 responses to a call for evidence. Yet, in June 2022, we are still no further forward from where we were in December 2020.

I have been told that the White Paper is “imminent”, “very imminent” and even “very, very imminent”, but there is still no date. Once the paper is published, there is still quite a journey before it becomes law and no doubt there will be an implementation period, too. While we dither, gambling-related harms impact vulnerable people in an unabated manner, so we must act, and act now.

We are rapidly approaching the summer recess. Minister, we need the paper now, so that it can be scrutinised and debated. We need to make substantial progress before the summer recess. We are here today, of course, to debate a statutory levy. However, I confess to being slightly confused after reading the Library briefing on this issue. Excellent as such briefings always are, this one informed me that the Gambling Act 2005 regulates gambling in Great Britain. The Act has three licensing objectives: preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder; ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way; and protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.

The 2005 Act is overseen and enforced by the Gambling Commission and that is where I got confused. Under section 123 of the Act, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport can make regulations requiring gambling companies to pay an annual levy to the Gambling Commission. Section 123 clearly states:

“The regulations shall, in particular, make provision for—

(a) the amount of the levy;

(b) timing of payment of the levy.

(3) The regulations shall, in particular, make provision for—

(a) determining the amount of the levy by reference to a percentage of specified receipts of an operating licence holder,

(b) determining the amount of the levy by reference to a percentage of specified profits of an operating licence holder”.

And more points are set out. Reading this section, it looks to me and reads to me as a smart statutory levy. Minister, why has section 123 of the 2005 Act never been commenced? Why are the Government not implementing a statutory levy now?

Currently, the Gambling Commission requires all licensed operators to make a voluntary contribution of 0.1% of net revenue towards the research, prevention and treatment of gambling-related harm. Most operators donate to GambleAware, a charity that commissions support for problem gamblers as well as research and awareness-raising about gambling-related harm.

In July 2019, Sir Jeremy Wright, who was then the Secretary of State, announced that five of the largest operators would increase their donations from 0.1% to 1% over the following four years. However, the current funding arrangement does not generate enough money to prevent and treat gambling-related harm. In a September 2020 paper for the Gambling Commission, the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling said the current funding system was

“no longer fit for purpose”.

That is nearly two years ago now.

A statutory levy would address issues of transparency, independence, equity. sustainability and public confidence. It would also have the potential to raise

“significantly greater levels of funding” and it would also guarantee funding, so that service providers can confidently plan to recruit and train into the future. And it is not just me who is saying this. In April 2022, GambleAware called on the Government to introduce a mandatory levy of 1% of gross gambling yield. According to GambleAware, this would raise £140 million annually and would

“enable better longer-term planning and commissioning for services to prevent gambling harms”.

Unfortunately, the Betting and Gaming Council is part of the problem. In a May 2022 blog, Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, claimed that a statutory levy would not make a “tangible difference” to research, education and treatment or to problem gambling rates. She said that the current funding system was “making good progress” and warned that the “clumsy one-size-fits-all approach” of a statutory levy would have a “disproportionate effect” on land-based operators that were just recovering from the covid-19 pandemic.

“Making good progress”—where is the evidence for that? The clock is ticking, people are being harmed and people are dying. And nobody is talking about a “clumsy one-size-fits-all approach”. We have identified that we require a smart levy—the polluter pays. It is callous remarks like those from the Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council that clearly show that the funds raised by a levy must be ring-fenced and allocated to NHS-commissioned work. The expenditure should be identified and allocated by medical experts, and not by the gambling industry, their appointees or politicians.

More often than not, the debate about this issue has come down to money. How do we pay for the outcomes that we seek? Where does that money come from? However, we must acknowledge here today that behind the call for money, the reality is that people are being harmed and people are dying. We need appropriate, timely action and the time for it is now.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:34 am, 7th June 2022

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I pass on the apologies of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, who is in Committee, as indeed is the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Philp —although it is always a pleasure to see the Minister across the Chamber.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris on securing this debate and on her, as always, excellent and comprehensive speech. I congratulate all hon. Members who have taken part, including my hon. Friend Gerald Jones. My hon. Friend Paul Blomfield spoke powerfully about his constituent Jack, and importantly identified the shortfall in diagnosis and treatment, and the lack of specialist gambling support across the country. I have had a number of meetings with former gambling addicts, and they have often identified that it is really hard to get treatment where they want, as there is a bit of a postcode lottery. Anybody who suggests that an increase in funding is not necessary for the support and treatment of gambling addicts is completely wrong. We have a decided lack of specialist treatment, and we really need to get extra funding into it. That is the heart of the issue.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith was absolutely correct when he said that the people speaking in this debate are not anti-gambling; we are anti-gambling harm. We need to make that important distinction.

As I said when we most recently debated gambling in this place, reform is long overdue and the Government have been dragging their feet. Many forms of gambling are a pastime that lots of people enjoy. They are a source of employment and economic activity for communities in towns and cities across the country. Nobody sensible wants to send gambling to the underground or the black market, but we have to recognise that it can also be a highly addictive activity that damages families and communities. That is why we need action, not more words, from the Government. Time and time again, as we have heard, we have been promised legislation only for it not to materialise.

As we have heard from a number of hon. Members— I have heard this graphically from the relatives of people who have died by suicide and from former gambling addicts—the business models of some gambling companies, and some gambling products, add to significant harms, leading to high levels of problem gambling, mental health issues and, sadly, suicides. Regulation is long overdue, particularly since the huge growth in online and mobile gambling. Smartphones give opportunities to gamble pretty much anywhere, anytime, and the unregulated online spaces fail to protect users.

As we have heard, the Gambling Act 2005 is the basis for the regulation of gambling in Great Britain, but it has not been updated since it was passed and it is not fit for the digital age. The key Conservative manifesto pledge in 2019 was to review gambling laws in response to mounting concerns about how this £14 billion-a-year industry is regulated. The White Paper was originally due to be published before the end of 2021. Labour has been calling on the Government to bring forward gambling legislation for a long time. In 2019, we also committed to introducing a gambling Act.

The delay in tackling this issue is costing money as well as lives. The Public Health England review found that the annual economic burden of harmful gambling is £1.27 billion. That is £647 million in direct costs to the Government and £619 million of wider societal costs associated with suicides. It is about not just lives but money, and we need to address that issue.

Will the Minister confirm when exactly we will see the White Paper? We definitely need to see it in the coming weeks. I agree with Ronnie Cowan that we need to see it long before the summer so we can start discussing these issues. It needs to build on the consensus across the House that we need to bring this regulation into the digital age.

The all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, who has campaigned magnificently on this issue, recommended a mandatory levy on the gambling industry to fund research, protection, treatment and education, and address gambling-related harms, including to consider the links between gambling and suicide. At the moment, as we have heard, gambling firms have no mandatory requirement to fund addiction research and treatment services. Many do so through the voluntary scheme, but it is variable and uncertain. That uncertainty makes it difficult to plan long-term projects.

The five big gambling companies have committed to paying 1% of their gross yields towards safer gambling initiatives by 2023, but the variation between online products and their donations is a real issue. The legal power to impose a levy on the gambling industry has existed since 2005, but it has never been used due to the Government’s insistence that the industry should support harm-reduction work on a voluntary basis. I think that the highest figure was last year, with £35 million coming through voluntary donations. It has been estimated that a statutory levy would increase that to around £140 million, but we must put that in perspective: the gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year just on advertising. That is the scale of the issue. The Government must take this proposal seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East made the important point that a levy should be smart or differentiated to tackle the most dangerous forms of gambling without harming, for example, bingo halls. I should be grateful if the Minister would outline what consideration the Government have given the proposal. We need clarity about what will be in the White Paper and how a statutory levy might work. We absolutely need to tackle gambling harm across the board, so that the families of those who have been immeasurably harmed by gambling can have confidence that what has happened to their loved ones will not happen to others.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 10:41 am, 7th June 2022

Thank you, Mr Betts. It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship and I will ensure that there is time at the end for Carolyn Harris to reply. I thank her for securing the debate and thank all those who have contributed today, articulating a variety of views in a genuinely constructive manner. She has been a staunch campaigner for gambling reform for a very long time and I thank her and other parliamentarians for the many meetings that they have had with DCMS Ministers over recent months and years. As has been mentioned, I am not the responsible Minister for gambling: the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Chris Philp, is unavoidably detained in a Bill Committee but I will ensure that he gets a full read-out of today’s debate.

It has been 17 years since the Gambling Act 2005 was passed and it is clear that the risks around harm and the opportunities to prevent it are different now from when that legislation was introduced. We must act to recognise that our regulatory framework needs to change. In recent years, the Government and the Gambling Commission have introduced a wide range of reforms to help protect, support and treat people who are experiencing gambling harms. The protections include the ban on credit card gambling, the fixed odds betting terminal stake reduction and reform to VIP schemes, as well as ongoing work to improve and expand treatment provision through the NHS and third sector. The review is an opportunity to build on those changes and ensure that we have the right protections in place to prevent harm.

As the hon. Member for Swansea East will appreciate, I cannot pre-announce what will be published in the White Paper, which we are finalising, nor can I comment on speculation in the media and elsewhere about its contents. However, I can say that I absolutely recognise the importance of sufficient and transparent funding for research to strengthen our evidence base, as well as for treatment to help those who need support. As part of the wide-ranging scope of the review––it is widely recognised as being wide-ranging––we called for evidence on the best way to recoup the regulatory and societal costs of gambling. We have been clear for several years that, should the existing system of taxation and voluntary contributions fail to deliver what is needed, we would look at a number of options for reform including, but not limited to, a statutory levy.

As hon. Members know, when the Gambling Act was introduced, the gambling industry agreed to provide financial support for tackling problem gambling, and the Gambling Commission requires operators to make an annual contribution to approved organisations, which deliver or support research on the prevention and treatment of gambling-related harms, as a licence condition. We considered that issue closely in 2018 as part of the previous gambling review, when much of the debate centred on the quantity of funding provided by the industry. Since then, there have been a number of changes to how much is given and how it is managed.

Since 2018 the Gambling Commission has improved transparency around the amount given by the industry to research, education and treatment, and which bodies it is paid to, and required operators to donate to organisations approved by the commission. Most donate to GambleAware, an independent charity with no industry involvement in commissioning decisions, and the funding in the system has also increased substantially. In 2019, the four largest operators committed themselves to increasing their contributions tenfold, including £100 million for treatment over the following four years. I think Jeff Smith mentioned that contributions under the voluntary system were indeed £34 million last year, and they are due to reach £70 million by 2024. By way of context, £34 million is about 0.3% of GGY, which is about £10.2 billion.

Alongside that, the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS are taking forward work to improve and expand treatment provision. The 2019 NHS long-term plan gave a commitment to expand the coverage of NHS services for people with serious gambling problems and announced the creation of 15 specialist gambling clinics by 2023-24, with £15 million of funding over the same period.

As my hon. Friend Scott Benton and others have commented, there are five NHS specialist clinics in operation, with a further three due to become operational by the end of this month. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with the NHS and GambleAware to help to improve the join-up between NHS and third-sector services, and to develop a clear treatment pathway for people seeking help.

Paul Blomfield again raised the tragic case of Jack Ritchie. In March, the hon. Gentleman secured an Adjournment debate on the coroner’s finding that gambling contributed to Jack’s tragic death. As the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, said then, the findings are an important call to action for our Department, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education.

As we said in our response to the coroner, the Government are committed to building on the reforms made since 2017 and addressing the concerns identified in the prevention of future deaths report. The coroner’s report and lessons arising from Jack’s tragic death are important inputs to our considerations and the review of the Gambling Act. I can assure hon. Members that, overall, the voice of people with personal or lived experience of harm was thoroughly represented among the submissions to our call for evidence, and I and my successors leading the review have met a number of people who have suffered because of their addictions or those of the people they love. I thank them for their contribution to the debate and the evidence gathering.

As part of the review, we are looking closely at the barriers to high-quality research, which were mentioned by many hon. Members, and how we can overcome those barriers. Building the evidence base to deepen our understanding of gambling can involve the input of a range of groups, including the Gambling Commission, researchers and the third sector. A good example is the research commissioned by GambleAware on the impacts of marketing and advertising on children and young people.

The research showed the impact that certain aspects of gambling advertising can have on young people, including depictions of the association between football and gambling, which I know is a hot topic. That pointed to the need for change to ensure that the UK advertising codes continue to provide effective protection from gambling advertising-related harms. The research has led to the Committee of Advertising Practice announcing stronger protections, which will be backed by the enforcement powers of the Gambling Commission. Those include banning content with strong appeal to children from gambling advertisements, as well as further changes to protect vulnerable people. Research on gambling, like any other subject, is funded by the research councils, and we want to encourage more researchers from a wide variety of disciplines to work in this area. We will say more about that in the White Paper.

I will briefly mention a few other points raised by hon. Members during the debate. The Gambling Commission has piloted a new methodology to measure problem gambling, and that is being worked on. Jim Shannon mentioned gambling in Northern Ireland. Gambling is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, but I believe new legislation is being brought forward there. I can confirm that officials have met to share experiences regarding the Great British legislation and regulations, so the conversations are ongoing.

On the effectiveness of GambleAware services, 70% of people who started treatment as problem gamblers were no longer defined as such on the problem gambling severity index at the end of treatment, and 92% saw their score reduced, so there is evidence of some impact.

Several Members raised the important role of the gambling sector’s tax contribution to the economy and the fact that those tax revenues are then used to fund our public services, including the NHS. Everybody has recognised, today or previously, that gambling can be performed safely by millions of people every year. Again, a very clear message from Members today is that nobody is advocating a complete ban on gambling. Of course, any changes must be proportionate and evidence- based, and where possible they must avoid unintended consequences.

The Government have an important responsibility to get reform right. We will build on the many strong aspects of our existing gambling regulatory system to make sure it is right for the digital age and the future. The White Paper is a priority for the Department and we will publish it in the coming weeks, which is precisely the wording that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington asked for.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to today’s debate.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

Will my hon. Friend define what “coming weeks” means? When is a coming week no longer a coming week? Is it two or three weeks ahead, or four or five? A little definition would help.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I can say no more than that we will be publishing in the coming weeks. I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South is currently detained elsewhere, so the coming weeks is all I can say today.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure)

I asked the Minister a question about section 123 of the Gambling Act. I do not understand why it has not been enacted.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The answer lies in the evidence given in the debate today. As I have said, we are looking at the Gambling Act review and considering the options and the arguments made today, but there is not 100% support for that at the moment. We committed to looking at that as part of the review, and I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the report to come out in the coming weeks.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I will make sure that the Minister responsible gets a full report of today’s debate.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 10:53 am, 7th June 2022

I thank the Minister for his response. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. I even thank adversaries; I hope we can find common ground on this issue. Every reform that the gambling industry has endured—it has been an endurance for it—has not been done voluntarily; it has come kicking and screaming. There are people here who are providing a voice for the industry. My motivation and that of others here is to provide a voice for those people at the back who have paid the greatest sacrifice. The status quo can no longer be allowed to continue. We have to ensure that the White Paper protects everyone in future from the same tragedy that those families have had to experience.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered proposals for a statutory gambling levy.

Sitting suspended.