[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered gambling-related harm.
It is nice to see you—a Portonian—in the Chair, Mr McCabe, and to see the number of people who have put their names down to speak—although it is about not just the quantity but the quality of the speakers that we have in the Chamber.
When we think of harm caused by drugs, alcohol or tobacco, we have a very specific idea of what it looks like. When it comes to gambling, the harm may not be so obvious but it is there. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board proposed that the following definition of gambling-related harm should be used in British policy and practice:
“Gambling-related harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society.
These harms are diverse, affecting resources, relationships and health, and may reflect an interplay between individual, family and community processes. The harmful effects from gambling may be short-lived but can persist, having longer-term and enduring consequences that can exacerbate existing inequalities.”
From that definition, it is clear that the harm is not restricted to individuals, and that it can have a detrimental effect on entire communities and those living in them.
Debt incurred by gambling creates instability and insecurity, and can lead to bankruptcy. In the extreme, it results in criminal activities. Relationships can be disrupted, which often leads to emotional and social isolation. This can lead to mistrust and it erodes cohesive relationships. The consequences can include psychological distress, such as feelings of shame, stigma and guilt. Anxiety levels increase, and depression and even suicide can be the final outcome.
The Office for National Statistics has published data showing that between 2001 and 2016 there were 21 suicides
“where the death certificate mentioned ‘gambling’ or ‘gamble’.”
Furthermore, the ONS stated that
“the data is not considered completely reliable, because a coroner will not always record detailed information regarding the deceased’s history”.
According to Gambling With Lives, 4% to 11% of suicides are related to gambling, which is the equivalent of 450 to 620 deaths per year in the UK. These figures are based on research carried out by Paul Wong that appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2010 and research from Louis Appleby at the University of Manchester in 2017.
I agree with that point and I hope to cover it later on, when I will look at the educational support for kids and the possible grooming of children, normalising gambling as part of their lives.
On my last point, will the Minister consider ways whereby coroners can ensure that data around suicide can be captured, so that accurate figures can be maintained?
Jack Ritchie was 24 and from Sheffield. He was a history graduate who taught English in Kenya and Vietnam. He began gambling at 17 and would visit betting shops during his school lunch break. By 18, he admitted that he had a gambling problem and that he had lost thousands of pounds, including £5,000 given to him by his grandmother. After another gambling loss, he committed suicide in 2017, while he was in Vietnam. Jack’s mother, Liz Ritchie, compared gambling addiction to heroin dependency. The harm is real and it is growing, while the research and support is massively underfunded.
I commend the work undertaken by Henrietta Bowden-Jones at her clinic in Fulham. There are plans to open a similar clinic in Leeds, and hopefully more in Scotland and Wales. That must happen, but the funding model requires scrutiny. Currently, the industry pays a voluntary levy that raises £10 million to £14 million a year. That money is used to fund support for problematic gamblers, and campaigns to educate people and hopefully reduce harm.
That voluntary contribution of £14 million must be measured against the gambling companies’ profits. In November 2018, William Hill issued a profit warning, saying that it expected yearly profits to be in the range of £225 million to £245 million—in 2017, company profits were £291 million—whereas 888 Holdings reported pre-tax profits of £83 million on revenue of £541 million in March 2019. Paddy Power Betfair reported pre-tax profits of £219 million in 2018 on revenue of £1.87 billion, and bet365 posted an operating profit of £660 million on revenue of £2.86 billion.
The total gross gambling yield for Great Britain between April 2017 and March 2018 was £14.4 billion, which was a 4.5% increase from the previous year. The annual sum that gambling firms win from their customers has risen by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005. It is against those figures that we have to consider the voluntary levy of £10 million to £14 million. A statutory levy of 1% would guarantee £140 million a year and that sort of money, in the right hands, could do some serious good.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that, given the numbers he has cited, it is nigh impossible for local authorities anywhere in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to implement their statements while they are dealing with a marketplace in which the money created for the businesses fundamentally outweighs anything that they can do locally through a simple planning statement?
I wholeheartedly agree. I am not going to war with the gambling industry here, but we have to look at the figures, and the money that companies have to spend in order to promote gambling far outweighs anything that we have got at local council level to counteract that and the damage that has been done.
In addition, because the levy is voluntary, the amount raised can vary from year to year, and therefore budgeting for long-term treatment is extremely precarious. I ask the Minister to review how gambling-related harm reduction is funded and to investigate more effective methods.
Let me be clear: I am not asking for financial recompense from gambling companies just to improve their public image. A sponsorship deal here and a charitable donation there are no more than fig leaves to hide the companies’ own embarrassment—and they should be embarrassed. How can a family be recompensed for the loss of their son, or a child who has lost their father? I am not asking for token gestures; I am asking gambling companies to stop doing the damage in the first place. Rather than merely asking punters to “gamble responsibly”, they should run their organisations responsibly. If the Gambling Commission cannot act, and if self-regulation is not adequate, the UK Government should step in and legislate to ensure responsible working practices are in place. Will the Minister review the role of the Gambling Commission and its funding model?
While we talk about responsible working practices, companies are gathering data pertaining to the habits of online gamblers. Astonishingly, they are closing down the accounts of people who are successful and winning—even those winning small amounts—while targeting and encouraging vulnerable gamblers who are losing to continue gambling. This callous disregard for the welfare of their customers is tantamount to gross negligence.
Another outcome of the increased use of technology is that the division between gambling and gaming has been blurred by the introduction of “loot boxes”. That did not happen by accident: adults designed and wrote the software; adults considered the returns; and adults are grooming children to be the next generation of gamblers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate him on securing the debate. He is making many points that I agree with entirely. On the point about how we can better control some of the excesses of the gambling industry, does he agree that we need to consider how the advertising strategies of the gambling industry are conducted, and in particular how they use social media and advanced techniques to target people who are already known to gamble, encouraging them to gamble further?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We could have an entire debate about advertising in the gambling industry. It is such a deep concept, because of the methodology that can now be used by gambling and media companies to get access to people and their information and then specifically target them in a way in which they know will manipulate that information. It is a whole big data, fake news almost, subject.
We know that loot boxes can be closed down, because they have been in Belgium—they have even managed to do it in the Isle of Man—so will the Minister take action to ban loot boxes from the United Kingdom?
Where to start when it comes to advertising? Live televised sports events are swamped with betting adverts and inducements to bet. The impression is given that a sporting event is not sufficient entertainment in its own right unless we take a punt on the outcome. Gambling has become normalised through such extensive advertising and in popular discourse. Football punditry now increasingly refers to bookies’ odds, and many more sports teams are sponsored by operators. As the latter qualifies as sponsorship rather than advertising, the same regulations do not apply. With punters being encouraged at every turn, the ease with which gamblers can sign up to an online operator is of great concern. Punters can gamble 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year. There is now no cooling-off period.
The style of games is carefully crafted to draw users in, with frequent offers of free spins and other techniques that are used to start habitual gambling behaviour. Money is readily available through credit cards, PayPal accounts and phone accounts—they are all accepted as means of payment.
Finally, to be perfectly blunt, the gambling companies have stacked the odds against the punters and the damage that is being done needs to be redressed. However, it can be done only if the money is raised and put in the right hands to support gambling addiction, advertising is curtailed and the behaviour of bookmakers, particularly regarding online betting, is monitored and adjusted accordingly.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing the debate. I would like to feel that I played some part in making his speech happen because, had I not lost Greenock and Inverclyde, which I fought valiantly in the 1997 general election, he might not be here with us—that election in itself was something of a gamble.
I was just reviewing some of the things I spoke about when I was shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport between 2005 and 2007, opposite the late Dame Tessa Jowell, whose memorial service I was pleased to attend. Tessa, I think, was slightly conflicted during that time. The Labour party of the day was absolutely obsessed with the idea, which it had imported from America, of inner-city super-casinos as the panacea to all the problems of inner-city regeneration. We debated that back and forth across the House and many people on both sides thought it a terrible idea. In the end, it did not really happen. At the same time, however, the issue of online gambling was beginning to emerge. Although Tessa admitted in 2006 that she had presided over an explosion of online gambling, she was concerned about the regulatory side, particularly about trying to regulate offshore gambling, which remains a problem. The Government of the day, and Governments since, have always been one step behind.
It is the Opposition’s job to be critical of the Government, and I remember being critical of the international summit on remote gambling that Tessa put on in October 2006, rather appositely at Royal Ascot—the home of racing. The conference prioritised crime, competition and safeguards for children and vulnerable people, but had little to say about how to prevent, given the growing online arena, gambling-related harm or its associated social costs.
Reviewing what I said, the questions I laid down and the debates we had in that period, it is salutary to think that we have not moved on that much. The latest Gambling Commission figures show that 48% of adults participate in some form of gambling, and for online gambling the figure is 18%. I should think, but I do not know and the Minister will be able to correct me, that that figure is more likely to increase than decrease.
Problem gambling is defined as behaviour related to gambling that causes harm to the gambler and those around them. The figures look small at face value: problem gambling is confined to 0.5% of adults, with 1.1% at moderate risk and 3.3% at low risk, according to one of the most robust estimates, the problem gambling severity index. Problem gambling is thus defined in that rather tight category, but it is more difficult to estimate gambling-related harms to society, because the term itself does not have a strict definition. The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, the body that provides independent advice to the Gambling Commission, lists among the social costs of gambling-related harm loss of employment, health-related problems, homelessness and suicide.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Although according to the headline figure only a small percentage of the general population appears to be affected by problem gambling, the reality is that the harms that manifest in that group are widespread and cause both considerable economic damage to those people and their families and damage to wider society. As my right hon. Friend rightly said, to look at just those headline figures would be misleading.
I hope that we will shortly hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who has done much work in this area, not least on fixed odds betting terminals, which are described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. He will be better able than me to inform the debate.
I do not want to take up too much more time, other than to say that we have been debating the matter for many, many years and I do not believe that we have it right. It remains a huge problem that is difficult, but not impossible, to regulate. We want to hear from the Government how much more robust they can be.
I have just five quick points to put to the Minister. Will the Government treat gambling as a public health issue, as we do mental health? Will the Minister consider introducing tougher verification checks, which could ensure that young gamblers were not drawn online? Has she considered limiting gambling adverts during sports match breaks to one per break per company? We heard from the hon. Member for Inverclyde how online gambling organisations and organised sport are almost one and the same now. Will the Minister agree to conduct a full review of the social costs of gambling? For example, the Government have never estimated the cost to the NHS of gambling-related harm. Will the Minister ensure that gambling-related harm is included when health education is made compulsory in all state-funded schools, as part of teaching about mental wellbeing? My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) has already mentioned schools.
Almost daily, we hear and read about problems to do with mental health, and I am glad that we now talk about mental health in a way that we perhaps never have—it is one of society’s hidden problems. However, I suggest that mental health issues in some cases—not all—can be, and are identified as being, exacerbated by dependency on drugs, alcohol and, yes, gambling. Gambling can be a hidden form of dependency, because if you are online you can do it on your computer in your own room. It is not the gambling that people think about of 50 or 60 years ago, which was a social occasion, be it at the bingo or in a casino; it is a hidden form of playing with money and, often, with people’s lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on securing this important debate. Many hon. Friends present have campaigned vigorously for the stake on fixed odds betting terminals to be cut to £2. The blight of FOBTs was eventually acknowledged by the Government, and that stake will be reduced in April this year.
However, the harm caused by gambling goes far wider than FOBTs, as has become apparent to me and others over the months and years that we have been campaigning. For that reason, we have established a new all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, which will be looking broadly at the many harms caused by gambling. It is important to say that we are not against gambling; we acknowledge that, for many people, gambling is a benign, fun activity. However, there are also many instances in which gambling becomes harmful, and it is important to ensure that the right protections and regulations are in place to protect the vulnerable and prevent harm.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work she has done on this issue. A constituent approached me recently whose mother had dementia and had gambled away about £50,000, even though the family kept going back into the betting shops to point out that she had this condition. Given what my hon. Friend is saying, does she agree that we should do more to protect vulnerable people, such as those with dementia, and that the industry should look closer at the legislation?
I certainly do. It appears that we are able to protect the vulnerable only when we let the press know of such stories, because the industry refuses to take responsibility for its actions.
The first priority of our APPG will be to look at the harms caused by the growth of online gambling. According to recent reports on British gambling behaviour, the prevalence of problem gambling among those who gamble online—at the casino, the slots and the bingo-style games—is very similar to its prevalence among those who play FOBTs. Currently, there are close to 3 million problem and at-risk gamblers in the UK, and 10% of them play online casino, slots and bingo.
The size, scale and structure of the industry are driving the harms that are being caused. The APPG has heard that the remote gambling sector is being run in a way that is totally unsustainable; in some cases, online companies are actively seeking to drive harmful gambling behaviour and large-scale bets to ensure their own profitability. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report for the Gambling Commission found that 59% of the profits of remote gambling companies come from people with gambling addictions or problematic gambling behaviour. Those companies’ models are based not on building long-term relationships with loyal customers, but on extracting as much money as possible from people, particularly those who exhibit more risky behaviour and place large bets until they effectively run out of money. The companies then move on to find other customers, and they seek to incentivise their staff to do so. Their constant drive for profit and new customers means that they have no incentive to seek a reduction in problematic behaviour. Problem gambling and high-stakes play are entirely in their interests.
Those companies’ frantic search for new customers and greater levels of spending has, in turn, led to a huge increase in gambling advertising. We have heard about cases of vulnerable gamblers being offered VIP status to encourage them to gamble and rack up huge losses. Equally, we have heard rumours about some operators not paying out to those who have rightly won money; they are happy to encourage those who regularly lose to gamble more, while restricting bets from more successful players. The message is clear: people should not go into online gambling with the expectation that they will win. The only customers that those companies want are those who lose.
There are now more diverse gambling products and experiences on offer than ever before, including live sports betting, in-play gaming and, more recently, mobile gaming. Those are relatively new products that differ from traditional bookmaking, and concerns have understandably been raised about player safety and protection, particularly for the vulnerable. Furthermore, the ease of deposit, the electronic nature of money spent, the slowness of withdrawals, the ability to reverse withdrawals, and the targeting of gamblers who win with offers to encourage further play all have the potential to create a harmful gambling environment.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, and I commend her for the incredible work that she has done on problem gambling to date. Does she agree that the technology underlying a lot of these online games and gambling products is completely opaque? We have no idea how it is targeting people or how it works, and until we get to the bottom of that issue, much of this problem is going to be difficult to tackle.
It has long been acknowledged that technology has left legislation way behind—in the dark ages, in some cases. Whereas there are clear limits on the maximum stakes, prizes and spin speed of gambling machines in betting shops and casinos, and big cash deposits are subject to fraud and money laundering checks, online gambling lacks similar limits. The APPG has met many times with Liz and Charles Ritchie, the incredibly courageous parents of Jack, who tragically took his own life in 2017 following an addiction that began on FOBTs. Jo Holloway’s son, Daniel, also took his own life after becoming addicted to online gambling. Those are terrible tragedies, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day, approximately 70 to 80 people contact me—as I am sure they contact colleagues present—to tell me how desperate a situation they and their families are in.
What should we do to improve things? The APPG is undertaking its inquiry and will make a series of recommendations—I am sure Members would be disappointed if it did not. We will be looking at the need for new legislation, as the current legislation is unable to address adequately the loopholes created by this relatively new part of the gaming industry, and we will be taking detailed evidence from key stakeholders. Our initial view, however, is that there should be far more stringent affordability checks by gambling companies. Banks also have a role to play in carrying out those checks; a number of challenger banks and traditional banks have already put such measures in place, but it is important that all banks and financial institutions follow suit and implement that feature.
Online gambling companies should commit to funding blocking software, and offer it for free to customers who self-exclude from their sites. The sector needs to adopt a more responsible approach to advertising during sports programmes, especially to protect children and the vulnerable. I welcome the whistle-to-whistle television ban, but in order for the advertising ban to be truly effective, those companies need to go further and include shirt and league sponsorship, as well as digital advertising around pitches. Otherwise, children and vulnerable adults will continue to be bombarded with gambling adverts throughout those events.
It is also worth bearing in mind that it is the broadcasters that have been most resistant to the clampdown on advertising. The TV companies have to take an important role and admit that this issue needs to be tackled. Serious consideration must be given to a statutory levy to fund harm prevention projects, support for those who have been harmed by gambling, and research into gambling and suicide. We must also stop the use of credit cards to gamble online; it is inconceivable that somebody should be able to rack up debt in order to gamble.
Above all, the industry needs to take responsibility for itself. Remote gambling is a growing industry, and it must learn the lessons of fixed odds betting terminals. It cannot be that time after time the Government must step in to prevent large and financially powerful industries from disregarding the harm they are doing to the vulnerable in society. The scourge of online gambling is becoming a matter of national urgency. We cannot sit back and let those problems continue, and I will not do so.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and I congratulate my friend the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on securing the debate—he is a fellow member of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, and thus my honourable friend in this context. It is in order for me to follow the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), which is pretty much what I do all the time when it comes to this subject—I would not change that for the world.
This is a vital debate. All those years ago, the then Labour Government—this is not a party political point; I am simply making the point that they were in government at the time—were seduced by the idea that, by releasing gambling and removing pretty much all restrictions on it, we could somehow recreate and help communities. I remember that one of the great arguments was, “This will be a fantastic load of investment into communities, because gambling will create jobs and produce a happier place.” I opposed it at the time. I set up the Centre for Social Justice, which looked into the matter. I said that an innate level of harm came from gambling and that deregulating it would be like saying, “We must increase drinking”, or, “It would be far better if we had more shops selling more drugs.”
The same idea applies with gambling, which ultimately is a harmful activity. I accept that is not the case for everyone, but it is harmful for some people, and “some people” is quite a large number. The latest figures I saw—I think they are understated, to be frank—show that 3 million people are what are called “problem gamblers”. I hate that phrase, because in every other area where there are such problems, we call them addicts. These are addicts. They are addicted to a course of action that in their right minds they would not pursue in the way they do.
Of course, the industry is smart. It has invested a lot of the extra money it has got—all those billions—into figuring out how people go about gambling. As the hon. Member for Swansea East said, we had this whole debate about fixed odds betting terminals, which were a problem. I am astonished that, given all the evidence, it took us so long to finally get movement, first from the Gambling Commission and finally from the Government. The onslaught from the gambling industry was a sight to behold. There was an onslaught of misrepresented figures and everything else. I will not go into the details, because I am sure that stands in history and testimony.
The issue is that a lot of money is at stake. That is what we are dealing with, but I prefer to look at the other side, which is that a lot of human beings are at stake, and they can little afford what is happening to them. Our single most important purpose as elected Members of Parliament, ultimately, is to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. In this case, it is those who have found themselves trapped in a devastating downwards spiral of addiction.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically powerful and passionate speech. He made an important point. This debate is about addiction. Millions of people across the country enjoy a flutter on the horses, for example. It is a pursuit that contributes to our economy and human enjoyment. The debate is about those who suffer from gambling addiction. The problem is not gambling per se, but addiction, and he is very correct to make that point.
I am grateful for that intervention. I fully understand that gambling is enjoyed by numbers of people who enjoy it every now and again and do not get caught up in that spiral. They might go to the races or bet on the odd football match or something like that. I am a genuine believer in free choice—people make those decisions themselves—but we have to look at whether the way the industry goes about its purposes perverts that process so that individuals end up caught in that spiral. That was a helpful intervention, because I want to talk about the industry and what it is up to.
We had some fascinating work done to look at some of the behaviour, and I was astonished by what is going on. First and foremost, anyone watching the plethora of adverts that floods every sporting event on television will see that they are all aimed at one particular type of person: young men. The adverts say, “You have to be smart, savvy, intelligent and clever. You are that kind of person because you beat the odds every time. You know what is going on. We give you special opportunities to do it, but you are so smart, you have to do it.” If someone is not gambling, the corollary is that they are not very smart and therefore incapable of doing it. The whole pattern of advertising is to drive people to gambling.
We then discovered that the way this works behind the scenes is quite scandalous. For example, bet365 has recently revealed that players who rack up huge losses are rewarded with weekly cash returns of up to 10% so that they can carry on playing. In training sessions for new staff, a bet365 worker gave an example to a reporter. They said:
“If they’ve lost, say, £15,000 in that week, then we’ll give them a weekly rebate, normally on a Tuesday, and we’ll give them maybe 10% of that back.”
That is quite sinister. We can see exactly what they are after: those who habitually gamble and lose. They are not really interested in those who win. In fact, they do not like it very much—I can understand the reason—if people actually win, so they do everything they can to discourage people who ever manage to win.
There are all sorts of delayed payments and other mechanisms. Sometimes people will not even be allowed to gamble again with a particular organisation. We are taking evidence on that in the all-party parliamentary group. It is clear that the gambling companies quickly pull away those who habitually gamble. They gamble almost by impulse, and thus they become incredibly profitable for the companies. They are induced to gamble even more, because they have this habit. The idea of targeting someone who has the habit is key.
The work done by the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up, shows that such targeting not only destroys the lives of those locked into the downward spiral of misery, but drags whole families into despair. We have already heard examples of people who have committed suicide and people who have lost all their family connections. Some have lost loads of money belonging to their families and are unable to carry on a normal life.
The hon. Member for Swansea East made much of the PwC report for the Gambling Commission, which found that 59% of the profits for a remote gaming company come from those with a gambling addiction or problematic behaviour. The model is based not on any long-term relationship with loyal customers, as would be common for most business models, but on sifting out those who gamble from those who fundamentally lose. When we watch the advertising process, we can begin to realise that the companies are going to that very selective targeting. My general view is that they are completely out of control. What has been going on for some time is a front. They are trying to pretend somehow that they are reasonable and are behaving well, but they are behaving appallingly. They have set out fundamentally in the pursuit of money, and they do not care if they destroy lives.
My right hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful speech on a subject dear to his heart. Here we are: another week, another debate on online gambling, which only goes to show how important the issue is to us all. Does he agree that a powerful start to righting some of the problems that the gambling companies have created would be a mandatory 1% levy on gross profits to fund decent research and help set up more gambling clinics?
I agree with my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] No? He is right hon. in my book. I agree with him, because what has happened so far is too much about the voluntary. I am not one for constantly regulating—far from it—but we see the level of harm and the lack of knowledge about how deep the harms go, and it is time for the Government to do something.
I want to pick up on loot boxes, which the hon. Member for Inverclyde talked about in his very good speech. Almost the most sinister thing going on at the moment is the inducement of young people—kids, really—to get into the habit early. They are locked into their rooms—often their bedrooms—often until quite late at night. Sometimes parents do not realise what is going on, but they get into this process where they are often gambling money, but not money as we might term it; it is an alternative form. Sometimes they are gambling for clothing, which eventually become a monetary derivative.
Interestingly, I saw a report by Macey and Hamari for the University of Tampere on participation in skins and loot boxes. Worryingly, the report concludes that almost 75% of those participating in gambling related to e-sports were aged 25 or under. What is going on is clear: it is highly addictive and very fast. People build up a box of prizes. They get used to a process of inducement when they go on to bigger gambling. They hear about a 10% gift or going to a fancy party somewhere and it becomes a part of their lives, because they understand it from the gambling process that they were engaged in in the gaming.
My apologies, Mr McCabe, if I have gone slightly over my time. I will conclude by saying to the Minister, for whom I have huge respect—no one is more pleased than I am that she is on the Front Bench—that the Government need to right a wrong. The wrong was that we opened the whole of the regulatory process to gambling. It does not matter which Government did it; it was done. Now we need to bring the beast back under control. I simply say to her that there are recommendations—I will not read them all out—from the all-party group, and I hope that she will give them full consideration. It is time now to demand more of an organisation of companies that derive profits and in too many cases cause harm. There are good people who gamble occasionally, but others are locked into a spiral of harm. We look to the Government to change their circumstances.
I am delighted to participate in this debate on gambling-related harm, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on all the work he has done on this issue and on securing this debate. We can all agree that self-regulation of the gambling industry has not worked, and it will not work. We even see today in this Chamber that self-regulation does not work, which is why the six-minute time limit was completely ignored by other Members at the expense of their colleagues.
I wanted to participate in this debate because in North Ayrshire, the majority of which I represent, the latest figures show that in the eight years from 2008 to 2016, £32 million was gambled. In a post-industrial area facing huge economic and social challenges, that level of gambling is a major cause for concern. Before I go any further, I wish to acknowledge, as others have done, that many people gamble in a responsible way and come to no harm—good luck to them—but that is not the focus of today’s debate. Today we must focus on the adverse impacts of gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and wider society. Gambling affects relationships, mental and physical health and finances, and it exacerbates existing inequalities. There is a clear link to poverty and disadvantage. Gambling addiction destroys lives. There are believed to be 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK, with a further 2 million at risk, and gambling is linked to between 4% and 11% of suicides.
Gambling is a public health matter and words alone are not enough. We need to appreciate that individuals are embedded in communities, so effective action for reducing gambling harm will include not only protecting individuals and preventing them from harm, but mitigating risks to communities and families. We need to look more critically at the opportunities to gamble—the number of betting shops—in our communities. We must look at the level of social deprivation, which is also a risk factor. We must look at the use of advertising, and at the support available for those who are living with the addiction and those who are vulnerable to developing it.
With their limited powers, the Scottish Government have already committed to using planning legislation to address the proliferation of betting shops in specified areas. However, our task as a society must be to prevent and reduce the harm that gambling causes. I very much welcome the Government’s action to reduce the stake on fixed odds betting terminals. I know there was great pressure from some Tory MPs and the betting industry itself, which has very deep pockets, to try to prevent that from happening.
The concern is that online gambling means that those who are vulnerable to addiction or already living with a gambling addiction find it increasingly difficult to escape what some might call the lure of gambling, so there must be greater regulation to ensure that there are proper and robust affordability checks in place and proper spending limits enforced. The motivation to take the bull by the horns is that doing so will offer benefits to us all. It will mean reduced health, welfare and employment costs, reduced homelessness, and potentially reduced criminal justice costs. The benefits to the families and communities of those with such an addiction are beyond price.
We are still not very far down the road in dealing with the issue. First, we need a proper, wider review of the impact of gambling on children themselves and we must identify what policy changes are needed. We need to do better. If the Government are not prepared to act and go further, and if they are going to allow themselves to be kept prisoner by gambling interests and lobbying, I urge the Minister to ensure instead that gambling policy is fully devolved to the Scottish Government and that they are given full powers to tackle the problem effectively. The UK Government have had generations to tackle the problem, and they have not done it yet.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), a fiery lady who has put her viewpoint forcefully and correctly. I am pleased to support the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) in raising the public policy challenge presented by gambling harms. Last Wednesday, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who is in his place, had a short debate on the topic of online gambling protections. It is right that this House should continue to make gambling the subject of regular debates as we seek to improve the policy and practice around problem gambling.
In September 2017, The Lancet published a key editorial with the title, “Problem gambling is a public health concern”, and it is. The editorial stated that online gambling had,
“a potentially greater danger to health than other forms of gambling, particularly for those younger than 16 years of age.”
It is a matter about which I have long been concerned, since I came into this House. In 2013, I sponsored an amendment to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill to introduce a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme for online gambling. Indeed, with the help of the Labour party—particularly with the help of the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), who is in his place—the House divided. We did not win that vote, but we were successful in the other place as the legislation was then changed. It is now up and running in the form of GamStop.
I am sure my hon. Friend will be as disturbed as I was to learn that last year Northern Ireland had the highest statistics for problem gambling, and the statistics prove that the problem was in areas of deprivation, so we need to do more to help people in those areas.
My hon. Friend is right to call for more help. I am about to come to the figures.
It is absolutely right that GamStop applies in Northern Ireland, especially given that Northern Ireland has a higher problem gambling rate than the rest of the United Kingdom. The figures are stark and real. Research published by the Department for Communities in 2017 found that 2.3% of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were deemed to be problem gamblers, with a further 4.9% being classed as moderate risk gamblers. The figure for England at that time was 0.7% of the population. It is clear that we in Northern Ireland have a greater issue than elsewhere.
In April 2016, I led a Westminster Hall debate on FOBTs and we were able to work collectively. I particularly commend the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for their endeavours on this matter. The maximum stake was then reduced, as we know, but unfortunately the £2 stake applies only to Great Britain. Ladbrokes in Northern Ireland has led the way in proposing voluntary action to reduce the maximum stake to £2, and other providers have followed, so we have had some success on a voluntary basis. I acknowledge the good work that Ladbrokes has done in the Province.
In the context of the problem gambling figure being so much worse in Northern Ireland than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom—2.3% rather than 0.7%—I suggest that, while Stormont is suspended, there is one other area in relation to which the gambling industry could step up in Northern Ireland. In her speech last week the Minister said:
“There are positive signs that the industry is stepping up to the challenge...but there is scope to go further. I want to see the industry meet GambleAware’s donation target of £10 million by April this year.”—[Official Report, 12 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 96WH.]
I fully appreciate that if the money was extracted through the statutory levy in the Gambling Act 2005, the relevant monies would apply only to England, Wales and Scotland, because gambling is devolved to Northern Ireland, but there is no reason why it could not voluntarily also apply to Northern Ireland. I therefore ask the Minister: is there any possibility of some of that money coming to us in Northern Ireland to address the issue? Will she clarify whether any portion of that £10 million goes to projects to help problem gamblers in Northern Ireland?
I am conscious of the time. It is striking that there is voluntary action to support problem gamblers in Northern Ireland through GamStop and the reduction in the FOBTs stake. Again, those struggling with problem gambling need not only self-exclusion, but other means of support, which are currently offered through the voluntary contributions paid by gambling companies for research, education and treatment. Indeed, if the Government finally decide to go down the route of the levy, just as the FOBT reduction and GamStop are being applied voluntarily in Northern Ireland, that could happen for a mandatory levy. Problem gamblers everywhere need assistance, but today I make a plea for additional help for those in Northern Ireland, through the voluntary scheme and any future mandatory levy. I hope that they will receive some positive news from the Minister.
I want to say at the outset: is it not about time that those who win are not precluded from gambling, as seems to be the practice? That is something that the Minister should consider, immediately.
I thank the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing the debate, which is part of an ongoing debate on the problem of gambling. I take the issue seriously and have strong views. We should look after the vulnerable, because the consequences of gambling can be serious. The debate has moved on over the years, and it needs to continue to move on, because technology, platforms and the gambling industry are evolving. There are new methods and types of gambling, into which people are drawn. Gambling has had a devastating effect on some people, and we must approach the issue responsibly and thoughtfully and not dismiss it.
I was interested to hear the comments of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who spoke powerfully. To summarise, if I may, he said that the gambling industry was far too clever for its own good and was acting in a particularly pernicious way with respect to problem gambling. I would add that it almost replicates some of the practices used by the tobacco industry over 60 or 70 years. Although I hear other Members saying the opposite, I want to point out that the thing about the tobacco industry that the gambling industry tries to replicate is making the issue a medical one, rather than a matter of precaution. The reason for that is that if it is a medical issue, and we talk about problem gamblers, we actually allow them to gamble and rack up debts—and we will sort the problem out afterwards. It is a simple and clever strategy, and we must be minded to see through it. We should operate on a precautionary principle. There is a reason why the gambling industry does not want us to do that, which is that it would mean acting before people engage in harmful gambling.
We have accepted the precautionary principle in the case of fixed odds betting terminals. I am delighted that the cap has been lowered to £2 and I congratulate those, including my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, who were in the vanguard of the campaign. Equally, going back to 2012, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will remember the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) who was one of the first people to raise the matter in this place. He expressed great concern, which I shared at the time, and I do not think thanks have been expressed to him in the debate.
On the point about raising new concerns about gambling, is my hon. Friend aware of the use of loot boxes in video games, which many countries recognise as gambling? People aged under 18 who are using loot boxes sometimes rack up hundreds or thousands of pounds of debt, but the Gambling Commission does not view it as gambling.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which other Members have made in the debate, about children being drawn into gambling by derivatives of money or by tokens simulating money. That is a huge and significant concern and we must all be worried about it.
I appreciate that the gambling industry makes a contribution to the economy and provides employment, including in my constituency. I go into bookmakers, and am happy to work with the staff there. I recently went into William Hill in Accrington to support good causes. I do not in any way think there should be all-out war on bookmakers. We should have a reasoned argument about gambling, what to do about the considerable number of people who have been entrapped into gambling, and how to prevent others from becoming victims—if I may say that—of gambling products and the gambling industry in future. We must take a balanced approach.
According to official data on fixed odds betting terminals, which, as everyone knows, allow users to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on the spin, the amount that British gamblers lost on them last year doubled. The last figure is for 2016 when it went up from £1 billion to £1.8 billion. That is a colossal amount of money to have been lost, and dividing it up by constituency allows us to appreciate how much. If the council tax collected by my local district council is compared with the amount spent in the same area by being pushed into fixed odds betting terminals, the contrast between the two figures is dramatic. Of course the amount that goes into FOBTs is far more significant.
The evidence for problem gambling is significant, too. The Gambling Commission has reported that there are some 430,000 gambling addicts, and 2 million vulnerable players at risk of developing an addiction. That takes me back to the point that we should not necessarily see the problem as medical—although for those who are addicted we should. We should never forget that we need to apply the precautionary principle. I want to finish with—
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) not just on securing the debate but on his incredible, dogged work on the issue. He has pursued it with serious vigour and—as I am sure applies to other Members who have worked on the matter of fixed odds betting terminals—under huge pressure from betting firms.
I draw attention to what the Library briefing for the debate says about the statutory levy:
“Under section 123 of the 2005 Act, the Secretary of State can make regulations requiring gambling operators to pay an annual levy to the Gambling Commission.”
The reality is that there are powers. More needs to be done, but existing powers are not even being implemented. Many Members have given statistics and spoken about the challenges and issues, and the damage that gambling-related harm is doing to society and communities. I draw the attention of the Chamber to a study by Robert Lustig, who is a professor of paediatrics, with a focus on endocrinology, at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also the author of “The Hacking of the American Mind”. He told a conference on technology addiction that the brain reacts to technology similarly to the way it reacts to other addictive substances:
“Technology, like all other ‘rewards’, can overrelease dopamine”.
In 2017 we heard that the level of extreme internet use among UK teenagers is among the highest in the OECD. The think-tank the Education Policy Institute reported in 2017 that more than a third of 15-year-olds can be classed as extreme internet users—meaning that they use it for six-plus hours a day. If that is translated into online gambling and its proliferation we are heading for a serious crisis among young people—the adults of tomorrow.
Much has changed since I was an avid gamer, playing such games as “Sonic the Hedgehog” in search of gold rings. Loot boxes were not a thing. I have recently learned a lot more about them. I am the Scottish National party spokesperson on digital, culture, media and sport. The party takes online harms seriously and I have increasing concerns about them. I know that the Government want to get things right in the White Paper, but they need to speed up the process. There are clearly huge issues for young people—to do not only with gambling but with pornography. Loot boxes are clearly gambling, and we share the concern about them. They allow players of online video games—usually children—to pay money for an unknown prize. I read through some of the recommendations in ParentZone, which include measures such as not having credit or debit cards attached to children’s profiles.
Earlier I mentioned education, and a couple of weeks ago there was a Westminster Hall debate on the importance of sex education in school, and of not removing children from that. It was concerning to hear the number of Members who backed what, to my mind, was an ill-informed online petition. Many people said that parents should be allowed to teach their children about sex and teach social and religious education at home, but in reality many children and young people are vulnerable, particularly online, and their parents may not have the facilities and information to support them at home.
Loot boxes are used in the context of an uptake in gambling by young people, and it has been reported that 40% of 11 to 16-year-olds engage in gambling. Horseracing was mentioned earlier, and I was recently visited by Bill Alexander, who runs an organisation called Sportjumping. He had some concerning facts, which I will write to the Minister about. His view was that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport withheld information that levy contributions from the betting industry are offset as tax credits from the EU competition commission, and he queried state aid for the sport. Horseracing generates a huge amount of money and is very popular, but there are concerns about it, such as the fact that many jockeys suffer from osteoporosis, have to “sweat down”, or have depression as a result of weight loss, not to mention the number of horses that are killed. I hope the Minister will consider that issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing the debate. He has been an assiduous campaigner for the reform of gambling regulations since he entered the House in 2015, and I pay tribute to his work thus far.
This has been an excellent debate, with no fewer than 17 Back-Bench contributions from right hon. and hon. Members—a remarkable figure for Westminster Hall. My hon. Friend spoke about the consequences of debt due to gambling, such as relationship breakdown, anxiety and depression, and he spoke movingly about a young guy, Jack, who sadly took his own life. He spoke about the eye-watering profits of the gambling industry, which have increased by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005, and he touched on the relationship between sport and gambling, particularly in advertising—there is much more to be said on that, but that is probably a different issue for a different debate.
The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) reflected on his time as a shadow Minister in 2005, and he spoke about the move to online gambling and his concerns about offshore regulation—concerns that I share. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is probably my favourite Labour MP in the House, and we rightly pay tribute to her work on the all-party group on gambling-related harm. I look forward to joining that group in its inquiries from next week onwards. She was right to say that we must consider the growth in online gambling. Sadly, legislation does not always keep pace with new technology, and it is important for the all-party group to consider that.
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) also reflected on the 2005 Act. He was right that there is overwhelming evidence about FOBTs, and it took the Government and the Gambling Commission a long time to address that issue. I hope that we will not see that again, although I will reserve my judgment.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson)—I think the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to her as the “fiery lady”—rightly spoke about the need to move on from self-regulation. It is fair to say that it is no longer appropriate for the gambling industry to mark its own homework, and she made that point powerfully.
The hon. Member for Strangford—my fellow season ticket holder for Westminster Hall—spoke powerfully about the situation in Northern Ireland. I confess that I was not aware of that difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK regarding FOBTs, and I suspect it has something to do with the Stormont Assembly not currently sitting. It would be good to see that issue move on. The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) spoke about maintaining momentum and keeping up with the pace of technology, as well as the need to make gambling a medical issue, which I echo. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said that powers to address problem gambling do exist but they are not currently used well, and I share that concern.
The liberalisation of gambling, which was exacerbated by the 2005 Act, has had a profound impact on my community and many of my constituents. Even today on Main Street in Baillieston, three bookies are lined up next to each other, separated only by a fast food shop—not exactly great diversity for a local high street. Many years ago a Channel 4 survey suggested that there were an average of six betting shops for every 100,000 people in an affluent area, but 12 in a more deprived area. My constituency has fewer than 100,000 people—there are around 70,000—yet we have in excess of 35 betting shops. Bookmakers and gambling firms disproportionately target areas of high deprivation, such as my constituency of Glasgow East.
As the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) said, many Members do not have a problem with folk who want to go for the odd punt on the horses. I had an enjoyable evening at a parent council fundraiser race night a couple of weeks ago, and we all accept that, when done in moderation, there is no problem with gambling. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde was right to say that we must focus on the harm caused by gambling, and the vulnerable people whom it impacts, and I am glad we are having this debate.
Public health, and particularly children’s health, must be given utmost priority in these matters, and urgent action should be taken if children are engaging in gambling. As Members have suggested, there is a risk that technology is developing at a pace that we in Parliament do not perhaps keep up with, and that is especially true when it comes to apps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston said, many mobile phone apps are designed to be stimulus-driven, and we know the impact that has on dopamine levels. Earlier this week, the all-party group on social media and young people’s mental health, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), produced a powerful report on the impact that social media and apps are having on young people, and some of the issues that we are discussing tie in with that.
Having added to the picture that has already been eloquently painted by hon. Members, I would like the Government to commit to radical action in this area, although the recent shenanigans with FOBTs reform lead me to conclude that they are reluctant to take more action on gambling. I would like that legislation to be devolved to Scotland, because I do not want this issue to get left behind. During the debate on FOBTs, I recall the bullying that Members of this House received from the Association of British Bookmakers, and on a public health issue such as this, it is important not to give in to bullying by big industry or lobbyists. We in this House should, quite rightly, tell the Association of British Bookmakers where to go.
I want the Government to take real action on this issue. I have a lot of respect for the Minister, whom I encountered when she was a Whip, as well as in her new role. She was there the day that the statutory instrument on FOBTs was passed, so I will reserve judgment and listen to what she has to say. However, if Westminster will not take action on the issue, my own Government at home in Scotland will. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, although we have limited powers to act on the issue, we have not been shy when taking action on the proliferation of FOBTs. If we go back and consider the liberalisation in the 2005 Act, and the problems we have been left with today, we should come to the conclusion that no action is no longer an option. There is cross-party support in this House to get something done, and we look to the Minister for that action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. All Members have made incredibly valuable comments. I especially pay tribute to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing this essential debate. As I am sure he is aware, the Labour party has been driving improvements in protections and care for gamblers, and I am pleased that there is cross-party consensus when it comes to reducing gambling-related harm. [Interruption.] I hope that his chuckle is in acknowledgment of that.
Gambling addiction currently affects 430,000 people in the UK. That many people could fill Wembley stadium four times over. Last year’s debate on fixed odds betting terminals showed us what can be achieved when politicians, experts and campaigners come together on such an important common cause. Despite opposition from the industry and, I am sorry to say, reluctance from some within the Minister’s party, we were able to achieve reform that will save lives, benefit communities and better regulate the market. I am proud that the Labour party was the driving force behind that reform.
We now need to go further. I am pleased that the fixed odds betting terminals all-party parliamentary group will continue its work under the new banner of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm. I am also proud that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is working with the hon. Member for Inverclyde and other parliamentarians to investigate the impact of gambling-related harm in our communities. The excellent work being done by campaigners such as Liz and Charles Ritchie at Gambling With Lives powerfully reminds us of what that harm means, and the deep destruction that it has on individual lives and families.
Last year the Labour party published our review of problem gambling and its treatment. In that review, we cited the need for additional resources in treatment, and recommended achieving that by placing a mandatory levy on gambling companies that would allow for greater training, capacity and expertise in those services, and for the establishment of specialised regional gambling treatment centres. I am pleased that the case for a mandatory levy has been taken up by other parties and organisations, and I expect it to come into effect in the coming year.
However, we also need to have a real conversation about how the money from that levy would be best allocated and spent. The Labour party believes that the debate on gambling-related harm needs a stronger and committed public health focus. In our review, we called for the formation of a working group between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health and Social Care to co-ordinate that, and we would want to see similar co-ordination with a gambling mandatory levy and other public health-related priorities.
At the moment, gambling harm is too often seen as a side issue to other parts of addiction and public health. We want it at the forefront of public health thinking and, crucially, seen as an addiction in its own right. In my professional capacity as an emergency doctor, I have first-hand experience of seeing families torn apart by gambling and mental health issues—families who have lost loved ones, and walked in on their child trying to commit suicide.
Two things will be needed moving forward: first, training for GPs and healthcare professionals, to ensure proper diagnosis of problem gambling; and secondly, more dedicated clinics opened across the country. Research has shown that problem gambling is linked to social deprivation, with the highest number of betting shops clustered in areas of Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham that have a higher rate of unemployment. Yet the only specialised NHS treatment clinic in the entire country is in London. Even with a new clinic in Leeds, clearly much more must be done. We need to go further when it comes to the exposure and influence of gambling.
In our review, the Labour party called for a change to advertising rules—namely, a whistle-to-whistle ban. Before Christmas we saw an industry initiative that proposed a ban but that, in reality, dealt only with TV advertising. That is meaningless when more than half of our football teams’ shirts are sponsored by gambling companies, and there is rolling advertising on pitch-side billboards. The Labour party calls once again for a ban on shirt sponsorship by gambling companies.
I will conclude by looking forward to a new frontier of gambling-related harm: online gambling. Last month my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) gave a speech in which he outlined how online gambling can be better regulated, with limits on spend, stake and speed. Limits on how much internet gamblers can stake and spend online would be introduced under a Labour Government. Online companies have a responsibility to protect their customers from placing bets that they cannot afford, but too often operators have either neglected the care of their customers or have been too slow in their due diligence.
On spending, the Labour party would like affordability checks to be made a requirement before gambling takes place, so that people cannot lose huge sums of money that they cannot afford. Crucially, that requires a ban on credit card gambling. On stakes, the Labour party wants caps introduced on the amount that can be gambled on certain online products that are linked to harm. There was cross-party support for FOBTs stake reduction, and I hope that there will be similar support for that approach to online gambling. Labour would tackle the problems by creating a new category in the current legislation—the Gambling Act 2005—specifically for online betting, to introduce a system of thresholds placed on the spend, stake and speed of betting, giving safeguards to consumers.
The social cost of addiction, including treatment, welfare, housing and criminal justice, is as much as £1.2 billion a year. That does not even begin to cover the untold costs borne by the families and loved ones of those addicted to gambling. I know that the Minister values the lives of all those important families, who have had their lives ripped apart by gambling. I hope that she will take on board what has been said, and agree that we need to do more—indeed, that we must do more.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on securing this important debate, and I thank all Members for their thoughtful and passionate contributions.
As I outlined to the House last week, reducing gambling-related harm is a priority for the Government. The Secretary of State and I are very clear on that. Millions of people enjoy gambling safely. It is a harmless social activity for many, whether in the form of a day at the races—I was at Cheltenham festival last week—or popping down to the pier on a holiday and enjoying time with family, as I do sometimes with my daughters. As we have heard today, for a small number of people who experience harm the consequences can be devastating, and Members have raised the problem of addiction. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), the latest data that I have states that the estimated problem gambling prevalence rate among adults in Great Britain is 0.7%, which is approximately 340,000 people.
In my response, I will try valiantly to answer as many points as I can, but I will concentrate on two things: first, the protections that are already in place to prevent harm, and what we want to do more on and, secondly, how we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care. The hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) will be pleased to know that we have many ongoing policy workstreams across both Departments to ensure that we get the help to those who need it and learn from experiences.
Many Members mentioned the Gambling Act 2005, because it predates the current internet age. It is supported by the Gambling Commission, which is a regulator with broad powers to ensure that all forms of gambling are free from crime, are fair and open, and protect children, our young people and the vulnerable. However, we recognise the challenge regarding gambling online. Wherever an operator is based, it must have a licence from the commission and must obey the conditions of that licence. The commission regularly checks that its requirements are still right, changing and updating them as needed.
In answer to the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) about age verification and identity, the commission is consulting on strengthening the customer interaction and looking at credit cards and gambling. The Secretary of State and I also recently met banks and challenger banks on that.
The Government will intervene where there is evidence of harm. We did that on the B2 machine stakes in betting shops, and I am pleased that those changes will come into effect in two weeks. Let me be clear to any operator who thinks that that is the end of Government action that if there is evidence that a product is causing harm, we will act. Operators are simply mistaken if they think that we will not intervene.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) challenged me about Government action. As the gambling and lotteries Minister, I will not give in to any bullying tactics from big business when it comes to intervening where there is harm. I want to be very clear about the further work necessary to ensure that operators act in a socially responsible way: if we see signs that they are not intervening where there are problems, we will act. Where operators fail to protect customers from harm, the Gambling Commission has the teeth to act and has done so. I am sure that the commission will look at the all-party group’s work with interest, as we do; I commend all those who are doing that work. Where operators may be giving incentives to gamble to those who suffer the highest losses, we are absolutely on the case. It is time for everyone to come to the table and be responsible.
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
Accountability for business, social responsibility and customer protection are key, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The industry has a key role in preventing harm. The Gambling Commission’s rules are clear that operators must identify where people’s gambling is putting them at risk. Responsible business is the only kind of business that I want to see in the sector—I have been clear about that ever since I took this job. The power to prevent harm is in also in the hands of businesses, as we have heard today. The Secretary of State and I are absolutely stepping up to the challenge of working with financial institutions, across Government and across sectors.
The hon. Member for Inverclyde mentioned loot boxes and gaming. We are aware of concerns that loot boxes could encourage gambling-like behaviour. Alongside the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, I continue to look at the evidence, and we will listen to the all-party group and work with the tech and gambling industries. GamStop, which was rolled out last year, can really help people with online problems. For the first time, we have seen some outcomes: it currently extends to 90% of the market, and I call on the rest of the providers to step up and ensure 100% coverage. I was pleased last week to meet Gamban, which I will soon visit at its Southampton base. It provides extra protection and has a background in understanding this challenge and using tech and all the devices that it can engage with to help people. Work is being done where people know the challenges and can respond.
The hon. Member for Inverclyde also raised concerns about gambling advertising. I reassure hon. Members that we have looked carefully at the review’s evidence on advertising and will continue to do so. There are strict rules on adverts that target children and vulnerable people; guidance has been strengthened further as a consequence of the review, and the commission has toughened its sanctions for operators that breach the rules. The whistle-to-whistle ban has already been mentioned, and we have worked with GambleAware to launch the Bet Regret advertising campaign. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for Bet Regret.
The industry is also responding to public concern about TV adverts more broadly. From this summer, there will be a ban on betting adverts during sports events before 9 o’clock. That is a step forward, but as Minister for sport, I say directly to sports bodies that they must look very carefully at their responsibilities to their fans and followers, because they, too, can play a part in reducing the risks and in raising awareness of them. There are sports that have an overreliance on types of sponsorship that some could see as irresponsible. They know who they are—they need to take stock, think about their fans, including young children, and support the vulnerable.
Let me turn to concerns about suicide. Any suicide is a tragedy for so many families. As has been said today, we need robust understanding. GambleAware has commissioned new research, which will be published soon and will help us to work with health professionals in the sector. We want to continue to work with the Department for Education on stigma and on concerns about gambling problems. I agree that we need a better awareness of people’s risks and problems from a younger age, so that we can direct help where it is needed. GambleAware and GamCare have some fantastic initiatives, including programmes for schools, to reach out to our young people. I intend to work with ministerial colleagues to see what advice we can give to parents, who absolutely need to know what is out there.
It is important that we continue to listen to those with lived experience, and I thank the Ritchies and Gambling With Lives for their important and ongoing work. We are also working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, and I am pleased that in our long-term plan for the NHS we committed to expanding specialist support for people with gambling addictions. As has been said, GambleAware is evaluating its current services and looking to increase access.
Health surveys show links between poor mental health, substance abuse and problem gambling—2.2% of people with probable mental health issues are problem gamblers—so we need to ensure that we understand the public health harms. Working with Public Health England to carry out a review of the evidence is our next step; the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board has also published a paper that sets out a potential framework for measuring harm. We want stronger evidence so that we can appropriately target our resources and, ultimately, our intervention.
Further research is needed on the factors behind suicide. I recently met the Minister for suicide prevention, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), to understand more about gambling as a factor in suicide, which is a key priority for her as well. I want to see a stronger evidence base. We heard today about some of the academics who are working in this important area, but I encourage more academics to do so and help us to understand the challenges of harm. Preliminary research on gambling-related suicide will be published soon, and we will work across Government so that we do not see any more tragedies in this area.
Let me focus on support. I assure those who are currently experiencing harm that help is there. There is an NHS clinic in London and there will soon be one in Leeds. GambleAware funds a national gambling helpline and a network of counselling services led by GamCare. It is open from 8 in the morning to midnight, seven days a week, and—for those tuning in—the number is 0808 8020 133. I met GamCare last week and heard all about what it has been doing for the past 20 years to frame frontline service provision. It shows that if people reach out for help, they can move forward and get out of the cycle.
GamCare’s helpline is an essential starting point. It is doing all it can to raise its visibility among GPs, and it is working with GambleAware to ensure that appropriate resources are available for health workers, frontline staff and debt advisers—in fact, people often come to banks as their first line of help. That important work is funded by industry, and I encourage it to maintain and increase the support that it gives. We want the voluntary system to work, and the Gambling Commission is committed to reviewing and helping to strengthen it.
On the levy question, I remind all those who are watching or listening that nothing but responsible business is acceptable. The Government will act and make changes where evidence so directs, leaving open for consideration all funding options for future treatment.
I am glad that recognition of gambling-related harm has increased, as we have seen today. It is a serious issue and a lot of work is being done by a range of bodies, and it is important that we acknowledge their good will and commitment as well as recognising where we need to go further. Strong protections are in place and they are being further strengthened, but we continue to gather knowledge and evidence of harm. I look forward to working with the House, updating hon. Members and working with business on this area to ensure that only responsible practices and actions remain.
Thank you, Ms Buck; I also thank Mr McCabe, in his absence, for guiding us with a strong hand, and the Minister for her very comprehensive response, which I really do appreciate. I have sat down with her on previous occasions to discuss the matter, and she has proved very knowledgeable and sincere.
I am in debt to all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. When the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) mentioned deregulation, it struck me that we had opened a Pandora’s box for bookmakers. When that happens, of course, all the miseries of the world fly out, but—as those who are familiar with the story will know—what is left behind is hope. I hope that today the Government are listening and will act accordingly.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered gambling-related harm.