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Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.15 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House is concerned that the clustering of betting shops in or close to deprived communities is being driven by increasing revenue from fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT) rather than traditional over the counter betting; believes that this has encouraged betting shop operators to open more than one premises in close proximity to one another; is aware of the growing concern in many communities about the detrimental effect this is having on the diversity and character of UK high streets; is alarmed that people can stake as much as £100 every 20 seconds on these machines; is further concerned that the practice of single staffing in betting shops leaves staff vulnerable and deters them from intervening if customers suffer heavy losses thereby undermining efforts by the betting industry to protect vulnerable customers; further believes that local authorities should be able to establish a separate planning class for betting shops and that they should be given additional licensing powers to determine the number of FOBT machines within existing and proposed shops and to require that the machines are modified to slow the rate of play and to interrupt when people play for long periods; and calls on the Government to put local people before the interests of the betting shop operators and give local authorities the powers they need to respond to concerns from their local communities and stop the proliferation of FOBT machines and betting shops.

Many people throughout the country are concerned about the impact of betting shops on their high streets. They are worried that the shops are clustered in close proximity to one another, and that they are too often close to communities with high levels of deprivation. We are not suggesting that there is a problem in every community, which is why we are not proposing that the Government should introduce a blanket ban. Instead, we are calling for local councillors to be given real powers so that they are able to respond to the concerns of their local communities and to act responsibly in the interests of the people who elect them. Too often, we hear of councillors being frustrated that they are unable to support local residents. Time after time, people turn up at local planning or licensing meetings and watch in disbelief as councillors who are known to oppose plans are forced to allow another betting shop to open because the legal process favours the lawyers representing the interests of the betting shops. That cannot go on. It causes people to lose faith in local democracy, and we will stop it. Councillors must be allowed some discretion; they should not be expected simply to rubber-stamp such applications.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I chaired the local licensing authority in the city of Hull when the Gambling Act 2005 was brought in, and we were absolutely frustrated in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the House for that legislation, which gave local councillors such as me no discretion at all?

Clive Efford: The legislation that brought in fixed odds betting terminals actually predated the Gambling Act, but in that Act we limited the number of machines to four per shop. What is unprecedented is the fact that the amount of money that can be taken from the machines is now greater than what can be taken from

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over-the-counter betting, and that is what is driving the clustering of betting shops on our high streets. However, the Government are refusing to deal with the problem. They must accept that there are more betting shops close to areas of high deprivation. This is borne out by research—

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab) rose

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Clive Efford: I will certainly give way when I have finished making this point.

A report on machine density by experts in gambling including Heather Wardle, who leads key studies such as the gambling prevalence survey, has stated:

“The distribution of gambling machines in Great Britain…displays a significant association with areas of socio-economic deprivation. The profile of the resident population living in HDMZs”—

high-density machine zones—

“mirrors the profile of those most at-risk of experiencing harm from gambling.”

We cannot stand back and allow this to continue.

Alex Cunningham: In my constituency there is one fixed odds betting terminal for every 700 people who are eligible to play them, and the vast majority are in areas of high deprivation. In Broadland, a southern constituency, there is one machine for every 18,300 people. Is that not a clear confirmation that the poor are being targeted by this empty promise of great wealth? Do we not need to do something about this?

Clive Efford: Sadly, that situation is repeated in too many places throughout the country, and it is time that the Government recognised that the problem can be dealt with only at a local level.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) rose

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con) rose—

Clive Efford: I shall give way to the hon. Lady and then to the hon. Gentleman.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case about how betting shops and fixed odds betting terminals are proliferating in some of our most deprived areas. We have 70 FOBTs in Brighton, Pavilion alone. Does he share my concern that some betting shops are now cutting the hourly wages of their staff, but offering them the chance to make up the loss if they can increase the profit from the machines? Is not that completely unacceptable?

Clive Efford: It is, and it flies in the face of the betting industry’s claims about how it trains its staff to deal with problem gambling, because the industry is incentivising them to encourage people to gamble more.

Mr Burrowes: I thank the hon. Gentleman for keeping his promise. A briefing from the Salvation Army says that after the Gambling Act 2005 came into force, the number of gambling addicts increased by more than 50% between 2007 and 2010—a rise of 115,000 people. What—or, more pertinently, who—is responsible for that?

Clive Efford: We could have a debate about that question itself, because there are many forms of gambling that lead people to become addicts, especially given the

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rise in online gambling, which has grown into a £2 billion industry over the past few years. It is therefore difficult to extrapolate who is responsible. However, we should do the appropriate research into the impact of FOBTs on problem gambling.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I understand why Government Back Benchers want to deviate from the subject, given that it is about deprivation and targeting poorer communities. There are 136 such machines in my constituency, which is double the number in its prosperous neighbouring constituencies. This is the betting industry targeting the poor.

Clive Efford: I certainly think that the machines are an example of Cameron’s Britain, where there is one rule for our constituents and another for the big businesses that run the betting shops.

Mr Sheerman: My constituency of Huddersfield has 28 bookies. In 2012, £102 million was bet and £3 million lost—that scourge just vacuums money out of our community. I actually do not agree with the motion; I think we should get rid of these iniquitous organisations.

Clive Efford: The motion addresses the concern expressed by my hon. Friend by calling for local councillors to make decisions about the economic activity that takes place in their town centres.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I admire the shadow Minister’s guile in bringing the debate before the House, but do the facts not speak for themselves? In 2000, there were no FOBTs in the UK, but by the time his party left office, there were 30,000 of them. Would not the most dangerous gamble facing the British public be if they were ever to consider voting Labour at the next general election?

Clive Efford: I will let the Conservatives in on something—the world changes. Since 2000, a £2 billion online gambling industry has emerged. The gambling industry is evolving. When we passed the 2005 Act, we made it clear that these FOBTs in betting shops were on probation and that we would keep them under review. We are saying that the time has come to deal with the situation, but this Government are refusing to do so.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with my hon. Friend that the Conservative party seems not to be taking any responsibility for things that are happening on its watch. Let me add some further evidence about deprivation—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Lady will be brief, but she must be heard.

Lucy Powell: Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I did think that the Conservatives were in government.

In my constituency, which is one of the most deprived in the country, £190 million was spent on these machines last year alone. That is more than the council spent on services in my constituency, and in one ward alone there are now 500 of these machines. What local councils need are more powers.

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Clive Efford: All the examples we are hearing, including that one, show the problem of clustering.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): At the risk of paraphrasing Mrs Merton, what first attracted the multimillionaire Peter Coates, the chairman of bet365, to donate £400,000 to the Labour party, £100,000 of which was given in the 12 months after the passing of the Gambling Act 2005?

Clive Efford: Bet365 is an online gambling company and we are not dealing with that industry today. However, I will just say that Mr Coates’s company is one of the few that has stayed in the UK, that employs people in the UK and that pays taxes in the UK, which is more than can be said for Lord Ashcroft.

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): When we introduced the legislation that resulted in these machines, we were not aware, and could not have been aware, of these unintended consequences. Now that we are aware, we call on the Government, who have the power to act, to do something about it.

Clive Efford: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend.

Several hon. Members rose

Clive Efford: Let me make a little bit of progress before I give way again.

The Government have consistently said, “Problem, what problem?” They might not be aware of the problem, but the people in our communities are and they want action. There have been numerous complaints. People talk about the crime and antisocial behaviour associated with betting shops, and about clustering and the detrimental impact on the character and diversity of our high streets. In her report on our high streets, which was commissioned by the Government in 2011, Mary Portas says:

“The influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets.”

The Government are aware of the concerns, yet they have consistently refused to give local people powers to stop new shops opening in their communities. There is widespread support from local government for what we are calling for. In 2012, when the Local Government Association commissioned an opinion poll on people’s attitudes to planning and our high streets, it found that more than two thirds—68%—of local people were against existing rules allowing betting shops to take over banks and building societies without planning permission.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. The Tote has its headquarters in my constituency. Is he aware that the people who feel most strongly about this are the staff who work in betting shops and see problem gambling? They are determined that there should be local powers to deal with the problem.

Clive Efford: Absolutely, and the people who represent staff in the betting industry have been vocal. There are concerns not just about the single staffing of premises and the safety of staff, but about training. To be fair, although the industry has come to the issue of training a bit late, it has started to introduce it for its staff, but it must create an environment in which it can be effective.

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Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman help me by explaining something? How would stopping new shops prevent addictive gambling when we know that there are already so many shops out there and when in the last three years of the Labour Government, when it was known there was a problem, they did not think that anything could be done about it?

Clive Efford: I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that he has been lured by briefings from his own side. This motion is not about problem gambling, but about giving local authorities powers to deal with the proliferation of betting shops in our high streets—for planning and economic regeneration reasons, as well as because of concerns about the social impact of fixed odds betting terminals. We are not trying to suggest that passing the motion will solve problem gambling in relation to FOBTs, and the Prime Minister was mistaken today when he answered the Leader of the Opposition’s question on that matter.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): All the evidence that has been cited, especially by the shadow Minister and Labour Members, has put paid to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that we need evidence. We need action, and we need it now.

Clive Efford: I will come on to the evidence later in my speech, as what was said about that today really needs to be clarified.

There is widespread opposition to the Government’s position on this matter. Back in 2012, when the Local Government Association published the conclusions of its opinion poll, Sir Merrick Cockell, the chairman of the LGA and former Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea, said:

“This opinion poll shows local people want government to give councils the powers to tackle unsightly clusters of sex shops, bookies and takeaways that can blight so many of our high streets. People want action so the places they live, work and shop can be revitalised to reflect how they want them to look and feel.”

The Government talk about localism, but they do not grant the powers even when they are asked to do so by their own colleagues.

I assume that the Government have heard of a character called Boris Johnson. He is the Mayor of London and his office issued a statement on the issue of betting shops, saying:

“They have grown in number with an increased supply of premises such as vacant banks and pubs that do not require planning permission to be used as a betting shop. Betting firms are attracted to busy high streets and town centres with a ready supply of such premises. This has resulted in clustering in less prosperous areas like Hackney, which has 64 betting shops in the borough, 8 in Mare Street alone, and Deptford”—

in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock)—

“with seven betting shops on one street.”

The would-be leader of the Conservatives supports our view. His statement goes on to say:

“The Mayor proposes that betting shop operators wishing to open up a new outlet should be required to apply for planning permission for the chosen premises, which would allow proper consideration to be given to each proposal for a betting shop and its effect on individual centres.”

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The Conservative chairman of the LGA and the Tory Mayor for London are both calling for the Government to act. In fact, it is hard to find anyone who supports the Government’s view. Local people want more powers, local government wants more powers and the two highest-ranking Tories in local government want the Government to act, too. Everyone seems to be in agreement except for the Government—well, except for certain parts of the Government.

We have had another Liberal Democrat pledge. The Liberal Democrats have been at it again. One might have thought that they would learn their lesson over university tuition fees, but once the flashbulbs start popping they cannot hold themselves back. They have been photographed saying “Ban the FOBTs” at the Liberal Democrat conference. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister for Crime Prevention, the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), the Minister for Schools, who is also a Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, and the hon. Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright) were all photographed backing anti-FOBT campaigners.

The Liberal Democrats also passed a motion at their conference in September. What did it call for? It said that local councillors should

“be empowered to decide whether or not to give approval to additional gambling venues in their community”

and called for

“Betting shops to be put in a separate planning use class”.

The motion was not from some fringe group but from the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am strongly opposed to FOBT machines in betting shops, but my opposition is governed by their impact on addiction and the complex interactions of addiction. The shadow Minister said that that was not part of his motion. Is he motivated at all by the addiction issue and, if he is, why did he not include it in his motion?

Clive Efford: I shall explain later my exact position on stakes and prizes, which has not changed for two years. I have consistently made my argument on stakes and prizes and I will give the hon. Gentleman a response when I come to that.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): The hon. Gentleman talks about local government, but does he recognise that there are powers available through the use of article 4 directions, which both Barking and Southwark council have chosen to use? I appreciate that they might be a bit cumbersome, but powers are available now that councils can use.

Clive Efford: If the hon. Lady will be patient, I will deal with article 4 directions.

I say to the Liberal Democrats that it is time to stop posing for photos and posturing with fine words in the motions at their conference. Lib Dem MPs are clearly confused, so let me make it clear to them: today, they are deciding whether to empower local authorities to take control of their high streets, as they said they

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would at their conference, and to back their councillors, the members of their party and their Chief Whip, or to vote along with the gambling industry. They have made their claims, so they should stand up for them today.

I turn to the words of the Minister, who commented on our choice of topic for the Opposition day debate. She claimed that my position contradicted the need for research. She said:

“Just a few weeks ago Clive Efford”—

that is me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is in the quote—

“said that there was no evidence to support a change in the stake and prize levels for FOBTs, yet now he is trotting out a totally contradictory line, written for him by his political masters.”

I know that the Minister has not been in the job for long, but she really ought to get a better grip on her brief, because there is nothing in the motion about stakes and prizes. She should know that early last year, in response to the triennial review of stakes and prizes, I called for changes to be made to the software of these machines, and all those changes are in the motion: longer periods between play; pop-ups to break play and to remind people how long they have been playing; requiring people to load the machines over the counter to force interaction with staff, to give staff the opportunity to interact with customers who may be gambling too much; and an end to single staffing. We have been consistent on these issues, but we have had nothing from the Government except some Lib Dems posing for photographs.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): On the question of addictive gambling, my hon. Friend will know that I have raised the issue and with the help of the Daily Record exposed the fact that an active gambler in my constituency is banned from every betting shop within 10 miles, but can walk into any of those shops and play those fixed odds betting terminals. There is no one he talks to, no one vets him being there, and he gambles his wages away every week.

Clive Efford: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and technology should be used to protect people against problem gambling. That is something else that we have consistently raised.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) rose

Clive Efford: How can I not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has so much knowledge of the gambling industry?

Philip Davies: I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I ask the shadow Minister about his position on this issue, because he has always supported research by the Responsible Gambling Trust, on which his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) serves, so I am sure that he has every confidence in it? He has always said that we should wait for research, so why does he support the research but is not prepared to wait for it? Is that not a ridiculous state of affairs?

Clive Efford: I repeat: today’s motion is not about stakes and prizes. It is about empowering local authorities, which have called for powers to deal with a wide range of issues that go beyond gambling. It is about economic

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regeneration; it is about economic vitality and diversity in town centres; it is about the concern about the effect that the clustering of betting shops has on the character of town centres. I will deal with the research, and I will come on to it very soon if hon. Members are patient.

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (Ind): Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the motion allows local authorities to deal with the current situation in which there are far too many of these shops? Why is the motion not about the odds and the stakes, because that is the important issue?

Clive Efford: I will come on to the issue of stakes and prizes, but it is complex and it will take a great deal of time to explain. The motion calls for extra licensing powers and a change in the law. I accept that it would be difficult to introduce retrospective legislation to go back and take licences for those machines away from betting shops, but that is what is included in the motion. If that is what the hon. Gentleman is calling for, he can vote with us.

Perhaps the most damning fact is the Government’s claim that councils have powers to stop the clustering of betting shops. Again in her comments on today’s debate, the shadow Minister—[Interruption.] I am sorry, the Minister—I am getting ahead of myself and am about 18 months too early—said:

“Councils already have planning powers to tackle the proliferation of betting shops, as well as licensing powers to tackle individual premises causing problems and we have already acted to ensure the industry puts in place the types of player protection measures that Labour are now, at long last, calling for.”

If that is the case, why do councils such as Newham have to go to court to try to stop more betting shops opening in their area? Why are so many local councils passing motions calling for more powers?

Sir Robin Wales, responding to the Minister’s comments yesterday, said:

“Current legislation leaves councils effectively powerless in their ability to tackle the clustering of betting outlets, which causes immeasurable harm to local communities and the high street. The only planning power available to councils (an Article 4 direction) is unwieldy and slow, and some betting shops don’t even require planning permission to open.”

In 2004, Sir Merrick Cockell described article 4 directions as “unwieldy and bureaucratic”. The Local Government Association’s view of article 4 powers in the same year was equally negative:

“Article 4 directions are costly and complex to use. Local authorities need to give notice of the restrictions coming into effect for a year to avoid being at risk of paying compensation. This is an obvious disincentive to the widespread use of Article 4 directions by local planning authorities, which undermines the effectiveness of this measure. Article 4 directions can also only be used across a whole use class—meaning they cannot even be used when a bank becomes a betting shop.”

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend as surprised as I am that the Government seem to object to this simple proposal, which would give local authorities more powers to decide whether to allow fixed odds betting terminals, which is something that local authorities want? It is not a controversial proposal, so I am surprised that the Government object to it.

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Clive Efford: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives claim to be the party of localism, but they do nothing to encourage it.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Clive Efford: If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will draw my remarks to a conclusion, because many Members wish to speak. [Interruption.] I know that what I have to say is upsetting for Government Members, but I am afraid that they will have to hear it all.

The Minister will no doubt say in her response that that is all Labour’s fault. In fact, she has already said just that:

“Any concerns about fixed odds betting machines should be laid firmly at Labour’s door. In 2000, these machines did not exist—by the time of the last general election there were over 30,000.”

FOBTs appeared in betting shops in 2001. In 2005 we limited them to four per shop. The Secretary of State at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), set out on Second Reading of the Gambling Act 2005 that the impact of the machines would be reviewed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) made it clear in 2009 that he would do just that. It is no good going back to 2005, because the world has moved on. Online gambling has grown from nothing into a £2 billion-a-year industry. The Government rejected our proposals to regulate that, so we will take no lessons from them.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I did call for FOBTs to be looked at again in 2009, but I also called for the industry to provide £5 million for the Responsible Gambling Trust, which looks at problem gambling. I hope that my hon. Friend admires the work being done by the trust, a charity that has five independent directors and five from the industry.

Clive Efford: Absolutely. There are eminent people in the Responsible Gambling Trust and I endorse what my hon. Friend says, but I do have something to say about the research.

The concerns about FOBTs and the impact that betting shops have on our communities are not just about gambling. We will wait for proper research, but the Minister needs to understand that saying that we will wait for the research and then doing nothing to gather the information that we need to make informed decisions is just not good enough. After all, this Government scrapped the gambling prevalence survey. Let me quote again from her press release:

“This Government is undertaking the biggest ever study into the effect of these machines and have made clear that we will not hesitate to take action if the evidence points in that direction. To act without evidence is inappropriate and extraordinarily cynical, even by Labour’s standards.”

The Government are deluding themselves if they think that all the answers will come from the current study. In December, NatCen published a scoping report that states:

“Across the category B estate in Great Britain, there is a great deal of inconsistency in the level and type of data collected.”

That will seriously undermine the ability of the Responsible Gambling Trust to give us the information we need to make informed decisions when the research is completed

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next autumn. As the Minister well knows, the report will come out six months away from a general election, yet it will be inconclusive because the data are not robust enough to allow us to make informed decisions on FOBTs.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Labour’s motion says that local authorities should have the power to license the number of FOBTs in existing betting shops. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that would allow a local authority to increase the number per shop on the high street today?

Clive Efford: No, because we would not allow the cap to extend beyond four per shop.

Damian Collins: That is not what it says in the motion.

Clive Efford: The motion says that local authorities would have to limit the number. We certainly would not lift the cap.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): On the powers that the shadow Minister is seeking for local authorities, would he have those powers made retrospective so that local authorities can remove planning permission for existing betting shops?

Clive Efford: No. We are saying that we would place betting shops in their own category so that local councils would have to receive a planning application if someone wanted to open a new betting shop.

Today’s vote is not about stakes and prizes; it is about putting power back in the hands of local communities and the councillors who represent them. Taking decisions in the face of opposition from the betting industry will be tough for local councillors, particularly when it comes to removing existing machines. I happen to believe passionately in local democracy; I spent 12 years as a locally elected councillor. I believe that well-informed local councillors are capable of making important decisions that benefit their communities, and that, too often, we here in Westminster have tied the hands of locally elected representatives. It is time to put local people before the vested interests of the powerful betting industry. We should put our trust in local democracy.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I have to inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Before I call the Minister to move the amendment, it might be helpful for the House to know that I am obliged to put a limit of four minutes on the length of speeches by Back Benchers because there is a very considerable demand for time to speak.

4.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): I beg to move an amendment to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“understands the public concerns around fixed odds betting terminals regulated by the Gambling Act 2005; notes that the Government has made clear that it considers the future of B2 regulation to be unresolved; welcomes the Government-backed research into the effect of fixed odds betting terminals on problem

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gambling; believes that any development in the Government’s policy on this matter should be evidence-led; calls upon the betting industry to provide the data required for a proper understanding of the impact of fixed odds betting terminals; and further notes that local authorities already have planning powers to tackle localised problems and target specific areas where the cumulative impact of betting shops or other specific types of premises might be problematic, as well as licensing powers to tackle individual premises causing problems.

I find it remarkable that we are all here having this debate today. I remind the House that fixed odds betting terminals did not exist 17 years ago, but then the Labour Government came to power, liberalisation began, and the Gambling Act 2005 came about. By the time of the last general election more than 30,000 fixed odds betting terminals were in existence. Yet we find ourselves debating what this Government should do about them—discussing, again, how we should clear up Labour’s mess. That shows rank hypocrisy, total cynicism, and great opportunism.

Yes, I do think these machines are concerning, but the silence of Labour Members on this topic before they ended up in opposition was quite deafening. They brought these machines into being, yet they have the audacity to sit here with a motion that seeks to blame this Government for any harm the machines might cause.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I am very clear that the mess was created by the previous Government and I do not accept excuses about not knowing the likely consequences. However, we seem to have the solution in our hands in the form of the Localism Act 2011. Would it not be possible to empower our local communities, through their local elected representatives, to use, for example, saturation as a reason for saying that they really cannot sustain any more?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes a very good and interesting point. As I progress, I will talk about the powers that local authorities have, including article 4 directions.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The hon. Lady accuses Labour of cynicism and opportunism, but cynicism and opportunism are the besetting sins of politicians. What my constituents want to know is: what are we as a House going to do about the betting shop scourge? One of the main roads in Hackney—Mare street—has eight betting shops full of these machines. Something must be done.

Mrs Grant: I can see that the hon. Lady is concerned. If she bears with me, I will explain exactly what this Government are doing. This is the Government who have pushed for the research, who are doing the research and who are actually pushing the industry to provide the data we need to tackle problem gambling. Before I deal with the hon. Lady’s point, I want to tell the House what the Government are doing in a little more detail.

This Government conducted a review last year of gaming machine stake and prize limits and looked very closely at the available evidence on fixed odds betting terminals. In particular, our review looked at evidence to support claims that these machines present an elevated risk of gambling-related harm. The review found that

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there are real concerns about fixed odds betting terminals and that some players have experienced considerable harm in using them. This Government therefore concluded that the future of these machines is unresolved, and we are undertaking urgent work to establish how they can be made safer, especially to those individuals who may be at greatest risk.

Alex Cunningham: I agree with the Minister that we have learned a lot from the introduction of these terminals. BBC Tees today highlighted the fact that a 17-year-old boy is already addicted to them. His is just one of many lives that are being damaged, yet the betting industry seems to think it is okay to have single-person staffing without any support in its betting shops. Does that not illustrate that it is putting profit before the interests of the people it calls its customers?

Mrs Grant: No, I do not accept that. The Gambling Commission, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, has a requirement that under-age individuals are not allowed to gamble in licensed betting shops. Obviously, if the rules and conditions are breached, the operator is at risk of losing their licence. I will develop that argument further and say a little more about staffing and security numbers as I progress.

The motion raises a wide range of issues, but fails completely to focus on the evidence and activity that is well under way. In order to make appropriate decisions about fixed odds betting terminals, we need better to understand how they are used and the real impact on players. That is why the UK is conducting the largest ever programmes of research into gaming machine usage.

The Opposition acknowledge—notwithstanding what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), said in his opening speech—that there is insufficient evidence to support a reduction in stakes and prizes. That is why we have focused our attention on improving the evidence base, so that we can determine whether a reduction in speed of play or a reduction in maximum stake will make the machines safer.

Mr Spencer: I was taught at an early age that the only thing anyone needs to know about the bookies is that there are four windows to pay in and one window that pays out. Surely education is one of the solutions to this problem. Will the Minister assure the House that she will do all she can to make sure that the gaming industry does what it can to educate its customers?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I had the big five betting operators in to see me in December, and I can reassure him that they are very mindful of the role of player education within player protection, and that they want to progress and do more about it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Grant: I will give way once I have made a little progress.

It is crucial that interventions to make machines safer are based on an understanding of what measures are likely to be effective, rather than being simple, irrational knee-jerk reactions.

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Dame Joan Ruddock: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am carefully following what she is saying. Will she explain how—no matter how much care is exercised and what change might happen—areas of real multiple deprivation, such as my constituency, have so many betting shops with terminals, while wealthy areas do not? There is an absolute contrast, and our case is that the industry is targeting areas such as mine. Does she deny that, or not?

Mrs Grant: I hear what the right hon. Lady says, but the location of betting premises and shops is to do with footfall, not deprivation. It is simply a matter of supply and demand.

The Government are in no doubt that there is scope for the industry to improve its ability to identify people who might be at risk and to intervene early to minimise harm. That is why we have demanded that the industry introduce better player protection measures.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Does the Minister accept the point made so forcefully by Mary Portas that the prevalence of betting shops, particularly in deprived areas, has a very damaging effect on retail centres?

Mrs Grant: We have of course looked carefully at the Portas review. We fed into the review, and the Government response made the point that article 4 directions exist and can be used by local authorities, in addition to the local authority licensing conditions that were recently used very successfully by Newham.

Andrew Percy: May I go back to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock)? Is not the real reason that those betting premises are in her constituency the legislation for which she probably voted? Under the legislation, when a local councillor faces an application for a premises licence, the operator will already have received an operating licence from the Gambling Commission. With its three very strictly limited objectives, the legislation simply does not allow local councillors in her constituency to reject a premises licence application.

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point.

Mr Stewart Jackson: I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said, but I think that the Labour party’s motion is cynical and opportunistic, given recent history. Does the Minister not think that the Government’s case would be much more compelling if they were prepared to observe the precautionary principle of looking at the £100-a-spin game before the demonstrable empirical evidence is published in the autumn, particularly in respect of the impact on vulnerable people?

Mrs Grant: I assure my hon. Friend that we will look at everything: no stone will remain unturned.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The Minister has indicated that she is not giving way at this stage. Hon. Members must allow her to continue her speech and listen to her.

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Mrs Grant: I think that I have been pretty generous so far. I want to make a little progress and then I will take more interventions.

On player protection, I have been consistently clear that the onus is on the betting industry immediately to develop and implement harm mitigation measures, and to make data available for independent research. I met the chief executives of the five largest UK bookmakers in December, and I challenged them to develop a plan by the end of January to link players with play in a way that allows us better to understand player behaviour and to assess the effectiveness of harm mitigation measures. That could include much more extensive use of card-based play on gaming machines to track player behaviour more systematically. I am not prepared, however, to delay taking action while we await research outcomes or industry plans to be developed. For that reason, I have challenged the industry to press ahead with its social responsibility code and to implement precautionary player protection measures at the earliest possible opportunity.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that the research will include player behaviour analysis, which has been opposed by the industry? Indeed, it did not allow the university of Cambridge to take that forward. Such analysis is crucial to an understanding of how the machine and the player interact.

Mrs Grant: I can confirm that.

The precautionary player protection measures include the implementation by March 2014 of suspensions in play when voluntary limits are reached, automatic alerts when customers have been playing for 30 minutes or when a certain amount of money has been spent, enhanced responsible gambling messaging, and a considerably improved and expanded system of voluntary self-exclusion, which will make it much easier for players to exclude themselves from multiple gambling premises.

I do not accept the accusation that those measures are unsatisfactory because the code is not mandatory. I have made it clear that if the industry does not make sufficient progress in implementing those measures or if it cannot demonstrate to me that they have been effective, the Government may act on a precautionary basis anyway. Additionally, the implementation of those measures does not preclude further action at any point, should it become necessary.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): A major bookmaker in my constituency has just retired, so he is more honest than most. He tells me that this kind of gambling is like cocaine—it is totally and absolutely addictive. There are examples of that. A man wins £13,000 in the morning, but he is allowed to play until 8 o’clock in the evening and he loses every penny that he has won. That is how addictive it is. This problem is polluting our high streets. Shops are disappearing and in their place, we are getting bookmakers. This is a ridiculous situation and a decision is needed sooner rather than later.

Mrs Grant: That is why there is no green light for fixed odds betting terminals. Their future is absolutely unresolved, pending the research that we have started.

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The Responsible Gambling Trust is carrying out research to better understand how people behave when playing on gaming machines and what helps people to play responsibly. It is the largest piece of academic research that has ever been undertaken on the issue. It aims to understand patterns of gaming behaviour and to identify when there is robust evidence that consumers may be experiencing problems.

Philip Davies: Will the Minister confirm that the bookmakers have provided all the information that she has asked for? If that is not the case, will she set out what information she would like from the bookmakers that they have not provided her with?

Mrs Grant: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need the information from the bookmakers. That is one reason why I met the big five bookmakers in December. They have indicated that they will provide the data we need. To make sure that they do provide the data, a further meeting has been set up with them for 30 January.

I met the Responsible Gambling Trust in December and pressed it to make progress with the research programme. I emphasised to it the importance of obtaining tangible research outcomes by the autumn of 2014. I am clear that the industry must rapidly share data to allow the research aims to be met within the required timetable.

Mr Sutcliffe: I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the work of the Responsible Gambling Trust, which is made up of five independent members and five members from the industry. Will she condemn the attacks that have been made on the Responsible Gambling Trust by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, which is rubbishing any work that comes from the trust?

Mrs Grant: I will not get involved in such arguments, but I will say that the Responsible Gambling Trust does good work and is a reputable organisation. I look forward to receiving this important piece of work from it later this year.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: In December, the public health survey looked at this issue for the first time. It stated:

“Among both men and women, there was no difference in gambling prevalence by area deprivation, once age was accounted for.”

That was true except among people in the most deprived quintile of the index of multiple deprivation, who were more likely to participate in bingo. There is further analysis relating to FOBTs and quintile four. However, the most recent data that we have show that, in essence, there is no difference by area.

Mrs Grant: That is an interesting and important point, and I believe that that piece of work also indicated that levels of problem gambling had fallen from just below 1% to just below 0.5%. Notwithstanding the drop in the number of problem gamblers, the Government are concerned about any level of problem gambling and will, of course, urge the industry—as we are doing—to make real and proper progress on that matter.

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Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): The Minister is arguing that there is a serious problem, and she keeps wagging her finger at Labour Members and saying it is our fault. [Interruption.] Listen for a moment. She seems to acknowledge that there is a serious problem, so will her Government legislate to address the problem before the next general election?

Mrs Grant: We believe in doing things properly. We are waiting for the research and have put pressure on the industry to produce the data. Reports will be coming out imminently, and precautionary protections will be put in place by the industry at the end of March. We will do whatever is needed to ensure that people are protected. Although planning is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, my officials are in regular discussion with colleagues from that Department about betting shop clustering.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: No, I will not; I am going to make some progress and I think I have been generous.

Changes to the national planning system are not the answer to local problems. Local authorities already have a range of powers available regarding betting shops, and a local planning authority can consult and make an article 4 direction that removes permitted development rights, where it considers that necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of an area. The London boroughs of Southwark and of Barking and Dagenham have brought forward article 4 directions, thus requiring a planning application for any new betting shops. That will enable them to consider the application against their local plan. The betting shop must also comply with its licensing conditions, and where those are breached, the local licensing authority has power to intervene, including removing the licence to operate.

As we have heard, the motion before us calls for local communities to ban gaming machines in their areas. The Government agree that responsibility for managing high streets should rest with local areas, but the truth is that local authorities already have powers to control gambling premises in their areas. Local authorities have power to reject an application for a gambling premises licence, or to grant one with additional conditions should that be necessary. They have power to review licences after they have been granted, and to impose licence conditions after review. Many local authorities have already used those powers to good effect. For example, in November 2013, the London borough of Newham—which has been mentioned this afternoon—imposed conditions on a betting shop because of its concerns about crime, disorder and under-age gambling. The conditions stipulate that a minimum of two members of staff must be on duty throughout the day. Additionally, the betting shop must carry out an undercover, under-age test purchase to ensure that minors are not gambling, and it must send the results to the council and the police.

The Government believe it is right for the industry, in conjunction with local authorities, to agree on the appropriate level of staffing in betting shops, depending on the circumstances of the local area. Local authorities already have powers to ensure a minimum level of staffing where appropriate. The Government urge local

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authorities to fully utilise powers at their disposal to limit the number of betting shops in line with local demand, and to apply appropriate licensing conditions where they have cause to tackle issues of problem gambling in local communities. Adopting the motion would lead to a patchwork of regulation right across the country where it is okay for gaming machines to be located in some areas but not in others. I do not believe that that is the right way forward. The industry must instead introduce better targeted and more effective player protection for users of gaming machines in all locations.

Player protection is at the heart of the Government’s approach to fixed odds betting terminals. I have made it clear to the industry that it must urgently develop targeted player protection measures for those players who are at greatest risk. I do not believe that the motion can achieve such an outcome. However, I do not rule out any action that may be necessary to make machines safer. I am clear that if the betting industry fails to deliver on its commitment to implement enhanced player protection measures by March 2014, and does not share data for independent research, and if the balance of the evidence suggests precautionary action on stakes and prizes or other measures are required, the Government will not hesitate to act.

5.11 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): If one crosses Barking road from East Ham town hall to go into East Ham High street north, there is a Paddy Power on the corner at 387 Barking road, a Betfred just around the corner at No. 6, and two more Paddy Powers at 20 High street north and directly opposite at No. 11. At No. 56 is a Jenningsbet and, set back in Clements road directly opposite No. 45, there is a Coral. In the short walk along the high street to East Ham station, there are two more Betfreds, another Paddy Power, a Ladbrokes and a William Hill, which was the subject of the licensing committee meeting in November to which the Minister referred. On the other side of the station, there are two more Paddy Powers and a Ladbrokes.

I think that represents a concentration. It is certainly related to the economic character of the area and not simply a question of footfall. All those shops open at 7.30 or 8 in the morning. They stay open until 10 o’clock at night seven days a week, and one of them has just asked for permission to stay open till 11pm. I would be very grateful if the Minister would tell us whether the measures she is discussing with the industry will be taken up by organisations such as Paddy Power and Betfred, which account for such a large number of the recently opened shops in our area.

Andrew Gwynne: It seemed that the Minister was not aware that the Local Government Association said that article 4 directives were not sufficient to prevent the proliferation of betting shops on the high street. Is that not precisely why we need to reclassify betting shops out of the A2 classification so that situations such as the one on my right hon. Friend’s high street are not able to continue?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is clearly the view of Conservative local authorities and, as we have heard, of the Mayor of London. I think it would also be the view across the House, were it to be tested.

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To gauge public opinion when there was an application for two more Paddy Power branches last year, I held a drop-in surgery at a local community centre in my constituency. One person who came in was a former Paddy Power manager. He said that he had seen a large number of families destroyed and businesses ruined, as well as students who gambled away their student loans. He told me that by spending a day in a Paddy Power shop, one would meet half a dozen people whose lives had been destroyed by their addiction.

Last year, when Newham council refused a licence for two new Paddy Power branches, the organisation appealed. Impressed by the phalanx of sharp lawyers—and, I have to say, sold-out former police officers—who appeared, the judge duly nodded the appeal through. The truth is that existing planning and licensing powers are hopelessly inadequate, as my hon. Friend said, and need to be strengthened in the way laid out in the motion. The claim in the Government’s amendment that local authorities already have enough powers is simply not the case.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Bellshill’s small main street has seven of these premises. The local council, North Lanarkshire, supported by Bellshill community council, turned one application down, only for the Scottish Government to use their powers to overrule it, so how can it be said that local authorities have these powers?

Stephen Timms: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Government planning inspectors in England routinely overturn refusals, so the powers are inadequate. We have 87 of these shops in my borough. I think that there were nine new ones in 2011 and a similar number in 2012, which shows the scale of the problem. To underline the point, in the Paddy Power case in Newham, the judge awarded costs against the council to punish it and warn others against thinking of challenging this growth. The council was using the powers mentioned in the Government’s amendment, so those powers are clearly inadequate.

I was grateful to the Minister for acknowledging my point about Mary Portas’s review. I think she said that she agreed with Mary Portas, so why are the Government not going to act? One of the people who came to my constituency drop-in was the owner of commercial properties on East Ham high street. Frankly, he has a guilty conscience about letting his properties to betting shops, but he made the point that betting chains paid more than anyone else to occupy the units. They are very attractive tenants and, by extracting huge sums from people who cannot afford it, they are making money hand over fist. The law needs to change urgently to deal with the problem.

As the Minister said, there has recently been modest success in East Ham. The William Hill opposite East Ham station has been a magnet for drunken antisocial behaviour for a long time. After it allowed a 15-year-old to use its machines, an application was made to revoke its licence. There was the usual phalanx of lawyers and former police officers, but the upshot was that the council committee required the company to make some improvements. Among other things—I am pleased that this point has been picked up in the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)—the

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bookmaker was required to have at least two members of staff present whenever it was open, instead of the usual one. As far as I can tell, however, there is only ever one member of staff in the other betting shops on the high street. I understand that this is the first time such a condition has been applied and accepted by a bookmaker, and I hope that our motion suggests that that will be a precedent for elsewhere.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend concerned, as I am, that many of these employees do not have much training in dealing with problem gamblers? Despite what the industry says, many staff are given a job and then start work straightaway.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is right. In any case, these members of staff are one person on their own in one of these shops, many of which are quite big. They are sitting behind a glass screen, so what are they supposed to do if there is someone with a problem in the shop? There are often fights outside. Interestingly, Community, on behalf of its members working in betting shops, has supported our very good motion, and I hope that the House will agree to it.

5.18 pm

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I welcome the debate as an opportunity to bring some light to the subject, rather than the large amount of smoke that has obscured it so far, but that might be a statement of hope rather than experience.

It is important to bring some perspective to the debate. Gambling is a legitimate activity that brings considerable pleasure to millions of people in this country, that generates a lot of economic activity and that provides employment and tax revenue for the Government. Betting shops are not a blight on the high street; they are regulated and controlled environments that provide employment and, in some cases, a social benefit.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that gambling raises revenue for the Government, but in actual fact the Government receive about £3 billion a year in revenue and the profit on fixed odds betting terminals is about £1.5 billion. It costs the state £3.6 billion to deal with problem gamblers, so does that not suggest that this is bad economics?

Mr Whittingdale: I shall come on to problem gambling, but it is a myth to suggest that that is entirely a result of FOBTs. There is a difficulty due to problem gambling, and a small number of people suffer from addiction—of course they need some protection. It has always been a principle that the harder forms of gambling are permitted in more controlled environments. To that extent, it was something of an anomaly that the previous Government allowed B2 machines on the high street while there were restrictions on those machines in adult gaming centres and casinos. It was ironic, too, that the previous Government wanted to introduce category A gaming machines, for which there were no limits on stakes or prizes, in super-casinos. Perhaps those anomalies should have been addressed. That was why, when the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked at the problem, we recommended allowing up to 20 B2 machines in casinos and some B2 machines in adult gaming centres.

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Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that while it is all very well restricting stakes and prizes in betting shops, there is nothing to stop the people involved going back home where they can play exactly the same games on the internet with unlimited stakes and unlimited prizes?

Mr Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I was going to come on to that point.

The latest statistics in the English health survey show that something like 0.5% of the population might be suffering from problem gambling, which represents a drop from the previous figure in the gambling prevalence study.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Whittingdale: I am sorry, but I have very little time, so I shall have to continue.

Although that figure might have fallen and although only a small number of people are involved, I accept of course that those people still need protection, which was why the Select Committee looked at various technologies that might help to address the problem. We looked at self-exclusion, taking periods of rest between playing machines and mandatory pre-commitment. We should consider such measures, but before taking any action, it is important that we act on the evidence. That was why we recommended that more research should be conducted so that we could establish whether B2 machines presented any greater risk of attracting problem gamblers than other types of machine. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) pointed out, the strongest growth in gambling is taking place online, but there are far fewer controls online for people who have a problem. It is much more difficult to verify someone’s age online and for someone to self-exclude.

Graham Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Whittingdale: I am sorry, but there are strict time limits on speeches, so I want to press on. I have explained why I believe that we need much more research.

The issue of clustering has been raised, too, and it was also recognised by the Select Committee. We recommended, although this was widely misinterpreted, that there should be some flexibility for local authorities so that if it could be shown that a large number of betting shops had opened to get around the limit of four machines in a shop, one solution might be to allow local authorities to permit more machines in individual betting shops precisely to stop more shops opening. We suggested that such flexibility should be applied in an upward rather than a downward direction.

I support localism, but the problem with the Opposition’s motion is that, as the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) confirmed, the proposal would not be retrospective. It would apply only to new shops, so he would not seek to close existing betting shops on the high street.

Clive Efford rose—

Mr Whittingdale: I am happy to give way if the hon. Gentleman wishes to clarify his position.

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Clive Efford: The licensing powers relating to the machines could be retrospective. The number of machines per shop could be reduced.

Mr Whittingdale: But the hon. Gentleman is not proposing to revoke the existing permissions for shops that are currently on the high street, so what he suggests would not be likely to make any great difference. It would act as an anti-competitive measure that would benefit the people currently operating on the high street and prevent new entrants from coming into the market. Generally, that would be detrimental to consumers.

The Select Committee’s overall conclusion was that before we take action in this area, we need much more research. The hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), who is a member of the Responsible Gambling Trust, pointed out that a thorough study is under way, with a report due in the near future. The Opposition’s motion pre-empts the work that the trust is doing and draws conclusions before we have even seen the results of its research. That is completely the wrong way round, and it is for that reason, in line with what the Select Committee recommended, that I shall support the Government’s amendment and not the Opposition’s motion.

5.25 pm

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, and a happy new year to you.

I was extremely heartened to hear the Prime Minister express concern about the prevalence of fixed odds betting terminals from the Dispatch Box for the second time earlier today, because the issue is of concern to Members on both sides of the House. This is a new technology linked to high-stake gambling. It seems to me that there is a clear remedy, namely to banish the machines from the high street, or else to reduce the stakes significantly from £100 to £2, which would in effect turn them into the old-style arcade fruit machines that we probably all remember from childhood. However, that approach has not yet found favour, and I think that the next best solution is offered by the Opposition’s motion.

I have time to focus on only one issue, namely how we commission, fund and respond to research in the context of public policy. I want to caution the Minister: I think it is a little foolhardy to set so much store by the findings of a report that is the outcome of a complex set of arrangements that make it hard for allegations of too much influence from vested interests to be overcome.

The problem for the Government and the House is this. We are awaiting the findings of a study that is intended to establish what harm is being caused to individual players. Those findings are due to be published later this year by the Responsible Gambling Trust, which is funded by a voluntary levy on the gambling industry and chaired by a former industry executive. The gambling industry should not be seen to have influence over a body that is, in effect, conducting research on itself.

In 2008, the Gambling Commission recommended a tripartite structure for research, education and treatment. The commission argued that if those programmes were to be funded voluntarily, it was essential for strategy,

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fundraising and commissioning to be run by separate bodies so that a conflict of interest could be avoided. Otherwise the industry, as the sole funder, might have influence over what research was commissioned.

Mr Sutcliffe: As my hon. Friend says, at that time it was difficult to bring together various bodies to fund research, education and treatment for problem gamblers. The NHS does not fund such programmes, and the Responsible Gambling Trust provided the best possible deal at the time. What I find regrettable is that the Campaign for Fairer Gambling should attack the integrity of that individual body of research on gambling, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not do the same now.

Mr Watson: I am going to attack the arrangements, although I am not decrying my hon. Friend. One can choose whether to work within the system to improve things or to try to influence them from outside, and we have taken a different path in that regard, but I am sure that our policy goals are the same.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that much of the anecdotal and experiential evidence is very clear, and that it is really a question of whether the Government are prepared to take on vested interests? Time and again, when that question is put to them, their answer is no, they are not.

Mr Watson: I do think that there is a timidity when it comes to the big gambling lobby. In my view, it is hard not to conclude that the complex relationships that I have described constitute an attempt to hide the influence of the industry on public policy. Whatever the outcome of today’s debate and whatever action we take on FOBTs in the future, the current arrangements for the commissioning of research require decisive modernisation.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board was set up to recommend strategic objectives to the commissioning body, which at the time was the Responsible Gambling Fund. A body called the Gambling Research Education and Treatment Foundation, popularly known as GREaT, took over fundraising. It was headed by Neil Goulden, who was the chief executive officer of Coral and is now the chair of the Association of British Bookmakers. Subsequently, trustees from the Responsible Gambling Fund resigned as they felt the fundraising body had too much influence over what research was to be commissioned. So that is a concern, and I think it is one we should all address.

Mr Sutcliffe rose

Mr Watson: I am sorry, but I cannot take another intervention as I am running out of time.

There is also a revolving-door policy with some of the regulators. There is a guy called Andrew Lyman who now works for William Hill and is a rather truculent tweeter. He used to work for the commission when it stressed the importance of separating fundraising from commissioning and research, and now he works for William Hill lobbying against that. So I think there is an inherent conflict of interest in the system that we have put in place and I hope that when the Minister responds to this discussion, she will be able to answer this question: how can the House have confidence in a report when we cannot be confident that it is truly independent?

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5.31 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I once again refer people to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In the limited time available I want to just dispel some myths, but I shall start by saying it is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), my former sparring partner on the Select Committee. However, I should point out that at the time the Committee carried out its report into gambling, the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee but I do not think he turned up to any of the sessions. Perhaps if he was so concerned about this issue he might have turned up and listened to some of the evidence because he might have learned something as a result.

Mr Watson: I apologise for not turning up. There was another vested interest that I had a personal interest in at the time, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but when that debate was going on I thought to myself that not even the hon. Gentleman would be dumb enough to ask for more FOBTs in bookies rather than fewer. I was wrong.

Philip Davies: If the hon. Gentleman had actually turned up, he would have known the report was unanimously supported by all members including members of the Labour party.

The first myth I want to dispel is that there has been an explosion in the number of betting offices and machines. The number of betting offices has actually declined from a peak of 14,750 in the mid-1970s to around 8,700 today and that figure has been virtually the same for the last 10 years. FOBTs—B2 machines—are also in decline: according to the Gambling Commission 4% of adults played them in 2010 and the figure dropped to 3.4% in 2011-12, and in 2013 all bookmakers reported a decline in the gross win from FOBTs.

Even in areas considered to have huge numbers of bookmakers—for example Hackney—they make up about 2.7% of all retail units. Let us take Greenwich as an example of what has happened. The number of bookmakers has gone up in Greenwich by 8% at the same time as the population in Greenwich has increased by 13%. Of course bookmakers are often in densely populated areas and some of them happen to be poorer areas, too, but the relevant fact is that they are in densely populated areas not poorer areas.

Stephen Timms: There are 12 bookmakers in the short stretch of East Ham high street between East Ham town hall and East Ham station. There has never been anything like such a large number in that small area before. Something dramatic has changed and it needs to be fixed.

Philip Davies: The right hon. Gentleman says that, but many of his constituents work in them, of course, and many of his constituents enjoy going into them. If they did not enjoy going into them, they would not be open.

It is true that more bookmakers have moved on to the high street in recent years, but their overall number has not gone up; instead they have moved from the side

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streets owing to lower rents because of the recession largely caused by the Labour party, and they will probably move back on to the side streets when the economy recovers and rents on the high street go back up.

Anyway, where are the legions of retailers wanting to open up on the high street in place of bookmakers? It is not a decision between having Next on the high street or William Hill or having M&S on the high street or Paddy Power. It is a choice between having Ladbrokes on the high street or a boarded-up shop.

Graham Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I cannot give way again as I have taken the two interventions allowed.

People ask for a demand test and there is a demand test: it is called a customer demand test, which is the ultimate demand test.

The second myth is that bookmakers target poorer areas. There are two bookmakers per square mile in the most deprived areas. That compares with nine pubs and 11 takeaways. If the Opposition are saying that bookmakers are targeting the poorest people in society, what do they have to say about pubs and takeaways targeting those people? Do we hear anything about that? We do not, because this is not about the poorest in society being targeted; it is about people who are anti-gambling and anti-bookmaker. Bookmakers are not targeting poorer areas. This is about middle-class people being patronising towards working-class people by telling them that they know best how they should spend their money.

The third myth is that the machines are used by the poorest people. Again, that is untrue. The health survey published in recent months shows that gambling prevalence was highest in the top quintiles of household income, with 6% of people in the highest income quintile playing FOBTs, compared with 4% in the lowest quintile. The hon. Member for West Bromwich East said that he did not want surveys to be linked to the gambling industry, but this is the health survey, which has nothing to do with the gambling industry. That survey makes it clear that richer people are much more likely than poorer people to play FOBTs.

Only two gambling activities in that health survey were engaged in more by poorer people than by richer people. They were scratch cards and bingo. Poorer people spend more on scratch cards and bingo than do the richest people. What are the Opposition saying about scratch cards and bingo? Nothing, because they do not think that it would be popular to say anything about them. This is just a case of crocodile tears.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: I would love to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is a very good man on these issues, but I am afraid that time does not allow me to do so.

The fourth myth is that the amount of problem gambling is going up. The health survey shows that, according to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, 0.8% of men and 0.2% of women were identified as problem gamblers in 2012. That is down from 0.9% in the previous prevalence study. So problem gambling is going down, not up. If B2s and

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FOBTs were the cause of such problem gambling, it would presumably have gone through the roof in recent years, but it has actually gone down.

We often hear FOBTs being described as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, but by whom? No one impartial describes them in that way. The first recorded instance is Donald Trump describing video keno games in New Jersey as the “crack cocaine of gambling”, because he feared that they would keep people out of his casinos. This is a ridiculous debate on a ridiculous premise, and I cannot possibly support the Opposition motion today.

5.37 pm

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Many of us on both sides of the House who represent poor and working-class constituents can see the effect that these machines are having on lives and families, and their impact on our inner towns and cities, especially where a proliferation of betting shops provides an opportunity to play the machines, or where category B1 and B2 machines are to be found in clubs. Any Labour Members who attend trade union and labour clubs, and any Government Members who attend political and sports clubs, will regularly see people pouring hundreds of pounds into these machines, while often getting very little back.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has just said, it cannot be a coincidence that bookies in the top 50 unemployment black spots profited from FOBTs to the tune of £173 million last year, while those in the 50 lowest unemployment areas made a profit of only £44 million? Does not that illustrate my hon. Friend’s point?

Mark Hendrick: It does, and I commend my hon. Friend for his comment. These machines disproportionately affect those who live in poorer, working-class areas.

The problem of the B1 and B2 machines is highly pervasive. If someone in a club is drinking too much and clearly has an addiction or a drinking problem, they are often asked to leave. If they become a problem customer, they are shown the door. However, problem gamblers pouring money into machines are not warned that their gambling is excessive. In fact, they are encouraged by the fact that the machines are placed next to the bar, so that any change put across the bar is put into the machine as quickly as possible. Additionally, a person may be drinking at the bar, and a machine next to the bar offers a comfortable place to park a drink while using the machine. The companies that provide gaming machines to clubs, pubs and bookmakers use all sorts of techniques to maximise profits from the machines.

The Gambling Commission does not license pubs, clubs, working men’s clubs or family entertainment centres operating under a local authority permit. The Government claim that the commission does not collect data for those businesses. That is their explanation for not having sufficient data to deal with an obvious problem. The fact that data on those businesses are not collected does not necessarily mean that the Government cannot publish a report or carry out an inquiry to get such information. If society has a problem with gambling, it is the Government’s job to get to the bottom of it, not

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just to pass enabling legislation to make limits even higher. FOBTs allow almost unlimited winnings, as well as huge losses. Given the technology that the multibillion-pound gambling industry is using in this day and age, it beggars belief that it cannot collate the information that will allow the Government to make informed decisions about what the limits should be, and about how machines should operate, where they should operate and at what times of the day. If anything, I believe that there is a deliberate attempt by the industry to cover up what is happening. The impact assessment does not give us a true overall picture of the situation.

Communities are becoming poorer. We have heard from the Government about an increase in employment, but there has been a large increase in part-time employment, and low pay is the problem it always was. Poor people are being drawn in initially to try to make money for essentials, rather than just coming along for amusement, and are then getting drawn into habitual gambling, which we are all seeing on our high streets. People know what is happening with high-stake, fixed-odds machines. The Government know what is happening, but they have deliberately chosen not to take action and to kick this into the long grass. They are in fact helping the industry by increasing the limits in the way they have. We know what is happening with Wonga and payday loans. We know what austerity is doing to poor and unemployed people, and people on low incomes. People are trying to get money from any source, and gambling seems like a quick fix, and it is much more prevalent than it used to be. I have seen in my own town of Preston a huge increase in the number of betting shops and bookies. Payday loan businesses are taking over premises that were once shops, and reputable companies and businesses as well.

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): My hon. Friend has talked about the accumulation of data, and the Government say that they wish to look at the data before they make any judgment. He identified the fact that the data we are seeing every day with our own eyes are telling us the truth, which is that these things are increasing day upon day on our high streets.

Mark Hendrick: My hon. Friend is right, and it does not take a genius to see what is going on; we are all seeing it every day on our own streets with our own eyes. Poor and unemployed people, who have been hit by austerity measures, are being drawn to the clubs and bookies to use these machines on a scale that has never been seen before. The current limit of four FOBTs should remain the limit, and local authorities should be given the powers outlined in our motion, which I ask hon. Members to support.

5.43 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to contribute to this debate. I served on the Select Committee when it investigated this issue between 2011 and 2012. It was a useful inquiry to undertake several years after the Gambling Act 2005, because although, as has been said, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, one role of Select Committees and of legislators is to step back and ensure that we are looking at the real data, as opposed to other people’s interpretations of them.

Let us have a bit of a history lesson. FOBTs appeared in high street bookmakers’ shops in the early 2000s,

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and, after a code of conduct was agreed with the industry, restrictions were put in place: the game type was restricted to only roulette; a cap was put in place on the stakes and prices; a minimum time interval between bets was introduced; and a limit was put in place on the number of machines per shop. That was a useful compromise, but the whole point of reviewing legislation is to see whether there have been any unintended consequences. One of the most obvious unintended consequences has been mentioned by many hon. Members: as the machines are popular and there is a demand for them, what we have been seeing in high streets in different parts of the country is that more and more betting shops are appearing. That may be partly due to the fact that premises are readily available. There have been mergers of various banks and building societies, which are in the same planning class as betting shops. Ultimately, those shops would not open if people did not want to use them.

Graham Jones: Is the hon. Lady as disappointed as I am that the Government have not mentioned the survey that 2CV did in Newham, which is a reputable data gathering company? She talked about how folk go into these premises and are addicted to these machines. The survey, which questioned 500 customers as they left betting premises, revealed that 62% admitted to spending every last penny in their pockets and leaving the shop only when all their money had been spent.

Dr Coffey: I think I have seen that survey. It was commissioned by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. I do not deny that that was the outcome. Professor Orford, who is known to be anti-gambling, gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that we are the most studied country in the world, with three public prevalence surveys since 2000 and even more public health research. Despite that, our Committee was not able to substantiate the fact that gambling addiction is driven by fixed odds betting terminals.

Philip Davies: Is my hon. Friend aware that about 160 illegal machines were confiscated in the south-east last year? Does she agree that if FOBTs were banned, as the Opposition want, it would drive the gambling underground and even more of these machines would be played illegally?

Dr Coffey: I agree with my hon. Friend. I recognise that if we displace an activity in a controlled environment there is the risk of creating an uncontrolled environment. We should also consider some of the briefing we have been given. The Gambling Commission says we cannot use the gambling prevalence survey results specifically to identify the causation of problem gambling. Some of the research, which alluded to secondary data research, said:

“Virtual gaming machines had the strongest association with gambling-related problems, but few people endorsed that they had played these games during the past 12 months. These findings suggest that popular perceptions of risk associated with specific types of gambling for the development of gambling-related problems might misrepresent actual risk…The range of gambling involvement frequently is a better predictor of disordered gambling status than type of gambling. This finding is important because it

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represents a deviation from the tendency to focus on specific games, such as fruit/slot machines as central to gambling-related problems.”

We should be looking instead at global behaviour characteristics. That is the research that was referred to by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, but it does not support its own particular view.

There are different surveys on whether poor people are being targeted, including from Public Health England. Table 3.9 of the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010 specifically sets out the participation in gambling activities in the past year in relation to FOBTs by the index of multiple deprivation and shows that there is no particular difference between the classes. Scotland has the highest prevalence of FOBT use in the country as a whole.

I do not deny that there are individual cases. We know that there are problem gamblers—the latest estimate suggests between 300,000 and 400,000, and those individual cases will be absolute tragedies. We may have heard them on the radio or met them in our surgeries. They may have bet the family silver. Families are torn apart by the problem, but this is no different from what happens when people are driven to similar distraction by other addictions, such as to alcohol or drugs.

I respect the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), but he says that all he is talking about is a few more powers. The basis of our English law is that we can do what we want unless the Government and the law intervene to restrict us, and we see that with crime, planning and so on. We must be careful when we stop legitimate gambling on the basis of anecdotal research. It is a bit like the many campaigns that we receive. We tend to hear from less than 1% of our constituents, and we cannot assume that everybody thinks the same.

Hugh Bayley rose

Dr Coffey: I am sorry but I only have 45 seconds left.

We need to think carefully about any changes that we propose. I supported the Select Committee’s report and we need to take a measured approach. We need to continue to work to try to tackle the problems of problem gamblers, but that does not mean that we should throw away the freedoms people rightly enjoy to gamble, whether that is on our high streets or elsewhere.

I cannot support the Opposition motion. The Government’s amendment provides a reasoned approach to ensuring that we continue to tackle the problem and I will therefore support the Government.

5.50 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The key issue at the heart of the debate is localism—the ability of local authorities to act in the interests of the people they represent. I was most surprised when the Minister referred to localism as an unacceptable patchwork, as that is an unacceptable approach to take when considering local authorities and their responsibilities.

The debate is not about gambling in general but about specific and growing concerns about fixed odd betting terminals in betting shops. Every 20 seconds, £100 can be gambled, often with disastrous results for individuals. Research has shown that the people using those facilities particularly include young unemployed men.

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Mr Whittingdale: Has the hon. Lady ever played a fixed odds betting terminal? They have one of the highest rates of return of any gambling machine and it is virtually impossible to lose hundreds of pounds as the majority of the money one puts in comes back out again.

Mrs Ellman: I am concerned about the negative aspects of the activity, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to some of the information contained in the report of Landman Economics, which I have quoted.

There is certainly a link between the growth of such facilities and areas of deprivation. In Liverpool, Riverside, which I represent, there are now 189 such terminals—one of the highest levels in the country—and it is a very deprived area. That deprivation has been recognised by and has caused deep concern to the local authority, Liverpool city council, which is why it raised the issue last November and called for increased powers to enable it to deal with this specific concern.

It is often local authorities that recognise the cumulative effects of such facilities, and the impact on local communities and individuals. The city council has cited in its debates many cases of people who have turned to loan sharks in desperation, having got into debt because of these facilities, and the problems that they have experienced. Indeed, the Landman Economics report provides evidence of the economic impact on local communities. In fact, there is information that suggests that an increase in spending of £1 billion on such terminals rather than other services can lose the equivalent of 13,000 UK jobs. There is concern about the development of such facilities, about the fact that they are uncontrolled in areas of deprivation, and about the impact on individuals and local communities, and it is important that local authorities are given the necessary powers to deal with the issue.

Government Members seem to have said a number of different things about local authority powers. Some have suggested that local government has sufficient powers, others have said that such powers are perhaps difficult to find and others have cited examples of where such powers have been found to be failing or simply do not exist. The key point is that local authorities should be able to deal with the issues they consider to be important to their areas. That does not mean that they should be forced to take a particular course of action, but they should be enabled to do so when they feel that it is necessary.

The proposal is not about gambling in general and certainly would not deal with the significant growth of online gambling. This is about another very specific issue, as it is extremely important that local government is given the powers it requests to react to problems.

Graham Jones: My hon. Friend is making powerful points about the contradictions in the points made by Government Members about localism and nationalism and about addiction. In the 2CV survey of 500 punters in Newham, 87% said that these machines were very addictive and, as I said earlier, 62% said that they would put every last penny into the machines before they left the shops. Is that not shocking?

Mrs Ellman: My hon. Friend makes some important points, and I urge Government Members to recognise that the heart of the motion is about empowering local

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authorities to take the action they consider necessary in the interests of the people they represent. It does not preclude other decisions being made when further research has been carried out, and I urge the Government to support the motion.

5.54 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Just before Christmas, I was one of only four Government Members to vote against the Government in a deferred Division on this issue. Unfortunately, although I have great sympathy with many of the points made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I cannot support the Labour motion. I will not rehearse the reasons for that, but the motion is cynical, opportunistic and, not least, confused. The Leader of the Opposition launched a campaign in the summer about stakes and problem gambling. It was about the generic issue—it was not just about use class orders and planning, which is what the hon. Member for Eltham is telling the House today. I have been partly reassured by the Minister’s approach.

Mr Burrowes: I have been similarly reassured by the Minister’s response. My hon. Friend shares my concern—I am sure he will discuss clustering in Peterborough, which is similar to the clustering of betting shops in Green Lanes in my constituency—that there should be greater local powers. My local area wants to set up a neighbourhood plan that involves the high street. Does he think that in the review and the response the promise to leave no stone unturned should include greater powers in relation to planning and licensing?

Mr Jackson: Absolutely. That is an integral part of any remedial powers that the Government take to deal with the serious and legitimate concerns of many of my constituents. There are 22 betting shops in central Peterborough, with 81 FOBTs generating about £3.2 million. I am disappointed, because this could have been a genuine cross-party debate on information and research provided by bodies such as the Methodist Church, which has not always supported my party, and the Salvation Army. I declare an interest as a member of the good neighbours board of the Peterborough citadel of the Salvation Army.

Unfortunately, from the Labour party’s point of view, the debate has been rather confused. Undoubtedly, there is a problem. The precautionary principle is not that there should be unambiguous, completely definable evidence of a causal link between critical problem gambling and FOBTs. It is about the risk of problem gambling. One of my worries, which has been partly ameliorated today, is about the precautionary principle on the maximum stake. I was concerned that the research on the impact of those £100- spin games on the most vulnerable people in our constituencies should be undertaken by independent individuals. The hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) has defended the Responsible Gambling Trust, and he is right to do so. I do not distrust the RGT, but there are serious concerns.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Jackson: I am always happy to give way to my hon. Friend.

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Philip Davies: My hon. Friend talks about the precautionary principle in gambling and problem gambling. That is an argument for banning gambling altogether, because in any form of gambling there are people who become addicted. On that logic, his argument is to ban gambling altogether. Is he aware that someone can place a bet on a 5-furlong sprint at Epsom that takes 50 seconds with an unlimited amount of money? There is no limit whatsoever.

Mr Jackson: It is interesting that my hon. Friend, for whom I have enormous respect—I think that he is wrong on this issue—should touch on the cumulative displacement impact on horse racing¸ football and greyhound betting.

Graham Jones rose

Mr Jackson: I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman is very engaging, but I must resist his blandishments on this occasion.

I am not a devil take the hindmost, freemarket libertarian. I am a Conservative—I am a social conservative. I believe that there is a compact or bond of trust with the most vulnerable people in our society. There is a problem with problem gambling. As a Christian, I have compassion for those people who are stuck with the mindset of feeling that they have to gamble, but my concern is mostly for the children and families affected by problem gambling. We have a responsibility and a duty. We have regulatory regimes for many things in our society. I think that it would be wrong, when so much money is being made, and from some of the poorest people in society, to walk on by and say that we do not need to look at this again. Labour was catastrophically wrong on this issue. I think that this is the worst motion the Opposition have ever chosen, because they are on very weak ground.

I believe that the Minister is right to look at the precautionary principle and to demand all the up-to-date information on the B2 machines, which are very sophisticated, from the gambling companies. A code of practice is not good enough, because we are not talking about Mother Teresa; we are talking about some pretty ruthless business organisations that are protecting their interests, and some of them are preying on the most vulnerable in society. We need the information. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) that we need to base our decisions on data that can be proven and tested, not on anecdote.

Having said that, I believe that the Salvation Army has produced a great deal of data. We heard earlier about the increase in the number of problem gamblers in recent years. Some 23% of the money spent on FOBTs was spent by people with gambling problems. According to Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the lead consultant at the NHS national problem gambling clinic, 50% of the clinic’s patients reported FOBTs to be particularly problematic.

In short, we are a Government committed to localism, so let us give local authorities more powers to look at use class orders, to crack down on clustering and to look at the absolute number of FOBTs, all of which I agree with. But let us have a consensus across the House, rather than vindictive, party political point scoring, because this is too important an issue for our families and communities for that.

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6.2 pm

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Mr Deputy Speaker, if you were to step off the train at Sunderland station, you would see a betting shop straight away, and you would not need to walk far to see several more. According to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, in 2012 there were 30 betting shops in Sunderland Central, with 109 fixed odds betting terminals, with gross gambled amounts of nearly £120 million, the second highest in the north-east. The machines have been referred to as the crack cocaine of gambling so often that it is easy to become blasé about their effects, but the reason they are referred to in such terms is that their relentless speed and high stakes can be devastating.

Problem gambling is associated with a number of mental and physical health issues, including depression and insomnia, in addition to comorbid disorders such as alcohol abuse. Problem gambling is a significant health issue, both from a public and a private perspective. Although treatment is needed and sought by many, prevention of extreme gambling behaviours should be boosted by giving local authorities the power to restrict the number of betting shops opening in their areas and revoke or reduce the number of FOBTs in each branch.

FOBTs are purposefully and cynically targeted at the most vulnerable in society. They target areas of deprivation and take money away from those who can least afford to lose it. In an article published this morning, Dirk Vennix, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, claimed that misinformation was being spread on the issue, citing the 2012 health survey for England, yet the same study shows that nearly twice as many people in the most deprived quintile use FOBTs than in the least deprived. It drags vulnerable people into cycles of debt, exacerbates our cost of living crisis and turns other shoppers away from our already struggling high streets.

GamCare, which provides support and advice to anyone suffering from a gambling problem, has shown that 40% of all calls to its helpline named FOBTs as the main problem. There is a clear link between problem gambling and debt problems. Research from GamCare and the Money Advice Trust has revealed that debts of up to £60,000 might be common among problem gamblers. It also stated that there is an urgent need to improve education about gambling for young people in schools. Education is crucial, but often it is all too late. Problem gambling encouraged by FOBTs affects not just adults but an estimated 60,000 young people aged between 12 and 15. Furthermore, young people are far less likely to seek help for their gambling problems.

The industry is stoking fears that any changes to FOBTs will inevitably lead to job losses, yet there is an inversely proportional relationship between the net takings of FOBTs and the number of employees in betting shops. As many branches are single-staffed, it can be difficult to monitor users and detect problem gamblers, and it will be even harder if the industry has its way and has the number of machines in each shop increased.

Betting shop clusters do far more harm than just to gamblers. The Portas review said that

“the influx of betting shops, often in more deprived areas, is blighting our high streets”.

Indeed, it puts many people off going shopping on our high streets. FOBTs are bad for problem gamblers, bad for our high streets, and bad for public health. I very

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much hope that the Government’s promise of localism and greater local decision making in planning will count for something today, and that they will join us to put local communities before the profits of betting shops.

6.6 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I rise to speak in support of the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister, which sets out a sensible and measured approach to any future changes to policy on fixed odds betting terminals or local authority powers in licensing and planning that is based on research into the effect of these terminals on the 1% of gamblers identified as problem gamblers.

When I visited a local betting shop on a high street in my constituency, it was, unexpectedly, a rather quiet, low-key activity. I certainly did not recognise the picture painted by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who said that betting shops attracted drunkenness and bad behaviour. Gambling is as legitimate a leisure activity as going to football matches, pubs or the cinema.

Stephen Timms: Is the hon. Lady aware that it is well established that the staff of betting shops are instructed not to report violent incidents inside the shops in order to keep them out of the crime statistics?

Dame Angela Watkinson: I can only say how strongly that contrasts with my experience of visiting a local betting shop in Hornchurch.

Gambling is enjoyed by 8 million people nationally, and betting shops provide local jobs and help to stimulate the economy. People have the right to choose how they spend their disposable income. I have no gambling instinct personally. I choose not to gamble, but that choice is open to everyone, and I defend the right of others to gamble responsibly if that is their choice.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. One of the key points is that in fixed premises on the high streets people cannot drink alcohol. If we were to push more people into online gambling, who knows what would happen, as people can sit and drink and gamble at very quick speeds?

Dame Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The betting shop I visited was more like a coffee shop, because tea and coffee were being served.

I question the claim that betting shops are too numerous or not wanted. Clearly some local people do want them, otherwise they would not remain viable. Passers-by were not being dragged into the shop off the street—in fact, most people passed by—and nobody inside was being coerced into betting against their will or spending more money than they had planned. The well-trained staff knew most of their regular customers and were trained to notice any addictive behaviour should it occur. Help and advice was available to any individual who needed or wanted it.

There is a consensus in Parliament and within the gambling industry that help should be available to the 1% who are unable to gamble responsibly and become addicted. We are right to be concerned about problem gambling but should seek ways to deal with it without

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spoiling the legitimate enjoyment of the 99% of responsible gamblers. The Association of British Bookmakers is bringing forward new measures as part of its code for responsible gambling and player protection. They include allowing players to limit their spending and the time they spend playing. Mandatory alerts will tell customers when they have played for 30 minutes or spent £250. Staff will also be alerted. The industry also raises nearly £6 million each year voluntarily for research, education and treatment for problem gamblers.

The Opposition’s motion claims that they are

“alarmed that people can stake as much as £100 every 20 seconds on these machines”.

That really over-eggs the pudding and makes the motion cynical and gimmicky. The Association of British Bookmakers states that it is impossible to credit a machine that quickly. There is more chance of winning the national lottery for three consecutive times than of losing £18,000 in one hour on a gaming machine. Data show that most people play for an average of 15 to 20 minutes and spend about £11 an hour.

It is very important that accurate evidence is gathered on the effect of fixed odds betting terminals on the 1% of problem gamblers; on the range of measures being undertaken by the gambling industry to prevent, identify and treat problem gamblers; and on whether the powers of local authorities as planning and licensing authorities are appropriate and effective. Any changes must also have regard to the 90% of responsible gamblers and the important contribution made by betting shops to local jobs and to the local and national economy, including 45,000 jobs and £1 billion in tax revenue. For those reasons, I support the amendment.

6.11 pm

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I refer the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also a non-paid, independent trustee of the Responsible Gambling Trust.

The trust was set up under the previous Labour Government, who wanted the gambling industry to contribute to a voluntary levy towards research, education and treatment. As the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) said, nearly £6 million has been raised towards that end. There are five independent and five industry trustees under the chairmanship of Neil Goulden. I wanted to intervene earlier on my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who is no longer in his place—perhaps that is not unusual—to point out that Neil Goulden is not the chairman of the Association of British Bookmakers. The trust commissions work to look at the core issues affecting problem gambling and, indeed, the treatment of problem gamblers. It has an excellent chief executive in Marc Etches, who has considerable experience across the piece.

I raise the trust’s work because the argument that this industry is unaware of its responsibilities on problem gambling is unjustified. The trust has commissioned detailed, independent research into fixed odds betting terminals and related matters. The important sub-committee that deals with the research and findings is chaired by a senior independent trustee, Liz Barclay, who is a respected broadcast journalist and producer. It has been made clear to the industry that whatever recommendations

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the research throws up, the trust will stand by them. An interim report is expected in March, with a full report to follow.

Today’s debate is important because there are continuing concerns about FOBTs, especially among the Local Government Association and its members, as well as parliamentary colleagues. Those concerns are usually connected with the perceived proliferation of betting shops. The betting industry employs 40,000 people directly and there are 8,773 betting shops in Britain, which is far fewer than the 16,500 betting shops that existed in the 1970s.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, as usual. Will he confirm that about a third of those betting shops make about £15,000 or less in profit each year, and that half of them are independent, family-run businesses—I was brought up in a family-run betting shop—and not big corporate companies, as the Labour party likes to portray them?

Mr Sutcliffe: I accept that there are many independent betting shops, but the problem, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out in his speech, is the perceived proliferation of the main bookmakers on the high street. As he said, the reason is that they used to be on side streets, but they have now moved to the high streets. The problem for the gambling companies is that they are associated with payday loan companies and others on the high street that are causing great concern, especially among our local government colleagues.

That is why I have no problem with the motion with regard to local government and its powers. Powers already exist alongside the licensing objectives in the Gambling Act, and many local authorities may use those powers if they think betting shops are acting outside those objectives. It is understandable that local authorities want more powers. As we have heard, FOBTs have always been on probation, and we should reflect on the fact that the deal done on the Gambling Act restricted betting premises to four machines.

We must have evidence, however, and I think that it will be forthcoming through the Responsible Gambling Trust, which has asked bookmakers to provide it with a whole range of information. To counter the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East, the independent directors will look at the report and recommendations, and will report to the full trustees. As was said by the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), that Committee looked at the issue and determined that the number of machines and betting shops should be decided locally by local authorities.

My problem is with the antics of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. It is right and proper for the campaign to set out its view, but it is not right for it to try to vilify those who oppose its views. It sets out to rubbish any analysis that is not its own and, in particular, to try to rubbish the work of the Responsible Gambling Trust, which was set up to look at issues of problem gambling. If it is a real campaign for fairer gambling, why is its only focus on FOBTs? There are many other areas of problem gambling, as the gambling prevalence survey has shown. For instance, there are issues due to the

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price of national lottery tickets being increased from £1 to £2 and because people are able to buy them at 16, although they cannot go into betting shops until they are 18. There are many other issues to consider, including online gambling, which has already been talked about.

I believe that the debate did not need to be emotive and that we could have got to the core of the issues. The point about local authorities having more powers was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). I believe that we need to look at the subject sensibly and wait for the research to come out, and then make decisions based on that evidence.

6.16 pm

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, but I first want to add my tribute to my parliamentary neighbour, Paul Goggins. This cannot be said about many politicians, but I have never heard a bad word said about Paul by anyone on either side of the House. He was a very courteous Minister, and in opposition he treated Ministers with respect. He will be sorely missed on both sides of the House, and my thoughts are with his family and close friends at this difficult time.

It is more interesting to see what is not in the motion than what is. Votes on Opposition day motions make no difference to Government policy, and we have come to expect from the Labour party motions on aspects of disagreement between the two coalition parties. I therefore fully expected to see yet another Opposition motion that matched Liberal Democrat policy—in other words, a commitment to reduce stakes and prizes, and plans for a separate use class for betting shops so that local authorities are given more powers to restrict the number of licensed betting shops on our high streets and in our local centres. Back in September, the Liberal Democrats called for betting shops to be put in a new separate planning use class, which would allow local authority planning committees to control their numbers. Just three months later, Labour announced that it would legislate to put betting shops in a separate use class so that councils could use planning powers to control the number opening in their area, so it is good to see Labour following our lead.

Some, including the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), have claimed that the Government have missed an opportunity to proceed with a reduction in stakes and prizes on fixed odds betting terminals. I am therefore rather surprised that the motion fails to address the fundamental problem of people being able to stake £100 a spin. Instead, it simply focuses on slowing down the rate of spin. Even if the rate was slowed to the pace of a normal roulette table, with 50 spins an hour, someone could still lose up to £5,000, rather than the current £18,000.

Liberal Democrat Members will not be lectured by Labour on fixed odds betting machines. After 13 years in government, its cultural legacy to our high streets and town centres was 24-hour drinking, lap dancing and fixed odds betting terminals. In the face of Liberal Democrat warnings, Labour allowed the introduction of these highly damaging and addictive gaming machines that have wreaked so much damage to people’s lives, although obviously we are delighted that Labour has finally woken up to the damage that its policies have caused to deprived high streets throughout the country.

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Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman says that he will not be lectured by the Labour party, but will he be lectured by Derek Webb, who is the Unite of the Liberal Democrats—I believe that he has given £150,000 in donations to the Lib Dems over the past year? He heads the Campaign for Fairer Gambling. Will the hon. Gentleman set out what Derek Webb’s background is and where he got all his money from?

Mr Leech: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. However, I will take no lectures from anyone on either side of the House about political donations.

To be fair to the Labour party, some of its Members have accepted that they made a mistake on FOBTs. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State has admitted that Labour made a mistake. However, Labour’s motion fails to address the problem of the £100-a-spin stakes that are still allowed on our high streets. I am happy to reject the motion not only on the basis that it would not solve the problems that are created by FOBTs, but because the timing of the debate is ill judged, given that the coalition Government are undertaking research into the impact of FOBTs.

The Government have challenged the betting industry to implement enhanced player protection measures by March this year or face precautionary measures. If the industry fails to deliver on its commitments, or if at any time the balance of evidence suggests that action is required, the Government must not hesitate in imposing a precautionary reduction in stakes and prizes.

It is no secret that there is disagreement between the coalition parties. Liberal Democrats believe that there is clear evidence that harm is caused by FOBTs. I am confident that the research will prove that there is a need for action. GamCare’s figures for last year show that 39% of the calls to its helpline came from people who specifically cited B2 machines. The Salvation Army estimates that the number of people with a problem increased by 30,000 between 2007 and 2010. Research conducted by Professor Gerda Reith at the university of Glasgow suggests that B2 machines pose a particular risk to problem gamblers because of their rapid rate of play that offers addicts the quick fix that they are looking for. A 2010 study in the European Journal of Public Healthfound:

“Virtual gaming machines had the strongest association with gambling-related problems”

of all the activities it studied, which included horse race betting, football betting, the lottery, online gambling, casino—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I have to drop the time limit to three minutes to get in as many Members as possible. If we could have fewer interventions, it would be helpful.

6.22 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In debates of this nature, we are in danger of dividing the sector into good and bad gambling companies. Betting shops are seen as bad, while the national lottery, which has not even been mentioned in this debate, is

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seen as good. There can be no doubt that FOBTs have a high potential to cause gambling addiction, but there is a tendency to blame betting shops for everything.

There has been no talk today of the presence of FOBTs in pubs and motorway service stations. When I drive down the M4 on a Monday and back up it on a Thursday, I can walk into a service station and think that I am in the middle of a mini-casino. Who is policing those places? Equally, there has been no mention of the dominant position of the national lottery. Newsagents up and down the land have lottery terminals, and scratchcards can be bought anywhere. They are far more accessible and far more addictive than FOBTs.

We have to look seriously at FOBTs and other gaming machines. However, we must work not only with the betting industry, but with the pub industry, the owners of motorway service stations and amusement arcades, and Camelot. If we are to legislate properly in this area, we need a strong academic survey of the impact of prolonged use and of the clientele who use these machines. It is easy to bash these machines and the industry. Anecdotal evidence is all very well, but we need facts and figures before we intervene.

Since such gaming machines were introduced in 2002, there has been no significant change in the level of problem gambling. It is not me who says that, but a study that was commissioned by the Gambling Commission in 2010. The same study indicated that problem gamblers played up to nine different products. They do not stand at FOBTs feeding in note after note; they look for other outlets for their addiction. As well as using the machines, a problem gambler bets on the horses and the dogs, and buys scratchcards. I have not heard anybody talking about how many people are addicted to scratchcards, yet people can just walk into a newsagents and buy one. No hon. Member would disagree that our aim should be to protect the customer, but my concern is that by not debating the issue properly, we are not dealing with problem gamblers.

In the short time I have left—only 30 seconds—I must also mention single staffing, on which a briefing has been provided today. That was a problem when I worked in a betting shop, and was the cashier and the manager. It is all very well saying that that was due to footfall, because only 20 people walked through the door, but those 20 people might want to put on bets at the same time. That situation put me under stress. I did not have to deal with FOBTs, but such a situation can stop members of staff policing them. There is also a social issue. I was being paid only to be the manager that day, not to be the cashier, so I was earning below the minimum wage. If the situation is still going on, it needs to be dealt with.

6.25 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and his thoughtful, careful speech on this sensitive subject. The Government’s approach is that we need firm evidence before any change is made to our gambling laws. That is absolutely right, and when I sat on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, our gambling inquiry showed that it is an incredibly complex area with a lot of contradictory evidence.