Tom Watson asks an Urgent Question

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The Campaign for Fairer Gambling summarises the Urgent Question earlier this week in the House of Commons on gaming machines and social responsibility, promoting the DCMS consultation in this area which closes on 23rd January. Gambling_2_ah29rh

Following the publication of the government’s gambling review a debate of around an hour took place on Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility following an Urgent Question from Tom Watson. Gambling minister Tracey Crouch did an excellent job of presenting the government position and encouraging participation in the new consultation which will close by 23 January.

Mr Watson expressed his disappointment at the delay in deciding what the maximum stake on FOBTs should be, and the weakness of the proposals on the social responsibility issues. The government proposals on social responsibility are looking more dated every day, almost as though they were drafted for a much earlier release, likely given the publication was delayed because of the general election.

However, the dynamics are changing quickly and there are pending issues that will emerge prior to the close of the consultation. Government measures will have to be more robust than the consultation document indicates when finally disclosed in the Spring.

Conservative MP Peter Bottomley made the most relevant observation on FOBTs – that a £2 FOBT stake would get through on either a free vote or a whipped vote. The stock analysts and business journalist thinking that any other FOBT conclusion is politically viable need to start listening to the right MPs.

Useful contributions advocating FOBT stake reductions and greater controls on online gambling were made by MPs Graham Jones, Ellie Reeves, Carolyn Harris, Nick Smith, David Lammy, and Stephen Timms for Labour, Brendan O’Hara, Ronnie Cowan and David Linden for the SNP, Lib Dem Christine Jardine, the DUP’s Jim Shannon and Conservatives Fiona Bruce, Bob Seeley, Alex Burghardt, Wendy Morton, Andrew Selous, and Philip Hollobone.

Less helpful comments came from Labour’s Conor McGinn and the Conservatives; Laurence Robertson who both mentioned horseracing, which is not part of the consultation, so was a complete distraction. But it’s probably the only defence they can mount of the bookmakers, and a weak one at that, as Greg Wood highlighted in the Guardian this week.

Another unhelpful Conservative was Maria Caulfield, blaming everything on Labour, ignoring that the Coalition Government review in 2013 supported the FOBT status quo. Conservative John Whittingdale, who chaired the select committee inquiry into the Gambling Act in 2012 – which supported increasing the number of FOBTs per betting shop – claimed that there is now more information available than there was then. Clearly he’s trying to protect his record, but perhaps he would have been more informed in 2012 if Fairer Gambling were called to give evidence to his inquiry.

The select committee recommending an increase in the number of FOBTs included Conservative Philip Davies, who rose to explain that certain other gambling activities have a greater percentage of problem gamblers than FOBTs, but didn’t explain that they also have less at-risk gamblers than FOBTs, far lower participation than FOBTs and far less gambler losses than FOBTs.

Mr Davies accused Tracey Crouch of playing to the gallery. What a breath of fresh air on the government bench Tracey Crouch is – she actually wants to engage with the public and offer what the public wants. Tracey explained that the consultation was wider in scope that Mr Davies perceived and politely invited him to make a submission.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley expressed concern that remote gambling advertising was more harmful than FOBTs, so hopefully he will be very supportive of the most robust restrictions on these ads.

Conservative Bob Stewart sounded like he had been asleep this century by not wanting the House to forget the “light fun” provided by bookmakers, and Peter Bone was “worried about making the wrong decision”. Does the public deserve MPs who are frightened of making decisions?

The Urgent Question certainly raised the media profile of the consultation and Labour’s position, with Tom Watson pushing for a £2 cap. A new 38 Degrees petition reflecting that ask is now live and has been signed by Jeremy Corbyn.

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