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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it has been illuminating to listen to the differing views and expertise expressed on this subject. I have learnt a lot, as, I imagine, have others of your Lordships. There is obviously support for much of the Bill. Clearly, a huge amount of work went into pre-legislative scrutiny and debates in the other place. As a result, many important changes have already been made.
There is clearly a need to update current legislation, not only becauseas with the Charities Bill which the House is also considering40 years have passed since there was any major overhaul, but also, more importantly, because technological advances have led to considerable growth in online gambling, with an absence of any powers to deal with it.
As for the decision to legislate and allow a whole new range of casinos and gambling machines into this country, like many noble Lords who have spoken, I remain concerned and somewhat sceptical about the motivation behind it. We have heard about the very high percentage of those who think that there are enough gambling opportunities in this country already. I shall not repeat those arguments.
Like other noble Lords, I am particularly uneasy about one aspect of the legislation; namely, the possible impact on children and other more vulnerable members of society. Perhaps I may begin by expressing my rather limited expertise on this subject. I am not much of a gambler. I have a certain addiction to playing bridge but I seldom do so for money. If I do, I will do so only for about 10p a 100. Once or twice a year, if I remember, I may have a modest flutter on the Derby and the Grand National.
On the whole, I am mercifully untempted by gambling. I recognise, as the evidence given to your Lordships makes very clear, that gambling is or can be seriously addictive for some who are mainlynot all of them, but mainlyfrom deprived backgrounds.
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Above all, it can impact indirectly as well as directly on their children. As so often happens, it is the young and even children who are the most easily tempted.
For all those reasons, our society, our customs and even our laws have alwaysand, in my view, rightlyleant against gambling. As I understand it, even today a gambling debt cannot be recovered through the courts because the law wants no part in that kind of business. As long as we get the balance right and do not try as we once did to drive gambling underground, it will be a perfectly sensible state of affairs.
As the Secretary of State has repeatedly reminded us, the first of the three objectives of the Billby reference to which, once it is on the statute book, everything will be judgedis the protection of children and other vulnerable people from harm or exploitation. Now that we are near the end of the debate, I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased that I intend to keep my remarks almost entirely to the first objective, of protecting children and vulnerable people.
The first of the Government's three "locks", as described by the Secretary of State, is designed to achieve the Bill's objectives by requiring all organisations that are based in Britain and operating remote gambling businesses to obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission. I certainly accept that it makes sense to legalise that form of gambling, if only to set clear boundaries on what will and will not be legal in future. It is already estimated that 16 per cent of the British visit an Internet gambling site every month. Those numbers are likely to grow even faster through the escalating use of third generation mobile phones, about whose growth we have already heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. Apparently, a primary requirement for granting a licence will be for firms to demonstrate precisely how they will exclude children from using their sites and other facilities. The effectiveness of that provision, if it can be guaranteed, is clearly going to be of paramount importance in protecting children, and has been much welcomed. But can we be sure it will be effective?
There will also be new offences that will make it illegal to invite or permit a child or a young person to gamble. Here, again, it is necessary to remember that problems are likely to multiply with unscrupulous Internet operators operating outside UK jurisdiction, and I hope the Minister will tell the House exactly how the Government can be sure that the Bill will deal with them. Already we know how difficult it is to regulate undesirable broadcast content accessed via the Internet.
If we are aiming to tidy up past anomalies in the legislation, surely it is important to make it quite clearly illegal for children to use some of the machines in category D. As others have mentioned, we have all had strong representations from the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church. They are the people who see the results of children's gambling on the ground, and they continue to urge that the category D machines be split in two, with only the non-fruit machinesthat is, only those that give non-monetary prizesavailable for use by children. I find their arguments and their research compelling.
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As we have heard, no other western country permits children to gamble in this way. There is a serious worry that the seeds of addiction can all too easily be sown by the use of that kind of machine. I realise that the Bill contains power that could be used in the future, but would not the Government be wise to think again about this point and act now rather than waiting until then? I remember well from my juvenile court days the many reports we heard that amusement arcades were all too frequently a magnet of temptation for truanting children.
Moving on from children, I am less clear about the extent to which, if at all, other vulnerable people are to be protected. I have not heard very much about that. As Alan Simpson pointed out in the other place, there are three times as many problem gamblers in households earning less than £15,600 as there are in those with earnings twice as high. The increased gambling opportunities that the Bill clearly offers are hardly going to help to tackle the Government's proclaimed priority objective of poverty elimination. Perhaps the Minister will be able to expand a little on that when he replies.
In the same context, but specifically in relation to casinos, I am also concerned, like others who have spoken, that the Government propose to drop the 24-hour membership rule before one is allowed to gamble, and that they do not apparently consider it necessary for a casino to require some proof of identity. I hope there will be opportunities to pursue those issues later.
Finally, the citizens advice bureaux have drawn attention to a rather unrelated, but important, issue. I refer to the plethora of bogus lotteries and prize draws that assail us all in increasing quantities, either by mail or, often, from other countries, again through the Internet. It may be that caveat emptor should be sufficient, but it is clear that for many it is not. Indeed, it is plain from the cases quoted by the CABs that, once again, it is the vulnerable who are the real victims. Is not this a problem which a Gambling Bill should address? I hope that the Minister would be willing, in the name of the Government, to consider an amendment in Committee to address the problem.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the last speaker must face the fact that almost everything has already been said, but on the other hand there is the prospect that you can say anything you like about what others have said and there is nothing they can do about it. This Bill has been a long time coming, and on reading it I wondered why the Government did not save themselves from a certain amount of confusion in the media, already alluded to by my noble friend Lord Lipsey, in having to explain at every turn that 80 per cent of the Bill is about control, protection and regulation by naming it for what it does: the regulation of gambling Bill.
I should declare an interest from my close association with the children's charity NCH. I congratulate the Government on the care taken on the scrutiny of the Bill and their willingness to consult with and take on board
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the concerns of children's and other organisations. As the Minister knows, I have in mind particularly the issue of Internet gambling and the fact that a child as young as 11 could and still can gamble online as long as they have the use of a Solo or other form of debit card. The age verification systems used by most Internet gambling organisations are either weak or non-existent. When this was revealed to the Government, I am happy to say that they took it on board and I understand that the aim is to strengthen age verification systems in the Gambling Commission's guidelines. My noble friend will not be surprised to learn that we will be watching this development with great interest.
So there is much in the Bill on which to congratulate the Government, which is very necessary because in many ways the law is out of date and irrelevant as it applies to the availability of modern gambling habits. I shall not comment on the issue of casinos large or small, and I shall certainly not venture into the area of Blackpool or not. Noble Lords would not expect a Yorkshirewoman to do so, although I am one who for many years went to Blackpool in her childhood. Rather, I shall confine my comments to two fairly discrete areas of concern.
The other day I was introduced to a young man at a briefing meeting held by the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church. He has kindly agreed to allow me to relate his story to your Lordships, and I am very grateful to him for doing so. I shall quote his statement:
"My name is Mark. I am now 23 years old and live and work in South London. I can't remember exactly when I started gambling but it started to be something I specifically remember enjoying when I was about 12 or 13. This was playing on fruit machines in the arcades when we used to go on holiday to Weymouth in Dorset. Even at this stage, the continuous buzz of the fruit machine got me hooked and I often ended up spending most or all of my holiday pocket money.
"When I was 14, I was allowed out of my school grounds at lunch times and would often go to the local bowling alley where there were 5p fruit machines and would spend my lunch money plus any more I could get my hands on. At this stage sometimes I would get lucky and win a jackpot but for some reason I would always end up putting it back in so I guess even then by this stage I was properly addicted.
"As I got older and at 16 went to college I started to go into bookmakers and play on the higher value machines as well as starting to gamble on the horses and the greyhounds. After six months of college I had to drop out as I had not attended college enough as I had been gambling. This was all very secretive because I didn't want people to know how much or how often I gambled because inevitably the question would come up as to where my finance came from. Of course the answer is that it was stolen, from my family, from my friends and from my workplace. I'm deeply ashamed of this and am still trying to pay some of these debts back now.
"I finally hit rock bottom when I spent over £1,000 in 3 days on gambling and was found out by my family. This was when I had to face up to it, and despite a lot of hurt I live my life normally now. I believe that I have been able to turn away from gambling for many reasons including the support I have received but I believe a lot is down to the fact that I am an adult now and am able to understand the consequences of my actions better.
"The addiction still affects me now in that I am still paying off debts due to gambling and because I am still tempted to gamble now. As a child, playing on these fruit machines caused me to steal and truant, and the effects of these things have had a major impact on my life".
The issue I wish to raise concerns category D machines. I profoundly disagree with my noble friend Lord Pendry and, indeed, BACTA, whose briefings I have received in the last few days. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry said, the only limiting factor to a child using a fruit machine is whether he or she is tall enough to put money in the slots. As other noble Lords have said, if the Government believe that children and gambling do not mix, I feel bound to ask why, then, are they happy to allow children to play on fruit machines. Do the Government not recognise that the use of these machines is gambling? If slot machines are addictive to adults, how much more addictive are they likely to be to children? Why should the amount of the stake matter, either in terms of vulnerability to likely addiction, or for its appropriateness for children? Anyway, I do not think 10p is an insignificant amount for a small child, and winning £5 is certainly a great deal of money.
At present, category D machines include both fruit machines, and the penny falls and the teddy bear grabbers. I welcomeand I hope I understandwhat the Minister said, that the Government will be drawing a distinction between these machines and the slot machines. It seems a simple and obvious thing to do. I wonder how many of your Lordships would be comfortable at the sight of your young children, or grandchildren, playing on fruit machines. How young might they be? Five, six, seven or perhaps 10 years old. How much do you think they should stake? 50p, a pound or more? Perhaps you might think they would learn an early lesson if they lost all their money, but what if they won? What is the message that they take away with them? Perhaps, like Mark, they might think it is easy money and come back for more. No, we need to tackle this issue head on.
I found the briefings I received from BACTA yesterday and today both irresponsible and misleading. To suggest that those who wish to protect children and young people from gambling are in some way killjoys, or spoiling family entertainment, is offensive. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that children are at risk. I realise that some Members in the other place had a bit of fun at the expense of teddy bear grabbers and penny falls, which allowed them to miss the point. I hope that the Government will not do so.
Nor do I believe that not allowing children to gamble will be the death-knell for arcades and amusements in British seaside resorts. It is telling that BACTA refuses to say how much money would be lost by banning children from their fruit machines. Perhaps even it realises that this figure would be an embarrassment, because it would tell us how much it has taken out of our children's and young people's pockets.
Perhaps, like BACTA, I could slightly over-egg this pudding. Throughout history, people who make money from children and young people always fight to be able to continue their exploitation, and they always say that change will destroy business. It is never trueor, at least, if it is true, it is not a reason for not protecting our children. I am sure chimney sweepers
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said the same about not sending young people up chimneys. I am sure gin manufacturers said the same about not feeding gin to babies. I am sure mill owners said the same about not sending children under their mill machines. All those making profit from children should consider this. I ask the Government to bite the bullet on this issue. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, I would say they are nearly there, so let us go the whole way.
The other issue I would like to raise is that of identification. Clearly this is a very important issue when protecting young people, with their propensity to see age limits as a challenge to be overcome. I have a 16 year-old, and I can testify to this. As far as I can see, positive ID is not required either to enter regional casinos or, perhaps more importantly, to play category A machines. I asked this question at one of the useful meetings the Minister organised for all Peers, and I am afraid that I completely failed to understand the answer I received from the official concerned. He spoke at length and helpfully about European regulations and money laundering. I am sure it was my own stupidity, but I did not know whether he was saying yes or no, so I am going to have a another go at this question. How will the Government prevent young peopleprobably in the 15 to 18 year-old rangeaccessing the new casinos and playing on category A machines?
In conclusion, I congratulate the Minister on his introduction of the Bill, thank him for the discussions that have already taken place, and assure him of my support in getting this important Bill into legislation.
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