Tom Watson – 2018 Speech on Gaming Machines

Below is the text of the speech made by Tom Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2018.

Good morning to you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register.

At the outset, let me warmly congratulate the Minister on her decision today. I am not going to be mealy-mouthed about it: we are absolutely delighted that the Government have decided to deliver a Labour party manifesto pledge. Today, we have had this on FOBTs and yesterday we had the railways taken back into public ownership—it is just a shame we could not make it three with the Leveson inquiry earlier in the week. I genuinely believe this is a great moment; it is the right decision and I applaud the Minister for making it. Having been in government, I know how tricky it is to reach a consensus on these complex regulatory issues, and she deserves recognition from those in all parts of the House for getting this through. We should also recognise that this is a victory for the many people in this House who have led this campaign, particularly my friend, colleague and fellow deputy leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has fought tirelessly for this, alongside other Members, including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), whom I also regard as a friend.

During this process, we have seen how some parts of the gambling industry have stood in defiance of Ministers, civil servants, parliamentarians, clinicians and other professionals, and have sought to delay at every turn common-sense decisions that would have given comfort to those who have been afflicted by these machines. ​There is a lesson in this: if the UK is to retain its reputation for innovative, light-touch regulation and responsible gambling, the wider industry needs to start taking its responsibilities and obligations to players seriously. Any Government, whatever their political hue, will be deeply concerned about the situation we find ourselves in: we have 430,000 gambling addicts; 2 million vulnerable players at risk of developing an addiction; and 25,000 young people who gamble every week. It is incumbent on the industry now to show the Government and Parliament its progress on how it shoulders these responsibilities and uses its £13.8 billion a year yield to deal with harms created by gambling. Across the industry we have global leaders in innovative online gambling products who are seeking solutions to these issues through investment and technology. However, too many household name companies have belligerently denied the facts in front of their noses, so our message today is clear: clean up your act or a future Labour Government will do it for you.

In that spirt of unity and cross-party co-operation, I would like to make a few suggestions to the Minister, if I may—[Interruption.] I say that genuinely; there is no need to laugh. We understand there are concerns about revenue reduction, and the Minister has suggested she will increase remote gaming duty to cover this. Would it not be more appropriate to close the loophole that allows British online gambling companies based in Gibraltar to avoid paying tax? Secondly, the Government have chosen not to implement a statutory levy for research, education and treatment at this point, but there was a significant call for that, including from some gambling industry leaders. So will she think again on it, in order to guarantee that resources are available for treatment? Thirdly, we all want addicts to access the most appropriate treatment, so will the Government please start to collect proper data in that area? I have asked a number of questions to Ministers about how many addicts are receiving treatment on the NHS and how much treatment costs the NHS, but we have been told time and time again that the Departments do not hold or collect that data. I am sure we all agree that if we are to understand and better treat this problem, we need better data.

Fourthly, some of the largest companies affected by this decision have argued for restrictions on betting advertising for football in particular. Given that that is also the No. 1 concerned expressed by parents, it seems to me that the Government have been hasty in ignoring it.

Finally, our view is that the 2005 Act is no longer fit for purpose. We need a new gambling Act that is fit for the digital age. How draconian that new Act might be is dependent on how the industry chooses to engage with Parliament. We call on the innovative and responsible new leaders of the gambling industry to show us that they take their obligations seriously, and to work with us to alleviate problem gambling.

In conclusion, cutting the maximum stake on FOBTs is a big step in the right direction, but it is just one part of the puzzle. In praising Ministers, I urge the Government to use the new spirit of consensus to introduce a new gambling Act, fit for the purposes of the digital age.