Why Tracey Crouch Was Right To Resign Over The Government’s Failure to Honour Its Gambling Promise.
- Times editorial November 2nd 2018
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) – November 1st 2018
My Lords, what will the tax yield be from delaying this between now and implementation? What funds will flow into the Treasury which would not otherwise have come and might that money be used to support the voluntary levy, which is inadequate to help charities such as GambleAware to deal with gambling addiction? Does the noble Earl contest these figures from GambleAware: that there are 430,000 problem gamblers; that around 500 suicides annually are linked to gambling; and that 2 million may be at risk from gambling? Will he return to the question that I asked on Tuesday about how advertising is directed unscrupulously at children and young people, especially through things such as virtual games?
The Earl of Courtown
My Lords, I will try to be as quick as I can. My noble friend Lord Younger answered the noble Lord’s question earlier this week but it is important that advertising is restricted, particularly when pinpointing younger people. For example, the sports clothes worn by young people are not allowed to have the advertising logos of some of the gambling companies that sponsor sport. The noble Lord also asked a number of questions relating to the tax take and so on. I do not have that information to hand and I will write to him on that issue.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, in preparing for today’s debate, I was struck by some of the observations made by Marc Etches, the chief executive of the charity GambleAware, about the problem of collecting reliable data on the number of cases of people hospitalised as a result of problem gambling. When the Minister comes to reply, it might be helpful if she would tell us how the figures are compiled and what account is taken of comorbidity, which might include, for example, depression, anxiety or substance addiction. If the only issue is gambling addiction, GPs are not in a position to make a referral to an NHS-funded treatment centre. Why can that not be changed?
A better gauge for measuring the scale of the problem would be to look at the number of referrals to GambleAware or the national gambling helpline, which are the gateways to a network of charitably funded treatment services. The charity says that in the 12 months to 31 March 2018 its national problem gambling treatment service helped some 8,800 people, which it estimates is just 2% of the 430,000 estimated problem gamblers. It also believes that there are 2 million gamblers considered as being at risk of problem gambling. GambleAware has plans to triple the number of treatment places in the three years to 2020-21, including funding for a new northern problem gambling centre. However, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, a few moments ago: it cannot do these things without resources.
Surely it is a matter of principle that the highly profitable gambling industry should fund treatment for gambling addiction. I pressed the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, on that very point on Tuesday, arguing that the voluntary levy should be compulsory, as many companies simply do not pay the voluntary one. I was disappointed that the noble Viscount once again repeated the mantra that,
“we do not intend to make it compulsory”.
“The voluntary system is working well at the moment”—
which many of us contest. At least he added,
“but we always keep it under review”.—[Official Report, 30/10/18; col. 1220.]
Perhaps this Minister could tell us how many companies pay the levy, which ones do not, and what the Government will do with the findings of the review that is to be undertaken. Will they also immediately raise the levy from 0.1% to 1%? That would provide a yield of £130 million to help those who have become addicted. GambleAware says:
“This national problem gambling treatment service needs to be expanded, better publicised, and integrated with NHS and other statutory services …Gambling needs to be addressed as a public health issue”.
Last year the Chief Medical Officer for Wales focused on gambling addiction in his annual report. It would be good to know what evidence has been collected by his counterparts in England. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us. However, in the repeat of the Urgent Question earlier on, the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, said it was only part of the required strategy, and in many ways it is simply dealing with symptoms rather than causes.
We were all delighted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, reminded us, when the Government announced their readiness to reduce the stakes on fixed-odds betting machines from £100 to £2—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said in his intervention earlier, we were deeply disappointed that the new stakes will not come into effect for another 12 months. These machines are to be found in every community where there is poverty. They target and exploit the poor and for too long Governments have been complicit, happy to take their share of the stakes—hundreds of millions of pounds—while wholly aware of the extraordinary social costs involved. That is a dereliction of duty. I look forward to the reply of the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, who promised to answer my question on what the exact yield will be between this year and next as a result of not implementing this decision immediately.
Then there is the question of advertising, raised so often by the admirable noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, and others during our debate in Grand Committee on 12 September. The gambling industry will spend around £312 million this year on seductive advertising, much of it aimed at the young and the poor. Despite the noble Earl’s remarks, this advertising is too often linked to sporting events. The noble Baroness the Minister followed up on our debate and said in a letter to me:
“The average child sees around three gambling adverts on TV per week”.
She said that there would be,
“significant new research into the effects of marketing and advertising on children, young people and other vulnerable people”.
So once again there is to be a review, but I cannot help thinking that we need action rather than more reviews and consultations. On several occasions I have asked whether the Government would consider changing the Gambling Commission’s licensing codes and provision 3.2.11 of its social responsibility code, which concerns not promoting gambling to children, particularly as it applies to remote gambling in the same way that it is currently applied to non-remote gambling. Again, I would like to hear from the Minister what progress we are making on that.
On Tuesday I asked about the way in which virtual games such as “Fortnite” specifically target children and seek to normalise the idea that gambling is fun and a good thing to do. Tell that to the families of those who have committed suicide. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth reminded us, around 500 young people are believed to commit suicide every year, while many others become seriously ill. In answering me on Tuesday the noble Viscount was unable to say what action was being taken to control these games, other than that a parent had smashed an appliance on which he saw his son viewing such a game. If the Government approve of this direct action, would it not save a lot of trouble and aggravation simply to ban the use of advertising and virtual gambling targeted at children?
Britain is suffering from a gambling epidemic. We need to accept that this is not a fringe issue but one that requires a coherent and strategic approach. I hope that this timely debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate takes us another step in that direction.
Following this week’s Parliamentary debate on Addiction – gambling, drugs, sedatives and other forms of addiction – and the toxic society that has created the climate in which addiction takes root, David Alton said “there is a need for a comprehensive national strategy to look at all forms of addiction and to start tackling the root causes.”
In answwer to questions Lord Alton tabled the replies reveal that over the past 10 years 52,303,604 sedatives have been issued by the NHS at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion. But what about the root causes?
September 12th 2018
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for the way in which he introduced today’s debate. His remarks were powerful, eloquent and moving. Indeed, all the contributions in this Committee this afternoon have reinforced his introductory remarks.
I want to raise three separate questions. The first is to reinforce what has already been said very powerfully about the issue of gambling. I too saw the remarks last week of Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, this is not just about the financial costs. Simon Stevens said:
“There is an increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems”.
With over 430,000 problem gamblers, including 25,000 children, it is clear that this is not a fringe issue. Earlier today at Question Time I was able to pursue this point in following up on the Question raised by the right reverend Prelate with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. I want to come back to that question for a moment because it was specifically focused on young people.
Although I was grateful to the noble Viscount for answering, in part, to get a full answer, I want to put the point again to the noble Baroness the Minister and, if she is not able to answer today, I hope that we will get a written response to the specific point about the Gambling Commission’s licensing codes and the targeting of children.
In particular, will the Minister consider a change to provision 3.2.11 of the social responsibility code so that the requirement to,
“not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children or young people, for example by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”—
those are the words in the social responsibility code—applies to remote gambling as it already applies to non-remote gambling?
That is a sensible and easy thing that the Government could do and they should get on with it.
They should also do the things about advertising that the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, the right reverend Prelate and others have alluded to.
My second concern is something that I would like the Minister to raise with her noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, about representations that I sent him last week from Mr Nicholas Hatton about the popular dieting drug, Dinitrophenol.
Mr Hatton studied at Liverpool John Moores University, where I held a chair and am an honorary fellow.
It has a strong track record in research on drug abuse—in a city that sadly has relatively high rates of misuse of many kinds of drugs.
With others, Mr Hatton produced a paper on Dinitrophenol, a drug that he says is widely available on the high street, despite substantial evidence regarding its toxic effects.
Last year, a young woman from Worcester died after ingesting an overdose of the drug.
I hope that the Minister will arrange for the paper that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, to be reviewed and will produce a considered written reply in due course, examining in particular any addictive aspects of this drug.
I reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said earlier about how simply making things more easily available is not necessarily the way to deal with a problem of addiction.Making them more easily available often provides open access for those people who might never have experienced those things in the first place. Simply having people addicted to things is hardly a solution.
My third point touches on the question of dangerous and massive addiction, particularly to antidepressants.
Just before the House rose for the Summer Recess, the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, answered a Written Question from me about how many antidepressants had been dispensed to people under the age of 18 and to primary school-age children in the past 10 years.
I asked also what the total cost was to the NHS. The reply was that:
“The information is not available in the format requested and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.
That simply is not good enough and is, I might say, uncharacteristic of a Minister who is usually marked by his courtesy and helpfulness to the House.
These are children we are talking about and this information should be readily available and in the public domain.
I ask the same question again today: how many antidepressants have been dispensed to those under the age of 18 and at what cost to the public purse?
I did, however, receive two rather more helpful replies which I want to put on the record.
I asked for details of the total number of antidepressant tablets which have been dispensed in the past 10 years.
The figure is a staggering 552,303,604 at a cost to the public purse of £2.79 billion.
The other question was about side-effects and the length of time for which these antidepressants have been taken by individual users. In the course of that reply, the noble Lord said:
“It is not possible to estimate how long on average patients receive antidepressants”.
I simply ask why not? Why are we not asking this fundamental question?
We fail to ask about the reasons why people become so deeply depressed in the first place.
We fail to address the reasons why people become obese, addicted to gambling, pornography or drugs.
All of this is bound up with the kind of society we have created, where, by way of example,half a million elderly people do not see a single person on an average day and where 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers.
What kind of society have we created?
This is what we should be addressing.
This is why the noble Lord is right to place these important issues before us today.
Minister ‘s Reply – Baroness Manzoor:
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other noble Lords, raised issues around Simon Stevens and sponsorship. GambleAware has published donations and pledges that cover the first quarter of the year. These total nearly £3 million, and many more operatives are expected to donate in the months to come. I understood about looking at the Gambling Commission, the licensing code and the responsibility for the code, but I will write to noble Lords on this issue as there is insufficient time for me to cover that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned the overprescription of drugs. I share his concerns; it is an issue that I personally have been concerned with, as have the Government. I will write to him with more details on the issues that he raises. He also raised his letter on addiction relating to diet pills. We have received that letter and I reassure him that we are working very closely with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on a substantive reply.