Policing and Crime Bill: Bishop of Bristol sponsors amendment to regulate betting machines

Bristol160226 cOn 7th December 2016, the House of Lords considered the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill in Committee. The Bishop of Bristol co-sponsored an amendment on fixed-odds betting terminals. The amendment was withdrawn after the debate, following assurances from the Minister that the issue would be looked at in the forthcoming review.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 173C, 196A and 200A in my name and I support Amendment 173B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I am grateful for the way in which he introduced this group of amendments.

Members of your Lordships’ House will be only too aware that the House has rehearsed the arguments around betting shops, and in particular fixed-odds betting terminals, numerous times in the past year, and there seems to be little need to repeat them here in detail. We know that violent crime is on the increase in betting premises—up 68% in London over the past five years—and it seems very likely that the increasing reliance of betting shops on FOBTs is a key reason for this trend. I read just last night that of the 523 serious robberies committed in commercial premises in 2015, 200 took place in betting shops. Given the increasing threat of violence—which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has spoken well about—that betting shop staff face from organised thieves as well as angry, frustrated or opportunistic customers, the amendments in this group are an entirely reasonable attempt to help bring the situation back under some kind of control.

My amendment, which was first proposed in Committee by my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans, would give licensing authorities greater scope to impose conditions on the use of gaming machines in betting premises, with the aim of enabling those authorities to better enforce the licensing objectives of preventing crime and protecting the vulnerable. It would also clarify the ability of licensing authorities to undertake a cumulative impact assessment, as well as taking other risk factors into account. Given that fixed-odds betting terminals now make up 56% of the profits of a high street betting shop, it seems obvious to me, at least, that licensing authorities should be able to impose conditions on the use of these machines in areas where this is a high risk of gambling-related harm.

Finally, will the Government look at the way in which the current “aim to permit” licensing framework inhibits the ability of licensing authorities to tackle gambling-related harm through the use of conditions? Colleagues have spoken to licensing authorities, which feel that they simply have no chance of imposing meaningful conditions when confronted by a betting industry armed to the teeth with eminent QCs. If the Government are serious about giving meaningful power to local decision-makers, they need to review this framework as a matter of course; otherwise, amendments to mandatory conditions, such as that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will be the only way to make effective progress on reducing crime or protecting staff.


Baroness Chisholm [Minister] (extract): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has explained, these amendments would have the effect of devolving power over licence conditions for gambling premises and gaming machines to local authorities. Such conditions would, among other things, enable licensing authorities to impose minimum staffing levels on premises with such machines. I thank the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol for again bringing this important matter to your Lordships’ attention. Let me emphasise that the Government are alive to the concerns about the dangers that fixed-odds betting terminals can pose.
We have already taken steps to tighten the controls on these machines and we have set out our plans for the review of gaming machines, gambling advertising and social responsibility which will include a close look at the issues related to fixed-odds betting terminals. I emphasise that we are taking this very seriously and that the review is looking into all these issues.
On the timetable for the review, as noble Lords know, the call for evidence closed on 4th December. An enormous amount of evidence was generated and there was a great deal of interest from the general public as well as from a variety of interest groups, local authorities, trade bodies and industries, and we will be looking in depth at the evidence that was submitted before considering proposals, which we hope to announce next year.
Given that this process is in train and that we are taking it extremely seriously, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.