On 15th January 2019 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Government in the House of Lords. The answer, his subsequent question and those of other Members are below:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the prevalence of gambling among children and young people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con): My Lords, protecting children is a priority for the Government. There are strict controls to prevent underage gambling. In 2011, 23% of 11 to 15 year-olds had gambled in the last week, including with friends. Last year, it was 12%. On the other hand, the Gambling Commission’s Young People & Gambling 2018 report shows an increase to 14%, though not to earlier levels. Sample sizes are small, and we do not know if this is a trend. We are of course monitoring the situation very carefully.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply. At a time when the gambling industry is spending about £1.5 billion a year on encouraging gambling, when children are seeing three gambling adverts every day on average and when 55,000 teenagers in this country are now classified as problem gamblers, we need to look at what is happening particularly online, where young people most often see the adverts, which is outside all the previous criteria for regulation. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to regulate online advertising, which is particularly focused on our young people?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that advertising is increasingly going online, although it is not only there. Of course, there are already strict rules to ensure advertisements do not exploit vulnerable people or specifically target children. Those apply online as well. The Advertising Standards Authority has made it clear that age-restricted advertisements online must be actively targeted away from children. However, the evidence is not clear, so GambleAware will publish significant research on the impact of advertising on children this year, including information about how much they see online. The ASA also proactively monitors online advertising, and we will consider all the new evidence carefully.
Lord Robathan (Con): My Lords, online advertising for gambling is relatively recent. Frankly, while I do not believe in banning things, this is feeding gambling addiction and many families are badly affected by this. Although I am against banning things, on this occasion I say to my noble friend that we should ban it.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, I am glad that normally my noble friend does not ban things without the correct amount of evidence. The issue here is that there is actually not conclusive evidence on the harms that this does. We are of course aware that there is certain evidence out there, and we are commissioning more. GambleAware is going to look at the influence and extent of online advertising and the effect that it has. If there are clear lessons to be learned, we will take action on that.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are games aimed at children that, although not strictly classified as gambling, actually encourage them into gambling habits? There are also games like mystery boxes that essentially are open to children and could be considered as gambling. Surely we need a much more proactive approach to doing something about this.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, that is exactly why the Gambling Commission is consulting on requiring age verification before allowing free-to-play demo games to be downloaded. However, that will apply only to games hosted by gambling operators. We are aware of the problem of games and are waiting for GambleAware to do its consultation, and we will certainly take the issue that the noble Lord has raised into account.
Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP): My Lords, the most common way in which children and young people enter the route into gambling is by the purchase of scratch cards and lottery tickets. These are prominently displayed in many outlets, and it is often difficult for the seller to determine the age of the customer. Is it not time that these cards were put behind shutters, in the same way that cigarette packets are, so as not to entice young people to enter the route of gambling?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, although there may be an intuitive link there, there is not actually conclusive evidence that that is how problem gambling starts. The other point to make is that, while I am not sure that it is a majority, a significant number of children who buy scratch cards and National Lottery-type products do it with their parents’ money and indeed with their parents actually present. The question of whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to use the National Lottery will be part of the review for the fourth competition for the next national lottery licence.
Lord Storey (LD): My Lords, we know that half a million young people are gambling regularly. I am concerned about the support that we can give to those young people who become addicted. I wrote a Written Question to the Minister and I was very grateful for his detailed reply. We have a national facility, the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and I think we are due to open one in Leeds, but that covers only a small percentage of young people who need support. There is a charity called Beacon Counselling, which is working with the NHS trust in Lancashire to provide a facility. Could the Minister look at that and see how we could roll it out to the rest of the country?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: I certainly will look at that. We are looking at treatment for all problem gamblers and for children in particular. That is why I am pleased that the NHS long-term plan is committed to expanding dedicated support for those experiencing problems with gambling. As the noble Lord says, GambleAware is setting up a new clinic in Leeds. We will see how that goes, and we are working with the NHS to see if more treatment centres are needed.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, we have had a number of questions relating to gambling in recent times. Indeed, there is another Question tomorrow relating to advertising, which is why I would like to ask a question elsewhere in the arena, as it were. I have seen the figure of 450,000 mentioned—it comes in the Gambling Commission report—but a different interpretation is put on it according to where people come from. I have a briefing paper here from Sky Betting & Gaming that puts an entirely different interpretation on the figure and even questions the way in which it is being used by those in favour of clamping down. So my question is—and this has come up in debates again and again—is it not time, in all these consultations and studies that are being done, that we had a serious, focused look at compiling evidence upon which comments can be made? At the moment, there is far too much of a fissiparous nature that allows people to draw whatever conclusions they like. I just wanted to use that word; I am sorry, it just came to me. I wanted to put the Minister on the back foot. Secondly—
Noble Lords: Too long!
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: Have I finished?
Noble Lords: Yes.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: I understood some of his question. The noble Lord is right: as I keep on saying, the evidence is not certain, so we are having a serious look at it. For example, Public Health England is doing wider research, which it will produce in the second half of this year, measuring the evidence for gambling-related harms. It is looking at all the available evidence and trying to get some consensus about what the truth is—reading the newspapers, I find that one moment you get a report saying one thing and the next you get one on a different basis. We are taking an overall view, and there is a significant amount of other research that we are doing this year through GambleAware and the Advertising Standards Authority.