Question

Asked by

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role of British gambling companies and football clubs in encouraging children in Africa to gamble illegally.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con)
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My Lords, the Gambling Commission expects operators which it licenses to obey the law in other jurisdictions in which they operate. It is first and foremost for the Kenyan authorities to investigate the alleged breaches of Kenyan law, as reported by the Sunday Times. Operators licensed by the Gambling Commission are required to report any regulatory investigation or finding into their activities in any other jurisdiction. This lets the commission assess their suitability to hold a licence. We are proud of English football’s global appeal, and want this to continue to grow. At the same time, our clubs and sporting organisations must ensure that they are responsible when it comes to their relationships with betting partners, both in the UK and abroad.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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I thank the Minister for his response. Companies with British links use techniques banned in the UK to appeal to African youngsters by using cartoon characters and free branded merchandise. The weekend before last, several Everton players in SportPesa-branded kit took part in a DfID-funded event for a project for slum girls, Let Our Girls Succeed. Why are the Government aiding and abetting the steep rise in unscrupulous and illegal gambling aimed at children in Africa?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I completely understand the worries behind the noble Baroness’s Question. It is important that companies obey the law, but I do not understand why she thinks the Government are aiding and abetting that. We expect companies to obey the law in jurisdictions, and if they do not, they are required to report to the Gambling Commission. It is up to the Gambling Commission to take regulatory action if it deems it correct. Ultimately it can take a gambling licence away from an operator if it is not regarded as suitable to hold one.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab)
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My Lords, is not the most egregious issue here that the sort of activity witnessed in the reports, and referred to already, is being used in this country, where high-visibility celebrities endorse the active participation of those watching the sport to gamble in it? This may well account for—and the Minister is aware of this—the quadrupling of the number of 11-16 year-olds who have now been classified as problem gamblers. All we have at the moment is a voluntary code. Is it not time for this to become a statutory code?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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The code has made significant progress, and this is in response to evidence, when it appears. If there is evidence that there is a problem, the Gambling Commission will look at it. It is the adviser to the Government, and the Government have said many times that if there is a problem that needs addressing, we will do so. There has been substantial change, both on advertising and gambling activities, to restrict the amount of gambling advertised and its availability to young people. The issue is that there is a difference in this country because those regulations are enforced, and there is also substantial progress on a voluntary basis.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister agree that if individuals or companies break regulations or commit offences to do with gambling in this country, it is a matter for the authorities, be they prosecutors or regulators, in this country? If they do so abroad, it is a matter for the overseas jurisdictions. Can the Gambling Commission take into account misconduct proven abroad when considering the licensing of relevant companies in this country?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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My noble and learned friend is right. I agree that it is the responsibility of sovereign countries to enforce their own gambling laws. Certainly, as I think I said in my opening Answer, the Gambling Commission in this country can take account of action abroad. The commission can also help and advise foreign countries if they so require. Indeed, in 2018-19 the Gambling Commission responded to 115 formal requests for assistance and hosted a number of jurisdictions planning reform for their gambling legislation which wanted to learn about the approach in the UK.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister has already explained, holding a UK gambling licence requires relevant companies to comply with relevant legislation in all the other countries in which they operate, but the amount of evidence they have to provide of compliance is somewhat limited. Does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to require the chief executive of each company to sign a certificate of compliance, and then treat any fraudulent certificates as a matter of criminal law, alongside the potential fines by the Gambling Commission or the possible loss of a licence?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I certainly agree that that is an interesting suggestion, particularly the bit about chief executives taking responsibility for the companies. I would not go so far as to say that it should be a matter for the criminal law but it is an interesting suggestion. As I said before, the Gambling Commission is the Government’s adviser; I am sure that it will bear the noble Lord’s suggestions in mind.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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Can the Minister explain why it is not a matter for the criminal law?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I was suggesting that that would be a change to the existing arrangements and that I do not think it right to suggest a change in the criminal law from the Dispatch Box without considering it fully.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, an earlier Minister referred to corporate social responsibility. Clubs such as Everton and Tottenham Hotspur have corporate social responsibility not only in this country but abroad; they should not be allowing their players to endorse gambling in Kenya and other foreign countries in ways that would not be allowed in this country.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I do not completely agree with the noble Lord. I agree that they have social responsibility and must protect not only their own good name but that of football, which is an asset to this country. But corporate bodies have to obey the laws of the countries in which they perform. That is their legal duty and what the Gambling Commission will take into consideration.