On Wednesday (8th January), I spoke in two debates in Parliament, both on important planning issues. In the House of Commons Chamber, I spoke about the importance of giving local communities the tools to shape their local areas.
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) can be found in Casinos and Bookmakers. A number of different games to be played on them but they are most commonly associated with Virtual Roulette. The current maximum stake on B2 machines is £100 (In multiples of £10), meaning that £100 can be bet every 20 seconds.
Many local communities and local authorities have raised concerns that betting shops are clustering in areas with high levels of deprivation.
To deal with these issues, local authorities should be empowered to take action in response to local concerns about betting shops and FOBTs. In addition, action should be taken to minimise potential harm from FOBTs, strong consumer protection measures should be in place and data collection should be standardised to inform future decision making.
Our policy announcements are designed to deal with these issues and empower local authorities to respond to local concerns about the spread of betting shops and FOBTs.
My full speech on fixed odds betting terminals is at the end of this post and the full debate can be read here:
Earlier in the day I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate and once again raised my concerns about the Government’s planning policies. These concerns were echoed by Members from all sides of the House who spoke strongly and powerfully on behalf of their communities.
During the debate I called upon the Planning Minister, Nick Boles MP, to explain why the Government has gone back on their promise to instil localism in the planning system.
A future Labour Government would ensure that local people and councils have greater powers in shaping their high streets. Our approach is a strongly localist one, and we want to work with local communities to deliver growth and development.
My full Westminster Hall speech can be found here:
Roberta’s full speech on fixed odds betting terminals:
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): We have had an extremely lively debate this afternoon on an issue that many Members across the Chamber clearly feel strongly about. Unfortunately, what we heard from the Minister was breathtaking complacency and the usual “blame Labour” mantra, but it will not wash. It is this Government who are failing to take action on the issue and who have facilitated a proliferation of FOBTs and betting shops on our high streets. Despite the Minister’s speech, a number of Government Members seemed to agree with us that additional powers should be given to local government. It will be interesting to see whether they rediscover their commitment to localism and vote with us in the Lobby.
A number of Members have made excellent speeches this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) spoke of the inadequacy of local government powers to control betting shops, and pointed out that action under those powers can be overturned on appeal. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who has done a great deal of work on this topic, helpfully drew attention to the inadequacy of the Government’s research strategy. My hon. Friends the Members for Preston (Mark Hendrick), for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for York Central (Hugh Bayley) noted the prevalence of gambling outlets in low-income areas, the problems of debt that that causes, and the negative impact of too many betting shops on the high street. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham also noted the rise in criminality that is associated with betting shops in some areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) injected a much-needed degree of sense into the debate by returning us to the central issue of localism. My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke of the importance of getting regulation right, not least because of the large number of people who work in the industry.
Neither I nor my colleagues object to a betting shop or two on the high street, and I appreciate that the industry has a code to encourage responsible gambling, but, as a number of Members have said, that does not go far enough. It is vital for the Government to take action to recognise the wishes and needs of local communities. As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, there are more than 33,000 FOBTs making £1.5 billion each year for the big bookmakers—that constitutes about half their annual profits—and traditional bookies throughout the country are being turned into mini-casinos where people can gamble up to £300 a minute. Liverpool alone contains 559 terminals, which took £607 million last year. Newham in east London contains 87 betting shops with 348 terminals, and figures released recently by the Greater London Authority showed a 13% increase in the number of betting shops in London’s town centres between January 2010 and December 2012. We have heard how some players have become addicted to FOBTs, and how the machines, and the proliferation of betting shops that promote them, are causing debt and misery, as well as acting as a magnet for crime and antisocial behaviour.
We always made clear that FOBTs were on probation, and it was said during the Second Reading of the Gambling Act 2005 that we would keep them under review. In 2009, when we were in government, we said that would conduct a review because we were concerned about these machines. The current Government, however, have decided to do nothing: five years on, there has been no review. Government Members claim that local authorities have the powers that they need to regulate betting shops, but we have heard time and again from councillors of all parties that that is simply not the case. The next Labour Government will change planning and licensing laws to give councils the right to control the number of betting shops in their areas. If betting shops are not a problem, as the industry is keen to emphasise, they have nothing to fear from such a change.
There is considerable cross-party agreement on this issue. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out during Prime Minister’s Question Time today, the Mayor of London and the Conservative head of the Local Government Association have said that local authorities do not have the power to limit the number of FOBTs. Indeed, the Prime Minister acknowledged during Question Time that there was a problem in the gaming and betting industry, and stated that we need to “sort it out.” If he recognises the problem, why is he not supporting our motion this evening?
As for the Liberal Democrats, during their annual conference in September they agreed to a motion that would give councils the power to limit the number of betting shops in their area, agreeing specifically to put betting shops in a new separate use class, although they had previously voted against such a motion in the House of Commons. That, of course, is typical Liberal Democrat behaviour. The wording of their motion was very similar to the wording of our motion today. I urge Government Members to recognise that, and to support our motion in order to implement their own policy commitments.
The country is experiencing a cost of living crisis. The average person has become £1,600 worse off since the current Government came to power. People are facing extreme difficulties in affording child care, rail fares and heating their homes. While the Members on the Government Benches are handing tax cuts out to millionaires, millions of people are struggling, and it is at a time such as this that the most vulnerable in our society need protecting. That is exactly what my colleagues and I are proposing in this motion. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) highlighted when he launched Labour’s policy last month, in the poorest areas these betting shops are spreading like an epidemic along high streets with the pawn shops and payday lenders that are becoming symbols of Britain’s cost of living crisis. Our local high streets must meet the needs of local communities, not simply the wishes of betting companies and other similar groups.
We know that the most urgent case needs to be made for changing again the system of use class orders. Use classes play a central role in the planning system by defining the potential uses of buildings. They not only protect certain uses, but also streamline the system by allowing for some changes without the need to apply for planning permission. However, over the course of last year the Government have decided to do away with the protections offered by the use class system and in doing so have stripped communities of a say in the shape of their high streets. In May 2013 the Government introduced changes to use class orders to allow retail use to change to financial institutions without planning permission for a period of two years, allowing the possibility of more betting shops on our high streets and they also now have the audacity to say they may make this change permanent. We are arguing that the Government should do what they say they want to do and give powers to local communities to have a say over what is happening in their high streets, so that if a problem is identified with an over-proliferation of gambling and betting shops local communities are able to pull the plug on these gaming machines, which are unwanted in many of our areas.
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