Senior Tory denies stalling over plans to limit gambling stakes

PA

A Tory minister has insisted there has been no stalling over plans to limit stakes on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in an ongoing gambling row.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said “it is wrong to say there has been a delay”, despite former sports minister Tracey Crouch quitting because she said there had been a six-month hold-up in the plans she was overseeing.

Ms Crouch had repeatedly said she would cut maximum stakes on FOBTs from £100 to £2 and make the change in April 2019.

She was angered by Chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to push back the change to October 2019. She quit in protest, saying two people would take their lives per day due to gambling addiction in the interim.

James Brokenshire MP
James Brokenshire MP

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Brokenshire stuck to the Government line, contradicting Ms Crouch’s insistence there had been a six-month delay.

He said: “What I would say is that actually we were called on to introduce these arrangements prior to April 2020 and we have brought that forward to deliver this in October 2019, recognising we need to do this, we need to bring these stakes down.

“We want to see this delivered effectively, for all the reasons Tracey identifies.

“But it is wrong to say there has been a delay.”

Mr Brokenshire said he regretted the resignation of Ms Crouch, who he said was “an outstanding colleague, someone who has worked very hard on this and is very passionate about the issues she believes in”.

Meanwhile, Ms Crouch said she had “no regrets” about her decision to quit, which drew applause from across the political spectrum and won the praise of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

FOBTs graphic
FOBTs graphic

She told reporters: “I have absolutely no regrets about my decision whatsoever.

“I’m perfectly comfortable with my decision.”

Asked if she had full confidence in Theresa May, she replied: “The Prime Minister has an absolutely important job to do in order to deliver on Brexit and I look forward to being a supportive member of her backbenches.”

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The Chatham and Aylesford MP resigned from her ministerial post after insisting that failing to cut the maximum wager on FOBTs from £100 to £2 until October 2019 was “unjustifiable”, and indicated it could cost lives.

The move appeared to energise support for bringing in a bet limit earlier, with talk of Mrs May facing a potential rebel amendment to the Finance Bill later this month.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom spoke warmly about Ms Crouch after she quit, and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the MP deserved credit for sticking by her principles.

Mr Welby tweeted: “@tracey_crouch who resigned as Sports Minister over the delay to reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting machines, is principled and courageous. May God bless her commitment to doing right.”

In a joint statement, leaders in the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church, the Evangelical Alliance, Christian charity CARE and Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs backed Ms Crouch.

“As a minister, she has shown unfailing loyalty to Government policy, while not concealing her real concern,” they said.

“No valid reasons have been given for delaying implementation of the £2 stake. Individuals, families and communities will continue to suffer – at the cost, even, of more avoidable deaths – for six months beyond April 2019, unless the Government accepts that the same reasons which led it to accept the change must lead it to bring the date forward.”

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In a hard-hitting resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Crouch said: “Unfortunately, implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests.

“From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation, over £1.6 billion will be lost on these machines.

“In addition, two people will tragically take their lives every day due to gambling-related problems and, for that reason as much as any other, I believe this delay is unjustifiable.”

Mrs May replied that she was “disappointed” by Ms Crouch’s move and insisted there had been no delay.

She wrote: “There has been no delay in bringing forward this important measure.

“Indeed, as you know from your work as the minister responsible, we listened to those who wanted it to come into effect sooner than April 2020 and have agreed that the changes should be in place within the year – October 2019.

“Having taken the decision to make this very significant cut in maximum stakes, we must ensure that this change can be implemented in an orderly and effective manner to make sure it delivers on the results we all want to see.”

Tracey Crouch has taken a courageous and principled decision to resign from the Government over Jeremy Wright’s decision to delay cutting the maximum stake on FOBTs. https://t.co/LxFpfqnAmq

— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) November 1, 2018

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson also tweeted praise for Ms Crouch, saying: “She poured her heart and soul into a significant review of these destructive machines, faced down a systematic lobbying attempt by the gambling industry and took the right decision for those suffering from problem gambling, their families and communities.”

Mrs May did not immediately replace Ms Crouch as sports minister and is believed to be considering candidates for the role.