Theresa May faces potential Conservative revolt over ‘delays’ to law on fixed-odds betting terminals
Sports minister Tracey Crouch resigned in protest over ‘unjustified’ delay on plans to cut the maximum stakes from £100 to £2
Theresa May is facing a potential revolt over the government’s refusal to speed up plans to curb the use of highly addictive gambling machines.
More than 30 Conservative MPs are understood to be considering a rebellion on the upcoming Finance Bill, which puts the prime minister at risk of a humiliating defeat in the Commons, where she lacks a parliamentary majority.
Popular sports minister Tracey Crouch resigned in protest over the “unjustified” delay on plans to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, which was laid out in the Budget on Monday.
The Conservative MP claimed hundreds of additional people could be driven to suicide by the time the proposals are implemented in October 2019. Betting companies had reportedly been prepared to implement the cut by April next year.
Her resignation appears to have bolstered support for a potential rebel amendment to the Finance Bill, which would seek to pressure ministers to bring forward the changes to the maximum stake.
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Commons health committee, told The Independent that cutting the maximum stake was a “sensible and basic measure” and there was considerable anger over the delay among Conservatives.
“It’s failing to take into account the human cost as well as the financial cost of dealing with the fallout from gambling addiction,” she said.
“This is all about the power of the gambling industry lobbying at Westminster and it is not good enough.”
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith also expressed his concerns about the timetable and backed cross-party calls for ministers to change course.
He told The Independent: “I remain concerned that the government has got themselves into this hole and it wouldn’t take a lot to get themselves out of it.
“All they need to do is bring the date forward and this would confirm the government’s good will and moral character.”
In her resignation letter, 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 £1.6bn 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.”
Ms May said she was “disappointed” by Ms Crouch’s decision to resign and insisted there had been no delay to the rollout.
She wrote: “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.”
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said Ms Crouch had taken a “courageous and principled decision” to resign.
He said: “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.
“The new secretary of state [Jeremy Wright] has threatened all of this good work.
“He has prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health and greed over good. He should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Several senior Conservatives also praised Ms Crouch, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who tweeted: “Congratulations to @tracey_crouch who deserves huge credit not just for her campaign but for sticking up for her principles.”
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, said: “She has done amazing work on gambling, on mental health, on loneliness, women’s empowerment, sport and civil society, of which she should be very proud.”
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom tweeted a picture of Ms Crouch’s resignation letter, adding: “And you are a superbly principled politician, Tracey. A real loss.”
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