TRACEY CROUCH’s decision to resign as Sports Minister over the delay to restrictions on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) was “principled and courageous”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Ms Crouch resigned on Thursday after it was revealed in Monday’s Budget that the maximum stake allowed on FOBTs would not be reduced to £2 from £100 until next year. She had led the review of the gambling industry which concluded that there should be a £2 maximum stake.
In her resignation letter, Ms Crouch said that the Prime Minister’s refusal to speed up the plans was “unjustifiable”. She argued that the policy had been delayed because of “commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.
This is thought to be a coded reference to lobbying by MPs with close ties to the gambling industry.
Archbishop Welby wrote on Twitter on Thursday evening that Ms Crouch “is principled and courageous”. He continued: “May God bless her commitment to doing right.”
On Monday, after the Budget, the Archbishop said that the delay appalled him (News, 2 November).
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, echoed his comments: “Very sorry to hear of Tracey Crouch’s resignation — a courageous politician. I stand with her in seeking a review of the FOBT stake reduction date.”
Dr Smith has led the Church’s policy on gambling, and this week said that the delay to the policy change was “highly likely to lead to a number of deaths”.
Ms Crouch wrote: “From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation, £1.6bn will be lost on these machines, a significant amount of which will be in our most deprived areas, including my own constituency.
“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.”
In May, Dr Smith said: “Fixed-odds betting terminals are a scourge on high streets that have taken advantage of the vulnerable for too long. I am very glad the Government agrees that a £2 stake is an essential part of the solution” (News, 17 May).
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, tweeted: “Sorry that Tracey Crouch is leaving government, but hugely admire her principled reason for doing so. Overall fixed-odds betting terminals effectively tax the poor and ruin lives. Government should protect people from this scourge.”
The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, tweeted a similar message: “Big respect for Tracey Crouch. It takes wisdom to spot when something really wrong has happened. It takes courage to pay a personal cost in protesting about it.”
A cross-party amendment to the Finance Bill has been laid which would bring about the policy change earlier. The Government could suffer defeat in a vote.
Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture minister, Tom Watson, said: “Tracey Crouch has taken a courageous and principled decision to resign from the Government over Jeremy Wright’s [the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s] decision to delay cutting the maximum stake on FOBTs.
“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.”
A spokesman for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) said on Thursday night: “The resignation of Tracey Crouch could have been avoided had the Chancellor stuck to the original plan of implementing the much-needed cut by April 2019. Tracey Crouch has championed this cut, engaging fully with communities that have been affected by this. To overrule her knowledge in this area and side with the bookies is a grave mistake.
“This all looks like there has been a dodgy back-room deal done with the bookies at the expense of communities and problem gamblers that will lose out with this delay. The idea that bookies need more time to prepare is simply absurd when weighed up against the profits that they will bank because of this delay.
“This is a massive own-goal by the Chancellor. There is clear cross-party support for implementing this cut sooner rather than later. No one should underestimate the damage these machines have done and will continue to do, especially in the most economically deprived communities.”