Harriet Harman has been filling column inches recently with a mea culpa regarding the 2005 Gambling Act, claiming that Labour made a mistake introducing this bill and that they should reverse the measures that have led to a growth in problem gambling, particularly in poorer areas.
Good for her! She's decided that something her government did was wrong and that action is needed to address the problems caused.
If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn't have allowed this, because it's not just ruining the high street, it's ruining people's lives.
I got the most heartrending letters and emails and calls that I've ever had in 30 years of being an MP, just saying 'Please do something about this. It's ruined my life, it's ruined my family, it's really dangerous and the problem is it's getting worse and that's why we need the law to be changed so that something can be done about it'.
This made me pause though as my political memory banks started whirring into action. I remember the political arguments about this bill at the time and I was sure that plenty of politicians did flag up the potential problems with the bill at the time of the debates before it became an act.
Sure enough a quick trawl of Hansard around February 2005 when it was being debated has turned up some interesting interventions in the Lords. For example Lord Roberts of Llandudno said:
It is clear that gambling does harm. Even the Minister himself, in his evidence to the Joint Committee, admitted that the increased gambling which would follow from the Bill could lead to more problems and more problem gamblers. The amount of gambling is related, of course, to the number of people who suffer in that way. If gambling was not harmful at all, there would be no need for any regulation. The fact that there is regulation means that there is knowledge that gambling is harmful.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee stated:
"Almost all the evidence we have received points to the fact that this legislation would increase the number of people in the United Kingdom with a gambling problem".
Moving from the high-level casinos to the more humble slot machines, the director of the Rhode Island gambling treatment programme, Mr Bob Breen, said only last week that slot players are more likely to become addicted—and faster. They say, for instance, "It's only a nickel. How much can I blow?". He said that within a year they have lost their investments, they have lost their retirement, they are getting divorced and they are stealing from their employer.
The extended opportunities of the Gambling Bill could have a totally detrimental effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. When the Bill states that it will safeguard children from excessive gambling, how are we to safeguard the children of the families of gamblers? They will suffer deprivation, and all because of the Bill.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury here too amongst many others.
So perhaps as well as campaigning for gambling law to be changed, Ms Harman should also campaign for something else that is sorely needed in our country. For governments to actually listen to their opponents during debate, reflect upon the evidence and agree much more often to pilot schemes to test their ideas.
I would take her much more seriously on this if I had any sense that genuine lessons about how poor Labour in government were at legislating based on actual evidence were really being learned as a result.