Tracey Crouch has resigned as sports minister after the government refused to back down on the timetable for slashing the maximum stake for highly-addictive gambling machines.
The MP had lobbied for the change to be made earlier than the planned date of October 2019 but quit after senior ministers refused to budge.
Betting companies had reportedly said they would be ready to implement the cut to fixed-odds betting terminal (FOBTs) stakes by next April, but the government confirmed in the Budget that the change would not be made until next October.
Ms Crouch suggested the delay could result in hundreds more people killing themselves because of gambling-related problems.
In her resignation letter to Theresa May, she welcomed the cut in the maximum FOBT stake from £100 to £2 but wrote: ”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, a significant amount of which will be in our most deprived areas, including my own constituency. In addition, two people will tragically take their life every day due to gambling related problems and for that reason as much as any other I believe this delay is unjustifiable.”
There was “no reason why implementation cannot come in sooner than October”, she added.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, welcomed Ms Crouch’s resignation and accused Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, of having “prioritised corporate interests over victims”.
He wrote on Twitter: “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.
“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 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.”
Despite speculation that Ms Crouch was on the verge of quitting, Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, had earlier made clear that the government would not change its plans.
Responding to calls for the change to be included in the Finance Bill later this month, she told the Commons: “We have brought the date forward for the FOBTs by six months. I don’t believe it’s an issue for the Finance Bill but I’m certainly happy to discuss what more we can do.”
The government insisted the October 2019 date was not a delay, saying it had brought forward the date from April 2020.
Mr Wright told MPs: “I’ve heard language twisted to various uses in this place, but the idea that a move from April 2020 to October 2019 is a delay is going a little far. It is not a delay.”
Theresa May’s spokesperson said the change would be made “exactly when it was set out in the Budget”.
But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the decision to introduce the cut in October 2019 was a delay.
He told Mr Wright: “I was under the impression then that the industry itself recognised they would need nine to 12 months to implement this.
“That would have taken us to around about April or May next year.”
“I say to him, it is not too late.”
The culture secretary had earlier refused to confirm whether Ms Crouch was resigning.
Responding to a question from Mr Watson, he told the Commons: ”I think that [Ms Crouch] is doing an outstanding job as the minister for sports and civil society and [Mr Watson] is right that she deserves a large part of the credit for the substantive change that this government is making.”
Ms Crouch arrived in the Commons chamber minutes after resigning and was greeted with a hug from Labour MP Carolyn Harris.
Speaking in the Commons earlier in the day, Ms Harris, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on FOBTs, said she was “incandescent” with the delay and suggested Ms Crouch felt the same way.
She said: “I am incandescent, along with other members of this House, including, I would argue, the minister for sport, who if she does resign will be a great loss to the frontbenches because her integrity and bravery surpasses anyone else I see in here today.
“What is happening to the families who are losing children, what is happening to the children who don’t get Christmas presents because of an addictive parent?
“What happens to the people who go to food banks because they have an addiction to these machines?
“Don’t give me warm words, give me action, April 2019, we cannot lose any more lives because of these dreadful, dreadful machines.”
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