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The Archbishop's Speech on Gambling at the General Synod

Wednesday 13th February 2008

The Archbishop spoke on the subject of gambling at the General Synod in London 2008. The video and transcript follow.

I'm delighted that we have the opportunity of debating this subject, and I think Mr Benyon has done us a great favour in bringing this subject to the attention of Synod corporately.

I'm very sympathetic to the amendments that Dr Giddings has proposed though I won't discuss them now in detail. But I'll just begin by remarking that I'm not quite so pessimistic about the hostility of public perception on this. Very few people in this country want to see gambling banned. They recognise the dangers of supervising that, and of driving something underground. But a striking number of people in this country feel deeply uneasy about the trends to which we've already been alerted, and I hope that what this Synod says this afternoon will be in tune with precisely that unease in the country at large. And that as Dr Giddings has said we can build on the goodwill of co-belligerence, sometimes in rather surprising places. Among those surprising places I do recall the corridors of the House of Lords on the afternoon when this was debated this last year, and when the Government had a rather surprising reverse, when quite a number of people (their names, of course, buried in priestly confidentiality) came up and said they were really rather ashamed of what they were feeling obliged to vote for. Now there is ground to plough there, I think, with great profit.

Two or three very brief points.

First of all, what is the foundation for a Christian objection to gambling as such? I think if we as a Christian body are going to say something about this, we'd better just reflect a little on why we are uneasy.

And I suppose, fundamentally, the objection that a Christian would want to pose is in terms of stewardship. God's gifts are given to us so that they may be used for the sake of the Kingdom. That, I would say, is the bottom line here and gambling is intrinsically something which refuses that use of God's creation gifts.

Second point... And I quite agree with Mr Benyon here, the utterly extraordinary, not to say ridiculous, claims about gambling as a means for regeneration simply obscure the fact of cost. Gambling is socially costly and whatever is said about supposed financial benefits, the creation of jobs and so forth in an area, one has to build in the cost in terms of all those factors that have been drawn to our attention already this afternoon.

And that's why in particular I'm very keen to support Dr Giddings's amendment by requesting the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to invoke the powers granted by the Gambling Act 2005 to introduce a statutory levy on the gambling industry to fund such programmes.

The analogy is painfully clear. We expect industries to clean up their pollution. The gambling industry is profoundly costly, its human pollution in terms of promoting addiction, destroying family life and so forth, is manifest. The gambling industry needs to take responsibility.

And finally during this group of sessions, we are to debate a very substantial and very significant paper on mental health. It doesn't do us any harm, I think, to make the connection. If in the Synod we are concerned about mental health issues in the nation at large, then this particular question of gambling comes broadly under that head, and we need to see it as such, as a witness to our commitment to a healthy society – healthy persons delivered from precisely that slavery of addiction which was referred to earlier, and I was particularly pleased to be reminded of Wilberforce's line on this.

So, Madam Chair, I am very pleased to support the motion; to thank the speaker once again; and indicate in a general way that I am quite likely to support the amendments as moved because they give some specificity to our concerns here.

© Rowan Williams 2008

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