Sunday, 28 Nov 2021

Laurence Robertson: Conservative MP defends paid role advising betting group and denies conflict of interest

A Conservative MP who has publicly argued against toughening restrictions on the casino industry has denied his role as a paid adviser to a betting group is a conflict of interest.

Laurence Robertson’s entry in the register of members’ financial interests shows he is paid £24,000 to act as “parliamentary adviser on sport and safer gambling” for the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

Mr Robertson receives £2,000 per month for an “expected” 10 hours of work, which would equate to an hourly rate of £200.

The BGC states on its website that “as the standards body for the regulated UK betting and gaming industry, excluding the National Lottery, we represent betting shops, casinos, online and bingo”.

It adds: “We work with our members, large and small, to drive high ethical standards, create a culture of safer betting and gaming and build public and institutional trust in our world class industry.”

The scrutiny of Mr Robertson’s role, highlighted by a report in The Times, comes amid questions about MPs’ second jobs and extra work on top of their parliamentary roles in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal.

Earlier, Conservative former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox defended himself following reports of how he’s earned hundreds of thousands of pounds for extra legal work.

In a debate on the UK casino industry in July, Mr Robertson argued against introducing “too stringent” restrictions and warned there was a “great danger” of pushing people towards the black market.

When the government launched a review of the Gambling Act in December 2020, Mr Robertson said during the debate that betting companies make an “enormous contribution” to horse racing and said the exercise should be “evidence-based, consistent and balanced”.

He reiterated this in September, asking Chris Philp, the new parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to confirm “it will remain the government’s policy to ensure that it is evidence-based and evidence-led”.

On two of these three occasions, Mr Robertson drew MPs’ attention to his entry in the register of members’ financial interests – he did not do so when making his contribution in December.

In a statement sent to Sky News, Mr Robertson said his “concern has primarily been to protect the horseracing industry” which “depends heavily on betting companies” for income.

“Given that I have Cheltenham racecourse in my constituency this is not an unreasonable stance for me to take,” the Tewkesbury MP said.

“I have warned not to drive people onto the gambling black market – again, not an unreasonable stance to take.

“And I have not initiated any of those debates, which is the crucial point as far as the rules go.”

A spokesperson for the BGC said: “Laurence Robertson is a strong advocate of big changes in the betting industry.

“Indeed, as a Conservative candidate at the last general election, he stood on a manifesto specifically committed to reforming the Gambling Act and ensuring that people gamble safely.

“His appointment is consistent with the strict parliamentary rules and has already been declared, so it is fully transparent.”

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