MPs declare sports and bookies as most common donors
By Daniel Wainwright & Paul Bradshaw
2 September 2017
From the section England
MPs have Announced about #215,000 worth of gifts, benefits and hospitality
Companies and Sports top the list of donors treating MPs to hospitality and gifts.
The Ladbrokes Coral group appeared 15 times in the register of members’ interests, more than any other donor.
Out of 187 donations from UK sources 58 were from the world of sport. From gambling companies, A further 19 were.
Ladbrokes Coral said it wanted MPs to take decisions “from a position of knowledge”.
But campaigners for tighter rules on gambling said companies could use hospitality to lobby rules not to change on fixed odds betting terminals.
MPs declared hospitality including tickets to Cheltenham Races from Ladbrokes
MPs have to declare any gifts, hospitality and benefits over a value of #300. The most recent register was published on 29 August and declarations date to July 2017 from the start of 2016.
The Ladbrokes Coral Group accounted for 15 entries including the Community Shield at Wembley, trips to Cheltenham, Doncaster and Ascot races and dinner at the Conservative Party conference.
Altogether, the group of companies donated #7,475-worth of lodging to four MPs, Conservatives Philip Davies (eight occasions – totalling #3,685), Laurence Robertson (four occasions -#2,550) and Thérèse Coffey (twice – #890) and Labour’s Conor McGinn (formerly – #350).
The total does not include any gifts or hospitality value less than #300 as MPs do not need to declare this.
ITV appeared eight times and Channel 4 was cited five times. BBC Northern Ireland appears once.
It was not the donor concerning the value of its hospitality while Ladbrokes Coral appeared.
The largest individual donor in the section on “gifts, hospitality and benefits from UK sources” was that the Road Haulage Association, which the register revealed funds a researcher in the office of Dover’s Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke at a cost of #22,577.
Mr Elphicke said: “The researcher is looking at how we can be ready on day one for Brexit – especially at the Dover front line.
“This is vital work for both my constituency and the haulage industry. No-one wants to see long queues of lorries at Dover.
“In this work the interests of the haulage industry and my constituency are strongly aligned. That’s why we decided to join forces.”
‘Wine and dine’
Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesman for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, accused Ladbrokes Coral of being “desperate” to keep fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) at #100 a spin.
He said: “They will throw as much money as they can. It shows a whole lot about the strength of the argument that they have to wine and dine MPs.”
The organisation wants to see the most stake on the terminals cut from #100 to #2 amid concerns vulnerable people can shed plenty of money very quickly.
Its creator Derek Webb has funded the Liberal Democrats and appeared in registers of members’ interests.
The government is running a review into FOBTs.
A spokesman for Ladbrokes Coral said: “We employ over 25,000 people, we have a high street presence in nearly every constituency in the land and pay UK taxes of circa #55m per annum.
“Of course we engage with politicians, we want to make sure that when decisions are taken that affect our 25,000 people, they are done from a position of knowledge.”
Mr Davies, MP for Shipley and among the recipients of Ladbrokes’ hospitality, said: “I’m the elected chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Betting and Gaming – and a former bookmaker – so needless to say I meet with bookmakers.
“It would be rather extraordinary if I did not.”
Tewkesbury MP Mr Robertson said he’d discuss FOBTs with Ladbrokes, but also issues such as taxation and their connection with horse racing.
He said: “Very many companies (including the BBC) provide hospitality as a means of lobbying MPs pretty well every day of the week, inside and outside the Palace of Westminster, at various sporting and other events, at party conferences and so forth.
“Charities do similar. If it’s within the threshold, some of it’s declarable, and some of it isn’t.
“I represent the Cheltenham racecourse and’m also joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing and Bloodstock, so have responsibilities in this area.
“Similar to most countries in the world, UK horse racing is quite largely financially supported by bookmakers and there’s a fear that curtailing their income by lowering the bets on FOBTs can cause many stores to close which would, in turn, lead to a dramatic decrease in the funding of horse racing, that, contrary to popular belief, is a very poorly funded game in the first place.”
Mr McGinn and Dr Coffey have been approached for comment.