Philip Davies received benefits worth more than £10,000 and backed betting industry as MPs proposed changes to law
A Tory member of an influential parliamentary select committee received more than £10,000 in benefits from companies with links to the gambling industry during a contentious year-long inquiry into the betting trade. Philip Davies, a rightwing Conservative MP and prominent member of the culture, media and sport select committee, did not declare the donations, arguing that in one case he did not have to and in the other that the firm was not directly linked to bookmakers.
Last March he was taken to the Cheltenham festival – a trip worth £870 – as a guest of bookmaker Ladbrokes. He failed to mention this when he quizzed Richard Glynn, the chief executive of Ladbrokes, six months later during a select committee session.
The parliamentarian has also been given an annual “subscription” worth £4,680 from Peninsula Business Services, run by Peter Done – one of two brothers who founded BetFred, a bookmaker with 1,000 betting shops in Britain and which took over the Tote. Done remains a shareholder in BetFred’s holding company.
The parliamentary code of conduct makes it clear that where members have a financial interest “directly affected by a particular inquiry” or a “personal interest [that] may reflect upon the work of the committee” then the MP should consider stepping aside from proceedings. If MPs decide not to, the code says “a member should make a declaration of interest at an early stage in any inquiry to which that interest particularly relates. If the interest is especially relevant to one witness or group of witnesses appearing before the committee, the interest should be declared again at the appropriate session of evidence”.
Davies, who worked in a bookmakers in his late teens, told the Guardian that “to be perfectly honest it never even crossed my mind. I think it is fair to say that everyone knows I used to be a bookmaker. I did not think I had interests to declare.”
When asked about Peninsula, he said that the link to BetFred was “just a coincidence”. He said the company offered the £9,000-worth of subscriptions for a service that relates to employment tribunals after “a constituent got in contact asking for advice on vexatious claims from employees”. Davies said that only “if I was talking about employment tribunals in parliament, then I would declare an interest”.
Davies championed the industry viewpoint during the year-long investigation into the betting industry while on the select committee, and visited casino resorts in Australia and China’s Macao to see “high-rollers” in action. Last July, MPs recommended rules on casinos and slot machines be relaxed – which the industry welcomed, but campaigners said would lead to problem gambling. In the Commons, Davies described this as nonsensical. He claimed gambling “employs more than 100,000 people and contributes more than £1.4bn to the exchequer”.
At the heart of debate is whether the committee is right to call for the lifting on the limited number of high-stakes gambling machines allowed in each betting shop. Currently, bookmakers are limited to four machines per shop. The machines are hugely lucrative, bringing in on average £900 a week in profits, so bookmakers have bypassed the restriction by opening more branches in high streets – often “clustering” in poorer areas.
The outcry has led to Ed Miliband, Labour leader, asking for the government not to implement the committee’s report. Ministers are due to announce their decision in January.
Labour MP David Lammy, who has campaigned against the spread of betting shops in his deprived north London constituency, called on ministers to reject a report tainted by industry lobbying. He said: “It is clear that the bookmaking industry has mounted a formidable lobbying campaign to influence the content of the select committee report into the Gambling Act 2005.”
“Not only do the industry want to withhold the truth about how the act has led to an explosion in bookmaker profits, they now want even more deregulation to have even more gaming machines in each outlet. The government cannot adopt one iota of a report that is effectively a Christmas list written by the bookmakers, for the bookmakers.”