The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has found MPs guilty of breaking the rules four times with their report into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops.
Britain’s bookmakers had complained to the Commissioner over the “deeply flawed” and “misleading” report from the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in January.
The Commissioner launched an investigation and has found the MPs’ group guilty of an astonishing four breaches of the strict rules that govern All-Party Parliamentary Groups.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the MPs’ group, has been forced into an unprecedented apology over the breaches and made to rectify the mistakes.
The breaches included failing to make clear the free help the MPs received from a public affairs company employed by direct competitors of High Street bookmakers.
The MPs’ report – published on January 31 – called for a £2 per spin maximum to be imposed on all FOBTs in a move that would threaten thousands of jobs at High Street bookmakers.
Malcolm George, chief executive of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) that represents Britain’s leading bookmakers, complained to the Commissioner about the “deeply flawed” report and its flagrant breaches of parliamentary rules.
In her damning response, Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson upheld Mr George’s complaint and found the MPs’ group guilty of multiple rule-breaking.
In her 24-page report outlining her probe into his complaint, Ms Hudson said: “I have upheld your allegation of a breach of the rules by the APPG. Ms Harris has acknowledged and apologised on behalf of the group for the breaches I have identified.”
Mr George welcomed the Commissioner’s verdict as a vindication of the complaint that highlighted “the flimsy research and secrecy behind this fatally flawed and deeply discredited report”.
The MPs’ All-Party Group was funded by several commercial rivals of Britain’s bookies including organisations with strong links to casinos and arcades.
Commenting, Mr George said:
“This group of MPs are now revealed as serial offenders for their misleading report about gaming machines in betting shops. We are delighted the Standards Commissioner recognised four clear breaches of the rules and upheld our complaint. The flimsy research and secrecy behind this fatally flawed and deeply discredited report has now been laid bare.
“MPs have been rightly criticised for their woeful lack of transparency. This small and unrepresentative group of anti-FOBT MPs failed to make it clear they were funded by vested interests included commercial rivals of High Street bookmakers. The group failed to keep proper records of which parliamentarians, if any, came to their secretive meetings.
“The MPs’ report has been exposed as a shambolic, shoddy and one-sided piece of work that has broken a long list of parliamentary rules.”
Questions are now being asked about the role and funding arrangements of Interel – the public affairs firm that compiled the report.
The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found the MPs’ group:
- Failed to record who attended the group’s meetings or take proper minutes
- Failed to put an official disclaimer on their report to make clear it was not an official House of Commons publication
- Failed to meet a rule on transparency by making clear it received free help from public affairs company Interel – a firm that works for direct rivals of High Street bookmakers
- Failed to reveal Interel’s status as a donor on the report’s front cover
Under the parliamentary rules governing APPGs: “Groups must be transparent about their nature, membership and funding. In particular, they must avoid presenting themselves in a way which could lead to confusion with Select Committees.”
The rules add: “If a report or other publication has been compiled or funded by an external individual or organisation, this should be made clear on the front cover (or equivalent – If it is an online publication) through wording such as: “This Report was researched by xxx and funded by xxx”.
The FOBTs All-Party Group has published two reports: the ‘FOBT APPG Interim report’ published on 6 Dec 2016 and the ‘Fixed Odds Betting Terminals Inquiry report’ on 31st January 2017.
Neither of these reports complied with the rules that insist they must make clear on the front cover (or equivalent online publication) that the report has been compiled or funded by an external individual or organisation.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standard webpage can be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/
Details of the rules governing All- Party Parliamentary Groups are available here:
* The FOBTs All-Party Parliamentary Group and its report were funded by the following organisations that each gave £3,000:
- Bacta – the trade body for Adult Gaming Centres and Arcades
- The Hippodrome Casino
- Novomatic, machine manufacturer for casino and arcade industry
- JD Wetherspoon – pub gaming machines
- LM Consulting – arcades adviser
- Praesepe – casinos and arcades company
- Campaign for Fairer Gambling – links to the casino industry
*The secretariat to the group is the public affairs company Interel which also works directly for Bacta, the Hippodrome Casino and Novomatic.
*The Department of Culture Media and Sport is currently conducting a review – supported by the ABB – into gaming machines and social responsibility measures.
Britain’s betting industry employs 43,000 people and contributes over £1 billion a year to the Treasury.