Exclusive: standards watchdog considering probe into Laurence Robertson over job with gambling lobbyist

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Laurence Robertson’s office said his contract contains clauses which prevent him from lobbying or advising on how best to influence the government.

The parliamentary standards watchdog is reviewing a complaint about a Conservative MP’s second job and could launch an investigation into whether it breaches the MPs’ code of conduct, NationalWorld has learned.

Laurence Robertson had been employed as a “parliamentary adviser” to the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) since October 2020, according to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. He recently changed his job title to “adviser” in the register. The Code of Conduct for MPs around second jobs was recently updated, and now expressly prohibits MPs working as parliamentary advisors or in similar roles.

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Robertson has received more donations of tickets and hospitality from companies linked to the gambling sector than any other MP, according to the Register, spending the equivalent of two months at paid-for horse racing events in the last 10 years.

NationalWorld reported last month that Robertson’s ‘second job’ was a “Parliamentary adviser”, according to the Register. Robertson’s office said his contract contains clauses which prevent him from lobbying or advising on how best to influence the government.

Commissioner considering complaint

Robertson has worked as an adviser to the BGC since October 2020, earning more than £60,000 in total since then for 10 hours work per month - the equivalent of almost 40 working days in around two and half years.

When Robertson took the job, the code of conduct did not specifically forbid MPs from providing paid parliamentary advice, but this changed with an updated code on 1 March 2023.

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Photo: Kim Mogg/NationalWorld

The code now states that MPs “must not provide, or agree to provide, paid parliamentary advice, including undertaking, or agreeing to undertake services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant”.

In a complaint sent to the commissioner, seen by NationalWorld, the complainant references an advice note produced by the commissioner’s office and sent to MPs offering guidance on paid parliamentary advisory roles.

The note states that MPs “should ask themselves whether the potential [employer] is seeking to ‘buy’ the services of an MP in their capacity as such (which is prohibited) or to take advantage of non-Parliamentary professional or other skills or expertise which the Member happens to have (which is permitted)”.

The complainant wrote: “There is no record of Mr Robertson having a professional background, or particular expertise, in sport or gambling prior to entering parliament.

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“I would therefore submit that Mr Robertson is potentially breaching the MPs’ Code of Conduct as it relates to paid employment and outside interests, as his role… is likely to involve the provision of advice on how the employer might achieve a particular objective in relation to a particular legislative provision or other matter.”

When NationalWorld first reported that Robertson had kept the job after the ban came into force, his entry in the register of members’ financial interests gave his job description as “parliamentary adviser”. In the latest edition of the register, Robertson now describes the role simply as “adviser”.

When NationalWorld contacted Robertson last month, he said there had been “no change” in the role and responsibilities, and that the job didn’t involve providing “any form of parliamentary advice”.

Contacted about the potential investigation, Robertson’s office said they were not aware of any complaint raised with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

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They also said Robertson’s contract with the BGC contains clauses which explicitly forbid the lobbying of ministers, MPs or public officials on their behalf or on behalf of gambling companies, and from providing advice about how to lobby or influence parliament.

More than 60 paid-for race days in last 10 years

Robertson, whose constituency contains the famous Cheltenham racecourse, has a longstanding relationship with the gambling industry and in particular with the sport of horse racing.

Since 2014, Robertson has been at Cheltenham Festival every year that it has gone ahead, with tickets and hospitality provided by betting companies or horse racing organisations. Robertson even attended every day of the prestigious event in March 2020, less than a fortnight before the first Covid lockdown.

In the last 10 years, Robertson has received tickets and hospitality to horse racing events on more than 60 occasions, with around half of these events taking place on days when parliament was sitting.

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Since 2014, Robertson has attended almost every major event in the horse racing calendar at least once courtesy of the industry, including Goodwood, Ascot, the Grand National, Epsom, York, Newbury, Chepstow and Doncaster.

The total value of hospitality and tickets to these events is almost £60,000, not including annual race passes, worth up to £1,000 each, which entitle the bearer to visit various races. Robertson has been given at least one pass every year by the Racecourse Association since 2016.

The Betting and Gaming Council has provided a significant amount of these tickets, as well as hospitality to other events, including the Brit Awards in 2022 and the England versus Denmark match in the European Championships.

In the vast majority of cases, Robertson has been accompanied by his wife, who earns between £50,000 and £54,999 per year as his office manager - her pay has increased from between £40,000 and £44,999 in 2019. Robertson has employed his current wife since at least 2010, though at the time he also employed his now ex-wife as his secretary. His now ex-wife kept her role until 2014.

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More MPs under investigation

If the commissioner decides to launch a formal investigation, Robertson will become the eight Conservative MP to be currently under investigation. Seven investigations have been opened in recent weeks, including a probe into whether the prime minister adequately declared his wife’s interest in a childcare firm she has shares in which stands to benefit from a policy announced in the spring budget.

Matt Hancock is also under investigation for “lobbying the Commissioner in a manner calculated or intended to influence his consideration of whether a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred,” while the commissioner is looking into Scott Benton following a high-profile undercover investigation by The Times showed the Blackpool MP seem to offer to lobby parliament on behalf of a gambling investment firm.

In a separate probe, Benton is also being investigated over alleged improper use of facilities, as are Henry Smith and David Mundell. This week, the commissioner also published details of an investigation into Labour’s Jess Philips, over the registration of outside earnings and/or employment.

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