MP faces 35-day Commons ban for gambling scandal

New blow to Sunak as by-election looms

Archie Mitchell
Thursday 14 December 2023 14:45 GMT
Scott Benton has Tory whip suspended after being filmed offering to lobby for gambling firm

Rishi Sunak is set for a fresh by-election headache as a former Tory MP faces a 35-day suspension from the Commons.

Scott Benton had the Tory whip suspended after a sting exposed him offering to lobby for gambling industry investors.

Mr Benton was prepared to leak market-sensitive information to an investment fund and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in breach of parliamentary lobbying rules, an undercover investigation for The Times found.

After a lengthy investigation, Parliament’s standards committee said he had repeatedly indicated “his willingness to disregard the House’s rules”.

It said a “serious sanction” was needed, recommending he be suspended from Parliament for 35 days.

Any suspension of at least 10 days triggers a recall election in a member’s constituency. If more than a tenth of the voters in an MP’s constituency then sign the petition, a by-election is called.

Mr Benton has a majority of just 3,690 in his Blackpool South constituency, won in the 2019 Tory landslide. Polls show Labour would be expected to regain the seat if a contest were held.

A contest in Mr Benton’s seat would be the latest challenge for Mr Sunak, who has faced a slew of brutal by-election defeats this year.

With a 20-point lead in the polls, Labour has overturned historic majorities in seats across the country such as Mid Bedfordshire, Tamworth and Selby and Ainsty.

There is also an ongoing recall petition in Wellingborough after Tory MP Peter Bone after he was found to have exposed himself to an aide.

The petition closes on Tuesday, setting up yet another potentially tricky by-election for the PM.

In a damning verdict on Mr Benton’s behaviour, the Committee on Standards found he had given a “false impression of the morality of MPs”. The committee said if the public were to accept Mr Benton’s comments as accurate, it would be “corrosive to respect for Parliament and undermine the foundations of our democracy”.

Mr Benton was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors how he was willing to take actions which would break Parliament’s lobbying rules.

In a meeting in early March, Mr Benton described how he could support a fake investment fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to make investments in the UK betting and gaming sector, by attempting to water down proposed gambling reforms.

offered a “guarantee” to provide a copy of an upcoming gambling White Paper to the business at least two days before publication, potentially allowing it to benefit from market-sensitive information.

He also said he could table parliamentary written questions and said he had previously done it on behalf of a company.

Mr Benton said he could offer “the direct ear of a minister who is actually going to make these decisions” and speak to them outside the Commons voting lobby.

The MP agreed with a fee proposed by the reporters in the range of £2,000 to £4,000 a month for two days’ work.

Parliamentary commissioner for standards Daniel Greenberg said that during his investigation Mr Benton admitted he had breached House of Commons rules in the past, said would do so again and claimed that other MPs had done the same.

Labour said the report was “damning” and said Blackpool South deserves a “fresh start”.

Shadow leader of the House of Commons Lucy Powell said: “This is not an isolated case, but comes off the back of a wave of Tory sleaze and scandal.

“In Chris Webb [Labour’s candidate for the seat] Blackpool South has an opportunity to elect its first ever Blackpool born MP, they deserve an MP they can be proud of, and a fresh start.”

Mr Benton apologised “profusely” for his behaviour during the meeting, but said no parliamentary rules were broken.

“Representing my constituents is a profound honour in my life and it is a responsibility I hold in the highest regard. The meeting was a lapse in judgment and I deeply regret my comments,” Mr Benton said.

He added: “My sincere hope is that I will be granted the opportunity to make amends for it throughout the remainder of my time in Parliament and I can continue representing my constituents effectively.”

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