Blackpool South Conservative MP (member of Parliament), Scott Benton, has been suspended after allegedly offering to lobby ministers for gambling investors and divulging a classified policy document for up to £4.000 a month, prompting the party whip to be suspended.
The Times’ undercover investigation:
As reported, he was secretly recorded by undercover newspaper reporters posing as investors in a bogus company interested in the wagering and gaming industry seeking an adviser. Moreover, Benton was just one of eight MPs the Times said it approached.
On the video he said he could “call in favors from colleagues and get easy access to ministers when queuing for parliamentary votes.”
Furthermore, he was asked: “What you could offer the fake company instead of a PR or lobbying firm?
And he said, according to the newspaper: “There’s probably 10 different PR firms I know who are trying to get meetings with the minister … The beauty of politicians, if you like, are we vote in the House of Commons two or three times a day, and we’ll be voting later.
“You will literally stand at the beginning at the entrance to the voting lobby. And if you wait there for five minutes, the minister has to pass you. And then you’ve got 10 minutes while you walk around to the next vote to have his ear.”
According to the Times, Benton suggested: “I could, if hired, provide real-time information and easy access to ministers, as well as sitting down with them to go through a formal response to a policy consultation line by line.”
Reportedly, he also offered to “put parliamentary questions on the table.”
Regarding the written questions that MPs can submit to government departments, he reportedly told reporters: “We can table things on the public record and get an instant response within five working days on any question whatsoever, which obviously nobody else outside the political realm can.”
“Benton took out his phone to read out one such question he had submitted,” according to the newspaper. Furthermore, he said: “It was sent on 17 February on behalf of one business, essentially.” But, it was not known whether he received any monetary reward for that.
The conversation also reached government documents and information, ahead of the release of the highly anticipated white paper on changes to gambling laws.
In this regard, the Times said: “Benton promised he could guarantee he would be able to pass on a copy of the review at least 48 hours before it was published publicly, adding he could make a song and dance to make sure he got early access to it.”
Benton’s compliance with Commons rules:
The assumptions have led to questions being raised about Benton’s compliance with Commons rules.
The current code of conduct states: “Taking payment in return for advocating a particular matter in the house is strictly forbidden. Members may not speak in the house, vote, or initiate parliamentary proceedings for payment in cash or kind.”
On that note, Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, said: “These shocking revelations are yet another damning indictment of the state of the Conservative party. The British public are sick of Conservative sleaze. Rishi Sunak must strip Benton of the Conservative party whip immediately. Anything less would be make a mockery of his claim to restore integrity.”
In Benton’s statement to the Times, he said: “I agreed to the meeting to find out what the role entailed.”
He emphasized few moves that, according to him, are proof that he tried to adhere to the MPs’ code of conduct.
In this regard, he added: “I did not provide my CV as was requested during the meeting because I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules.”
And later, Benton asserted that he “contacted the Commons registrar and the parliamentary standards commissioner who clarified these rules for me and had no further contact with the company.”
He added: “I did this before being made aware that the company did not exist and the individuals claiming to represent it were journalists.”
On a related note, late on Wednesday night, a spokesman for Tory chief whip Simon Hart said that “Benton had the party whip suspended whilst an investigation is ongoing.
“Benton has referred himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards.”
Furthermore, in the aforementioned statement to the Times, Benton said: “I contacted the Commons authorities after the meeting to seek advice because I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules and there had been no further contact.”
Paid lobbying in Westminister:
The latest revelation is likely to reignite allegations of misconduct in the Conservative Party and draw public attention to paid lobbying in Westminister, UK.
Will he run for parliament again?
Benton was elected in 2019, but his constituency is currently being redrawn as part of a boundary review due to start before the next general election.
All this allegations, including the reshaping of his constituency, raise the question of whether and where he will run for parliament again.
The fight to suppress MP’s second jobs:
The new revelations have raised questions about the fight to suppress on other MP’s jobs.
There have been many stories of senior politicians offering their services to foreign companies. Examples of such stories are:
- previous Tory minister Owen Paterson committed an “egregious” breach of fee-law rules and eventually resigned after a bitter row was sparked by government attempts to spare him suspension;
- recently, previous cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng agreed to work for £10.000 a day to advance the interests of yet another bogus company after being defrauded by the campaign group Led By Donkeys.
However, both MPs repudiated any wrongdoing.