Scott Benton suspends Tory whip after offering to lobby for betting company

The Conservatives have suspended MP Scott Benton pending an investigation into undercover footage of him offering to lobby ministers on behalf of gambling investors in exchange for money.

He was stripped of the party whip after an undercover investigation by The Times found he was prepared to leak sensitive market information to a fake investment fund and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in breach of parliamentary rules.

A spokesman for the Tory chief whip, Simon Hart, said that following his self-referral to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Benton “had the Conservative Party whip suspended while an investigation was carried out”.

Rishi Sunak, who took office last year pledging “integrity” within the party, came under pressure to remove the Blackpool South MP’s whip.

Labor said the prime minister’s failure to act before Benton referred to the commissioner showed his “weakness”.

Benton was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors how he was willing to take action that would violate Parliament’s lobbying rules.

Under those rules, MPs are barred from advocating a particular issue in the House or raising it with ministers for a fee.

They are also prohibited from acting as paid parliamentary advisers or consultants or advising companies on ways to influence Parliament.

At a meeting in early March, Mr Benton outlined how he could back the fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to invest in the UK betting and gaming sector, by trying to water down gambling reforms. proposals.

Conservative MP Scott Benton speaks to the media on College Green in central London.
Conservative MP Scott Benton was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors how he was willing to take action that would breach Parliament’s lobbying rules (Beresford Hodge/PA)

It comes as the government is carrying out a major review of gambling laws, considering stricter regulations that could hurt operators’ profits.

Mr Benton offered a “guarantee” to provide a copy of an upcoming gambling white paper to the company at least two days before publication, which could allow it to benefit from inside market information.

He also said he could submit parliamentary questions in writing and had previously done so on behalf of another company.

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

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

Following the suspension of the whip, meaning Benton no longer sits in the House of Commons as a Conservative, a Labor spokesman said: “Once again, we see the weakness of Rishi Sunak. Rather than act immediately, he waited until Scott Benton referred himself to the commissioner.

“Rishi Sunak’s lack of mandate means he is too nervous to move against his own troops. No wonder Conservative MPs think they can get away with blue murder.”

The party’s shadow House of Commons leader, Thangam Debbonaire, said Sunak “must rein in this new wave of Tory sleaze and take immediate action to stop this shameful question money scandal escalating further.”

Lib Dem deputy head Daisy Cooper said: “These shocking revelations are yet another damning indictment of the state of the Conservative Party. The British public is fed up with Tory sleaze.”

It comes after former cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng drew criticism for offering to advise a bogus South Korean company for up to £10,000 a day in a sting operation by campaign group Led By Donkeys last month, although there was no prosecution. of irregularities.

Conservative MP Bob Seely told TalkTV: “I hate the way these rich and powerful interests engage with MPs and we shouldn’t.

“I’m trying to be very careful with these things. I wish my teammates would too.”

In a statement, Benton said: “Last month I was approached by a so-called company offering an expert advisor position. I met with two people who claimed to represent the company to find out what this role was all about. After this meeting, they asked me to send my CV and some other personal details. I did not do it because I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary regulations.

“I contacted the Registrar of Commons and Parliamentary Rules Commissioner who clarified these rules for me and I had no further contact with the company. I did this before I found out that the company did not exist and that the people who claimed to represent it were journalists.”

Downing Street said it was first and foremost a matter for Parliamentary Rules Commissioner Daniel Greenberg, and flogging matters were for the Whipping Office.

Mr. Greenberg’s office has been contacted.


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