Lobbying sting MP Scott Benton plans appeal against 35-day suspension
A Conservative MP caught in a lobbying sting has said he will appeal against a recommended 35-day suspension, as he hit out at the Commons probe into him as “anything but fair and transparent”.
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton was caught by the Times offering to lobby ministers and table parliamentary questions on behalf of gambling investors.
If the Commons backs the punishment, it could leave the former Tory MP – who was stripped of the whip after the allegations surfaced – facing a by-election.
The Commons Standards Committee, which recommended the suspension, said Mr Benton’s actions were an “extremely serious breach” of the rules.
On Friday, Mr Benton said he would be appealing to the Independent Expert Panel, with his case to be heard in the new year.
He also said he would submitting a formal complaint to Commons authorities about the committee’s handling of his case.
He said: “Throughout this process I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the Committee on Standards.
“Even this week, I was told I was only allowed to read their judgment at 8am yesterday, an hour before publication.
“Yet the night before the report was published, people on the Committee on Standards leaked contents of the report to a journalist and I was contacted on the evening before publication repeatedly by members of the press. This was not the first such leak whilst the investigation was taking place.
“This process is designed to be open, fair, honest and transparent so the public and MPs can have trust in the process.
“This trust has been breached by members of the committee. I can’t have faith in a standards process that doesn’t adhere to its own ethics, standards and principles.”
Mr Benton claimed the decision made against him “was heavily influenced by the memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards which makes several pivotal statements that are completely factually inaccurate”.
He added: “If those that judge MPs are not being open minded, fair and proportionate in the way that they are handling evidence or examining witnesses, our democracy is under threat.”
He said he believes a second assessment will “consider the facts and lead to a more equitable decision”.
Mr Benton was chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming when he was approached by undercover reporters posing as representatives from fictitious betting firm Tahr Partners in March.
The MP insisted that “at no point during the meeting did he agree to undertake activity that would be in breach of the rules”, and referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg when the Times published its story in April.
But the Standards Committee said Mr Benton suggested MPs could lobby ministers, set up meetings with Government advisers, table parliamentary questions and provide access to confidential documents.
The committee agreed with the commissioner’s finding that Mr Benton “made statements that he would be willing to breach and/or circumvent the House’s rules for the company in return for payment”.
If MPs ultimately approve the 35-day suspension, Mr Benton could face a by-election if 10% of eligible voters in Blackpool South sign a petition calling for it.
A recall petition is opened if an MP is suspended for at least 10 sitting days.
Mr Benton won the seat for the Tories with a majority of 3,690 and Labour would hope to snatch it back in a by-election.
A Committee on Standards spokesperson said: “The House agreed on 18 October 2022 to introduce an appeals process in the House’s standards system.
“This means that Members found by the Committee on Standards to have breached the Code of Conduct have a right of appeal to the Independent Expert Panel. The IEP is independent of the Committee on Standards.
“After an appeal, if the findings of the committee are upheld, it is for the Government to table a motion on the report, with a vote being taken by the House.”
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