Potential by-election as ex-Tory MP Scott Benton faces Commons banon December 14, 2023 at 4:02 pm

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Scott Benton committed a “very serious breach” of parliamentary rules, standards watchdog finds.

Scott BentonImage source, PA Media

MP Scott Benton faces being suspended from Parliament for 35 days over a “very serious breach” of standards rules.

A Commons Standards Committee report said he had given the message “he was corrupt and ‘for sale'”.

If MPs approve the suspension it could lead to a by-election in his Blackpool South constituency.

Mr Benton has sat as an independent MP since he had the Tory whip withdrawn in April.

In a meeting with newspaper reporters posing as gambling industry investors, he was caught offering to lobby ministers and table parliamentary questions.

As part of his sanction, Mr Benton would also lose his salary for the duration of any suspension.

A suspension of more than 10 days – if passed by the House of Commons – triggers a recall petition.

If 10% of voters in his constituency sign the petition a by-election would be called.

It means Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces the prospect of yet another by-election in the new year triggered by the misdemeanours of one of his own MPs.

Voters in the constituency of Wellingborough are currently deciding whether to kick out their MP Peter Bone over bullying and sexual misconduct allegations.

The recall petition there closes on 19 December.

Mr Benton’s seat is nowhere near as safe, with a majority of 3,690.

Having been Labour between 1997 and 2019, it is one the party would expect to win back easily, given its popularity in the polls.

Mr Sunak has already suffered four by-election defeats this year, including in Tamworth and Selby and Ainsty, when Labour overturned majorities of more than 20,000 to take the seats.

A report by the Commons Standards Committee said Mr Benton had given the message “he was corrupt and ‘for sale’ and that so were many other Members of the House”.

It said he “communicated a toxic message about standards in Parliament” and his comments “unjustifiably tarnish the reputation of all MPs”.

Mr Benton had argued that he had not agreed to undertake activity that would breach rules during the meeting with undercover reporters from the Times, which was secretly filmed.

But the committee said he had suggested MPs could lobby ministers, set up meetings with government advisers, table parliamentary questions and provide access to confidential documents.

Its report said Mr Benton had suggested he would be willing to breach Commons rules in return for payment from the company, which turned out to be fake.

It concluded he had repeatedly indicated his willingness to disregard the rules and gave the impression that many MPs had done so in the past.

The committee said this was a “very serious breach” of rules which require MPs not to do anything that causes significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the Commons.

It added: “His comments gave a false impression of the morality of MPs in a way which, if the public were to accept them as accurate, would be corrosive to respect for Parliament and undermine the foundations of our democracy.”

In a letter to the committee, Mr Benton said: “I do not consider my actions to be a breach of the rules: it is my view that I complied with the letter and the spirit of the rules.”

The MP said he did not have any further communications with the fictitious company following the meeting because during the conversation “it became apparent that the opportunity was a non-starter as it would not be compliant with the rules”.

He added: “The meeting was a lapse in judgment and I deeply regret my comments. I would like to again offer my unequivocal apologies for the inaccurate statements I have made.”

Labour said the report was “damning”.

The party’s 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.”

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said Mr Benton’s behaviour was “very disappointing”.

“It’s right that action was taken very swiftly,” he said, adding that the MP was suspended from the party “immediately” when the allegations came to light.

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