Scott Benton: Lobbying sting MP plans to appeal suspensionon December 15, 2023 at 5:31 pm

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Scott Benton says an inquiry which found he breached standards rules was not fair or transparent.

Scott BentonImage source, UK Parliament

MP Scott Benton says he will appeal a proposed 35-day suspension from the House of Commons, after he was found to have breached standards rules.

A report by the Commons Standards Committee said he had given the message he was “corrupt and ‘for sale'” in a meeting with undercover reporters posing as gambling industry investors.

Mr Benton said the inquiry was “anything but fair and transparent”.

The MP for Blackpool South has said he does not believe he broke any rules.

He was suspended as a Conservative MP in April, after the Times newspaper published its story on the meeting, and he currently sits as an independent.

If MPs approve the suspension it could lead to a by-election in Mr Benton’s constituency.

The committee’s report, which was published on Thursday, said that in the meeting Mr Benton had suggested he could lobby ministers, set up meetings with government advisers, table parliamentary questions and provide access to confidential documents.

It said his comments suggested he would be willing to breach Commons rules in return for payment from the company, which turned out to be fake, as well as giving the impression that other MPs had disregarded the rules in the past.

The report concluded 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.

In a statement, Mr Benton said: “Time and time again, this process has demonstrated itself to me to be anything but fair and transparent.”

The MP said he had been “sworn to secrecy” by the committee during the process and was only allowed to see its judgement an hour before it was published.

However, he said details of the report were leaked to a journalist before they were made public, while other information was also leaked during the investigation.

“This process is designed to be open, fair, honest and transparent so the public and MPs can have trust in the process,” he said.

“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.”

He said the committee’s decision was “heavily influenced” by an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which he said “makes several pivotal statements that are completely factually inaccurate”.

In a letter to the committee published alongside its report, Mr Benton insisted he did not suggest other MPs would be willing to breach or circumvent rules or that he had previously done so himself.

He stressed that he had not agreed to undertake any activity that would breach rules during the meeting, which was secretly filmed.

He added that 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”.

Mr Benton said he would be submitting a formal complaint to the Commons authorities, as well as appealing the committee’s decision through the Independent Expert Panel (IEP).

He added: “I will happily fully submit myself to a process that considers the actual facts in my case, and which relies on indisputable evidence.”

A Standards Committee spokesperson said MPs found to have breached the Code of Conduct had a right to appeal to the IEP, which is independent of the committee.

Unlike the cross-party Standards Committee, the IEP is made up only of experts and does not include any MPs.

Any proposed suspension must be approved by MPs in a Commons vote, which would only take place after an appeal process has concluded.

A suspension of more than 10 days triggers a recall petition, with a by-election called if more than 10% of eligible voters in the constituency sign it.

Mr Benton’s Blackpool South seat has a majority of 3,690 and was held by Labour between 1997 and 2019.

With the Conservatives trailing in national polls, it is an area Labour would hope to win back.

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