Conservative MP Scott Benton was caught in an undercover sting operation offering lobbying services
MP for Blackpool South, Scott Benton, has been caught up in a lobbying scandal after he was secretly filmed by reporters from The Times offering to use his position to lobby ministers and share sensitive information in exchange for payment.
In the undercover sting operation, Benton was recorded offering to table parliamentary questions and leak confidential policy papers. He also offered to act as an intermediary between businesses and government officials, claiming that he had direct access to ministers and could help them bypass traditional lobbying channels.
Undercover reporters posed as investors while wearing hidden cameras, and contacted several MPs in an attempt to catch rule-breakers.
They met with Scott Benton last month at a central London hotel, where the MP guaranteed he could leak a copy of a forthcoming white paper on gambling reforms, at least 48 hours before it went public – a move that could have allowed the fake company to profit from market-sensitive information.
He also offered to submit written parliamentary questions, which he said he had done before on behalf of other companies.
The revelations have sparked outrage among Benton’s constituents and fellow MPs, with many calling for him to resign. The Conservative Party has launched an internal investigation into the matter, and Benton has been suspended pending the outcome.
Benton has hit back at the sting, claiming while he did agree to meet the purported company, he had not provided his CV as had been requested during the meeting because he was “concerned that what was being asked of me was not within parliamentary rules”. He said he later “contacted the Commons registrar and the parliamentary standards commissioner who clarified these rules for me and had no further contact with the company”.
“I did this before being made aware that the company did not exist and the individuals claiming to represent it were journalists,” he said in a statement.
However, in the footage, Scott Benton can be clearly heard offering to lobby ministers directly, share market-sensitive information, and ask questions in parliament on behalf of businesses. He also claimed he could leak a confidential policy paper and table parliamentary questions to promote the interests of his clients.
The undercover investigation, which took place over several weeks, reportedly caught Mr Benton offering a paid advisory role to the journalists, in which he would use his position as an MP to push their agenda.
At one point he is seen criticising the new Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer for not having “a grasp of the detail of the reform she should have at this stage”, saying his conversation with her had set “alarm bells ringing”.
Towards the end of the conversation, the undercover reporters asked the Blackpool MP about potential compensation, to which he replied he would “leave that to you”.
When the reporter proposed a fee in the range of £2,000 to £4,000 a month for two days’ work, Mr Benton replied “yes, I think that’s, yeah”, nodding.
While MPs may believe in a cause and support certain policy changes, it is “strictly forbidden” by the MP code of conduct to take payment for this.
The code also states they may not enter into “any contractual arrangement” that interferes with their “complete independence” in Parliament.
“Nor may an outside body (or person) use any contractual arrangement with a Member of Parliament as an instrument by which it controls, or seeks to control, his or her conduct in Parliament, or to punish that member for any parliamentary action.”
The Times alleges that Scott Benton’s proposed actions would “amount to a breach of the longstanding rules prohibiting “paid advocacy” as well as flout the new restriction on providing parliamentary advice that came into effect several days before the meeting.”
The scandal has once again shone a spotlight on the issue of lobbying and the close relationships between politicians and businesses in the UK. It has raised questions about the need for greater transparency and accountability in the lobbying industry, and the role of MPs in representing their constituents versus furthering their own financial interests.
As the investigation continues, it remains to be seen what the fallout from the scandal will be, and whether Benton will be able to salvage his political career in the wake of the revelations.