A Lancashire MP who has been suspended after a lobbying ‘sting’ received five gifts from companies linked to the gambling industry including tickets to watch two England football games, the Brits and Wimbledon it has been revealed.
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton has had the whip suspended by the Conservative Party after he referred himself to parliament’s standards watchdog. It came after an undercover sting by The Times, who posed as gambling industry investors looking for parliamentary influence.
In a meeting with the undercover reporters, it is alleged Mr Benton – who is also the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming – was prepared to leak market-sensitive information to the investment fund and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in direct breach of parliamentary lobbying rules.
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The Times also claims Mr Benton was ready to leak a government white paper at least 48 hours before it went public. MPs are also prohibited from serving as a paid parliamentary adviser or consultant or guiding firms on ways to influence Parliament.
In a meeting in early March, Mr Benton described how he could support the fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to make investments in the UK betting and gaming sector, by attempting to water down proposed gambling reforms.
Lancs Live report that Mr Benton has vehemently denied the claims put against him saying 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.”
The relationship between gambling and politics has become cosier and cosier in recent years as the betting industry holds its breath on tougher regulations from central government reports Lancs Live.
It has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds – and freebies on top of that – thrown at MPs between August 2020 and November 2021 alone, according to official parliamentary records. A total of £225,000 was paid out to 28 MPs to be precise; 19 of which are Tory and nine Labour.
Pressure is now mounting, with a forthcoming white paper on gambling reforms set to be published by the government imminently.
According to LancsLive, Mr Benton’s relationship with gambling has been close during the time in which £225,000 was paid to MPs. They report the MP benefitted from numerous free tickets to watch football matches. Among them include tickets to watch England vs Denmark, valued at £3,457.
He also received freebies worth £1,537 to watch England v Czech Republic. Tickets worth £1,400 were gifted to Mr Benton to attend Royal Ascot, with tickets worth £1,100 gifted to him to visit Wimbledon and he was a guest at the 2022 Brit Awards valued at £1,164.
All these tickets were from companies connected to gambling. Mr Benton properly declared them in the register of members’ financial interests.
Official parliamentary records also show Mr Benton secured a parliamentary pass for a Mr Stephen Donoughue, a member of staff from the business Gambling Consultant. Mr Donoughue’s LinkedIn page boasts of his “unparalleled knowledge” of the gambling industry.
Mr Benton publicised his attendance at several of these events. His public Instagram account shows him documenting his trips to Ascot, the England v Czech Republic, and England v Denmark. He has also made clear his support for the gambling industry in a video published by the Betting and Gaming Council; the body that gifted him his free Ascot and Brit Award tickets.
The video, from June 2021 following the removal of Covid-19 restrictions, shows Mr Benton encouraging people to get back into their local bookmakers and spend money.
“Betting shops employ thousands of people across the UK and are a key driving force to get people out on their high streets,” he says in the footage, “spending money in local shops and businesses as well.”
He says the industry gives millions of pounds to central government in tax to “help the UK spend money on vital public services, as well as supporting key sports including horse racing, greyhounds, and lower league football”.
The fate of Mr Benton’s Tory Party career is likely to lie with the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Mr Sunak, who entered office last year promising “integrity” within the party, had come under pressure to strip the Blackpool South MP of the whip.
A spokesperson for Tory Chief Whip Simon Hart said on Wednesday night: “Following his self-referral to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards earlier this evening, Scott Benton has had the Conservative Party Whip suspended whilst an investigation is ongoing.”
Labour’s shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “Rishi Sunak has lost control of his own MPs. He must get a grip of this new wave of Tory sleaze and take immediate action to stop this shameful cash for questions scandal spiralling even further. He must immediately remove the whip from all involved.”
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 by the campaign group Led By Donkeys last month, although there was no accusation of wrongdoing.
In a statement, Mr Benton said: “Last month I was approached by a purported company offering me an expert advisory role. I met with two individuals claiming to represent the company to find out what this role entailed. After this meeting, I was asked to forward my CV and some other personal details. I did not do so as I was concerned that what was being asked of me was not within Parliamentary rules.
“I 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.”
Scott Benton’s gifts from gambling companies:
- Tickets to the England v Czech Republic game in June 2021 from Gamesys – £1,537
- Tickets to Royal Ascot in June 2021 from the Betting and Gaming Council – £1,400
- Tickets to Wimbledon in July 2021 from Entain Operations – £1,100
- Tickets to the England v Denmark game in July 2021 from Entain Operations – £3,457
- Tickets to the Brit Awards in February 2022 from the Betting and Gaming Council – £1,164
The full article on Lancashire MPs financial interests from June 2022 can be found here