A Conservative Party member of the British parliament has been suspended after a sting pulled by newspaper reporters who tried to get him to improperly lobby on behalf of a fictitious gambling company.
Blackpool South MP Scott Benton was suspended by his party after The Times newspaper published claims that he offered to lobby for the company and bragged about placing parliamentary questions on behalf of gambling companies.
A report published today (April 6) said Benton was offered a paid advisory role by undercover journalists posing as gambling industry investors.
The newspaper released a video in which Benton says he could introduce parliamentary questions and leak the long-awaited gambling white paper in advance of its publication.
Benton chairs an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming, and appeared on a panel at ICE London 2023 in February, on which he discussed controversies around gambling sports sponsorships and described himself as representing a constituency with more gambling industry employees than any other in Great Britain.
Benton has “lost the whip”, meaning he is at least temporarily sitting in parliament as an independent while the party investigates the episode.
In a statement, Benton said he was “approached by a purported company” last month and met with two persons claiming to represent the gambling firm.
"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,” he said in a statement.
After contacting the parliamentary standards commissioner, Benton said he had no further contact with the individuals.
“I did this before being made aware that the company did not exist and the individuals claiming to represent it were journalists,” he said.
The UK parliament recently tightened its code of conduct to prohibit speaking in the House of Commons and lobbying ministers in return for payment.
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party’s chief whip, Simon Hart, said: "Following his self-referral to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards earlier this evening [Wednesday], Scott Benton has had the Conservative Party Whip suspended whilst an investigation is ongoing."
The Times newspaper sting follows another sting operation by Led By Donkeys, a political campaign group, in which former minister Matt Hancock and Conservatives were filmed in discussions over a fake job.
Meanwhile, The Sun newspaper claims to have seen Cabinet documents in which secretary of state Lucy Frazer outlines planned changes to be proposed in the white paper.
These would include online slots stake limits of £2 for under-25s and up to £15 for those above that age, which Frazer said she will "consult on", according to the report.
A gambling harm levy, the creation of an ombudsman and some form of affordability checks are all to be included, according to the newspaper.
Additional reporting by Joe Ewens.