Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Daniel Greenberg is keeping busy, even if it is recess. Today three more MPs have had investigations launched into potential breaches of conduct: Matt Hancock, Scott Benton, and Henry Smith. Both Benton and Smith have been flagged for potential “use of facilities provided from the public purse”. Fairly small fry, although it’s not as if Benton isn’t in enough trouble already.
Matt Hancock, meanwhile, is being investigated for “lobbying the Commissioner in a manner calculated or intended to influence his consideration of whether a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred”, which might raise a few eyebrows. Guido’s asked Hancock’s spokesperson how Matt has found himself in trouble yet again:
“Mr Hancock is shocked and surprised by the investigation. Far from lobbying the commissioner, Matt wrote to Mr Greenberg in good faith to offer some additional evidence that he thought was not only pertinent but helpful for an inquiry the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is currently conducting. It’s clearly a misunderstanding and Matt looks forward to fully engaging with the Commissioner to clear this up.”
Team Hancock add “it was evidence [he] was uniquely placed to give”…
Sir Keir has just given a pool interview in which he lamented the return of “Tory sleaze” following the Times‘ Scott Benton sting operation, stressing the importance of “rules, regulations and transparency” in politics. As usual for Starmer, it’s all about upholding “principles”…
“…with Scott Benton, we’ve seen a flagrant disregard of those rules, of those principles. It’s not a one-off, only a few weeks ago, we saw three other Tory MPs looking for lucrative jobs… I think all of this shows that the Prime Minister’s lost a grip and if ever we needed further evidence this is it – that Tory sleaze is back.”
It was of course this same adherence to “transparency” that led Starmer to accept £25,000 from Peter Coates, a founder of online betting firm Bet365, during his leadership campaign. A donation he only declared late and only after he’d won, for some reason. It probably didn’t help that his own PPS Carolyn Harris had previously called Bet365 “morally abhorrent”…
Starmer went on to say the government “needs to look at” tightening gambling regulations, and there’s “concern” about online betting. Presumably Labour will call time on their friendship with the Betting & Gaming Council. They even sponsored the Mirror party at Labour conference last year…
Scott Benton, elected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool South, last night had the Conservative whip removed following a Times sting. The MP, who also chairs the APPG on betting and gambling, was filmed offering to lobby ministers on behalf of investors – he even pledged to leak a copy of the gambling harms white paper 48 hours in advance. If Benton had acted on his words, it would be a breach of paid advocacy rules.
Scott had the whip suspended last night – after he referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Benton also laid out his defence to the Times:
“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.”
All eyes on the standards commissioner.
According to polling aggregator, UK Polling Report, Blackpool South is set to turn red in any event at the next election – no doubt accounting for why Benton was so quick to get on the ‘displaced list’ of Conservative MPs affected by boundary changes, to be parachuted into new seats. Guido doubts having the whip removed will enhance his prospects…
SNP MP Gavin Newlands has been accused of calling Tory MPs Scott Benton and Tom Hunt “absolute scumbags“, with the moment picked up on the Commons microphones as Alison Thewliss read out her War and Peace-length intervention during the Illegal Migrant Bill debate last night. Guido has enhanced the audio for co-conspirators’ listening pleasure…
Newlands also took to Twitter to attack Benton and Hunt again, claiming they’d laughed at him for expressing “security concerns for [his] staff”. Tom Hunt tells Guido this is incorrect, and “there is no place for that kind of hate filled language”:
“I forget what me and Scott were talking about but it had nothing to do with the Thewliss speech or the intervention from Newlands. Before we knew it I looked up and a number of MPs were looking at us like they wanted to throttle us […] We had no idea what they’re going on about. Then all of a sudden one of the SNP MPs shouted “scum” at us. Sadly there are a small group of SNP MPs who continually bizarre in an inappropriate way in the chamber and hurl abuse at opponents. This was a continuation of that. The Chamber can get heated and I myself can be vocal. But there is no place for that kind of hate filled language. Particularly when me and Scott aren’t even guilty of what Newlands is accusing us of.”
To be fair to Newlands, it’s not the first time this language has cropped up in the Commons. Just ask Angie…
Tory MP Scott Benton made the Commons a bit rowdier this afternoon after launching a passionate tirade against Channel 4, in light of the government’s u-turn on selling it off. Rising to his feet the 2019 intake MP told Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan:
“Channel 4 has an unmistakeable liberal, left, metropolitan bias in its programming, and particularly in its news output. So much so it almost makes the BBC look impartial by comparison! How exactly is a few pages in its annual report going to change this engrained bias?”
His gag about the BBC got a hearty laugh from the Tory benches – and even a chuckle from the Secretary of State…
On a good day, there may be a million words spoken in the Palace of Westminster. Here are a very few of them, from the floor of the Commons. They are not always verbatim but are reliable. That is, reliably reported.
Robert Halfon (Con): The Education department has appointed 13 Attendance advisers, but we have 1.7 million absent children and 100,000-plus so-called “ghost children”.
Grant Shapps (Con): Professor Jay’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard from 7,300 victims. It processed 2 million pages of evidence and cost £184 million. £4.5 million is to be allocated to seven organizations to support victims.
James Murray (Con): The out-of-turn estimates will increase overall spending by £71.4 billion [with £60 billion sought by BEIS to implement the energy price cap].
Christopher Chope (Con): The Paul Ehrlich Institute (the German regulator for vaccine safety) tried to raise the alert that one in 5,000 vaccinated people experienced a serious side effect, such as heart muscle inflammation. It said that, statistically, every tenth person must expect a severe consequence from having a course of three or four vaccines.
Scott Benton (Con): More than 70% of successful deportation appeals are now based solely on Article 8 [the right to respect for private and family life’].
Rachael Maskell (Lab): 7.5 million people are on pre-payment meters.
Graham Stuart (Con): In the Scotwind auction, Scottish fields have been sold off cheap, netting £700 million, while New York garnered £4.3 billion for a quarter of what was on offer in Scotland.
Andy Slaughter (Lab): The briefing from the National Residential Landlords Association says that 70% of landlords could envisage operating without section 21. Kevin Hollinrake (Con): That means in effect somewhere between 20% and 30% of supply (of rented accommodation) might go overnight.
Alison Thewliss (SNP): The gas bill of the Toryglen Community Base has gone from £9,700 a year to £62,273.36.
Richard Fuller (Con): In 2019, almost 243,000 net additional homes were delivered.
Anne McLaughlin (SNP): 40% of those entitled to pension credit do not apply for it.
Damien Hinds (Con): The e-petition for verified ID to be required to open a social media account has almost 700,000 signatures.
Taino Owatemi (Lab): In the last four years in this country, £3 billion has been lost to online fraud and 60,000 offences relating to online sexual abuse and grooming have been committed.
Guy Opperman (Con): Google made $14 billion profit last quarter.
Paulette Hamilton (Lab): (Before Putin’s invasion) Ukraine grew enough food to feed an estimated 400 million people despite having a population of only 44 million.
Matt Vickers (Con): There is a street in Stockton where if someone travels from one end to another just five miles, they pass through two areas where the difference in life expectancy is 20 years. Those living in Yarm in my constituency can be expected to live until the age of 84, whereas those living in Stockton Town Center, and neighboring Stockton North, can expect to live only to the age of 64 – that is equivalent to the life expectancy of those living in Ethiopia.
Drew Hendry (SNP): Scotch whiskey exported to India attracts a tariff of 150%.
Robert Halfon (Con): New Spanish consumer laws will force big companies and utility firms to answer customer service calls within three minutes or face fines of up to £85,000.
Theresa Villiers (Con): [On revoking the retained EU laws] We do not know with certainty how many laws there are within DEFRA’s food, animal welfare and environmental remit because that has not been comprehensively counted on the Government’s dashboard. (Greener UK estimates 570 pieces of legislation in DEFRA. Estimates for the total number of laws to be examined by the end of 2023 fall between 2,500 and 2,700 – around five a day.)
Patricia Gibson (SNP): There have been four secretaries of state for education in the last year and nine out of 10 schools in England say they will run out of money this year. The dogs in the street know that the government is so unstable as to be unfit for purpose. Does today’s Secretary of State for Education agree with me and the hon. member for Christchurch (Christopher Chope) that the new Prime Minister will face an “ungovernable” and “riven” Tory party and that a general election is the only answer, otherwise things will go from very bad to much worse? Mr. Speaker: What does that have to do with education? I do not think it has anything to do with education, so let us go to Elliot Colburn.
Jim Shannon, DUP: Does the minister agree that human rights provisions must be included in the India trade deal and can he guarantee that no blind eye will be turned to human rights abuses for the sake of economic benefit? Greg Hands (Con): I think this government have a fantastic record of promoting religious tolerance and religious diversity abroad. (In English: No.)