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Who has privileged access to Westminster has been big news recently.
While a Tory aide accused of spying for China is currently under police investigation, there’s one group of people who wander around Westminster that the public knows next to nothing about: ex-MPs.
Former MPs are entitled to parliamentary passes when they leave office (well, all except Boris Johnson).
And up until recently, the House of Commons’ long-standing practice was to keep three years’ worth of records of how often ex-MPs used these ‘category X’ passes.
But in June 2022, parliamentary authorities agreed to erase data about the use of passes by current and former MPs after just one week – following complaints by then Cabinet Minister Jacob Rees Mogg about “lefty” FOIs inquiring about his attendance.
However, records obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show that ex-MPs used their parliamentary passes more than 3,000 times in almost four years.
Among the more than 350 ex-MPs who used their parliamentary passes are many who work as lobbyists, including for the nuclear industry, the gambling lobby, and the gas boiler industry.
One former Tory MP who used a parliamentary pass worked as ‘head of parliamentary engagement’ at Chinese tech giant Huawei during the period covered by the data.
Caroline Lucas said that the data revealed, once more, how “the endless revolving door between Parliament and the corporate world is having a deeply damaging impact on our politics.
“Westminster doesn’t need more industry stooges lobbying for dangerous profiteering businesses rather than the public good.”
The Green MP for Brighton Pavillion expressed concern at the deletion of records of ex-MPs’ use of passes after just a week.
“Rees-Mogg’s decision to destroy data which is clearly in the public interest will undoubtedly raise questions about what he or his colleagues might want to be hidden from view,” she said.
All former MPs who have served just one term are also entitled to parliamentary passes. Among the ex-MPs who accessed Westminster most often was former Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who used his pass at least 74 times over four years, according to the data.
After leaving parliament in 2017, Jackson worked as a ‘strategic counsel’ for Crosby Textor, the Australian lobbying firm that has worked on numerous Tory election campaigns and Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign as well as running secret disinformation campaigns for the Saudi regime and coal and tobacco interests.
Jackson, who was elevated to the House of Lords in Johnson’s resignation honours list, did not respond to requests for comment.
Kris Hopkins, a former Tory MP who worked as head of parliamentary engagement at Chinese tech giant Huawei until last September, accessed Westminster at least 26 times between 2017 and November 2021.
In 2020, Boris Johnson ordered telecoms companies to strip Huawei tech from Britain’s 5G network over national security concerns – which the company has always insisted were unfounded.
Hopkins could not be reached for comment.
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Former Labour MPs who now work as lobbyists also used their category X pass.
Onetime shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex became the CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association in 2016, after losing his seat the previous year. Greatrex, who often appears in the media advocating for the nuclear sector, used his pass at least 17 times between 2017 and November 2021.
Greatrex did not respond to requests for comment.
Former Labour MP Michael Dugher, who is CEO of the Betting and Gambling Council, used his pass 24 times in the period. Dugher has been among the most vocal proponents of the gambling industry in recent years, arguing against increased regulation despite the rise in problem betting.
A Betting and Gaming Council spokesperson, said: “Michael Dugher does not have a parliamentary pass. Mr Dugher could have renewed his parliamentary pass, which he is entitled to along with other former elected members, but he chose not to do so.”
Impact of Covid
The data shows that former MPs used their category X passes almost 2,000 times in 2019, with much lower figures for 2020 and 2021. One possible explanation for this variation is the Covid pandemic, which led to much parliamentary business moving online.
Ex-Labour MP Mike Foster, who has run the Energy and Utilities Association trade body for the last decade, used his pass 17 times in the period under consideration. Foster has been accused of lobbying ministers to delay Britain’s rollout of heat pumps.
Foster said that between 2017 and 2021 he attended ten meetings of Policy Connect, which was set up by MPs to allow for dialogue between them and industry, four meetings of All Party Parliamentary Groups, and two Parliamentary launches of reports by the Climate Change Committee and two receptions, one on fuel poverty and one on Carbon Capture and Storage.
“Granting a Parliamentary pass is a huge privilege to former Members and one that should not be abused. I suspect that the majority of times these passes are used is to avoid long queues at the main public entrances to Parliament. Given I am based in Kenilworth, lobbying individual MPs is not practical given their crowded and ever-changing diaries,” Foster said.
Former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, who runs the lobbying firm New Century Media, which has advised Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin is also included on the list.
New Century Media said that none of Burnside’s visits to Parliament were for company business.
The revolving door between Parliament and business continues to spin. Last month, former environment secretary George Eustice was cleared to set up an agri consultancy just a year after leaving office.
With many MPs stepping down or expected to lose their seats, the numbers of former parliamentarians joining the lobbying ranks are likely to swell after the next general election.
Many MPs included in the lists below would say they are on personal not corporate business when they visit Westminster. But one former MP – who went on to become a lobbyist for a not-for-profit – said that, regardless, they should not be given privileged access.
“It isn’t a gentleman’s club, you don’t need life-long access,” the ex-MP said.
Reacting to this story, Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK said ban grace and favour passes for ex-MPs.
“Awarding parliamentary passes to former MPs does little to address concerns that Westminster is a closed shop for the privileged few. The unrestricted access afforded to past parliamentarians is ripe for abuse.
“Given the inherent risks involved, this practice should end now.”