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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shamed MPs sneak back into Commons

Shamed MPs sneak back into Commons

The free passes, which entitle the former MPs to use meeting areas and dining rooms and to invite guests, are valid for life

By Miles Goslett (Sunday Times)

Shamed Tory grandee Douglas "Snout in the trough" Hogg has secured a Commons pass (Flying Colours)

More than 100 MPs who resigned or were voted out after the expenses scandal are being allowed to use the House of Commons as a private club for life.

The Tory grandee Douglas Hogg, who claimed for a moat to be cleared on his Lincolnshire estate, and Nicholas and Ann Winterton, who claimed more than £80,000 for a London flat owned by a trust controlled by their children, are among those who have secured a Commons pass.

The free passes, which entitle the former MPs to use meeting areas and dining rooms and to invite guests, are valid for life if renewed every three years.

Although Commons rules forbid former MPs from using the pass for lobbying, there are no safeguards to stop them doing so.

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said: “The Commons is not some old boys’ club. Once you’ve ceased to be an elected representative, you shouldn’t have any different rights from any other member of the public.”

Earlier this year, The Sunday Times disclosed that the passes, previously restricted to long-serving MPs, had been quietly extended to most former MPs by Michael Martin, the former Speaker.

According to documents released under freedom of information rules, 107 MPs who left parliament at the general election in May have been granted the privilege. This brings the total number of pass holders to 299.

The pass holders include Derek Conway, the former Conservative MP who was suspended and made to repay £13,161 he paid his son as a researcher, and Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary, who unwittingly charged the taxpayer for the cost of pornographic films watched by her husband.

Barbara Follett, one of the wealthiest MPs to sit in the last parliament, has also obtained a pass. She stepped down after charging £25,000 for security measures at her house.

Others include Jim Devine, a former Labour MP who faces prosecution for allegedly using false invoices to claim £8,745 in stationery and cleaning costs. He denies the charges.

Kitty Ussher, the former Treasury minister who resigned after it emerged that she had avoided paying £17,000 in capital gains tax on the sale of her constituency home, also has a pass.

Ussher said she had used the pass to visit friends in the Commons. “I absolutely have not ... and never will use it for lobbying or commercial interests,” she said.

Ruth Kelly, the former transport secretary who claimed £31,000 to redecorate her second home, also has a pass. She said she used it only to pick up her belongings.

The former MPs can use the Terrace cafeteria, Strangers’ bar and members’ dining room on Monday lunchtimes. They may also entertain family members in the Adjournment restaurant, the Strangers’ dining room and the Churchill Room.

A newsletter published by the Association of Former Members of Parliament highlighted the perks on offer to former MPs, urging them to “dine in style”.

It states: “A reminder, especially to our newer members, that the executive fought for and won dining rights in the House at certain off-peak times ... we do hope you will take advantage of this facility.”

Restaurants and bars in the Commons are subsidised by the taxpayer. A pint of Guinness costs £2.90.

Others granted passes include several former MPs revealed by The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme earlier this year to be offering to lobby for thousands of pounds a day.

Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary, told an undercover reporter he could use his contacts to secure meetings and influence government policy.

Sir John Butterfill, who also has a pass, told the reporter he hoped to receive a peerage, which could increase his influence on behalf of fictional clients. Last week he said he used his pass in his capacity as chairman of the parliamentary pension fund.

Another pass holder is Patricia Hewitt, the former cabinet minister who told the reporter she could offer a service to help clients influence legislation. She is an adviser to BT and Boots.

Comment: It beggars belief that expenses fiddling MPs who stole public money whilst working are now allowed to wine and dine at the public's expense for life!

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