A “strategic counsel” for the lobbying firm Crosby Textor is among 324 former MPs who together used grace and favor passes to access the UK Houses of Parliament more than 2,500 times in a single year.
Data released after a significant freedom of information victory by the Guardian showed how frequently individual former MPs have been using their “category X” parliamentary pass, which grants the bearer continued access to the corridors of power after they step down, along with parliament’s subsidized restaurants and bars.
MPs who serve a single parliamentary term are automatically eligible to apply for a pass, but critics say the system is open to abuse.
House of Commons authorities attempted to prevent the information being released, saying it would infringe former members’ personal data rights.
However, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office ruled in the Guardian’s favor, determining that the public interest in the material was of such strength that it should override data protection safeguards.
The data revealed that Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough from 2005 to 2017, used his grace and favor pass 82 times in the year from July 2018 to June last — almost one in every two days on which parliament sat in that period.
According to his LinkedIn profile, he has worked as a lobbyist since August 2018, first for Crosby Textor as a “strategic counsel” and later on for his own outfit, Political Insight, as well as being a columnist for the Telegraph.
Jackson did not respond to attempts to contact him.
The most prolific returnee was Nick de Bois, the Conservative MP for Enfield North from 2010 to 2015, who visited 84 times.
He said he served as UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab’s chief of staff and later as a volunteer for his campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party during the year in question. He was also a radio host during the same period.
Phil Woolas, the deputy leader of the Commons at the time the passes were introduced and subsequently a Labour minister, said the reasons for introducing the scheme were purely social.
“If you’ve worked for somewhere for 40 years, and you get your gold watch and you get thrown out, it’s quite nice to be able to meet your old mates. It was as simple as that,” he said. “It was just a reason for ex-MPs to meet up and have dinner.”
Woolas, who used his pass once, was removed as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth in 2010 after an electoral court found his campaign had made false allegations that his Liberal Democrat opponent was linked to Islamist extremism.
He now works for the consultancy UK Partnerships. He said he had not held a category X pass for several years and did not use it in connection with business purposes.
Ivor Caplin, the Labour MP for Hove from 1997 to 2005 who now runs Ivor Caplin Consultancy, used his grace and favor pass 48 times.
A profile on the Web site of a volunteering charity where Caplin serves as a trustee describes how his consultancy work “has continued to bring him into regular contact with both politicians and officials” in the UK and abroad.
However, Caplin said he did not use the pass for his private work, visiting in his capacity as a national spokesman and then chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.
“Given the antisemitism crisis in the party at that time I made numerous visits to the house to discuss this with MPs, peers and others, including journalists,” he said. “I do not and never have used the house for the purposes of my business.”
The Guardian first wrote to the House of Commons requesting information about the use of grace and favor passes in August last year.
Citing data protection, the Commons released a list of the numbers of times each pass had been used in a single year, but refused to link each number to a named former MP.
Following a complaint by the Guardian, the Information Commissioner’s Office, which regulates freedom of information and data protection regulations, ordered that the information be released and said the parliamentary authorities’ current system was so unregulated as to be vulnerable to misuse.
The ruling observed that while ministers, MPs, peers, political journalists and parliamentary assistants are required to make transparent their identities and financial interests, ex-MPs with grace and favor passes are not.
“Given that the evidence suggests that several of the passholders are employed by lobbying or public relations companies, there is a legitimate concern about how such passes are used,” it read. “Whilst the commissioner is not aware of any evidence to suggest widespread misuse of the passes, she does consider that the current system is vulnerable to abuse.”
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