Disgraced MPs forced to step down at the next election as a result of their abuse of expenses will still be offered the chance to hold on to some of their parliamentary perks after they leave Westminster, The Independent has learnt.
All MPs leaving parliament at the next election will be given the option of keeping hold of a Commons pass, allowing them to mix freely with MPs and use Westminster's publicly subsidised facilities.
The perks are being offered by the Association of Former MPs, a group set up to help MPs cope with life after leaving the Commons. Any MP who has served a term can pay £25 to join the group and receive a Commons pass. More than 340 MPs have joined the association, which was set up in 2001 to in an attempt to keep "old soldiers of the regiment together".
Members include the former Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and John Major, as well as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Around 40 ex-Cabinet ministers have also joined.
It is run by Joe Ashton, the former Labour MP for Bassetlaw, Derbyshire, who left the Commons in 2001. "We don't interfere, I can promise you that," he said. "People don't realise how difficult it is for some MPs when they are voted out of office. Many find it hard to find other work, some end up on the booze. I know one that came close to suicide. Allowing them into the Commons lets them see friends and talk about old times."
One MP told the organisation that "being given a black bin liner to empty my desk, then being escorted out of the building with my pass taken away, is the sort of treatment usually reserved for those ex-employees caught with their hand in the till."
The Independent has discovered that hundreds of former MPs have already secured Commons passes through the group, raising concerns that some could be using them for lobbying ministers or using the facilities to benefit their new employers. Documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 206 former MPs have secured a pass through the organisation. Whips have alerted the organisation of around 50 MPs who will be leaving the Commons at the next election.
Michael Martin, the Speaker forced to give up his role as a result of the expenses scandal, was instrumental in securing the exclusive passes for members of the association. As its patron, he hosts an annual reception for its members in the fine surrounds of Speakers House, his official residence. Taxpayers are also paying £6,000 towards the group, through the part-time use of a secretary.
Commons authorities have refused to disclose the names of the former parliamentarians who have been handed Commons passes through the group. However, they could be forced to disclose the names as their decision has been referred to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas.
David Miller, of the anti-lobbying group, SpinWatch, said: "It's a blow when anyone loses their job, but they shouldn't still enjoy the perks of the job, like hanging around the canteen. Having that kind of privileged access to Parliament is a vehicle for vested interests. The workings of Parliament need to be transparent and open to all, not just the privileged few."
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP and anti-sleaze campaigner, said those forced out of office must not be allowed to return to Parliament. "It would be ironic if those ordered to step down were allowed to come back into the Commons in this way. There is clearly the potential for inappropriate lobbying activity here. Former MPs entering lobbying firms should be forced to register and stopped from entering the Commons."
Mr Ashton dismissed the suggestion that former MPs were using their passes to gain influence over politics or for lobbying. "Most of our members simply cannot afford the bus fare to come down to London to use their passes in that way," he said.
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