- The register of MPs’ staff is always incomplete at any time because not all staff with parliamentary passes are included. Those holding passes for less than three months – so-called short-term passholders – aren’t registered. There’s potential for abuse because such individuals are hidden from the public record. Staff members actually on the register are required to declare lobbying or outside interests. But we aren’t even aware of the existence of some of those working for MPs.
- Remember Mr Downing who’d worked “earlier in the year” for Grant Shapps MP at parliament (see previous post). I couldn’t find him on archived copies of the register of MPs’ staff for earlier this year. So I asked Mr Shapps’ parliamentary office for the exact dates to ensure I was looking at the appropriate version of the register – if it was available. Luckily I found one – but Mr Downing wasn’t there, which I didn’t understand. He should surely have been present on the register then, I thought.
- But no, according to Philippa Wainwright, Assistant Registrar in the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at the House of Commons. The dates for Mr Downing indicate that he’d been a passholder for less than three months at the date of the register. And so-called short-term passholders aren’t registered, she said in an email.
- Where does it say this on the parliament website? Er, nowhere. In particular, this fact isn’t disclosed in the documentation with the register itself, which is strange. This fact should surely be explicitly stated so that the public is aware that the register is always incomplete at any time.
- Why are short-term passholders not registered anyway? Ms Wainwright, who is responsible for the register of MPs’ staff, explained in an email: “The staff register was set up in the mid-1980s following a report to the House by the Select Committee on Members’ Interests. In that report (its first report of session 1984-85, HC 408) the committee recommended that ‘the requirement to register be limited to those with permanent passes’. The report, including that recommendation, was subsequently approved by the House.”
- The exclusion of short-term passholders is the second way I’ve found the register of MPs’ staff to be open to potential abuse. Previously, I exposed the problems, actual and potential, arising from the fact that it’s solely the responsibility of the staff member to make appropriate disclosures on the register. The registration form to declare relevant interests requires that individual’s signature only. There’s no formal requirement for the MP to validate in any way the information disclosed (see my 15 February 2016 post).
- “The level of disclosure required in the staff register of interests is poor,” said the Guardian in March 2015: www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/05/300-staff-working-for-peers-and-mps-have-lobbying-interests-analysis-reveals. The newspaper was referring to the inadequate disclosure of lobbying or outside interests by MPs’ staff. The Guardian is wrong: it’s worse than that. Some of those working for MPs are legitimately hidden from the public record.