Home > Lobbying, Parliament and MPs > All party groups in the post-expenses Parliament

All party groups in the post-expenses Parliament

A report by the Institute for Government looks at the administration of the House of Commons after the expenses scandal, and mentions problems of associated with lobbying. In particular, it refers to All Party Parliamentary Groups (APGs), which are informal committees which allow MPs to meet with external groups in relation to particular areas of policy. The groups are often sponsored by companies and groups, for example providing staff to cover the administration of its work. While sponsorship has to be disclosed, there are concerns about the propriety of these arrangements. As the report states:

While MPs’ expenses have now been exported to IPSA, there are a number of other areas which the public may judge to be below the standards that they now expect. A few examples include the provision of subsidised food for MPs, and the sponsoring of All Party Parliamentary Groups and their overseas trips by organisations with a political agenda. The Speaker raised the second of these as being something that concerns him during Q&A after his speech to the Hansard Society on 9 June 2010.

A recording of that Q&A session can be found on the Hansard Society website (see Q&A Part II at minute 25) – in which the Speaker thought the funding of APGs could be cause for legitimate concern and that Parliament should be proactive in dealing with the issue now rather than once the issue explodes in the media.

Of course, APG’s have caused controversy the past – for example with allegations that sponsoring groups have written the APG reports – and the rules on disclosure have been tightened in response to those controversies (see Democracy Distorted at p.97). I would be interested to know exactly what reforms the Speaker has in mind – further tweaking of the disclosure rules or something more far-reaching? Proposals for bigger reforms have been met with objections in the past. The first objection being that MPs need to interact with outside groups and that APG’s provide a way of doing this. This is not so strong, as the existing funding arrangements are not necessary for interaction between MPs and the outside world. The second objection concerns alternative financing arrangements. One way to make MPs less dependent on external resources is to ensure that public funds finance the work of the groups. There was no appetite for this when the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards considered the issue in 2006 (see para 80-85), on the grounds that public funding would change the nature of the APGs. That was in 2006 – in an era of expenses and cuts, this solution is even less likely to happen.

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