Standards chief says special interest groups risk new lobbying scandal

Standards chief says special interest groups risk new lobbying scandal

November 17, 2021

The next Westminster lobbying scandal? Standards chief Chris Bryant issues warning as probe finds £30m has been paid into MPs’ special interest groups

  • Standards Committee chair issued warning over all-party parliamentary groups
  • Probe shows firms have poured £30million into APPGS in the past five years
  • 36 are run by eternal bodies, with two funded by a foreign state and six by firms

MPs have been warned that cross-party special interest groups could be the source of a new lobbying scandal without serious reform.

Standards Committee chairman Chris Bryant spoke out as a new investigation found that firms have poured £30million into all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) in the past five years.

APPGs are informal arrangements with no official status within Parliament, yet there are hundreds registered covering everything from various different countries to Smoking and Health and Yoga in Society. 

Many do important work on serious issues, but questions have been raised over the function of others. 

Research by the charity Transparency International suggests 36 APPGs about countries are run by eternal bodies, with two funded by a foreign state, 23 by campaign groups and six by private businesses.

Following the investigation by the BBC into private sector money, Mr Bryant said many ‘now seem to have become the parliamentary arm of lobbying and PR companies’.

Attacking their ‘transparency and propriety’ he told the broadcaster: ‘These groups cannot be a back door for peddling influence or gaining access to MPs. The Parliamentary logo is not for sale.’

Standards Committee chairman Chris Bryant spoke out as a new investigation found that firms have poured £30million into all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) in the past five years.

Now Speaker Lindsay Hoyle is reported to have teamed up with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Standards Committee chairman Chris Bryant to make them more transparent.

APPGs produce reports and fund visits – often abroad – for MPs and peers involved with their work. 

The BBC investigation found that of that £30million total, an estimated £6.4 million was donated by companies registered as lobbyists.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant said he welcomed the inquiry into the groups as ‘some are thought to receive large sums of money from foreign governments and companies’.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was reported by the Telegraph at the weekend to have teamed up with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Mr Bryant to make them more transparent.

The Commons Committee on Standards launched an investigation into the groups in late 2020.  Mr Bryant, who chairs two APPGs himself, is not calling for a ban, but wants greater transparency into their funding. The administrative functions of many groups are outsourced to special interest groups and some private firms.

Earlier this year Parliament’s two speakers had to intervene to ban China’s ambassador to the UK from visiting Westminster after an invitation from the APPG on China.

Zheng Zeguang was told by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his counterpart in the upper chamber, Lord McFall, that he could not enter the estate for a talk scheduled for September.

He was due to meet the APPG, which is led by Tory MP Richard Graham.

But Sir Lindsay argued it would not be ‘appropriate’ for the ambassador to meet at the Commons while seven parliamentarians remain sanctioned by Beijing for criticising the Communist regime.

Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and other sanctioned politicians welcomed the ‘strong principled stand’ taken by the speakers.

But Mr Graham expressed his ‘regret’ that he would have to postpone the talk. 

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