A senior MP has warned that the murky world of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) in Westminster “are the next big scandal waiting to happen”. Labour’s Graham Allen is concerned at the sheer number that have been set-up recently, and that many received external funding from companies, charities and trades unions.
APPGs are little known outside Westminster as they have very little public profile. They are established by MPs and members of the House of Lords who have a particularly interest in a subject matter.
Officially they organise events to discuss the subject they care about and work out how best to help, or indeed hinder, that group. The majority of countries in the world have an APPG, mostly they are supportive of the state in question, for example the United States of America APPG but some such as the Iran APPG were established to oppose the regime.
The big fear about them is that involvement with APPGs can mean access to funding and hospitality. Many of them also have secretariats provided by outside organisations, which entitles the company or trade union to nominate one of their staff to apply for a pass for the Palace of Westminster (Parliament).
Whilst the APPG on Metal Theft may not organise sought-after site visits, it is easy to see how politicians with no political interest in football might join the respective APPG in an effort to secure free hospitality.
Also many of the national groups work with their corresponding embassies to offer free ‘fact finding’ trips to their countries. Whilst these are not illegitimate in and of themselves, there are concerns about what the sponsors get in exchange for their generosity.
The 300-strong APPG for Beer has been given more than £50,000 in funding. The money has come from some of the largest drinks manufacturers in the UK. The group is famed in Westminster for its annual drinks reception on the House of Commons terrace. The event is attended by up to 200 invited guests, who are treated to free drinks in a marquee overlooking the Thames.
Graham Allen told The Independent: “I don’t see why any APPG needs external funding. What does it bring? I’ve never needed that for any APPG I’ve been involved in. No money needs to change hands.
“MPs who care passionately about a particular issue are perfectly capable of running all-party groups themselves or with the help of their dedicated staff. It only takes a few minutes to book rooms or prepare briefs – they need no help from outsiders.”
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has looked at the APPGs in the last few years. He was said to be concerned that fictitious groups were being created to secure parliamentary passes for lobbyists.
In the end he concluded the system was not being exploited, but similar reviews were made of the expenses system before 2010. It was only after the media exposed how the system was being abused that the house authorities recognised how weak their previous oversight had been.
Concerns have also been expressed about the way some APPGs style themselves in a way that makes them sound like official committees of the house, rather than recognised clubs. One such example is an APPG that styles itself “The Parliamentary Space Committee”.