I want to thank Prim for the heads up on this ‘next big scandal‘ as I was blissfully unaware of this issue until this post where she kindly provided a link to this news piece I’m about to discuss. Plus today is a leap year so what the hell!
Corporate funding of all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) should be banned, according to a senior MP who has warned that the unofficial Westminster bodies “are the next big scandal waiting to happen” after a huge rise in their numbers under the coalition government.
Labour’s Graham Allen said that vested interests and lobbyists funding these groups – however worthy their cause – raises understandable concerns among voters. Politicians who care passionately about particular issues are “perfectly capable” of running APPGs themselves, he added.
The Nottingham North MP, who is also chair of the political and constitutional reform committee, told The Independent on Sunday: “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.”
The APPG on beer, which has about 300 MPs as members, has been given more than £50,000 in funding from some of the UK’s biggest drinks companies over the past year. Diageo, whose brands include Guinness and Red Stripe, Molson Coors and Carlsberg UK, is among firms who have paid at least £5,000 each to the group. The Society of Independent Brewers has also donated £10,000.
In addition, 50 other companies have donated to the group – but, as their donations fall below the £1,500 threshold for registering benefits, they are not declared.
Most of the money is spent on employing Robert Humphreys, who has been the beer group’s secretary for 22 years. Despite being an APPG “insider”, he believes the system is flawed. “The system for reporting all the financial assistance we get could be much clearer and I have always said that,” he said. “The value of any administration provided to APPGs by outside groups should also be declared, so that everything is clearer. It’s a great pity that isn’t the case, as APPGs can add a lot of value to the democratic process.”
Mr Allen said most APPGs did really good work but that a “massive proliferation” of them since 2010, largely due to new MPs frustrated with the conventional parliamentary process, meant it was time for a new regulatory regime. He described them as “the next big scandal waiting to happen” – an echo of David Cameron’s infamous warning about the entire lobbying industry – in a Commons debate earlier this month.
He said “a few simple rules”, such as the ban on external funding, would prevent APPGs from becoming the next big scandal in Parliament. He also said that MPs should be discouraged from presenting their APPGs as having similar powers to select committees, the influential official bodies that are central to the business of Westminster.
He said: “The vast majority of these [APPGs], like MPs themselves, are hard working, creative and committed, but, as the Mercer case warns us, to retain and build credibility we need to regulate now for the occasional bad one.”
He said: “I agree with [Mr Allen] that there is a scandal to come about the way in which outside interests lobby in the House of Commons. I do not believe that the Lobbying Bill has addressed the problem properly, and I believe that the rotten tail of the all-party group spectrum provides inappropriate opportunities for outside interests to lobby in this place.”
Prim also added this information:
The Beer APPG* is the largest industry group at Westminster. over 300 MPs are members so nearly 50% of the total of 650 MPs. here are its aims:
‘to promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in UK society; to increase understanding of the social, cultural and historic role of brewing and pubs in the UK, and their value to tourism; to broaden recognition of the contribution of brewing and pubs to employment and to the UK economy; to promote understanding of the social responsibility exercised by the brewing and pub industries; to support the UK’s brewing industry worldwide, and to promote a positive future for beer and the pub.’
in a report to the Treasury Select Committee the Beer APPG recommended that the minimum age for purchasing of alcohol be reduced and that alcohol duty be reduced.
Interestingly the Chairman of the Beer APPG is in favour of minimum pricing** – presumably as a counter to the supermarkets pricing of alcohol in favour of the pub trade
And from the incredulity of the beer APPG within Westminster to the utterly speechless inducing:
And now others have voiced their opinion on the Wineathlons events which are scheduled to take place in Conwy, Huddersfield, Cambridge and Worcester – but the Glasgow event has been particularly strongly criticised