|The parliamentary Standards Committee has published a new report on All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) amid concerns of their abuse for lobbying and a lack of transparency. The Standards Committee has made several recommendations proposing that they take effect at the beginning of the next Parliament.|
On registration, the Committee proposes that APPGs should be given sufficient incentives to register and abide by the rules. For example, unregistered groups which avoid the regulations should not benefit from the “brand of Parliament”; ie they cannot publish details of their meetings on the All-Parliamentary Whip and cannot book rooms on the Parliamentary estate.
On membership, the Committee advised that groups must be open to all Members of both Houses; a minimum of four officers should be required including at least one from the governing party (or parties) and one from the main opposition party; groups must have a Commons chair who is responsible for their APPG’s compliance to Detailed minutes should also be kept outlining what meetings were held and where quorate.
On lobbying and influence, the report states that the matter was looked at in some detail given fears that APPGs were “prone to be manipulated by public affairs and lobby groups for their own purposes”. The report recommends more effort to raise awareness about what APPGs do and how effective they are. Evidence reviewed by the committee suggests that the efficacy of APPGs depends on the commitment of ‘active members’.
Introducing a greater measure of transparency to work undertaken by APPGs, the Standards Committee report recommends “each APPG itself should make the following available on the internet or on request: a list of active members, dates of meetings, minutes of meetings including records of attendance and decisions) and any reports it has issued”.
On APPG finances, proposals include the registering of material benefits and in kind benefits be described and have an estimated value credited to them; APPGs should register their financial and material benefits by date of receipt as well as date of registration; APPGs which receive £12,500 or more should submit statements of annual income and expenditure; and secretariat support should be declared by APPGs and made available via their websites or upon request. The report also recommends individual or single source benefits to the sum of £1,500 be registered.
On communications, the Committee recommends that APPGs be clear as possible about their status and funding sources when communicating with stakeholders and the public.
The Standards Committee noted a survey carried out by the Speakers’ Working Group which revealed that “48 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposition that APPGs were prone to be manipulated by public affairs and lobby groups for their own purposes.”
Noteworthy is the Committee’s recommendation that parliamentary passes given by APPGs be withdrawn.
An investigation in 2012 into the funding and other benefits APPGs received from external organisations found that these reached over £1 million and at least two APPGs were alleged to have breached parliamentary rules regarding declaring the source of secretarial and financial support.
A further report from April 2013 found that a number of APPG passes had been granted to “consultants, lobbyists, or senior managers and executives in charities and businesses" with the total figure unchanged from when the Coalition took office in 2012 despite promises to clean up ‘sleazy lobbying tactics’.