Dark Money Investigations: News

Calls for lobbying crackdown after we expose £13m ‘backdoor’ to MPs

Standards committee demands tighter rules after openDemocracy uncovers lobbying by firms including weapons makers

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
5 April 2023, 1.39pm

Getty images/ Brian Bumby

Unofficial parliamentary groups should face tighter rules, a new report has recommended after openDemocracy revealed that they are easy prey for private firms and lobbyists wanting to buy access to politicians.

On Tuesday, the Committee on Standards called for tighter rules for All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) – informal groups run by MPs and peers, which are often funded by or closely linked to external organisations.

The committee warned that there “remains a significant risk of improper access and influence by commercial entities or by hostile foreign actors”.

It comes a year after an openDemocracy transparency investigation found that weapons makers and private healthcare firms were among companies to have donated £13m to APPGs for exclusive access to politicians. The subsequent backlash led 1,500 people to contact their MPs demanding “more transparency” for the groups.

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Now, in a report published this week, the Committee on Standards has demanded stronger regulations for the groups, which have been revealed by this website to lobby for big tobacco, fuel companies and arms companies.

The report called for a ban on APPG secretariats being supplied by foreign countries and a requirement that all groups produce an annual income and expenditure statement.

It also said that MPs should be allowed to join no more than six APPGs, and that when reports are published and funded by external organisations, this must be made transparent.

“When communicating with ministers, public officials, public officer holders or outside organisations,” the report says, “APPGs and their officers must declare their sources of funding.”

Sometimes one questions whether a group really is an APPG or just a personal campaign or a money-making venture

Chris Bryant MP

Last year, openDemocracy revealed that MPs who successfully lobbied the government to introduce for a controversial ‘greener’ petrol were part of an APPG funded by the fuel industry. The APPG for British Bioethanol, supported by various fuel companies, met with ministers and urged the government to roll out E10 petrol “as swiftly as possible”.

openDemocracy uncovered that the APPG for British Bioethanol’s influential report on E10, published in 2019, had been paid for by a bioethanol company, Ensus Ltd. We found that staff from Ensus provided “assistance” with researching and writing the report, which mentions Ensus numerous times and includes quotes from the firm’s commercial director, Grant Pearson.

Writing for openDemocracy in the wake of our investigation, Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Committee on Standards, said MPs should “run a mile” from APPGs that feel like “front of house for a direct commercial interest,” “a cover for free trips to exotic locations” or “the brainchild of a lobbying company”.

Bryant added: “Sometimes [APPGs' AGMs] are so poorly attended as to make one question whether the group really is an APPG or just a personal campaign or a money-making venture masquerading as a parliamentary affair.”

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