On the need for more light

Nothing like the breathtaking scale and scope of the Ambramoff scandal, but a milder version of the encroachment of the lobby on legislature. The Times of London accuses several of voluntary (as opposed to statutary) All Party Groups of MPs and Peers of getting too close to the interest of lobby groups.Peter Riddell puts it context:

Problems arise when outside interests not only back an all-party group (often, in practice, setting them up) but also dominate them. Several groups have become, in effect, extensions of the relevant trade associations, in some cases via commercial lobbyists. They not only provide finance and staffing, but draft the reports, which appear under the names of MPs.

In the world of Westminster, all-party groups are widely treated with scepticism. Many know that the X or Y group consists of MPs with a constituency or other interest and is really a front for the relevant industry.

But the public does not necessarily know this and can regard all-party groups as being more important than they really are. How many voters know that the groups are often staffed by commercial lobbyists? The real influence of all-party groups can, however, easily be overestimated. The main influence of outside bodies is directly on ministers and civil servants, not via MPs.

There is little chance of these groups wielding any power in Westminster, but Riddell makes the point that their informal nature is not fully understood by the general public. Perhaps, he suggests, an unsubtle form of branding might sort that little problem out:

But the system could, and should, be made even more transparent. The identity of the financial sponsors and backers of all-party groups should be prominent in any announcements by them: perhaps in the title, the All-Party Flat Earth Group (supported by the Flat Earth Industry). MPs, who are officers of groups, should be held more accountable for their activities. There is no need for bans, but there should be more light.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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