MPs call for reforms to prevent ‘next great parliamentary scandal’

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The Commons Standards Committee heard of a ‘real risk’ of ‘improper access and influence by hostile foreign actors’ (PA) (PA Archive)
The Commons Standards Committee heard of a ‘real risk’ of ‘improper access and influence by hostile foreign actors’ (PA) (PA Archive)

Significant reforms are needed to avert the “next great parliamentary scandal” of hostile states and lobbyists buying access to MPs, a cross-party committee has warned.

Evidence to the Commons Standards Committee showed a “real risk” of “improper access and influence by hostile foreign actors” through All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).

The dramatic rise in the number of the informal interest groups also risks “inappropriate influence and access” because they are so difficult to monitor.

The warnings in a report by the committee come after a woman who was “instrumental” in setting up the Chinese in Britain APPG was revealed by MI5 to be a spy.

Labour MP Barry Gardiner, the former chair of the now disbanded group, received more than £500,000 in donations from Christine Lee before the warning was issued.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned in private evidence of “very, very worrying” security implications without caution over the groups.

The committee concluded: “We are concerned that if left unchecked, APPGs could represent the next great parliamentary scandal, with commercial entities effectively buying access to and influence of parliamentarians and decision-makers.”

Today’s report represents a wake-up call for us all. The evidence we have gathered is chilling and points towards an urgent need for the House to take action

Chris Bryant, committee chairman

The MPs said Commons authorities should “provide more significant support” to help parliamentarians scrutinise benefits being offered by foreign governments.

Funding should be made more transparent while the number of APPGs must be reduced from the current number of 744, the Standards Committee recommended.

Regulatory enforcement was also advised, as was limits on secretariats of the groups to “reduce the risk of improper access”.

Standards Committee chair Chris Bryant said APPGs “must never be a backdoor means of peddling influence around the corridors of power or pursuing a commercial interest”.

“Today’s report represents a wake-up call for us all. The evidence we have gathered is chilling and points towards an urgent need for the House to take action,” the Labour MP said.

“Parliament always has, and always will, be a target for hostile foreign states. But with better regulation and transparency around these informal groups, we can ensure they continue to make a positive contribution to our democracy.”

Commenting on the report, Sir Lindsay said he has had for “several years” held concerns about the “security risks presented by some APPGs in terms of their indiscriminate engagement with state actors hostile to UK interests”.

“I have also had fears about the proliferation of such groups, the influence of lobbyists over them, and the lack of transparency and regulation about their activities,” he added.

“I’m told the proposals are currently being consulted on and it will ultimately be a matter for the House as a whole to make final decisions on how to better regulate.”

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