Member of Parliament (MP) Alison Thewliss rejected an approach from a lobby group that wanted to set up an all parliamentary group (APPG) for the night-time economy, funded by the alcohol industry.
All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament. They are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords, though many choose to involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities.
MP Thawliss spoke after it was revealed in an investigation in mid-February that more than £13m has been poured into a growing network of MPs’ interest groups by private firms. This revelation raises concerns about commercial policy interference and lack of transparency.
A lobby group called Connect Communications had reached out to MP Thewliss in 2019 regarding the APPG for the night-time economy. The email stated the need for sponsorship to make the group viable.
One email published by openDemocracy read:
We’re very keen to get it off the ground and hope to have you involved … We’ll keep you updated as we gage [sic] interest from other MPs, and once we begin talking to external organisations about sponsorship.”Connect, political consultancy, run by former Labour MP Andy Sawford
Connect Communications is co-owned and run by the former Labour MP Andy Sawford. The group currently runs 15 APPG secretariats. There are currently 775 APPG secretariats and these arrange meetings and trips for MPs and sometimes cultivate potential funders.
Connect Communications have said they were involved with the proposed APPG for night-time economy and offered to provide secretariat services. However, this APPG was not taken forward through Connect.
An APPG with alcohol industry in the center
After this, a night-time economy APPG was established with the help of the lobby group Tendo Consulting chaired by the Labour MP Jeff Smith. The APPG received more than £7,500 worth of “benefits in kind” from the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA). The NTIA states on their website that they lobby nationally on behalf of the pubs and clubs it represents across the UK.
The night-time economy APPG published a report in 2021. The report lobbies the government to extend tax breaks for the sector citing the COVID-19 impact. The report is described as an “APPG inquiry” but it was researched by Tendo Consulting and funded by the NTIA.
NTIA members are, among others, Big Alcohol giants Pernod Ricard and Jägermeister.
Regarding commercial interest involvement, including the alcohol industry, through Tendo Consulting and the NTIA, MP Smith told openDemocracy he stood by this report and called it “a good piece of work which gives an accurate reflection of the plight of the industry at the time”.
MP Thewliss says there is a need for more transparency regarding APPGs and particularly about funding and the role of commercial interests.
Some of them clearly do attract quite a lot of money,” said Alison Thewliss SNP MP for Glasgow Central, as per The Guardian.
It is difficult for MPs to run these things – in offices, it takes up our own time and can be quite burdensome but if you have another organization funding it you need to have that transparency and ask questions about the outcome of it.”Alison Thewliss, SNP, MP for Glasgow Central
Tom Brake, who was deputy leader of the House of Commons during the coalition government suggested that MPs should be banned from membership in groups seeking to influence policy in areas where the MPs had a personal financial interest.
The veteran Labour MP and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said an independent inquiry into APPGs was necessary.
There now needs to be a full and independent inquiry into their role,” said John McDonnell, veteran Labour MP and former shadow chancellor, as per The Guardian.
We need to ensure that there are not just proper standards and procedures but proper policing of these groups.”John McDonnell, veteran Labour MP and former shadow chancellor
More about APPGs
According to Wikipedia, APPGs are informal cross-party groups of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and have no official status within Parliament. APPGs generally have officers drawn from the major political parties and strive to avoid favouring one political party or another.
APPG members meet to discuss a particular issue of concern and explore relevant issues relating to their topic. APPGs regularly examine issues of policy relating to a particular areas, discussing new developments, inviting stakeholders and government ministers to speak at their meetings, and holding inquiries into a pertinent matter. APPGs have no formal place in the legislature, but are an effective way of bringing together parliamentarians and interested stakeholders.
Every APPG must hold at least two meetings during its reporting year, one of which must be an annual general meeting (AGM) or a meeting which involves an inaugural election of officers. APPGs cease to exist when Parliament is dissolved for a general election, and must be reconstituted.
The official register of APPGs is updated about every six weeks. The number of APPGs is very variable. For example, in 2015 there were more than 550 APPGs. On January 2, 2019, there were 692 APPGs. As of February 24, 2020, there were 355 APPGs.