2 June 2013

A spotlight will focus again this week on the behaviour of British MPs.

At the time of the MPs’ expenses crisis four years ago, David Cameron, then in opposition forecast that the next big scandal would relate to lobbying.   However no preventative measures have been taken by his Government.  On Friday a lobbying related drama was uncovered by the BBC and the Telegraph.  The result so far has been a former Conservative Home Affairs spokesperson “resigning the Whip”,  a way by which he can remain in Parliament until the next election but no longer within the Conservative Party caucus. (That of course would suit the Coalition Government which would not welcome a by-election in the current political climate and the growth of the UK Independence Party).

A sting  by the Panorama programme involved setting up a company that purported to promote Fijian interests. John Mercer MP agreed to act for it for $2,000 a month. He subsequently asked Parliamentary Questions about the suspension of Fiji from the Commonwealth.  He has never declared this interest nor the income as MPs are required to do.

Perhaps more deceptively, he included a number of prominent MPs among those he encouraged to form an All Party Parliamentary Group  to look into Fijian matters. The aim was to overturn sanctions imposed on Fiji because of the state of its human rights.  He had not told these MPs that a lobbyist had agreed to pay him for organising the APPG and arranging its business.  He is reported to have said that the APPG included   “several freeloaders that would like to go to Fiji and one who asked to take his wife.”

The offending MP is reported to have referred himself the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. An investigation can be expected into, among other things, the setting up the APPG; the offer of a parliamentary pass to the lobbyists involved; asking PQs about Fiji and the answers prepared by Foreign Office; and lodging an Early Day Motion urging Minister to seek the readmission of Fiji to the Commonwealth.  A breach of the standards may well be found in failing to disclose the lobbying interest and payments for acting for that interest.

A greater concern may relate to the creation of APPGs.  It takes only 20 MPs to agree to the creation of an APPG.  Some of the 400 others may have similarly dubious foundations but be quite active as the validation for funded travel to interesting places.  The latest Commons register of interests shows that 60 MPs declared that they had been on trips abroad in connection with APPGs, with costs amounting to £175,000 paid by third parties including charities, banks and oil companies.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22739412

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-mp-patrick-mercer-quits-party-over-alleged-cashforquestions-fiji-lobbying-scandal-exposed-in-bbc-panorama-8639459.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/01/patrick-mercer?guni=Keyword:news-grid main-1 Main trailblock:Editable trailblock – news:Position3

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