Eighteen all-party groups of MPs and peers are taking money from private companies regularly without any obligation to declare how the funds are used.Well, well, well. All that big pharma input would certainly go some way in explaining wall-to-wall, 24 hour overkill of smoking cessation adverts paid for by the Department of Health, would it not?
Almost half the bodies receive secretariat assistance from outside organisations. Of these, about a third are provided directly by a lobbying group.
The Associate Parliamentary Health Group, for example, receives £168,000 a year in "associate membership fees" from 26 health- related and pharmaceutical companies. These include AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.
And look, there's Pfizer again. I seem to remember mentioning them a very short while ago. How prescient.
All-party groups with the highest level of regular income include the Parliamentary Beer Group, which received £66,110 from 66 pub and beer companies including £4,800 from each of Molson Coors, Punch Taverns, Greene King, Enterprise Inns and InBev.Cross-referencing here, could this be why MPs, in their frenzy to 'tackle' the binge-drinking epidemic which doesn't exist, direct their attentions solely on supermarket sales and raising the minimum price of alcohol, both of which will have little or no effect on such obviously philanthropic firms? And why the parliamentary beer group refuse to accept the fact that pubs are being destroyed by the pharma-led smoking ban.
As a mild mannered police station janitor once said ... "Could be!". And isn't it all so very intra-Westminster nepotistic?
Everyone in the 'village' slapping each other on the back while simultaneously slapping the public in the face.
Matthew Sinclair of the TPA describes these revelations thus.
After MPs expenses and ex-ministers lobbying, this looks like it is a candidate to be the next big Parliamentary scandal. All the FT was able to get hold of is the groups' income, as they aren't subject to the Freedom of Information Act.Indeed, and it's going to stay that way.
The Ministry of Justice and Information Commissioner have confirmed that all-party groups are exempt from the FoI Act.As Sinclair points out, this is a bit of an administrative dodge.
The ministry said: "All-party groups are private, informal interest groups and are not regulated by parliament. Given that they have no formal place in legislature, they do not fall within the scope of the FoI Act." There were no plans to amend the act.
While the letter of the law may not compel all-party groups to answer FOI requests, the spirit of the law should clearly include them.Yes, but as we have seen in recent months, the spirit of any law or regulation is anathema to our MPs. When caught, however egregiously, their instant line of retreat is that they are innocent as they didn't contravene the letter of the law.
Again, this case is evidence that one should always follow the money where politicians are concerned. If their approach on any issue appears daft, wildly ridiculous, or not based in reality or common sense, there is something pecuniary in it for them.
Unfortunately, MPs can follow money better than an experienced sniffer dog with the smell of the ink fresh in his nostrils. And they are equally as adept at burying their big juicy reward from the prying eyes of those who believe they should be acting more responsibly in the interests of their electorate.
It really is us, and them.