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Mr Speaker's concerns

Mark D'Arcy | 11:36 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

An intriguing little depth charge was dropped by the Speaker, John Bercow, at the end of his fascinating talk to the Hansard Society last night.

Right at the end of the Q&A, after describing how he had acted immediately to end the system which allowed MPs to run up vast tabs at the Parliamentary restaurants, he mentioned that he was soon to announce a clampdown on the funding of All Party Groups (APGs or APPGs) in Parliament, in terms that implied some festering scandal was lurking.

The Vacher's Guide to the last parliament had 60 pages of APGs from a group on Abuse Investigations to one on Zimbabwe. Some are innocuous bands of enthusiasts, the Rugby League APG springs to mind. Others are pressure groups on issues like archaeology or immigration - there are dozens which specialise in particular medical conditions like MS or breast cancer. Still others relate to particular countries. There's even a group on the BBC.

But some critics worry that APGs can be conduits for providing research back-up without individual MPs having to declare it. Or that they use assorted treats and jollies to exert undue influence on parliamentarians.

The fact that Mr Speaker chose to pre-announce an impending clampdown suggests some of those fears may be backed up by evidence. Watch this space.

The Speaker's speech will be shown on BBC Parliament on Saturday at 9pm and it will be available on Democracy Live.


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