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All-Party Parliamentary Groups

Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2015


Tabled by

To ask the Chairman of Committees when, why, and by whom, the decision was taken to prohibit Members of the House of Lords from serving as chairpersons of All-Party Parliamentary Groups.

I wish to ask the Question standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on the Order Paper.

My Lords, Members of this House attach great importance to the work of APPGs. Recently, there have been two extensive reviews into the rules on all-party groups; following the second review in May 2014, the House of Commons resolved that each group must have an MP who is the chair and registered contact. That MP is responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules. Members of this House may of course be co-chair of a group and may chair meetings, but that does not affect the accountability of the registered MP.

I thank the Chairman of Committees for that reply. However, given that this House has a reputation for its Members having considerable expertise in a wide range of pursuits and disciplines, what is the rationale for prohibiting your Lordships from chairing non-statutory lobby interest groups? Surely, the Chairman of Committees would agree that this sends a somewhat negative signal to the wider community and places us in a somewhat second-class position, regardless of the qualifications that we may have for the position.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. Members will know that the first resolution on APPGs was in 1985 in the Commons, and the Commons has always been in the lead. There have been concerns about the growth of APPGs, their funding and a number of other matters with which Members are familiar. Suffice it to say, it was decided that it was very important to have a clear line of accountability to the House of Commons Commissioner for Standards. Therefore, MPs are required to be registered with the Commons registrar. There was nothing malevolent about that; it in no way minimises the contribution that Members of this House make to APPGs.

My Lords, is there not some concern, expressed by some Members in the Commons, that the rules of advocacy are more rigorously enforced in the House of Commons than they are in the House of Lords? Some Members in the Commons feel that if Peers were to be chairmen of APPGs, there might be occasions when elected Members might be embarrassed.

My Lords, I am not really qualified to reply to the noble Lord in detail. Suffice it to say, the review that was recently undertaken set out very clearly not only the responsibilities of the MPs who are registered for chairing and accountable for the APPGs, it also gave them opportunities to book rooms, and gave them preference in those matters. It is a balanced approach that was established at that time.

My Lords, would the Chairman of Committees not agree that a simple adjustment to what has been decided would be much fairer, because a lot of people from this House do a great deal of work on these committees? The simple adjustment would be to have two co-chairs, one from the House of Commons and one from the House of Lords, but with the one from the Commons being the accounting officer. That would solve the problem, so that the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards would always be satisfied about standards. I have this role on several international bodies registered with the United Nations and other international regulatory bodies, and it is accepted.

My Lords, the position, as I understand it, is simply being quite clear about the accountability that goes with these groups. A number of concerns have been raised about them. Although it may seem that this House is in some way disadvantaged, that is not the intention. The intention is to make absolutely clear where the accountability rests for the compliance that is necessary to make sure that these groups operate well within the rules of Parliament and do not bring either House into disrepute. I understand that at present there is no appetite in any way to undermine that accountability.

Is my noble friend aware that when I founded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka in 1975, it was the convention that the chairman should always be in the Commons? However, the disappointment for those of us who take an interest in these different groups—I confess I take an interest in a number—is that there was no consultation with your Lordships’ House when this review was undertaken. It was suddenly announced out of the blue. Can one hope that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will ensure that, in future, there is proper consultation through the normal channels and that the rest of us can be part of that conversation?

My Lords, there have been a number of reviews. The earlier review was set up jointly by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker, with Members of this House on the review. The most recent review, to which I have referred, was set up in response to some very serious and real concerns. We ought not to minimise the reality of those concerns, but let us be sure that the two Houses continue to work together as much as we can.

My Lords, returning to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is it not right that the arrangements she described are pretty much exactly those that obtain to all-party groups; that it is possible for Members of the House of Lords to be co-chairs, as the noble Lord mentioned in his original Answer; and that, in practice, a number of all-party groups are effectively chaired by Members of your Lordships’ House?

My Lords, there is a distinction between chairing the meeting of the day and being recognised as a co-chair, and being the responsible person who has to comply with the rules. I urge a little caution before we in any way try to minimise the importance of those rules.