Hostile foreign states pose ‘real risk’ of influencing MPs’ cross-party groups | Britain’s security and counter-terrorism

Hostile foreign states and others pose a “real risk” of gaining access and influence through parliamentary parties of all parties (APPGs), the Commons’ standard committee has warned.

The Committee called for reforms to avert what it described as “the next major parliamentary scandal”, and also expressed concern that a dramatic increase in the number of informal cross-party groups also risks “inappropriate influence and access” because they are so difficult to monitor.

The warnings come after an unprecedented security warning from MI5 circulated to MPs and peers earlier this year accusing a lawyer of trying to unduly influence parliamentarians on behalf of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Barry Gardiner had received more than £ 500,000 in donations from Christine Lee before the alarm was issued.

By giving private evidence to the report, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said arbitrary engagement with state actors who may be hostile to British interests did not take sufficient account of the potential security risks to Parliament.

“I am concerned that we are not reconciling our security and the threats we have,” Hoyle said in his oral testimony for the report released Saturday. “These people are not our friends.

“Some are our friends, but they have intentions and goals, which worries me. If we are not careful, the security implications for the opening of Parliament are very, very worrying.”

The report – titled All-Party Parliamentary Groups: Improving Governance and Regulation – comes after a study earlier this year by the Guardian and Open Democracy found that more than £ 13 million has been poured into a growing network of MPs’ interest groups of private companies , including healthcare providers, arms companies and technology companies, raises concerns about the potential for backdoor impact.

The report states that “incorrect access” for paid lobbyists seeking to exert influence through APPGs was a risk that had been identified as far back as 2013, but that increased transparency introduced since has not diminished the risk in the way one had hoped.

The threat from hostile overseas states seeking to exert influence discreetly through APPGs was a threat that had only developed in recent years, parliamentarians added behind the report. They said they had been convinced by Hoyle’s evidence that this was “a very real risk that needs to be addressed with some urgency”.

APPGs are informal groups representing the interests of MPs and peers, from China and Russia to cancer, digital regulation, longevity and jazz. They are to be led by MPs, but are often led or funded by lobbyists and corporate donors who seek to influence government policy.

The Standards Committee concluded in their report: “We are concerned that, if left unchecked, APPGs could represent the next major parliamentary scandal in which commercial entities effectively buy access to and influence from parliamentarians and decision-makers.”

The MPs behind the report said the Commons authorities should “provide more substantial support” to help parliamentarians scrutinize the benefits offered by foreign governments.

Funding should be made more transparent, while the number of APPGs should be reduced from the current number of 744, the Standards Committee recommended.

Legislative enforcement was also advised, as were restrictions on group secretariats to “reduce the risk of incorrect access”.

Standing Committee chairman Chris Bryant said APPGs “should never be a backdoor means of selling influence around the corridors of power or pursuing a commercial interest”.

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“[This] the report represents a wake-up call for all of us, ”said the Labor MP. “The evidence we have gathered is frightening and points to an urgent need for the House to take action.”

In a statement at the time, Gardiner said he had “contacted our security services for a number of years about Christine Lee” and that he had been “assured by the security services that although they have definitely identified inappropriate funding channeled through Christine Lee, this relates to no funding received by my office. “

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