Lobbying fears as MPs’ interest groups receive £13m from private firms

Exclusive: chair of standards committee calls for power to shut down APPGs where there are clear conflicts of interest

More than £13m has been poured into a growing network of MPs’ interest groups by private firms including healthcare bodies, arms companies and tech giants, fuelling concerns over the potential for backdoor influence.

Analysis by the Guardian and openDemocracy found that more than half the total £25m in funding for all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) since 2018 has come from the private sector.

The obesity APPG, which has sought to promote medical interventions for obesity, received £178,500 to £183,000 between 2019 and 2021 from three private healthcare companies that make or promote gastric bands or drugs used in obesity surgery and treatment: Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and Novo Nordisk.

The support was used to pay for a lobbyist, HealthComms Consulting, to run the APPG’s secretariat. The lobbyist says on its website that the APPG promoted calls for “a shift away from the ‘move more, eat less’ mentality prevalent in obesity thinking and better utilisation of treatment for obesity and access to services”. It adds that the APPG “had direct input into the government’s obesity strategy published in July 2020 through meeting with No 10 officials and the development of a top 10 policy wishlist”. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

MPs from the armed forces APPG took a trip to Bosnia last autumn as it stood on the brink of conflict, with hospitality and transport part-funded by an arms company, Lockheed Martin, and the defence support company CAE. Lockheed Martin’s head of government affairs accompanied them for one night and to a dinner. A Tory MP on the visit, James Sunderland, subsequently spoke in a Commons debate about the need for the UK to be “part of the solution in the country [Bosnia]” without declaring the trip’s funding.

James Gray, the APPG’s chairman, said the trip should have been declared as paid for by the APPG, of whom Lockheed Martin and CAE are “merely sponsors”. He said the companies “had nothing to gain” from the trip, and the subscribers to the APPG “do so because they believe in having a good group of MPs and peers who understand defence”. A Lockheed Martin spokesperson said funding for the visit “would have come from the APPG’s funds and not specifically from Lockheed Martin UK’s contributions”. Sunderland did not comment.

In areas related to the climate crisis, the secretariat of the sustainable aviation APPG is an alliance of airlines and airports, while energy companies provided tens of thousands of pounds in the past year for the consultancy running the net zero APPG.

Graham Brady, a senior Tory who chairs the sustainable aviation APPG, said it was formed to support collaboration between the aviation sector and parliament, adding: “The benefits in kind reported on the register represent routine secretarial work carried out to facilitate meetings of the group. No direct funding is involved and no benefits in kind have been given to members of the group.”

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