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All party lobbyists

March 16th 2008

On Toast

As much as I love my select committee PASC we are sadly neglecting a vital isssue on lobbying. One sinister aspect of the persuaders is through hidden illegitimate pressure applied through bodies known as All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG’s).

There are hundreds of them. Their function is to draw attention to causes and to put pressure on Government for reform. Some are mis-used by lobbyists and other commercial organisations.

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The range of subjects covered is amazing. One backbench MP lists his main APPGS as covering the following bewildering litany of subjects, ‘  Aids Bullying and workplace violence, Cancer, Climate change,  Coeliac Disease and Dermatitis Herpetiformis, Cuba, Design and Innovation, Earth Sciences Health, Heart Disease, Historic Churches, Infertility, Integrated and Complementary Healthcare, Malaria, Medical Research, Mental Health, Mobile Communications, Motor Neurone Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Patient Safety, Pesticides and Organophoshates, Public Data, Racing and Bloodstock Industries, Rowing, Science, Smoking and Health, Thalidomide and Town Centre Management.

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He has omitted one from which he resigned in December. It was TOAST, an obesity charity that took tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in government grants and gained access to key politicians but was actually a front for a highly profitable diet company. (pictures are of a TOAST parliamentary event)

The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (Toast) boasted about causing an influential parliamentary inquiry into obesity while failing to declare its financial links to the weight-loss industry. Toast also used a Westminster lobbying firmToast_bt to "acquire" a large group of "parliamentary patrons". The Labour MP for Lewisham West, Jim Dowd, goes further, saying he never agreed to be a patron of Toast, who named him as such on publicity material.

There was an inquiry into APPGS in 2006 which claimed to have created new transparency. It did not work with Toast where a drugs company used it to push anti-obesity drugs of questionable utility.
In the present press hysterical atmosphere of MP sleaze, it’s impossible to have a balanced sensible debate on  APPGs in the same way that it’s impossible to have one on MPs expenses. Many of the APPGs do very valuable work.

Best to let the Select Committee seek reforms with a balanced report.