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Parliamentary group funded by aviation industry

The All-Party Parliamentary Aviation Group is one of a large number of such groups that give the impression of being official bodies yet receive funding from private companies, an article in the Times claims. The aviation group’s recent report on air passenger duty, which calls for the tax to be cut, is characterised as failing to properly declare the degree of influence that has been exercised by outside interests.

Susan Pearson of AirportWatch is quoted as saying: “Just as I would be surprised if an all-party group on brewers came out in favour of teetotalism, it would be equally unlikely for a group so closely linked to aviation to produce an objective report. The degree of involvement of the industry should always be completely transparent when giving out facts to the public.”

Relevant sections of the article are reproduced below.

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Beyond the Portcullis: when MPs and lobbyists collide

Laura Pitel, 2/1/13

With a green portcullis logo and smart cover page that echoes Commons house style, the all-party group on aviation’s report has the air of an official parliamentary document.

The 46-page inquiry is a selfdescribed [sic] of aviation policy and air passenger duty. Few would disagree that it is a subject worthy of parliamentarians’ attention. But the report fails to mention one key fact: it was produced with the help of the airline industry, which vigorously opposes the tax on flying and has a strong vested interest in seeing government policy change.

A note in the introduction thanks a lobbying company, MHP Communications, and the campaign group, A Fair Tax on Flying, for their assistance. It omits the fact that one of MHP’s clients is Heathrow airport. A Fair Tax on Flying, meanwhile, is formed of a coalition of main airlines and travel companies that believe that air passenger duty harms jobs and growth. The stance is shared by the all-party group, which advocates the growth of the airline industry and the re-examination of air passenger duty to boost the UK economy. It is not a stance with which everyone would agree.

The group’s chairman, Brian Donohoe, said that anyone could discover the nature of the all-party group and its supporters with a bit of online research. “Everyone knows the direction we are coming from and going in,” said Mr Donohoe, who is Labour MP for Central Ayrshire. He denied that the backers of the Fair Tax on Flying campaign should have been explicitly set out in the report: “Where do you stop?” He added that MHP was acting of its own accord rather than on behalf of Heathrow in providing support.

Others said that the report, and its presentation, was misleading. Susan Pearson, of the group AirportWatch, said: “Just as I would be surprised if an all-party group on brewers came out in favour of teetotalism, it would be equally unlikely for a group so closely linked to aviation to produce an objective report. The degree of involvement of the industry should always be completely transparent when giving out facts to the public.”

Despite a clear emphasis on transparency in the guidance for all-party groups, there are several other examples where groups have failed to properly declare the source of their secretarial or financial support….

…Some MPs defended the use of corporate funds, arguing that there was nothing wrong with seeking outside help. Chi Onwurah, a Labour MP who co-chairs the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum (Pictfor), said that funding from the private sector allowed her group to be active and to inform parliamentarians about a subject.

I recognise that there is concern that they can be used by vested interests to promote a particular agenda,” she said. “I think you’ve got to be aware of that concern but also we must not lose sight of the fact that they can promote a positive agenda without using public funds. That’s what Pictfor does.”

James Gray, head of the Armed Forces group, which accepted more than £17,000 in 2012 from defence companies, said: “If you ask MPs to pay for anything they won’t, because they are all a bit hard up … I’m opposed to public funds being used, so outside funds — totally declared and fully transparent — are a good way to do it.”