By Harry Phibbs
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There are nearly 600 All Party Parliamentary Groups. Each one has a committee of MPs devoted to a special subject. The Chagos Islands, Liechtenstein, Philately, Brass Bands, Cider, Jazz Appreciation and Zoos each have their own group. I can't see the one for Fiji set up by Patrick Mercer - although the register is from April so maybe this ill-fated body will appear on the radar in due course.
Despite controversy regarding Fiji's human rights record it is not so surprising that Mr Mercer was able to recruit members. Part of the idea of these groups countries around the globe is that MPs go on free trips hosted by the Government concerned. A jolly to Fiji, staying in smart hotels, sounds most agreeable. Coral and cocktails. Obviously one wouldn't want to insult one's hosts with a lot of impertinent questions about the arbitrary arrest of journalists.
There have been plenty of calls for an investigation into APGs being used as front organisations for lobbyists even before Mr Mercer's case. Some may be surprised that MPs have to invent such ingenious ways to occupy their time.
Then there is also the amount of taxpayers money handed over to these groups for such vital activities as drinks, receptions, foreign travel and administrative support. For example the All-Party Parliamentary
Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty exists "to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances." It gets £20,939 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But have the group yet persuaded Foreign Secretary William Hague? When Mr Hague was Conservative leader he made clear his support for capital punishment.
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