I receive dozens of invitations every week asking me to attend meetings at Westminster in order to be informed or lobbied about any number of issues. Virtually all of them clash with times at which the House of Commons is sitting.
I attend as many as I can, particularly if they are ‘drop-in’ events where you can arrive, receive an individual briefing, and leave.
What I increasingly refuse to do however, is attend ‘receptions’ for a briefing. The House of Commons now charges the commercial rates for its refreshment services in this prestigious and sort-after location. Even 5 years ago I invited a dozen or so Normandy Veterans to tea. The Commons wanted £500 for a very small dining room; £25 per head for the tea, plus £5 per head because it was a Friday. In the event, my secretaries and I made the tea and served it elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster.
Paying a corporate entertainment rate is fine if you are a wealthy corporation. What is worrying however, is that so many charities are paying these rates to entertain MPs. The way charities go about it is to get their supporters to email their MP asking them to attend the reception. Now, I’ve done enough fund raising and rattling the collection tin to be nervous about using those funds to enable MPs to quaff wine and canapés at the expense of those who were generous enough to put their hands in their pockets and make a donation. Did they really expect their donations to be spent in this way?
When I politely decline these invitations and explain that I am happy to receive a briefing, but without putting the charity to such expense, I have been surprised by the dusty response that follows. Constituents have replied saying that I don’t care enough about the issue that the charity seeks to highlight. On the contrary, I care enough to want them to spend their money more wisely.
Often the charities are medical ones, and allied to an ‘All Party Group’ of MPs and peers. It seems to me that there is such an all party group for every disease and condition known to man, perhaps with the exception of rigor mortis.
Essentially these groups exist to raise the profile of the disease so that greater priority is attached to it. For my part, I believe that the decisions about medical priority should be made by clinicians rather than politicians: all this lobbying is being targeted at the wrong people; Complaints about the priority attached to a particular disease, its diagnosis and its treatment ought properly to be taken up with the medical profession.