LONDON (AFP) – British lawmakers were under fire Friday for racking up £1.5 million ($2.4 million, 1.9 million euros) worth of visits to foreign countries in the last two years. paid for by governments, firms and pressure groups.
Some 242 members of parliament have declared “fact-finding missions” and visits worth £6,500 on average, The Independent newspaper said in a front-page report on “the full scale of MPs’ lavish globetrotting”.
Foreign governments, private firms and pressure groups have paid for a swathe of trips to exotic destinations, the daily said.
While 36 visits were made to China and Hong Kong, 23 to India and 34 to the United States, only one MP accepted a trip to Afghanistan and just two were recorded visiting nearby Belgium.
After the trips, several MPs made speeches in parliament supporting the positions of the governments and countries they visited, The Independent said.
One in five backbenchers in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party have been taken on trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2010, mostly on visits paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups, the newspaper found.
Former foreign secretary David Miliband was the second-highest claiming MP, taking 14 foreign trips costing £47,600 since his brother Ed beat him to the leadership of the opposition Labour Party.
Miliband’s spokesman insisted the visits “are fitted around parliamentary commitments”.
Labour colleague Barry Gardiner topped the list, with £52,071 worth of foreign trips since the May 2010 general election, spending 73 days out of the country.
He has been to both Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town twice, alongside other visits to destinations including New York, Japan and China.
Tamasin Cave of the transparency group Spinwatch, told The Independent: “MPs do need knowledge of other countries but the list of states that feel the need to court politicians includes many with dubious reputations. This is not a new game.
“London-based PR firms have for years laundered the reputations of countries with dreadful human rights records, but MPs should not be drawn into this.
“Let’s hope they spend as much time talking to pro-democracy and opposition groups from those countries.”
In its editorial, The Independent said an MP’s place was in parliament.
“While it is entirely possible that MPs’ views are not affected by any hospitality received, the acceptance of expenses-paid travel can only leave their integrity open to question. Parliament should be protected from such a taint, however unjustified,” it said.
“When it comes to conflicts of interest, perception is all. The impression that MPs might be grasping for “freebies”, or that their partiality can be purchased by perks, is highly damaging whether true or not.”