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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tory MPs divide world into junket territories

Tory MPs divide world into junket territories

Two enterprising MPs have between them managed to sit on more than 100 committees, guaranteeing lavish overseas junkets and VIP treatment
(Times £)

Mark Pritchard, pictured, has already visited the Philippines for work (Simeone Giovanni)

Two Tory MPs faced with languishing on the back benches have divided up the world between them to to sit on more than 100 committees that make lavish trips abroad.

They can enjoy luxury travel and exclusive hotels on trips to countries that range from America to Zimbabwe. There they are treated as VIPs and make important contacts. As well as a source of overseas junkets, the groups are seen in Westminster as a potential route into employment for politicians seeking posts as consultants after leaving parliament.

While most MPs usually join no more than a handful of parliamentary country committees, Andrew Rosindell and Mark Pritchard, both 44, are members of 105 between them.

Members of the all-party parliamentary country groups are often flown first-class and put up in smart hotels by foreign governments. They are wined and dined while abroad and given privileged access to the country’s rulers.

Both Rosindell, who sits on 55 groups, and Pritchard, a member of 50 groups, have accepted trips abroad worth thousands of pounds as members of the parliamentary committees.

This summer Rosindell, who is chairman of the Turks and Caicos islands group, visited the islands in the Caribbean with a member of his staff on an expenses-paid trip. While there he looked at the “social, economic and constitutional problems facing the British overseas territory”.

Rosindell declared in the Commons register that the flights for two people cost £6,000, accommodation for between August 26 and September 1 cost £2,600 and flight upgrades were £5,000.

The islands, known for their beautiful beaches and unspoilt coral reefs, also harbour a reputation as a tax haven.

They are not the only offshore havens in which Rosindell has taken a parliamentary interest. He is vice-chairman of the Belize all-party parliamentary group and vice-chairman of the Cayman Islands group.

He is also vice-chairman of the Channel Islands group, chairman of the Isle of Man group, joint chairman of the Swiss group and secretary of the Virgin Islands group. In addition he is the chairman, treasurer and secretary of the Liechtenstein group.

Rosindell, MP for Romford, has made a number of trips to Gibraltar paid for by the territory’s government and then tabled a series of parliamentary questions about the rock without declaring an interest.

Between them Rosindell and Pritchard have chalked up dozens of positions as office holders of the country committees. Competition for the most glamorous, wealthy and exotic destinations is far fiercer than for more remote locations. The Western Sahara all-party parliamentary group is one of the few committees that neither Rosindell nor Pritchard belong to.

Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, who is chairman of the Philippines parliamentary group, flew to Manila last year at the expense of the Philippines foreign affairs ministry.

During the visit, which Pritchard says in the register of members’ interests cost between £3,000 and £4,000, he met the president and the foreign secretary, as well as security and defence officials to “discuss counter-terrorism measures”.

In May 2008 Pritchard — who, like Rosindell, is a member of the Oman parliamentary group — took his wife to the country “to meet government ministers and officials and to discuss UK/Omani defence and trade relations”. His flights and accommodation were paid for by the government of Oman.

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for Durham North, said: “There is a value to these groups. People get expertise in a particular country, but these two are taking things to extremes.

“The pair put Alan Whicker to shame in international travel. It makes you wonder how they find time for their constituents.”

Rosindell, who has faithfully declared his trips in the Commons register, said he was a member of the committees because he was “interested in foreign affairs”.

He added: “It means I get information and briefings about that country and I’m interested. I meet politicians from countries from all round the world.”

Pritchard, who has also declared his trips in the register, refused to comment.

Andrew Rosindell, pictured, went on an expenses-paid visit to the Caribbean (Stefano Amantini)

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