Beckett's husband on Far East trip

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THE row over ministers taking partners on trips abroad intensified yesterday with the revelation that the husband of Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, has joined her on a 10-day trip to the Far East, writes Louise Jury.

Leo Beckett has joined his wife and a trade delegation visiting China, Hong Kong and Pakistan.

Tories immediately criticised Mr Beckett's presence on the visit, which is aimed at forging relations with government ministers and business leaders.

No figures were available for the cost. But a spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said Mr Beckett, who handles his wife's constituency business, was being paid for under the guidelines laid down for ministers. These allow spouses to go on official visits if "in the public interest". The spokeswoman said the costs of taking him would be mainly air fares as ministers normally stay in official residences overseas or would be booked into a hotel double room as a matter of course.

But Tories said questions needed to be asked about the extent of Labour "junketing". Mr Beckett's trip follows criticism of Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, who took his wife on a pounds 13,000 week-long official trip to Trinidad earlier this month, and the cancellation of Gaynor Regan's trip abroad with Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, after concerns were raised about her presence.