Browsing through Westminster bazaar

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The Independent Online
Free tickets to Japan, Florida, Jamaica, the Henley regatta, Twickenham, Silverstone, Wimbledon - even the Speaker's spectacles are now being sponsored by outside companies.

Tony Blair and John Major had so many free trips and junkets over the past year, as Leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister, that they both evidently feel it would be invidious to identify them. The Prime Minister's office said last night that Mr Blair had not registered a family visit to the Silverstone Grand Prix for the same reason that Mr Major had not registered his numerous visits to Lord's or the Oval cricket grounds. But, in that, they are a rarity indeed in the new Register of Members' Interests - which delivers an entertaining insight into what MPs get up to in their free time.

Free travel has always been a perk of the MPs' gravy plane, and Labour left-wingers prove no exception. Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, registered a return air ticket to Jamaica for a three- week private visit last Christmas, provided by Air Jamaica; while Tony Banks, now minister for sport, declares "tickets" to Florida, in January, provided by Elizabeth Duff Travel.

Other far-flung destinations, courtesy of outside sponsors and governments, included trips to Japan by John Maples, now shadow health spokesman, and Roger Godsif, Labour MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath. Quentin Davies, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, declares sponsored visits over the past year to Dublin, Paris, Versailles, Amsterdam, Berlin, Italy, Germany, Berlin (again), Italy (again), and Berlin (again). Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, went to Silverstone courtesy of the RAC; Tim Boswell, Conservative MP for Daventry, courtesy of Silverstone Circuits; and Peter Hain, now a Labour minister, courtesy of RAC and the Williams Grand Prix Racing team.

Jack Cunningham, minister for agriculture, declared visits to the English National Ballet; Wimbledon, courtesy of Coca Cola; and the Globe Theatre, courtesy of Unilever; while Labour backbencher Judith Church, MP for Dagenham, went to Lord's for an England v Australia Test Match, courtesy of GlaxoWellcome; Wimbledon, courtesy of Barclays Bank; and Wimbledon (again), courtesy of Rhone Poulenc Rorer, the pharmaceutical company. Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham, who attended a performance of the Messiah at the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, courtesy of British Gas, went to the Wimbledon Men's semi-finals, also courtesy of Barclays.

The register also contains one admission from the Prime Minister, who declares: "Secondment of assistant to my Sedgefield constituency office by Barclays Bank, Newcastle, for one year, from 6 October 1997." And the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, declares: "Three pairs of spectacles were provided to me free of charge by Safilo UK." One MP said last night that it gave a new meaning to the Commons catch-phrase: "The ayes have it , the ayes have it."

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