The Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, was embroiled in a fresh row over his lavish lifestyle yesterday, as it emerged that he had spent nearly a week on a taxpayer-funded trip to the United Arab Emirates.
Mr Martin and his wife, Mary, flew business class from London to Dubai as the parliamentary recess began last week. The couple and their entourage were entertained by senior members of the UAE royal family at a string of luxurious palaces in the Gulf state.
The cost of the whole four-day trip, including flights and accommodation in a five-star hotel, estimated to be about £8,000, was met by the British taxpayer.
Mr Martin’s office defended the visit, insisting it was an official tour to create links between the British Parliament and the UAE, and was authorised by the Commons authorities. Two Commons officials were among the entourage, although they flew standard class. But MPs demanded to know why the taxpayer was footing the bill for an extensive tour when Mr Martin is not a minister.
Dubai, which allows drinking of alcohol in some hotels, is one of the world’s most luxurious cities, dominated by marble-floored palaces and vast shopping centres.
According to a local report of one of his meetings, Mr Martin discussed the situation in Gaza and other political issues related to the Middle East – an area beyond his remit as Speaker of the House of Commons.
Mr Martin is already under fire over his handling of the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green and the search of Mr Green’s Commons offices last November. If, as expected, Mr Green is cleared of any wrongdoing later this month, Mr Martin will come under further pressure to stand down.
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed the taxpayer has spent nearly £150,000 on foreign visits for Mr Martin, who has often been accompanied by his wife, over the past six years. Mrs Martin spent £4,000 on taxis in one year, although she was cleared of any wrongdoing.
While the Martins’ trip to Dubai has not broken any rules, it will fuel the discontent felt by voters that in a recession their money is paying for MPs’ luxuries.
Douglas Carswell, a Tory MP, said: “I have nothing against Michael Martin personally, but I think he should have spent the recess trying to clean up Westminster, not racking up an
ever higher bill for the taxpayer. Westminster stinks, and part of the rot is MPs and their expenses, and if you had a Speaker who was up to the job of being Speaker, he would have called time on this nonsense.”
Last Monday, Mr Martin met his UAE counterpart, Abdul Aziz Abdullah Al Ghurair, the speaker of the Federal National Council, who had visited the Commons in January. They then held talks with the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The next day, the delegation was taken on a tour of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company, which owns London’s ExCeL Centre. In the evening, the Martins were entertained at the Al-Bahr Palace, the residence of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. On Wednesday, they met Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is is Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai.
The Martins’ visit to the country coincided with an official trade tour of the region by the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, but it is not known if the two politicians met.
A spokeswoman for Mr Martin said: “This was an official visit. The speaker of the Federal National Council visited the Commons in January, and invited the Speaker to make a return visit. This was authorised by the Commons authorities.Because it was an official visit, it was paid for in the normal way, out of the Speaker’s budget.”
Asked whether it was right for Mr Martin to discuss Gaza on an official visit, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: “MPs are asked questions about foreign policy when they are abroad, and they respond in an individual capacity.”Reuse content