The perks of being a politician with a passport

Whale-watching. Rocket launches. Caribbean islands. Being an MP can come with a round-the-world ticket
  • @tompeck

To add to its creche, subsidised bars and restaurants, and substantial library, the Palace of Westminster would make good use of an adventure travel agency, so overwhelming is the apparent wanderlust of its more intrepid members.

Israel and the West Bank might be the go-to destination for the less  imaginative MP, but for some, a seat on those green benches comes with a round-the-world ticket.

For sheer air miles, Labour’s Barry Gardiner is hard to top, having travelled, since 2010, to Berlin, Cape Town, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Venice, Warsaw, Rio de Janeiro again, Washington, New York, Mexico City, Japan, China, and a second visit to Cape Town. But the member for Brent North is Ed Miliband’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, and all of these commitments have been to attend the conferences of Globe International, a panel of politicians from around the world who regularly jet in to various exciting locations to discuss the threats facing the environment. No jokes about hot air, please. Mr Gardiner was unavailable for comment.

The world’s beauty spots are popular destinations for discussions on matters of climate change. In May this year Labour’s shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy went to Norway to discuss the issue, before jetting off to Australia a few weeks later as part of a delegation to meet with defence contractors.

Meanwhile, others have been having rather more fun. Fancy a trip to French Guiana, up on the Atlantic coast of South America, to see a rocket launch? The Conservatives Dr Phillip Lee and Charlotte Leslie and Labour’s Pamela Nash were the members of the Parliamentary Space Committee fortunate enough to be invited to the tiny French overseas region, to witness the launch of the HYLAS-1 space satellite at the Guyana Space Centre at Kourou.

“It’s not something I’ll ever forget. It was the noise – you could feel it,” Dr Lee told The Independent. The costs of around £4,500 per person were paid by Astrium, the subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company involved in making the British-built satellite.

In July this year, the pilot whale population of the Bay of Biscay enjoyed a treat when Labour’s Kerry McCarthy and Huw-Irranca Davies, who brought his wife, were ferried out to see them on a two-day trip from Plymouth to Santander, at a cost of around £1,500, paid for by Brittany Ferries at the behest of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.Labour’s Emma Reynolds, meanwhile, can be persuaded to hop on a plane.

Her entry on the Register of Members’ Interests features regular trips to Rome as a guest of the Democratic Party of Italy, as well as trips to Sao Paolo, Korea, Krakow, Tbilisi, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, visits that were, she said, “undertaken in my role as Foreign Office spokeswoman for the Labour Party”. She also spent three weeks volunteering in Nepal during the summer recess, as a guest of the development charity Voluntary Service Overseas, where she blogged about the difficulties of keeping Nepalese girls in school.

Among the burdensome tasks that face the east London Conservative Andrew Rosindell in his role as chair of the Overseas Territories All-Party Parliamentary Group, and as vice-chair of the Cayman Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, have been week-long sojourns in Grand Cayman and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The latter was to “conduct a report of the social, economic and constitutional problems facing the Turks and Caicos”. The cost of the trip for Mr Rosindell and a member of his staff was split between the Claymore Group, an “offshore financial services group” based in the country, the Caribbean Council and Virgin Airlines.

It’s not all glamour. Labour’s Rosie Cooper spent three nights in Copenhagen in April this year to address the Global Forum on Incontinence, travelling as a guest of the bathroom products manufacturer SCA Hygiene. Keith Vaz flew business class to Atlanta to address the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, at an estimated cost of nearly £5,000.

There is no suggestion that the nation’s lawmakers shouldn’t be travelling abroad. Mr Rosindell said his report from Turks and Caicos “led to government intervention to rescue this British territory”.

The whale watcher Huw Irranca-Davies is profoundly interested in matters affecting cetaceans, particularly now that vast wind farms are being built in their natural habitat. Kerry McCarthy has taken an interest in marine issues and said that the two-day trip “included expert briefings on cetaceans, declining numbers [and] threats to their survival”.

Dr Phillip Lee has also campaigned on behalf of the British aerospace industry, and has lobbied the Government to fund British astronauts in space.

And, given the sheer number of foreign politicians who beset their small country, Israel, that cricketing powerhouse, was no doubt glad to welcome the touring Lords and Commons Cricket Club last month. The MPs Nigel Adams, Bob Blackman, Crispin Blunt, Richard Graham, Graham Jones, Mark Lancaster, Karl McCartney, James Morris and Guy Opperman even brought actual cricketer John Emburey with them.

The brainchild of the team captain Adams, the “extremely successful trip”, we are told, “offered a completely different way of introducing parliamentarians to Israel, combining an original mix of cricket and political fact-finding”.

Important work no doubt, and nice if you can get it.