The Mail on Sunday

One last jumbo junket

Retiring MPs join peers on 5-star trip to Bangkok

- By Simon McGee IN LONDON and Andrew Drummond IN BANGKOK

MPS stepping down at the General Election have spent some of their last days in Parliament on a five-star, taxpayer-funded trip to Thailand.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat disgraced by a rent-boy revelation, and Labour veteran John Austin joined three peers at a conference in Bangkok last week at a cost of some £20,000.

With the Election expected next month, the MPs have little chance to share their experience with colleagues – but that did not stop them flying to represent the Commons at the sevenday Inter-Parliament­ary Union meeting.

The MPs and peers – Labour’s Lord Morris of Aberavon and Liberal Democrats Baroness Thomas of Walliswood and Lord Rennard – flew British Airways Club Class at a cost of at least £3,000 each.

They stayed at the five-star Centara Grand, one of Bangkok’s best hotels with nine restaurant­s and bars, a spa, outdoor pool, whirlpool and sauna.

Room rates range from £99 for a single to £344 for a two-bedroom ‘world executive suite’.

They were accompanie­d by four support staff, and Lord Morris and Lord Rennard took along their wives, although there is no suggestion that the spouses did not pay their way.

The internatio­nal conference ended on Thursday but Friday was set aside for an all-day sightseein­g tour of floating markets, crocodiles and elephants, courtesy of the Thai government.

Days of meetings on human rights, the Middle East, child mortality and natural disasters were studded with receptions and cocktail parties.

The flights and accommodat­ion are covered by the British office of the IPU, funded by the taxpayer. Delegates are supposed to pay for meals but rarely do so because of the number of free dinners and receptions.

Lord Rennard, 50, quit as Liberal Democrat chief executive last year after it emerged he received £41,000 in second-home allowances by declaring a flat in Eastbourne as his main home rather than his house near Westminste­r. He maintained he left for family and health reasons. He was the only British delegation member on Friday’s sightseein­g tour and said after watching crocodilew­restling: ‘I’ve had long talks with Afghanista­ni and Argentinia­n MPs. Fascinatin­g. It enables us to build a picture you would not get elsewhere.’

Back in Britain, Winchester MP Mr Oaten, 46, whose career crashed in 2006 after the rent-boy revelation, said: ‘It was recognised that because the Election could have been called at any moment, the delegation should include peers and MPs stepping down. John Austin and I have been before and know our way round.

‘Also, it’s not a fact-finding trip as such. We are there to represent the UK, not learn things and report back to Parliament. It’s up to your readers to decide if it’s good value for money. I believe we benefit by being one of 121 countries at this conference. A lot of work is done. It’s intense. If we hadn’t flown Club Class, I would have struggled to sleep and go straight into meetings when I arrived there and when I came back to London.’

Mr Oaten was criticised during the MPs’ expenses furore for making an £82,000 profit on a London flat that was furnished, decorated and maintained at taxpayers’ expense.

Yesterday morning Mr Austin’s mobile rang with a foreign ring tone and went unanswered. A text message was also unanswered.

The IPU had offered help in tagging a holiday on to the end of the conference. Among available tours was a five-day break in northern Thailand. It is not known if any of the delegation took up this opportunit­y.

Mr Austin, 65, MP for Erith and Thamesmead in South-East London, was criticised for claiming £133,000 on his expenses for second homes that were just over ten miles from his main residence in Kent.

 ??  ?? ON TOUR: Lord Rennard, above, in Bangkok and, left, Mark Oaten
ON TOUR: Lord Rennard, above, in Bangkok and, left, Mark Oaten
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