Aylesbury MP defends free trip to Jordan despite country's human rights record
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MPs in Buckinghamshire have accepted freebies worth more than £30,000 over the past year, with hospitality paid for by motoring companies, the gambling industry and in one case a foreign government accused of torturing prisoners.
Critics said the public were likely to be “appalled” at the thousands of pounds worth of gifts and trips given away during the cost of living crisis.
MPs meanwhile said these trips and occasions are important for building international relations and connections across industries.
Mr Smith was the largest single recipient of free hospitality in 2023, with the MP for Buckingham given motorsport tickets worth a combined £10,000 over the summer.
Jaguar Land Rover Ltd paid for the MP to watch the Formula E World Championship in London, while Silverstone Circuits Ltd provided him tickets to watch Lewis Hamilton and other Formula 1 stars at the British Grand Prix in July.
Mr Smith told the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “These trips improve the quality of my decision-making, ensuring it is properly informed.
“Motorsport is a vital constituency interest, with roughly half of Silverstone Circuit falling within the Buckingham constituency and multiple businesses either directly involved in motorsport or part of supply chains.”
The MP said such trips do not undermine his decision making and added: “I am happy to confirm that nothing has ever been asked of me in return for an invitation from a motorsport business.”
Mr Smith was also given a free trip worth £9,500 to Bahrain – which retains the death penalty – by prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.
The register says the MP was invited as “Co-Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Motorsport” to meet with senior ministers from the Bahrain Government, F1 and individual race teams to “discuss domestic and international issues in motorsport”.
Prisoners in Bahrain were “tortured and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment” last year, according to Amnesty International.
Rob Butler was another MP to take visit to a country with a controversial human rights record in 2023.
In September, the MP was hosted by the Parliament of Jordan, a country which also retains the death penalty and is accused of “arbitrary detention and the use of repressive laws” by Amnesty.
The register says the trip was a “fact finding visit to gain a deeper understanding of the strategic links between Jordan and the UK, and regional issues”.
Asked if foreign trips and hospitality left him open to influence, Butler told the LDRS: “No.
“There are extremely strict rules about registering and declaring such visits, and then the way in which they can subsequently be referred to in Parliament or with ministers. I fully comply with all these rules. Any suggestion otherwise would be libellous.”
The MP, who also visited Taiwan in March, added that it was “entirely appropriate” for him to visit such countries at a time of “serious international tension in the Middle East and a growing threat from China”.
Ben Everitt, the MP for Milton Keynes North has also enjoyed free hospitality over the last 12 months.
The Betting & Gaming Council provided him a ticket and hospitality to watch England Rugby’s international with South Africa at Twickenham on November 26 last year, which was worth a total of £1,138.80.
The MP was also hosted in Davos, Switzerland in January of this year by the College Green Group, Skigruppe der Bundesversammlung and Davos Klosters Bergbahnen AG.
The purpose of the MP’s visit was apparently to attend meetings in his role as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the housing market and house delivery and as part of the British-Swiss Parliamentary Ski Week.
Everitt told the LDRS: “The rugby match was an opportunity to engage with the Betting and Gaming Council on the Online Safety Bill, while the ski trip was an annual trip with the Swiss Government but this was my first time to be invited.”
He added that the ski trip allowed him to talk to Swiss MPs and other officials about the war in Ukraine, foreign policy, the EU and healthcare.
Steve Baker also made a new entry on the financial interests register last month for shareholdings valued at more than £70,000.
The entry is for a “Glint Pay Services Ltd multicurrency prepaid card”, which allow users to hold and spend physical gold.
The MP for Wycombe told the LDRS: “My interests are properly declared in the usual way and have no influence on my decisions as a minister or MP.”
Susan Hawley, the executive director of the Spotlight on Corruption charity called for greater transparency over MPs’ registered interests.
She told the LDRS: “The public, who have faced one of the worst cost of living crisis in decades, are likely to be appalled that their MP is getting free junkets such as foreign trips and tickets to the races.
“These kinds of donations are rarely given without the person behind the gift wanting increased access or to enhance their reputation.
“Paid for trips abroad are a particular red flag and there are real questions whether MPs should be allowed to accept these at all given the particular risk of foreign influence.
“If MPs are going to accept this kind of expensive hospitality, then they need to provide much greater transparency about exactly what has been discussed during these cosy chats at the rugby or the Grand Prix.
“That way the public can decide for themselves if MPs are acting in our best interests – or in their own.”