Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

David Amess MP: Foreign trips and rule breaches

David Amess
David Amess is the MP for Southend West

A BBC investigation has revealed that more than 20 MPs have breached rules in relation to registering and declaring overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

David Amess's office said that the Conservative MP for Southend West had "no personal financial interest in the Maldives".

The trips taken by Mr Amess and his replies are detailed below.

Maldives

In September 2007 David Amess visited the Maldives, on a trip paid for in part by the government of the Maldives, yet no registration of the trip appears in the Register of Members' Interests.

Mr Amess visited the Maldives again between August and September 2008, paid for by the Maldives government. The visit was registered in September 2009, a year late.

Questions

Following Mr Amess's first trip to the Maldives, in October 2007 he asked five questions relating to UK trade relations with the Maldives. No interest was declared. The question numbers are: 159642, 159643, 159644, 159645 and 156568. To view the questions see notes on the right of this page.

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS
To view them, open Parliamentary Question number facility
Select "last five years" in the date search section
Enter relevant numbers in "Parliamentary Question number" box

In July 2008 Mr Amess asked a further two questions relating to the Maldives, where no interest was declared. The questions were numbered 216260 and 216261.

Mr Amess asked the following questions which relate to the Maldives in October 2009, a month after registering the September 2008 trip, where no interest was declared; numbers 289609, 289610, 289611, 289612, 289613, 289621, 289622 and 289623.

These questions fall within the period where an interest should be declared.

The trip to the Maldives between August and September 2008 was registered in September 2009.

The MPs' code of conduct states that: "The rule applies to "one-off" registrable benefits, both visits and gifts, from the day upon which the interest was acquired until one year after it is registered."

Debates

In October 2007 Mr Amess secured an adjournment debate on 'UK relations with the Maldives'. No declaration of interests appear on the order of business, the weekly information bulletin or the summary agenda.

DECLARING FOREIGN TRIPS
Any MP who has an overseas trip paid for by a foreign government must register it within four weeks
They must declare a financial interest if it "might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question"
This includes when tabling questions, motions, bills or amendments, and when speaking out during Commons proceedings
Members may not, for example, call for increased UK financial assistance to the government which provided the hospitality

Mr Amess stated that he had visited the Maldives earlier in the year but did not declare an interest. He said: "When we die, most of us aspire to enter paradise, even though we might be sinners.

"Well, I have news for the House: my honourable friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr Binley) had an early taste of paradise when, through the all-party parliamentary group, we had the opportunity to visit the Maldives earlier this year."

During the debate Mr Amess also said: "However, I cannot emphasise enough to the minister the fact that the people there are struggling. They need more help. None of the ministers and officials whom we met asked for anything, but, given the financial constraints, my Honourable Friend and I thought that our government could be encouraged to do a little more than is being done at the moment. The reconstruction project was absolutely wonderful."

The code of conduct states that: "Members may not, for example, advocate in debate increased United Kingdom financial assistance to a government from which they have recently received hospitality. Nor may a member advocate any other measure for the exclusive benefit of the host government."

The rules also state that promoting such interests may cross the line between informed comment and lobbying.

Mr Amess' statement during the debate may be perceived as a breach of this rule.

Maldives debate

On 14 October 2009, a month after registering a visit to the Maldives paid for by the government of the Maldives, Mr Amess secured a debate 'Government support for the Maldives'. No interest was declared on the weekly information bulletin, the summary agenda or order of business.

While Mr Amess said he had visited the Maldives the previous year he did not declare an interest.

During this debate Mr Amess stated: "Financial assistance is urgently required to fund adaptation and mitigation strategies, technology development, capacity building and preparation of national plans to deal with these threats."

He added that: "The country is showing leadership in mitigation actions to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrating its commitment to stopping climate change. The British Government should reward such nations for leading and setting an example."

This may constitute a breach of the MPs' code of conduct as it appears to advocate financial assistance to the Maldives government.

In response to the issues Mr Amess raised in the debate, the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ivan Lewis said: "During the debate, the honourable gentleman suggested that the UK should offer more financial support to the Maldives at this particular time, and that we should reopen a DFID bilateral programme."

Reply - the trips

In relation to the September 2007 visit, Mr Amess' office told the BBC that, "Mr Amess completed the declaration form and the member of staff whose job it was… to deal with such matters said he would register it...

"Mr Amess believed in good faith that this had been done and is now horrified to learn that the Registrar cannot find a record of Mr Amess' form ever having been delivered."

In relation to the late registration of the September 2008 trip Mr Amess' office said: "When Mr Amess and Mr Binley visited the Maldives as election observers, on their return Mr Amess again filled in a declaration form, the contents of which being exactly the same as Mr Binley's.

"The same member of staff dealt with the matter. It was only when the newspaper article appeared last year that Mr Amess learnt that the Registrar could not find where the form had been deposited. Mr Amess completed the forms and so thought the trip had been registered."

Reply - the questions and debates

In relation to the questions asked following these trips Mr Amess' office told the BBC: "It is for the member to judge whether a financial interest is sufficiently relevant to a particular debate. If you read paragraphs 99 and 100D the advice is contradictory."

In relation to the debates Mr Amess tabled following these trips, his office told the BBC: "In the 2007 debate Mr Amess stated that the visit was through the All-Party Parliamentary Group, thus making it quite clear who sponsored the trip."

"Mr Amess has no personal financial interest in the Maldives. The object of the debate was not only to draw the House's attention to moves towards political change in the Maldives, but it was to encourage British business to take advantage of opportunities for reconstruction, reclamation of the land and investment generally. The minister refers to those specific points towards the end of his speech.

"I turn to the debate on the 14 October regarding the Maldives…. You should note that the debate was nothing whatsoever to do with the previous government but the newly elected government, which took office in November 2008."


Other MPs who have breached the rules:



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