MPs Decide to Investigate Binge-Drinking. Where Do They Go? to the Bigg Market in Newcastle? No, New Zealand ... and Throw in a Few Days' Holiday
Byline: Brendan Carlin POLITICAL REPORTER
SEVEN MPs have been condemned for going on a [pounds sterling]70,000 trip to New Zealand to investigate binge-drinking - with some of them staying on beyond the trip's official end to enjoy a taxpayer-subsidised holiday.
The members of the Commons Health Committee flew business class 11,000 miles to Auckland to find out how New Zealand's health service copes with people who drink too much.
Five Labour MPs, one Liberal Democrat and an Independent spent up to five nights in upmarket hotels.
And at least two of the MPs, including the Labour committee chairman Kevin Barron, stayed on for a holiday at the end of the official programme last Thursday.
But yesterday Peter Bone, one of the three Tory committee members who decided not to go on the visit, hit out at the cost.
Mr Bone told The Mail on Sunday: 'I just don't think the cost of this can be justified. At a time of recession, we should be looking more carefully at these overseas visits.' He also demanded to know why the MPs had travelled out while Parliament was sitting and not this coming week, when MPs are on holiday.
Lee Scott, another Tory committee member, said: 'I made a pledge when I was elected that I would not do foreign trips unless they were completely pertinent. It may be difficult, but I have stuck to it.'
Overseas trips by Commons select committees are seen as one of the main perks for backbench MPs.
The Health Committee was given approval by a panel of senior MPs to travel to New Zealand as part of an inquiry into 'patient safety' in the NHS.
But their brief was broadened to include fact-finding on the committee's inquiry into alcohol and binge-drinking, and how it affects people's health and NHS services.
The MPs also took evidence for another inquiry into top-up fees, which allow patients to buy drugs not available on the NHS in their area and keep their right to other free treatment.
The seven MPs, accompanied by two committee officials, flew business class out of Heathrow with Air New Zealand ten days ago, arriving in Auckland late last Sunday afternoon local time. …