“More than £330,000 was spent on flights and accommodation for MPs to visit Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2017, and 12 MPs were paid more than £90,000 to appear on Russian state TV, according to a report by Transparency International UK.
The report focused on parliamentarians who had accepted hospitality from corrupt and repressive governments while providing political access and lobbying.
It said many of the MPs and peers had been given all-expenses-paid trips to such countries paid for by the host government.
The publication of the report follows the suspension of the DUP MP Ian Paisley last week after he admitted he had failed to declare £50,000 of family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.
The parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Paisley had breached the rules on paid advocacy by writing to David Cameron in 2014 to lobby against a UN resolution on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, after receiving holidays from the country’s government.
Transparency International UK’s report also found that two MPs had provided advisory services to the king of Bahrain over the period the government enforced a brutal crackdown of Arab spring protesters in 2001.
The authors of the report say that not only have some MPs actively supported corrupt and repressive governments, but that there is also a “culture of impunity” regarding such practices.
“The activities of the Azerbaijan lobby in parliament has become so infamous that it is seemingly tolerated as almost an eccentricity,” the report said.
Steve Goodrich, Transparency International UK’s senior researcher officer and one of the authors of the report, said: “This is not the first time that the inappropriate behaviour of foreign regimes in lobbying UK parliamentarians has been exposed. But our report shows that this has become a systemic pattern of behaviour, with many MPs and peers completely ignorant or knowingly dismissive of these problems.
“This type of engagement between parliamentarians and corrupt and repressive regimes can no longer be kicked into the long grass because it’s politically convenient. It is a detriment to the UK’s standing as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law.”
Following the publication of its report, Transparency International UK is calling for an inquiry into the conduct of MPs and peers in legitimising corrupt and repressive governments.
The group recommends that MPs and peers should also be banned from taking trips paid for by foreign states and their lobbyists over £500 in value. Instead, the group suggests that a list of organisations should be agreed in parliament for whom paid trips over this amount are acceptable.
Transparency International UK also recommends that MPs should be prohibited from providing paid or voluntary services to foreign governments and state institutions, and that the register of members’ financial interests should be published as structured open data.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said it was “time to end the discredited practice of our parliamentarians enjoying generous foreign hospitality”.
He said: “International visits can certainly aid informed parliamentary debate, but when these trips are offered by foreign governments they undermine the independence of those MPs accepting them.
“Our politicians are elected to work on our behalf, not the interests of foreign states who increasingly have subversive desires. Global scandals have exposed the activity of foreign states meddling in the affairs of others and we need to shore up our defences against this sort of activity.” …