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British MPs visit Athens & discuss Elgin Marbles

Hidden in this article is a public admission that whilst in Athens on a visit related to the 2012 Olympics, British MPs were involved in discussions about the Elgin Marbles. This is noteworthy, as generally, whatever communication might be going on, the public statements suggest that there is none.

Relevant paragraph highlighted in bold.

Daily Telegraph [1]

Fun and games: MPs’ Olympic ‘junkets’
By Christopher Hope
Last Updated: 10:59am BST 09/04/2007

The Olympics is renowned for its ability to bring together people from all over the world, but MPs have shown that the globetrotting is not the sole preserve of athletes.

With the budget of the London games in 2012 already three times the original estimate, politicians are sending the costs higher still by embarking on overseas junkets to countries which have previously hosted the event.

An investigation by The Daily Telegraph has discovered that the taxpayer is facing bills running into hundreds of thousands of pounds for the trips which are in part linked to the Olympics.

It has found that MPs on at least seven House of Commons committees are investigating or planning to investigate elements of the games in 2012.

Ministers from devolved administrations are also getting in on the act with one Scottish Executive minister travelling to Australia, citing the 2012 Olympics as one reason. The Welsh Assembly has also set up a steering group.

The news will increase pressure on House of Commons authorities to rein in the number of MPs’ investigations and create a single cross-party committee to oversee the Olympics.

The most active group is the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which shadows the Government department in charge of the games.

Over the past 10 months it has visited Beijing, Seoul and Athens. Visits are planned to the United States and Canada in June. All the trips have used the 2012 Olympics as part of the justification for going.

Commons documents show that MPs John Whittingdale, Janet Anderson, Philip Davies, Mike Hall, Alan Keen, Adam Price, Adrian Sanders and Helen Southworth visited Seoul in South Korea and Beijing in China last summer on a trip costing up to £66,404.

A visit by the committee to Athens last December cost as much as £17,558. A budget has been agreed by the Commons liason committee for this summer’s North American visit, however Commons authorities have yet to disclose it, although it is predicted to be between £35,000 and £40,000.

There are six other committees monitoring elements of the Olympics, although, so far, only a single MP has travelled overseas – also to Athens – for research.

The culture committee is shortly to hold a joint meeting with the home affairs committee to discuss policing while the transport committee published its most recent report into transport arrangements for the Olympics in February. The Scottish affairs committee has also carried out an investigation into “the potential benefits for Scotland of the 2012 Olympics” while the communities and local government committee has decided to take up a “watching brief” on the games.

So far this committtee has visited the Olympic Delivery Authority in December 2005 and issued a written request from evidence from the UK’s regional development authorities in November last year.

Other committees likely to start their own inquiries are the trade and industry committee, which is planning an investigation into the effects of the Olympics on Britain’s construction industry, and the public accounts committee which oversees the work of the National Audit Office and has already held hearings on the games.

The unprecedented scrutiny is not tied to Westminster and London, where mayor Ken Livingstone – understandably – has a watching brief.

Last March Scottish Executive minister Patricia Ferguson visited Melbourne for two and a half weeks to cheer on the Scottish team in the Commonwealth games – and to meet officials “in respect of . . . the London Olympic Games”.The Welsh Assembly established a steering group last November which has already drafted a strategic action plan called “Shaping the Legacy for Wales”. A spokesman confirmed that no overseas visits have been necessary – yet.

Campaign groups suggest elected representatives could use video-conferencing to cut down on the time and money involved in their trips.

Corin Taylor, head of research for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This is yet another junket for politicians at taxpayers’ expense.

“Many people who supported London 2012 are now becoming increasingly alarmed at soaring costs and sceptical about the benefits the Olympics will bring to ordinary people.”

Olympic chiefs say they are getting frustrated with the constant scrutiny from so many different MPs.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the culture commitee, said he could understand the frustration:

“If you are running the Olympics I can quite see probably that you are you are fed up with having to come to Parliament and listen to MPs, but on the other hand this is a hugely important project, which will use up an awful lot of public money. Most people would think it is right that there is this scrutiny.”

A cross-department committee of MPs would not work, he said, because “you cannot divorce the Olympics from other projects.You could not just stop the other committees . . . It is not that simple.”

The Conservative MP defended the committee’s overseas visits, saying the Olympic element was only part of the trips.

“We were going to Canada anyway so we thought it would be silly not to call in on Vancouver because they are preparing for the Olympics,” he said.

“We did not go to Seoul just to look at the Olympics but to look at ‘new media’. But Seoul is a former Olympic city. As part of our inquiry into museums, we went to Athens to talk about the Parthenon marbles and look at antiquities. We also went to look at the site of the Athens Olympics -which was actually very illuminating.”

The trips were not a waste of taxpayers’ money, he said. “What was striking about the trip to Athens and Seoul was the poverty of the legacy. In each case we are looking at marvellous facililities that were not just under-utilised but barely used at all.”

Generally overseas visits by MPs were “immensely valuable”, he said. “It is not that the Olympics spawned this, we are doing no more visits than we would have done anyway.”