28 July 2009 By Richard Bean
Wigan's MP today strongly denied a trip to the South Sea islands was a "free holiday" in disguise.
Neil Turner is one of five government representatives flying out to Fiji next month as part of a 16-day delegation during the Commons recess. The Taxpayers' Alliance has attacked the tour, which will also take in the islands of Tonga and Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert islands). It says politicians should be rebuilding the confidence of the electorate after the Parliamentary expenses scandals, rather than "swanning off" to the South Pacific, at the public expense.
A spokesman for the pressure group said: "Taxpayers should not have to fund politicians on their jollies.
"Ordinary people are struggling to afford even one holiday this year and they will regard this as unjustifiable."
The island-hopping trip was described by the group as the 'highlight' of official trips being arranged over the summer by members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
Mr Turner is one of five MPs and two peers said to be taking the business-class flights to the exotic spot. They fly to Fiji on August 7, then to Kiribati, a former British colony composed of 32 atolls and a raised coral island, and then Tonga, an archipelago run as a sovereign monarchy.
They will then travel on to Tuvalu, a Polynesian island of 10 sq miles, and the volcanic republic of Vanuatu, before returning to London on August 23.
But the Wigan MP today hit back at claims that the delegation was enjoying a sunshine holiday break at public expense.
He said the Parliamentarians would be travelling between the various island by plane and bus for all but two of the 16 days.
Mr Turner said that he would be taking a Wigan council fact pack with him for further talks with island leaders over the Oceania International team possibly basing itself in Wigan for the 2012 Olympics.
As Secretary of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group he will also have further talks with the Tongans about stronger sporting links.
And as a member of the Parliamentary Armed Forces Group, meet representatives of the 3,000 Fijian soldiers helping to make up the Commonwealth Contingent fighting alongside the British Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr Turner said: "Certain parts of the media seem to have decided that all MPs are fair game to be attacked for whatever we do. The reality of the situation is that this is a reciprocal delegation after we hosted their politicians last month who came over as members of the Commonwealth to see how our Parliament operates.
"This is far from a holiday or a jolly – there's a very full programme. The chance that Wigan could host the Oceania team during the Olympics as a training base is far too good an opportunity for the borough to let slip because it will be worth millions of pounds, quite literally, to Wigan.
"I will be using every opportunity to push our cause because we are also talking about potential investment here that could be part of the lasting legacy of the Olympic games to the borough.
"If the electorate want their representatives to talk about things like climate change in a knowledgeable way, the best way to get this knowledge is to talk to the people first hand who are going to be most affected.
"The island of Kiribati has a population of 80,000 but because the island is an average of only three metres above sea level they are already making plans for a total evacuation within the lifetime of the current population.
"Potentially they are in extreme danger, its a big, big issue for them and for us."