COMMONS

Liaison Committee guidelines for overseas travel

Guidelines for overseas travel by select committees as agreed by the Liaison Committee on 28 April 2011.

Purpose of visits

  • Visits must always be related to an inquiry, within the committee’s order of reference, with which it is currently concerned and on which the committee intends to make a report. In general a visit should not be made at the beginning of an inquiry but only after preliminary work has been done.
  • Before proposing an overseas visit, committees should always consider whether the information they seek could be obtained by written evidence, by oral evidence given in this country by witnesses from overseas or by video-conferencing.

Travel to European Institutions

  • Visits to European Institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, or Strasbourg, do not require the prior approval of the Chair of the Liaison Committee but
    (a) may not exceed £10,000 which must cover all costs related to the visit,
    (b) cannot be combined with other travel, and
    (c) except in the case of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, may not exceed two visits per committee per financial year.
  • Such visits do not count against the allocation of funds for overseas travel. However, any visit which exceeds £10,000 must have prior approval from the Chair of the Liaison Committee as with any other overseas visit, and will be accounted for under the overall budget for Overseas Travel.

Frequency of visits

  • No select committee should normally make more than one visit beyond Europe in any one financial year, except the Business, Innovation and Skills, the Defence, the Foreign Affairs, and the International Development Committees.

Length of visits

  • Some longer visits may necessitate staying over a weekend, but whenever possible visits should be completed within five consecutive working days (excluding travelling time).

Numbers taking part

  • It is recognised that the appropriate number of Members who should take part in a visit depends on the nature and purpose of each visit, but the advantages of sending smaller groups to collect information which can be reported back to the full committee should be considered; sometimes discussions are better conducted by four or five people than by ten or eleven.

Quorum

  • A quorum of the committee must normally be present throughout the visit although separate visits by inquorate groups of Members in the course of a single visit are permissible and may in some circumstances be advisable.

Attendance throughout the visit

  • The approval by the Chair of the Liaison Committee of a visit is on the understanding that, except in cases of emergency, all Members taking part in that visit will remain with the committee for the whole period of its work. This provision is subject to the discretion of the Chair of the Liaison Committee.

Partners of Members

  • The approval by the Liaison Committee of a visit is on the understanding that no partners of Members will take part in that visit or attend any official meetings or social functions at which the Members of the committee are present during the visit.

Staff Numbers

  • (a) Only in exceptional cases should the Clerk be accompanied by more than one other Member of staff.
    (b) Where the participation of more than two staff is sought, the reason should be set out in the application.

Method of travel

  • Value for money, safety, time costs and reliability must be factors taken into consideration when deciding upon transport for committees. In general travel costs should be kept as low as is consistent with enabling Members to carry out their duties effectively.
  • The proposed class of travel, including any internal flights within the countries visited, should be notified to the Liaison Committee when a submission is made to the committee for authority to travel.
    (i) All daytime flights of up to 3 hours should normally be made in economy class.
    (ii) All daytime flights between 3 and 10 hours should normally be made in premium economy class (or equivalent).
    (iii) All daytime flights of more than 10 hours should normally be made in business class.
    (iv) All overnight flights of more than 3 hours should normally be made in business class.
    (v) Travel on Eurostar services should be taken in its standard premier class or equivalent.  
    However, the Chair of the Liaison Committee has discretion to grant exemptions to allow business class in (i) & (ii) above in special circumstances or where it would be cost effective to do so.

Cheap fares

  • Restricted tickets should normally be used as these are usually cheaper than fully flexible ones when booked sufficiently in advance. However, the savings generated must be considered against the booking conditions that apply and the potential penalties or losses that would be incurred should a committee’s travel arrangements change.
  • In order to take advantage of cheaper, restricted fares, Members should confirm participation in a visit promptly so that bookings can be placed and should avoid subsequent changes to their travel plans.  Where late bookings or cancellations lead to increased costs or losses, the reasons for this will be required to be reported in line with the House’s accounting practice.

Travel agent

  • Committees may use whichever travel agent gives the best service, but are encouraged to make bookings through the Parliamentary Travel Office as these bookings attract commission which helps the House offset the cost of having a travel service located on its Estate.

Accommodation, subsistence etc

  • Committees should seek to keep accommodation and subsistence costs, and incidental expenses on internal travel etc., as low as is reasonable for the country concerned and the nature of the visit.
  • All accommodation and travel costs should normally be borne by committees and not by their hosts. Select committees should not normally accept any funding for travel from any interested private parties. Committees should not put themselves in a position of relying on, or appearing to incur debts of gratitude from, interested parties whether in the United Kingdom or abroad.

Consideration of requests by Liaison Committee

  • It will normally be the practice of the Liaison Committee to delegate decisions on submissions for overseas travel by select committees to the Chair. Bids will be considered against criteria agreed by the full Liaison Committee.
  • In order to ensure that funds are available to authorise submissions for overseas travel in the second half of the financial year, it is the policy of the Liaison Committee to retain an appropriate percentage of the total funds for commitment after 1 October.

Limits

  • The current limits on expenditure on overseas visits are as follows:
    Visits to Europe  £35,000
    Visits elsewhere  £71,500
  • For committees with membership larger than the standard number of 11, the limits on visits will be increased pro-rata to a maximum of £86,800 (for visits outside Europe) and £42,500 (for visits within Europe).
  • Where expected participants do not take part in a visit the budget approved by the Chair of the Liaison Committee must be reduced accordingly on a pro-rata basis.

  28 April 2011