The Institute of Travel and Tourism has become embroiled in the heated row over whether former House of Commons speaker John Bercow should be given a peerage.
The Daily Mail seized on Bercow’s planned speaking engagement at ITT’s annual overseas conference in Turkey in June to raise questions over him cashing in on the fame his Commons role brought him.
The newspaper reported that over the last decade the ITT was the organisation Bercow hosted most often in his grace-and-favour home in parliament which the paper claimed is offered to organisations to use for free although they pay for any food and beverage costs.
The institute, which says it paid a commercial rate for the venue, has held its annual Christmas drinks for members in the Speaker’s home for the last five years. It also hosted its regular annual Odyssey suppers in private dining rooms available for rent in the Houses of Parliament until the recent refurbishment began.
Claiming Bercow will be paid “in the region of” £10,000 for his ITT speaking engagement while enjoying five-star hospitality at the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel and Conference Centre, the Daily Mail reported that he has signed up to an agency to put him on the celebrity speaker circuit.
ITT chairman and chief executive Steven Freudmann told the Daily Mail there was nothing untoward about the institute’s relationship with Bercow, who was not accused of breaking any parliamentary rules.
He said he made it “absolutely clear” to the Mail that there was no link between the former speaker hosting ITT in his home and its decision to invite him to speak at this year’s conference. He pointed out that the ITT Christmas events did donate some of the proceeds from ticket sales to charity.
Freudmann told Travel Weekly: “The Christmas Parties were fund-raisers, initially for Just a Drop and latterly Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. As the [Daily] Mail well knows, ITT paid the Palace of Westminster the full commercial rate to hire the Speaker’s House.
“The theme for this year’s Conference in Istanbul is “Breaking down Barriers” and John’s presentation will emphasise his work in making Parliament more accessible to the general public and holding the executive to account.
“The outpouring of tributes to John Bercow in the House of Commons at the announcement of his retirement was an indication that, for many, he had become a hero of the restoration of parliamentary democracy in Britain.
“He will be a fascinating speaker, and will follow the distinguished line of previous ITT speakers, including, amongst others, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Ed Balls, and George Osborne.”
However, the Daily Mail quoted an unnamed Tory MP who said the “casual observer” might think being on the payroll of ITT having given the organisation free use of his home “stinks”.
Bercow has been nominated for a peerage by outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after the Tory government decided to go against protocol and not offer him a place in the House of Lords following his retirement as speaker.
The former Tory MP for Buckingham was a controversial speaker, particularly in recent years when he was accused of favouring MPs fighting to stop Brexit and is the subject of allegations of bullying, which he denies, describing the claims as “total rubbish”.
The ITT conference is well known for its political speakers and has, over the years, invited the likes of John Prescott, George Osborne, Nigel Farage, Cherie Blair, Lord Andrew Adonis, and former Tory leader Michael Howard to address delegates.
In 2012, Bercow’s wife, Sally, was a speaker at the ITT conference held in Barbados. At the time the speaker said he had no involvement in his wife’s professional diary and ITT said her speaking engagement was not linked to the hosting of the institute’s Christmas drinks.
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