When the Prime Minister has travelled abroad I have, from time to time, tabled parliamentary questions to find out who went with him. A prompt answer is usually forthcoming: there was no problem supplying the names of the twenty-four business people who accompanied Mr Cameron to Moscow last year, or those of the forty-nine “business, education and cultural leaders” who joined his trip to China in 2010.
Three months ago, innocent curiosity led me to ask Her Majesty’s Government “who, other than British Airways staff, travelled on the chartered aircraft with the Prime Minister to the United States on 13 March”.
The answer I received was that “details of ministerial overseas travel are published quarterly, covering date, destination, purpose of trip, type of transport (ie scheduled, RAF, chartered or Eurostar), the number of officials accompanying the Minister for non-scheduled travel, and the cost”; the information for the period in question would be available by the summer.
Given the straightforward previous replies to similar questions, there was something odd about this. The published details would cover Ministers and officials, but that was not quite what I had asked. The question was about everyone other than the airline staff. Had others been on the plane whom the Government wanted to avoid naming by pointing me to the standard travel information?
I tried again. On 17 May I asked for the names of those who had travelled on the plane “other than the aircraft staff and any individuals who will be named in the quarterly publication of ministerial overseas travel details”. A helpful clarification on my part, you might think, but still no answer has appeared.
According to Hansard, the question was due for answer by 31 May. The fact that the response to such an apparently innocuous inquiry is now three months overdue now makes me wonder why. Who else was on the plane? Why won’t HMG answer the question?