Bob Seely has spent more than £2,500 learning Russian at taxpayers’ expense, claiming that he was ‘encouraged’ to do so by parliament.
The information came in a House of Commons disclosure, showing Mr Seely started taking Russian lessons in 2018/19 at a cost of £964.01, with more lessons last year costing £1,598.73. The document says that language lessons are available to ‘enable’ and ‘allow MPs to receive training in accordance with their parliamentary duties’.
However, when asked for a statement, Mr Seely said: “Parliament has a scheme to encourage MPs to learn an additional language or keep their language skills up to speed, given the nature of our wider responsibilities.
“I have the occasional lessons to keep up my conversational Russian which helps me with my parliamentary work, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in helping to understand the Russian threat. I am not aware of any other MPs who speak Russian, apart from myself.
“I have visited Ukraine, which is a partly Russian-speaking country, as part of my parliamentary duties, and I have used my language skills in that country.”
However, when asked for further information about the lessons and his trip to the Ukraine, Mr Seely was unforthcoming.
Parliamentary records show that since his election in 2017, Mr Seely has travelled abroad with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee twice. In 2018 he visited Washington DC and New York (nine MPs and two staff – cost £53,895) and Beijing and Hong Kong (six MPs and two staff – cost £45,931). Translators are provided as necessary.
Mr Seely’s Register of Interests shows that in 2018 he travelled to the West Bank and Israel at a cost of £1,460 (paid for by Medical Aid for Palestinians and Conservative Friends of Israel), to Bahrain at a cost of £2,950 (paid for by the Bahrain Embassy) and to Turkey at a cost of £729 (paid for by Syria Relief). In 2019 he travelled to Hong Kong again at a cost of £5,720 (paid for by Fight For Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong). In November this year he travelled once again to Bahrain at a cost of £5,349 (paid for by Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
We asked when Mr Seely’s parliamentary duties had taken him to the Ukraine, whether it was before or after he started his Russian lessons, who had paid for the trip and how much it had cost. We also asked if Mr Seely was still taking lessons. A spokeswoman from his office said she ‘did not know’ when the trip had taken place and that Mr Seely ‘won’t be commenting further.’
When asked to supply details of how he had been ‘encouraged’ to learn Russian she said: “I think allowing and enabling is tantamount to encouraging,” adding, “I’m sure Bob will agree.”
One other MP learnt Russian during the two years in question, spending £350. A number of MPs have said that they learnt languages spoken by many of their constituents to enable them to communicate with them better.