Wales Office's £43,649 trade mission flights bill

It was one of the first policy decisions taken by the secretary of state for Wales after the general election.

Cheryl Gillan banned first class travel for staff in the department which represents Welsh interests in the UK government.

Even ministers were seen travelling standard class with the rest of us - although they occasionally found themselves upgraded courtesy of First Great Western between Wales and London.

Wales Office rules on long-distance air travel are not quite so strict. So the recent trade mission to Asia by Cheryl Gillan's successor, David Jones, involved several business class flights.

Figures released just before Parliament prorogued put the cost of ministerial travel overseas at £15,701.29.

According to another parliamentary answer released at the same time, five officials shared £27,948.48 worth of international flights (business and economy), almost £27,000 more than the total international flight bill for the previous four years combined. Three of the flights cost more than £5,000 each. The official team accompanying Mr Jones included a special adviser and a press officer.

Mr Jones's trade mission was notable for its interruption to allow the secretary of state to take part in a key parliamentary vote; a vote that didn't take place.

The Wales Office insists that flying Mr Jones back to London - and then back out to the Far East - didn't cost the taxpayer a penny.

A spokesperson said: "The flights package for the Asia mission were simply re-arranged within the original budget and no additional costs were incurred for the return flight.

"Paragraph 10.8 of the ministerial code states that "If a minister is abroad with permission and is called home for ministerial or parliamentary reasons - including to vote - the cost of the extra journey back and forth may be met by public funds".

"Business class travel is permitted in certain circumstances. For example, the Wales Office's travel and subsistence policy on air travel is governed by the airline's fare structure and the duration of the flight."

Mr Jones believes his mission helped boost business interests in an increasingly important part of the world. As Prime Minister David Cameron put it: "Promoting trade and encouraging investment into Wales will provide a vital boost to the economy and help us compete in the global race."