Gale`s View 05/10/11
October 5th 2011
In thrall to press criticism of a “three month summer holiday” the House of Commons now sits for a disjointed two weeks with the (English ) return to school. We, and our constituents, all know that Members of Parliament need to spend time in the constituencies and that the post real summer holiday weeks have hitherto offered an invaluable opportunity for school, hospital, local business and voluntary organisation visits. It is also the case that the maintenance of that historic and listed edifice, The Palace of Westminster, takes time and organisation. No matter. In order to satisfy what Fleet Street perceives as “public demand” (I cannot recall ever, in 28 years in office, having received a letter of complaint about my recess schedule from a constituent) the carpets are laid back down and the shutters removed and the bars and restaurants re-opened, all at taxpayer`s expense, only to be lifted again for completion of works when we depart for the annual party conferences.
And that`s another bone of contention. The Conferences used to be held in seaside towns, from mid-September through to early October, when the summer guests had departed and leaving relatively low-cost accommodation for massed delegates and a useful shoulder month earner for the proprietors of small hotels and guest houses and cafes.. As this year`s gatherings have been held in, respectively, Birmingham (Liberal Democrat), Liverpool (Labour), and Manchester (Tory) , cities not renowned for their seaside hospitality, the bottom has been kicked out of the case for later political festivals. With the State Opening of Parliament now shifted from November to May (which is why you have not seen one for a while) the time has surely come for the conferences to be held upon return to school with the House sitting from the end of the conference season through to Christmas and, if you will, a brief half-term holiday to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow the entire institution to Hades!
Under this system the maintenance of the House would be completed without interruption and the “re-sit business” would be taken just three weeks later.
Not that the work has not been important. Having chaired the Health and Social Care Bill through committee I found myself conventionally non-combatant as this contentious piece of work completed its Commons stages without the much-vaunted Liberal Democrat rebellion and winged its way off to, no doubt, be further castigated by the Lords.
As an adjunct to the bill the doughty Bedford MP, Nadine Dorries sought to move an amendment that would have made disinterested counselling mandatory prior to the approval of abortion. Traditionally, this issue has been the subject of a free vote but the Government made plain its opposition and the measure was lost. It remains to be seen how the administration will react formally to a proposed Council of Europe convention that seeks to prevent the revelation of the sex of an embryo to parents in an endeavour to prevent the abortion of “unwanted” female foetuses. I am not at all in favour of the imposition of centralized diktats upon sovereign states but the cry that “this should be confined to countries where the abortion of girls takes place” belies the harsh fact that in modern multi-cultural Britain the practise has a foothold.
A national newspaper, in coalition with the Grand Dame of the National Trust, has continued to wage its “Hands Off Our Land” ( “Our starting point is not a Nimby one”) campaign against the first real attempt to modernise planning law since the 1947 Act spawned hundreds of pages of secondary legislation and guidance notes. I am sure that the demonization of the National Planning Policy Framework, to give it it`s appealing full name, has sold a few newspapers and frightened readers who, curiously like most Members of Parliament, love our green and pleasant land, but the idea that Greg Clark (Planning Minister and MP for Tonbridge) wants to smother England in tarmac and housing and industrial estates is to say the least fanciful.. That Greg was the MP who led the charge against “Garden Grabbing” and back-land development appears to be immaterial. We have been threatened with “building on flood plains”, a “developer`s charter”, “A green light for Gypsy sites” , a “concrete countryside” and much, much more. Plagues of locusts would probably have been included were it not for the fact that the insects would, presumably, find little to feed on in a coast-to-coast urban environment.
Faced with this synthetic hysteria the Prime Minister, no less, found it necessary to point out that, as a rural MP himself, he regards “our beautiful British landscape” as “ a National treasure” which, of course it is. This did not stop the Press from headlining Greg Clark`s concession that the guidelines could have been, and would be following the end of consultation, clearer as “Our Planning Reforms Are Flawed” Admits Minister! “ Do not believe everything that you read in the national press.
All of this, of course, surfaced and was chewed over during the two-week session as did and was the report of the Boundary Commission. With the removal of fifty parliamentary seats at the next general election, with some high-profile politicians on both sides of the House facing a contest for somewhere else to represent and with self-interest being what human nature dictates that it is The Boundary Commission Report has eclipsed IPSA as the tea-room talking point.
The fact is that the Health and Social Care Bill could have been taken through the Commons before the recess and the remainder of the work dealt with upon a slightly earlier return in October. A matter that the Procedure Committee will, in the taxpayer`s interest, need to take on board.