MPs find they have sold the family silver

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The Independent Online
PICTURE the scene. 'A night in February 1942. Churchill is in the oak-panelled dining room of the House of Commons. He is alone, lost in thought, his plate of cold roast beef pushed aside. He is working on a speech while incendiary bombs fall on London . . . .' And while those bombs fall from the skies, the silverware is, presumably, falling from the table . . . .

'Yes. Actual silverware from the House of Commons . . . Actually used by men like Churchill, Chamberlain, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan.'

Not the same Macmillan who in 1985 complained about Margaret Thatcher flogging off the nation's silver? By then he was Lord Stockton, but the one and only for all that. Fancy the fish knife and fork he might have used to fillet 'a snowy poached turbot'? A mere snip at pounds 45.19.

How about a dish from which Pitt might have eaten his Bellamy's meat pie? No, this is serious stuff. Just pounds 255, to you squire. Sugar bowls and cream jugs, teapots and salvers that MPs might have used to illustrate the sinking of the Bismark, the knife with which Eden might have cut 'a consoling wedge of Stilton' during Suez, the cutlery 'Labour party leader Aneurin Bevan' might have wielded 'for a hearty, plebeian toad- in-the-hole'? the prices range from pounds 12.91 for a teaspoon to pounds 319.56 for a 20-piece service for four.

But the sales pitch of the American-based J Peterman and Co in its 'Booty, Spoils and Plunder' catalogue failed to impress Bob Cryer, Labour MP for Bradford South. In the Commons yesterday he complained to Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, that while the authorities had received pounds 109 scrap value for a consignment of damaged cutlery, the silver, with its Commons portcullis badge, had ended up on the American market at inflated prices.

But Mr Cryer did not have to go all the way to the United States for parliamentary plunder. A south London antique shop was yesterday offering a 'genuine 1840 original' Commons chair for pounds 320.

'The leather hide had been ripped,' the dealer explained. 'It was thrown out, and I got it from a dustman.'

As Lord Stockton predicted: 'First of all the Georgian silver goes, and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go.' Perhaps they will turn up on a market stall.