For instance, Michael Heseltine, the urbane President of the Board of Trade and millionaire publisher, is paired with Jimmy Wray, the former leader of a Gorbals rent strike and the Labour MP for Glasgow Provan.
Friendships have built up in spite of wide divisions in political opinions, and few MPs take matters of political principle so far as one Labour woman, who is alleged to have rejected a number of Tory pairs on the ground that they supported capital punishment.
The Prime Minister has had an arrangement for more than a decade with Dafydd Wigley, MP for Caernarvon, but on Monday that is likely to be a casualty of the war of attrition. Plaid Cymru MPs are meeting then to decide their line of action, and it is expected they will show their solidarity with Labour against the Government by withdrawing all informal relations with their Tory opponents.
Other unusual pairs include Simon Burns, the Tory MP for Chelmsford, with the Labour left- winger Clare Short; and John Reid, the Labour MP for Motherwell North, with Sir George Young, a baronet and Minister of State for Housing at the Department of Environment.
From next week, these private arrangements will be brought to an end. 'We understand that they are obeying their whips' orders and that there's nothing personal in it,' one Tory MP said. Pairing allows MPs from opposing sides to be absent from votes without giving advantage to the other side. It is a vital part of Commons life, allowing MPs to have leave when they or their families are ill, although supporters outside the Commons often rebuke their MPs for dealing with 'the enemy'.
Some MPs, including Dennis Skinner, the Labour MP for Bolsover, refuse to pair, and some who do admit privately that it does make them pull their punches against their pairs in public.
The friendships can be lasting. Scottish mourners at the funeral of Alan Adams, the former MP for Paisley North, were surprised to see a southern Tory MP, Harry Greenway, MP for Ealing North. But he was a pair paying his last respects.
'You get to know people fairly well, and their families,' said Mr Wigley, who has dined with his wife and the Majors at Downing Street and Chequers since Mr Major became Prime Minister. Since becoming a Cabinet minister, Mr Major has less call on Mr Wigley as a pair, because he is expected to vote. But lines of communication with Plaid Cymru and Downing Street have been kept open for occasions when the Prime Minister is away from a tight vote.
'It is a private arrangement that the whips tend to give a nod and a wink to but we (Plaid Cymru) find ourselves voting against the Government 95 per cent of the time. Politically I am on the opposite side of the Prime Minister. I have nothing against him. He is very reasonable, but that doesn't mean I agree with him politically.
'If the opposition parties decide there is going to be a concerted battle to stop the Government getting its business through, then it can make things difficult for the Government. To be honest, I am surprised the official Opposition hasn't tried this before.'Reuse content