Andy McSmith's Diary: MPs who talk fearful drivel and fight pointless battles

The House of Lords Expulsion Bill is backed by the Government, the Lords, and all the political parties, but not by the quartet

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Indy Politics

There is a Conservative quartet of Peter Bone, Christopher Chope, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone who cannot be faulted for the amount of time they spend on their feet in the Commons, arguing. Chope spoke in 75 Commons debates last year, well above the average for an MP, but he was eclipsed by Bone, who spoke in 95, Davies 136 and Hollobone 185. Given that the Commons sat for only 162 days in the 2013-14 session, there was hardly a day when they did not hear from one or more of the quartet.

Sadly, they all talk fearful drivel and fight pointless causes. If it is at all a good idea, the quartet’s against it.

Last Friday, MPs considered a Bill that would increase the powers of the Lords to penalise rogue peers and – for the first time – expel the worst offenders.

This would end the absurd situation that allows Lord Hanningfield to return to the Lords after the election, if he has sufficient brass neck, despite having previously spent time in jail for fiddling his expenses, after which he then pocketed £60,000 in tax-free attendance allowances in 18 months for turning up in the Lords, though he never spoke in the Chamber. He was suspended in 2014 for the remainder of the session after the Daily Mirror photographed him coming out 21 minutes after he went into the Lords to claim his £300 daily allowance.

The House of Lords Expulsion Bill is backed by the Government, the Lords, and all the political parties, but not by the quartet. They are worried about how such a power might be abused. Chope worries that it might be used to impose an upper age limit, by expelling the older peers. Bone fears “a cull of male peers” to achieve gender equality. Davies came up with an even more horrific possibility – a peer might be expelled after being exposed as a tax avoider!

Whether the Bill can get into law before the election with the quartet in the way remains to be seen.

Our darkest day

The slaughter of England’s cricket team by the Sri Lankans at the weekend came one day before a major anniversary. Two centuries ago, the last king of Sri Lanka, a notorious tyrant, was overthrown, after rebel chieftains secured British help in getting rid of him – only to discover that they had inadvertently surrendered the island’s independence to foreign domination. Ceylon, as the British called it, was a colony until 1948. Some Sri Lankans regard 2 March 1815 as the darkest day in their history.

Comic interlude

There was a comic interlude in a solemn debate on cruelty to horses in the Lords, as the Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot, a descendant of a hero of the Hundred Years’ War, recounted his youthful horsemanship. In his first season, he approached 36 fences, fell at 34, pulled up on one, and the horse refused the other. One Easter Sunday at Whittington in Lunesdale, he suffered “a particularly bone-crushing tumble” and was writhing on the ground, dressed in “the historic Shrewsbury silks of scarlet with gold hoops and a scarlet cap” when a passer-by told him: “Oh lordy, you look just like an angry wasp.”

Just fancy that!

Al Murray, who’s running against Nigel Farage in South Thanet, has explained why, when interviewed by the Watford Observer: “I heard destiny’s trumpet call, and it sounded like it was saying ‘Thanet-Thanet’. So once I’d figured out where it was, I set my sights on winning it. I want to stand for the ‘South’ bit because it’s nearer to France and they need my help. Imagine my surprise when I found out Nigel Farage was running there too.”