Wiggin affair hangs around the House like a bad smell

Speaker to examine alleged breach Privatisation takes back seat to 'stink'

In the space of a few minutes yesterday, MPs switched from discussing the "stink" that used to rise from the river beyond the chamber to the reek within over commercial lobbying.

It was Alan Duncan, Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, who set the scene at the end of Environment questions with a poser about the number of salmon in the Thames. "In days gone by sittings of this House were suspended because of the stink coming from the Thames during the summer," he said.

But Labour MPs waiting to hear the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, pronounce on the Wiggin affair could think of only one stink, and jeered and pointed at the Tory benches at the mention of the word.

Sir Jerry Wiggin, Tory MP for Weston-super-Mare, used the name of a colleague, Sebastian Coe, to table amendments to the Gas Bill concerning the mobile and holiday homes industry. Sir Jerry is a paid adviser to the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, but, unlike the former Olympic gold medalist, was not on the committee considering the Bill. Mr Duncan was also on the committee and reportedly took up the caravans issue after the Coe amendments were withdrawn.

Still on the salmon run, Mr Duncan said the increase in the number swimming up the Thames to spawn "proves beyond doubt that it can rightfully make its claim to be the cleanest metropolitan river in Europe". Sir Paul Beresford, Under- Secretary for the Environment, told him the National Rivers Authority recorded 238 salmon in the Thames in 1994, confirming the "marked improvements" of recent years. "The success of this Government, particularly in the Thames, is shown by the fact that those of us in committee rooms can risk opening the windows."

The Speaker is intent on doing more than opening committee room windows. She told the House she had already had a letter alleging a breach of privilege by Sir Jerry, who was not in Britain at present. "In spite of that, I am seriously examining the situation ... with all speed."

Raising the issue on a point of order, Ann Taylor, shadow Leader of the Commons, said: "The House has taken action against those members who we know took cash for questions. It now appears that we need to investigate the issue of cash for amendments, because any action of this kind is very clearly in breach of the existing rules in Erskine May [the Commons rule book].

Tony Benn said that the ruling Miss Boothroyd would give may have historic importance and be studied over many centuries. "Just as your predecessor dealt with the King when he tried to interfere, so I believe that commercial interests are now trying to dominate the Commons by other means," the former Labour Cabinet minister said.

The drama relegated Labour's two debates opposing the privatisation of rail services and the nuclear power industry to status of any other business. Michael Meacher, transport spokesman, repeatedly pressed the Secretary of State, Brian Mawhinney, for the cost of rail subsidies. Mr Meacher said a public subsidy of at least pounds 330m to pounds 500m a year would have to be paid to private train operators to compensate them for the loss of revenue under the cap on fares.

It was the "biggest market rigging operation in modern history", he said, before challenging Mr Mawhinney to reveal his estimate of the subsidy. Would it be less than pounds 500m or more?

Mr Mawhinney did not respond, but later said that it was not possible to predict the subsidy because of the competitive bidding process and the restructuring of the industry to produce efficiencies. Invitations to tender for the first three passenger franchises went out yesterday. "We want to see the relative decline of the railways halted and then reversed. There's only one argument to address: Can that be done in the public sector alone? After 40 years of relative decline, the answer is clearly 'No'."

Tory backbench worries about the electoral wrath of disgruntled home- owners were aired in typically trenchant terms by Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield. Initiating a short debate on the state of the housing market, he warned ministers: "Politically, we cannot afford to alienate home owners or to treat their fears or aspirations with contempt."

Blaming "Treasury-inspired blows to confidence", Mr Winterton, chairman of the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance, said estate agents reported sales were almost 20 per cent down on the period to the end of April compared to 1994. Government action could not wait until the Budget and should include raising the ceiling on Miras from pounds 30,000 to pounds 50,000 at the 25 per cent standard tax rate for first-time buyers.

Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham NW, urged a boost to house renovations and construction to put unemployed building workers back to work. He said it was "amazing" that in the 1990s there were still 2,000 households in his constituency that had outside toilets.

The Housing minister, Robert Jones, offered little of substance to Mr Winterton. But, departing from his brief, he offered an unusual personal vignette as he sympathised with Mr Banks.

"Like him, I began my life with access only to an outdoor loo. But, perhaps unlike him, had one other hazard. When I went to stay with my Great-aunt Linda in North Carolina, you had to bang loudly on the outdoor loo with a stick to dislodge the rattlesnakes if you didn't want to end up with a greater vulnerability than I think you would find in Newham."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee