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 Mr Duncan was also on the committee and reportedly took up the caravans issue after the Coe amendments were withdrawn.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."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little