The Sketch: The cockpit of democracy left on autopilot

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There we were we few, we happy few, we very few. For once, the entire complement of Labour and Conservative backbenchers were outnumbered by the sketch writers. If you looked down into the great cockpit of democracy Labour had Kevin. Nice young man. Welsh. On the Conservative back benches, there was no one at all.

There we were we few, we happy few, we very few. For once, the entire complement of Labour and Conservative backbenchers were outnumbered by the sketch writers. If you looked down into the great cockpit of democracy Labour had Kevin. Nice young man. Welsh. On the Conservative back benches, there was no one at all.

This was the first day of the three-day event (the thrills and spills, the tears and heartbreak) which is the Government's Pensions Bill. The opposition was angry about the time allocated to the debate. So angry that they spent half an hour debating a programme motion and then voting on it.

You may not know what a programme motion is. But you probably won't know what an affirmative procedure is either. I'll be amazed if you get to the end of this sketch.

The shadow minister wasn't there and nor was the shadow minister of state. There was only George Osborne in his short trousers and prep-school belt with the snake buckle. The Government had someone called Mr Pond. "So, we meet again, Mr Pond."

The needlepoint procedural technicalities were rehearsed. The amendments were grouped, ungrouped and regrouped. We grappled with vesting periods, we struggled with transfer values, we were stunned by the task in front of regulatory impact review. Everyone was yawning when Steve Webb clarified the matter by announcing: "This is legislation that none of us understands!"

Mr Webb, a Liberal Democrat is very good on pensions (I don't mean that in a nice way, but you knew that). It is his area of expertise so he was able to ask: "The cash equivalent transfer values - are they intended to be actuarially neutral?" It sounded dangerously like showing off to me.

He drew attention to the fact that his public-service wife had left some pension contributions in the NHS but that didn't matter because she had married wisely. It is true that, for many MPs, the most sexually attractive thing about them is their pension entitlements. In this area, size really does matter and theirs are very much bigger than ours. But then it is they who do the voting.

Peter Bottomley appeared on the Tory backbench. He had been going to consult an actuary about his speech but, he told us, the actuary had died. The speech was a bit sick too, by the sound of it, although he asked us to remember that the Government's efforts to encourage saving include taxing pension funds by £5bn a year.

George Osborne remembered to ask about unfunded public service pension schemes. If a policeman wanted to transfer his entitlement to another scheme, would the force have to come up with a cash sum? Even though there was no fund to draw from? Minister Wicks didn't know the answer to that. What? What!

I lifted my beaker to drain its toxic contents of wrath and splenetic incredulity but I found it empty. Nothing there for Mr Wicks but the milk of human sympathy (it hadn't quite gone off).

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

Comments