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COMMONERS MAKE WAY FOR THE LORDS

A row has erupted at the Palace of Westminister over plans to oust an armful of MPs' secretaries from Old Palace Yard, near the House of Lords, to offices 20 minutes' walk away. The word is that they will be replaced by what one Conservative MP describes as 'a private club' for former prime ministers - Baroness Thatcher and Lords Callaghan, Wilson and Home. The offices, home to the secretaries of MPs such as Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Tom King, Richard Ryder and Terence Higgins, and the peers Lord Rippon of Hexham and Earl Ferrers, are to undergo a pounds 3m refurbishment next year, after which the new tenants will move in. Yesterday furious MPs, including Sir Nicholas, tabled a Commons motion of protest, demanding that 'this absurd extravagance and practical stupidity be cancelled on fiscal, economic, logistic, human and intelligent grounds'. Fairbairn splutters: 'For our secretaries to be banished to make way for a private club in a luxurious Georgian house for ex-prime ministers, at a cost of more than pounds 3m, constitutes extravagant bureaucracy of the most obscene, idiotic kind.' Lord Rippon has penned a caustic list of questions, asking the Government 'how many former prime ministers are seeking accommodation in 6-7 Old Palace Yard?' There was no official comment yesterday on when, or by whom, the MPs' secretaries will be replaced, and Lady Thatcher's office said it knew nothing of the plans to move.

BBC WALES in Cardiff has spruced itself up for today's visit by John Birt, and a member of the office services department has been detailed to patrol the corridors. The brief? To make sure no obscene notes about the director-general designate appear on the notice-board before his arrival.

HARRY'S 'OUI' TO BILL

If the straw poll in Harry's New York Bar at 5 rue Daunou in Paris is anything to go by, Bill Clinton should walk Tuesday's presidential elections. American patrons of the legendary watering hole, once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the lost generation of the Twenties, have cast their votes in every election since 1924. And they have only ever been wrong once - when they plumped for Gerald Ford rather than Jimmy Carter in 1976. At the latest count the poll has logged 261 votes for Clinton, 214 for President Bush and 67 for Ross Perot.

MARGARET HODGE quits as the Labour leader of Islington Council at the end of the month to join Price Waterhouse as a public sector management consultant. First stop for the loyal Kinnockite and crusader for the new model Labour Party will be Bolsover (Price Waterhouse is advising the district council on its bid for unitary status). She'll be able to catch up on her socialist roots, experience a pit closure moratorium first-hand and gossip with Dennis Skinner about the good old days.

SLICK REVERSAL

Next month Hamilton Oil starts drilling for oil and gas a few miles off the outstandingly beautiful north Wales coastline around Bardsey Island and the Lleyn Peninsula. This despite the fact that in July 1990 the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales advised the Government against offering these environmentally sensitive areas for exploration. Now the autumn issue of the campaign's magazine, Rural Wales, lands on our desk. And, yes, there on the back page in glorious colour: a full page ad for Hamilton Oil.

SIR John Harvey-Jones, whose prescriptions for ailing businesses are as uncompromising as his ties, celebrated the launch of a new series of BBC 2's Troubleshooter on Wednesday evening. We asked him to consider the sad case of a once proud organisation, now blighted by heavy losses, poor management and low staff morale. 'If there is a UK plc,' says Sir John, 'it hasn't got a managing director.'

SO DAVID Mellor's media rise is irresistible after all. Yesterday it appeared that his new-found career advances had been momentarily halted by Capital Radio - we reported that the station had turned down his request to present its weekly Westminster round-up, Party Pieces. Far from being cold-shouldered by Capital, however, the Conservative Member for Putney has been warmly embraced and will, we're delighted to say, host next Friday's edition of the programme.

A DAY LIKE THIS

30 October 1825 Thomas Moore describes a dinner with Sir Walter Scott: 'Talking of ghosts, Sir Adam said that Scott and he had seen one, at least, while they were once drinking together; a very hideous fellow appeared suddenly between them whom neither knew anything about, but whom both saw. Scott said that the only two men who had ever told him that they had actually seen a ghost, afterwards put an end to themselves. One was Lord Castlereagh, who had himself mentioned to Scott his seeing the 'radiant-boy'. It is generally stated to have been an apparition attached to the family, and coming occasionally to presage honours and prosperity to him before whom it appeared.'

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