Tory's fury over second-class travel

Kunal Dutta
Friday 19 February 2010 01:00
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Sir Nicholas Winterton, the outgoing Tory MP for Macclesfield, has hit out at the new expenses culture at the House of Commons by saying he is "infuriated" he can no longer travel firstclass on trains.

Attacking proposals being considered by the newly formed Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to reduce first-class rail travel for MPs, Sir Nicholas, 71, said MPs were from a "different walk of life" to those who travel in standard-class carriages.

"If I was in standard class I would not do work because people would be looking over your shoulder the entire time, there would be noise, there would be distraction," he told the BBC. "There's lots of children, there's noise, there's activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I'm travelling."

His comments come in the wake of an interview in Total Politics magazine in which the backbencher first opened the debate about MPs and rail travel. The plan to stop MPs travelling first-class, he said, "puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first-class. Majors in the army travel first-class".

Stephen Nolan, the BBC interviewer, responded with disbelief, saying: "Sir Nicholas, the totally different type of people are ordinary, decent people. They're not a different type of person because they don't have a couple of hundred quid extra to move into a different class of carriage."

But rather than concur, Sir Nicholas grew more adamant. "Don't lecture me!" he said. "I've been in public life for nearly half a century. I've represented miners in local government. I've represented the people of Macclesfield for nearly 40 years. All I can say is, I am in touch with my constituents..."

Invited to retract his description of standard-class passengers, he responded: "They very often have a different outlook, of course they do, because they are in a different area of activity. They may be travelling just because they are on holiday or they are going to London to visit somebody. MPs are going to London to work."

The Tory party quickly moved to distance itself from Winterton, who repaid £850 after the Commons expenses inquiry found he had been overpaid for council-tax bills on his second home. Last night, a spokesman for the party dismissed his remarks as "the out-of-touch views of a soon-to-retire backbench MP", adding that "they do not in any way represent the views of David Cameron or that of the Conservative Party and should be treated as such".

A veteran backbencher and former member of the Conservative Monday Club, Sir Nicholas is no stranger to controversy. Last November, he was accused of slapping the backside of Labour MP Natascha Engel.

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