Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Lords marathon debate - digested version

What did the Lords talk about all night? Today's Hansard recrod of the marathon Lords debate has some prize passages and notable firsts.

Tommy McAvoy, who was silent during most of his Commons career because of his role as deputy chief whip, found his voice last night, and his favourite subject, Rangers FC, an intervention on Corby.

Baroness Billingham was speaking: "Noble Lords will also remember that Corby was a steel town that had more than its share of misfortune. The whole of that industry was wiped out in the 1980s, but you will recall that the people who arrived in the 1930s to work in the steelworks came down from Ravenscraig in Scotland. I could take you tomorrow to primary schools in Corby where you would not believe that you were not still in Ravenscraig, because the accents are still so strong. The constituencies were unique and the boundaries really mattered.

Lord McAvoy: On Corby, I agree with and understand my noble friend's point about Scotland. Is she aware that there is even a Rangers FC supporters' club in Corby?

Baroness Billingham: I most certainly am aware of that. On a Friday night, if you asked anyone in Corby, "What are you doing at the weekend?", they would say, "We are going home". I would say, "But you have lived here for the past 50 years". Coaches were lined up in the high street for the supporters-some to watch Celtic and some to watch Rangers. Traditions died hard in Corby.

Someone even managed to mention Sawnee Bean, the Scottish cannibal, and the redoubtable Lord Foulkes kept them going into the wee small hours with anecdotes about his constituency and times past.

Take it away, George: "I endorse what my colleagues said earlier and want to add a couple of points, first on the workload of Members of Parliament. A number of Members have dealt with the matter of the change here very effectively. When I was elected first in South Ayrshire, there were no mobile phones and no e-mail, which have made a substantial difference. I raised the importance of direct access to the Member of Parliament when the noble Lord, Lord Maples, spoke on this subject, and said that MPs do not have to take a personal interest in individual cases that come to them. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that even when I had a majority of 21,000-which was bigger than his ever was-I communicated with and replied to everyone. When people sent petitions about schools closures, I also contacted them. As my noble friend Lady McDonagh, who is in front of me, said, that may be why I ended up with a majority of 21,000 and why her sister has a large majority. It is because we deal with them in that way.

However, I remember the late Donald Dewar, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland and when he was Chief Whip. When he was doing all those important jobs, he used to deal with every constituent person. I remember him on the train-when the rest of us may have been enjoying ourselves a little-dictating long, detailed letters in reply to constituents so that he could-

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am in the middle of a speech. Does the noble Lord want to ask a question?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord has been addressing the House for quite some time. He has not come up with new arguments or new points. The Minister has already spoken and I believe that we should bring this debate to a conclusion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord will know that the fact that the Minister has spoken does not mean that the debate finishes. Noble Lords are quite entitled to continue the debate after the Minister has spoken and other noble Lords have indicated their interest on this issue.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I was in the middle of a speech. I have sat through the whole of this debate. Noble Lords will confirm that I have never been out at any stage. I have listened to it. Then a Whip comes in and interrupts me right in the middle of the speech. If there are any traditions or conventions in this House, I must say that I find that kind of rudeness detestable."

And on it went...

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