Empty - but not the rhetoric

SURROUNDED by row upon row of empty green benches, Bury St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley last Thursday gamely battled through a speech in the Commons denouncing planning laws in relations to travellers' sites.

SURROUNDED by row upon row of empty green benches, Bury St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley last Thursday gamely battled through a speech in the Commons denouncing planning laws in relations to travellers' sites.

What a ridiculous image it looked on television. Mr Ruffley, who had been granted an adjournment debate by the Speaker, got to his feet at 5.32pm, when most MPs had cleared off for a long week-end – indeed around 650 of the 659 were absent from the chamber to debate what, after all, is a issue of vital concern to many areas of Britain.

Coming the day after protestors had invaded a sparsely attended session devoted to hunting and coursing – which are supposed to be the most pressing issues facing MPs – it's easy to see why the public holds Parliament and politicians in such low esteem.

While not every MP should, or even could, attend every waking hour in the Commons chamber, television pictures of debates taking place in an empty room cause the average citizen to shake their heads in disbelief.


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That aside, Mr Ruffley was pleased with the Government and Labour MPs for taking seriously his constituents' concerns over the sensitive subject of the travellers camp in Elmswell and Woolpit. "There was genuine support for the difficulties being encountered."

WHEN this newspaper revealed last year that the flight paths into Stansted airport and the aircraft stacking areas were being moved north from the Stour Valley to over Ipswich and mid Suffolk, there was little public reaction.

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Now it's a reality, people are jumping up and down – mostly the same who also think that expanding Stansted into a major hub is a good idea because it means even more cheap holidays.

A bigger Stansted means hundreds of extra flights which can only overfly Suffolk before circling to line-up the runway. Perhaps now, Ipswich and Suffolk will rethink support for a Government airports policy which will destroy much of mid Essex.

FREE car parking at airports for MPs, Euro MPs and peers will end when current passes expire in 2006 following a revolt by British Airports Authority shareholders. The issue was raised by Brian Ross, economics spokesman for Stop Stansted Expansion, who argued the four-year passes – estimated to be worth £5,200 each – should be classed as a political donation which shareholders should approve.

It will make a dent in the expenses of Euro MP, who are now facing unrecoverable annual bills of well over £1,000 to park at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted for their flights to Brussels and Strasbourg.

THE decision of the former Education Secretary Gillian Shephard to quit as Conservative MP for Norfolk South-West for family reasons has produced a stampede of Tory whiz kids, desperate to inherit her 9,000-plus majority. One word of warning to them all – Norfolk South-West may seem a safe seat, but much of the Tory vote was personal to Gillian and could well evaporate at the next election.

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