M'lords, you're not very modern

THE procedures of the House of Lords may seem be an irrelevance, but as long as the upper chamber exists, it should at least have 21st century facilities even if most of its members are firmly rooted in the belief that Lord Palmerston should still be prime minister.

By Graham Dines

THE procedures of the House of Lords may seem be an irrelevance, but as long as the upper chamber exists, it should at least have 21st century facilities even if most of its members are firmly rooted in the belief that Lord Palmerston should still be prime minister.

The first steps towards treating spectators with civility came this week when Suffolk Liberal Democrat life peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury asked for visitors' facilities to be improved.

Chairman of committees Lord Brabazon of Tara said an ancient ban on the taking of notes in the public gallery may soon be lifted. “Historically no one was allowed to record speeches in Parliament, to prevent the Crown inhibiting freedom of debate.


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“In the 19th century restrictions were eased but only journalists were accredited,” said Lord Brabazon. “The public were still not permitted to take notes, in the belief that this would prevent inaccurate and scurrilous reports. Since 1993 the Commons has permitted the public to take informal notes for personal use. We might do well to follow this example.”

Lord Phillips asked Lord Brabazon to “undertake a complete review of the way in which we offer hospitality to visitors. One of our peerless doorkeepers said to me a few days ago: 'We treat our visitors like cattle. They start mounting the stairs to the public gallery, to find an aggressive notice describing them as Strangers.

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“They reach the top of the stairs, to be searched, body and baggage, for a second time within minutes and then they enter the gallery without any real idea of what is going on.'

Labour's Lord Dubs said: “It is time we brought this House into the present century. We serve the public and they surely have the right to be treated like civilised human beings.”

And then arose that great Essex revanchist Lord (Norman) Tebbit: “We should resist the mad idea of this House being dragged into the present century. It is a very disagreeable century. It would perhaps be a better idea to drag us back into the 19th century - a much better one for this country in many ways.”

He stopped short of urging public executions, waging war on the fuzzy-wuzzies, and sending children up chimneys, but we get the drift.

PRAISE for the work of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment in Afghanistan has come from Braintree Tory MP Brooks Newmark and Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram. Paying tribute, Mr Newmark reminded the Commons that “the soldiers serving in the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment have just returned from a deployment in Iraq, during which they distinguished themselves.”

But he doubted that troops have been given adequate support for their efforts. He pressed the minister for an assurance that the Government will have improved its performance in this vital area by the time that the 2nd Battalion is sent to Afghanistan in the spring.

Mr Ingram refused to accept criticism of the Government's handling of troop deployments, but paid tribute to the efforts of the Royal Anglians and promised that any mistakes made in supplying the 1st Battalion “will be identified and corrected.”

MICHAEL Howard and Tony Blair traded insults in the Commons on Wednesday over public service reforms. With the Tories likely to support the Prime Minister on a shake-up of education which Labour MPs oppose, Mr Howard said: “You and I are both on our way out. You don't have much time left. You shouldn't waste it abusing those who agree with you on this issue.”

Mr Blair hit back, saying: “Let me give you some advice. When you win an election - then give some advice to someone who's won three!”

Ouch.

FORGET the great Pogues-Kirsty McCall Christmas hit A Fairy Tale of New York - this festive season we should be jumping up and down to A Fairy Story of Strasbourg, says Jeffrey Titford, UK Independence Party Euro MP for the East of England.

After the European Court of Auditors (ECA) refused to sign off the EU's accounts for the 11th year in succession, Mr Titford, who is also the Chairman of the UK Independence Party, said: “If the European Commissioners were directors of a company they would face a term of imprisonment for presenting accounts which are nothing more than a fairy story.

“The repeated failure of the Commission to have its accounts successfully audited amply demonstrates the scope for fraud within the Commission. It is an endemic problem for which no one at the Commission is willing to take responsibility.

“Despite repeated promises of improvement, the accounting system remains as watertight as a colander, with the Court of Auditors suggesting that 90% of the £68 billion EU budget is open to fraud. The Commission and Members of the European Parliament should feel a much stronger obligation to taxpayers in the EU member states, because it is they who are footing the bill for this catalogue of skulduggery.”

GOOD news for air travellers from the European Parliament this week as Euro MPs voted to outlaw `rubber band airlines' with poor safety records from operating on charter routes in Europe. A comprehensive European blacklist of airlines with unacceptable safety standards will soon be in force across the EU.

“The new list will make sure that we pull together all the information European governments have on dodgy airlines and make it available for all EU citizens” said Labour's Robert Evans. “Half the population of the UK -30 million people - will fly at least once a year. This is Europe reacting swiftly to the interests of consumers.

“It will force up standards, hopefully not just in Europe, but force airlines to adopt stringent safety

measures all over the world. "

POLITICIANS have no shame - our Scottish-born Chancellor Gordon Brown has found a sudden interest in the fortunes of the England soccer team.

Mr Brown, whose Fife constituents are torn between local rivals Raith Rovers and Cowdenbeath, even described England's 1966 World Cup victory as “a glorious afternoon” - a sentiment unlikely to be shared north of the border, where most will be cheering for the teams England meet in next year's finals in Germany.

When the World Cup trophy went on display in the Commons this week, Mr Brown told England's 1966 hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hirst that he had had “a real belief” that England can lift the Cup.

“I cannot remember a more talented England squad from back to front than this one,” enthused the Chancellor, ever mindful that he will need the votes of England MPs should he be challenged for the Labour leadership when Newcastle Utd supporting Tony - “your team's wearing black and white, Prime Minister” - Blair calls it a day.

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