Sir Michael Lord not ready to quit

Veteran Ipswich MP Sir Michael Lord tells ALEX SHARRATT the MPs' expenses scandal has hit the House of Commons at a particularly bad time - when the public needs to have faith in its elected politicians.

Veteran Ipswich MP Sir Michael Lord tells ALEX SHARRATT the MPs' expenses scandal has hit the House of Commons at a particularly bad time - when the public needs to have faith in its elected politicians.

IF the election of 27-year-old Chloe Smith in Norwich North is the first indication of a fresh new dawn in Westminster, septuagenarian Sir Michael Lord is showing few signs of concern.

The 71-year-old Conservative MP for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North says he has no plans to step aside at the next general election - claiming experience is key in the House of Commons.

Change and reform might be the new watchwords at Westminster in the wake of the expenses scandal, but Sir Michael believes that Parliament still has room for wise old heads.

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"In order to change, you don't have to change people," Sir Michael told us. "Changing people in the House of Commons will not change the way the House of Commons is seen, I don't think.

"New blood coming in is always a good idea and I am sure there will be a lot of new and very confident faces at the next general election.

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"But I also think that if we are not careful, by worrying too much about the age of people and the accent on youth, then we will lose an awful lot of very, very important experience which is crucial in keeping a steady hand on things when times are difficult.

"There is a great need for experience in the job I do. I know as a young MP it takes you quite a long time to find your way around.

"And when you get older, you have seen an awful lot and you do understand an awful lot more. You have seen politics come and go, you understand your constituency better. There is really nothing better than experience in a job like mine.”

Turnout at the Norwich North by-election hit a new low of just 45% - a massive drop from 61% at the 2005 general election - as voters took the chance to show their disenchantment following the revelations about MPs' allowances.

But Sir Michael has urged the public to "put the scandal to bed" and restore their faith in the political system to allow MPs to remain focused on wider issues.

"The last few months have not been the easiest time I must admit, but hopefully the whole question of allowances is going to be put behind us.

"The old system has gone, a new system will be put in place. Obviously some of the things that have happened were inexcusable, but that doesn't apply to most MPs and the new system will be simpler, it will be fairer and it will be more obvious to everyone how it operates.

"I am sorry it didn't happen much earlier. Personally, I would have been quite happy to have everything out in the open and above board and sorted out much earlier than this. If we had have done, then we wouldn't have done such damage to the House of Commons.

"And there has been deep damage. It has gone deep into the national psyche, which is bad not just for MPs - we will recover, and we know in our heart-of-hearts what we are trying to do - but also because it has damaged the House of Commons.

"The Chamber of the House of Commons is the only place where men and women of goodwill try and sort out the nation's problems.

"With our financial problems and the wars we are fighting, it has never been more essential for people to have faith in their MPs and the House of Commons.

"That it should have been damaged at the very time when we need it so badly is absolutely tragic. The whole House of Commons feels that, all MPs feel that, and we are desperately worried about the situation.

"So, in no way trying to excuse what has happened, I do think the sooner we can put it to bed - not excuse it, but put it behind us and make it clear that everything has changed - the better.

"The sooner that happens, the sooner we can turn our attention to the really important issues that affect our lives."

While agreeing that Westminster has a battered reputation to rebuild, Sir Michael added that he disagreed with the public's perception of a House of Commons detached from its voters.

"Some people think that Members of Parliament are not in touch with what is going on in their constituency. In my experience that is not true. All MPs, of whatever party, are very much more in touch now than they ever were before.

"I think in a way people are better served by MPs of all parties than they perhaps appreciate.

"I am not saying in the decisions they take, but in understanding what is going on. Members of Parliament are very much in touch, and certainly from my point of view, I enjoy that."

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