Just before the House rose for the Summer Recess, we had a short debate on Lords Amendments to the Bill banning smoking in public places. I went into the Chamber to listen, but with no intention of speaking. The Health Minister was at the Despatch Box; she saw me in her place and decided, kindly, to refer to my record on public health. “ I commend” she said “the Rt Hon Member for..” and here she paused, for her memory failed. There is no reason why she should carry in her head the constituencies of every Tory backbencher, and it is not unusual for Members to need some in-flight refuelling in situations such as this.
“North West Hampshire” I gallantly said from a sedentary position. “…for North West Hampshire” she continued
The reason I tell this story is that there are organisations that seek to measure the effectiveness of MP’s by counting the number of entries they make in Hansard. A long well-thought out speech – or, more popular with the colleagues, a short well thought-out speech - can score as much as the intervention I have referred to. And some of our work does not score at all. One can spend several hours reading papers for a Select Committee, many more hours chairing the subsequent discussion, and still more drafting and redrafting the report which is then published. The scorer does not show any interest in that. Adding one’s name to an Early Day Motion gets the scoreboard ticking over again, whereas writing a more effective letter that the Minister will actually read on the same subject scores not one jot.
This is leading up to a potentially more substantial point. Last Friday, there was a power cut in Penton Mewsey in the middle of the afternoon. We are not intensive users of air-conditioning equipment in the village, and the swimming pool filters were working as normal. But for whatever reason, there was a power cut. Ten minutes later, we were back on stream. But my BT router had gone. This is the electronic lifeline, keeping the computer in touch with the outside world. One cannot simply go out and buy another. Three organisations are involved in rectifying the defect. It has to be replaced by a BT engineer. No times could be given for delivery of this important component.
It so happens that there is one league table of MP’s which I currently lead. I doubt if it is any more meaningful than any of the others. It calibrates the promptness with which MP’s respond to emails. On an identical number of points but ranked second is my good friend and parliamentary neighbour Robert Key.
The power cut, and the consequent absence of a router, may mean that I am displaced from my position.
I hope constituents will be understanding.