Actors Of Parliament
Squall 6, Spring 1994, pg. 21.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill Standing Committee consisted of 30 MPs - 16 Tories, 1 Ulster Unionist (mostly Tory), 12 Labour, 1 Lib Dem and a whole load of gobble….
The grand All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness met again recently in order to brief its 220 member MPs and Lords, on some of the unconsidered aspects of the legislation against travellers.
The speakers from the Children’s Society and Save the Children expressed grave concern for travellers and their families with the imminent repeal of the Caravan Sites Act.
Of the 220 members of the group, only 5 MPs and 2 lords showed up. Two of the MPs had to be there anyway as they are the co-chairpersons of the meetings. One MP and a lord left early, leaving one MP and a lord who bothered to stay to the end.
What the 220 members would have heard, if they had attended, was Save the Children, Safe Child-birth for Travellers, the Children's Society, the National Playbus Association, Shelter, Char, Squash and Shac all completely agreeing with each other that the new law will have terrible consequences for the welfare of travelling communities. But who was there to hear the demands for compassion and cultural tolerance?
Whilst this 'non-briefing' was taking place, the Criminal Justice Bill Standing Committee was busy voting for the abolition of the rights of silence only thirty yards away in Room 11 and steaming towards the clauses against travellers.
The contrast was remarkable. For as a multitude of children and homelessness charities were pressing their concerns on a room, empty of accountable politicians, 16 Tory MPs were making a career move out of bulldozing the Bill through in unusually fast time.
A clue to the rabid pedigree of the Tory MPs chosen to represent the Government on the Crim. Just. Standing Committee was demonstrated in the vote on capital punishment carried out in the main House. Nine out of 16 of the Tory Committee MPs voted in favour of bringing back the death penalty, including field marshall David MacLean - the minsinister responsible for steering the Bill through committee stage.
Part 5 of the Criminal Justice Bill is a veritable hotbed of human rights contraventions, according to the organisation Liberty (National Council for Civil Liberties). In a recently published briefing paper, Liberty site contraventions of the right to assembly, the right to protest and the right to a fair trial amongst others. The list includes article 6, 9, 10, 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Pretty nifty work for just one part of the Bill.
An indication of the unusual lack of political opposition to the Bill are two overheard conversations and one overseen message, witnessed by an observer at the Standing Committee sessions. The first was a conversation between Roger Evans (Tory Committee member) and an unknown confident: “It’s a rough Bill so how come they are not fighting against it?”
The second was a comment passed by Derek Conway (Tory Committee member) to Nicholas Buffoon-Hawkins (fellow Tory Committee member): "We are delaying this Bill more than they are!" - delivered with surprise.
And the third was a note written by field marshall David MacLean (Tory Minister in charge) and passed to Derek Conway (fellow Tory Committee member). It read:”what can we do? They won’t even vote against us on squatting!”
The title 'Buffoon of the Bill' clearly goes to the triple-chined-yet-only- 35-yrs-old Nicholas Hawkins, Tory member for Blackpool South. Hawkins, so it appeared, would read anything rather than follow the debate - the House Magazine, the Evening Standard (several times) and even a new-age magazine he had ridiculed earlier. Every now and again he would rise with sudden purpose and verbally lick his ministers bottom in the name of a good CV and then turn back to page one of the Standard to start again. "Here, Here, Here" he would gobble every so often and there must have been more than one member of the gallery that would have liked to have stopped proceedings and ask him exactly what it was that he had said "here here" to. He would undoubtedly have had no idea.
How fitting it was then that unbeknown to Hawkins, in his self-contained little world of career ladders, the ears belonging to a member of the gallery did record him slobbering: "Here, here, here, here - bullshit" in one of the afternoon sessions. Perhaps the one and only time that dear old Nicky, as he likes to be called, has been honest. But then he thought no-one was listening you see.
The fact that 9 out of the 16 Tory MPs on the Standing Committee were only elected in the 1992 general election begs one conclusion. What the Government wants from its representatives is not considered debate but a foaming defence of Tory ideals. And, with the expellation of much, largely unchallenged parochial hot air, the Bill sped towards completion, driven by promotion prospects.
"When does a rave become a ceiladh?" asked Norman Godman (Labour Committee member).
"When it’s music that involves any kind of loud speaker," came the field marshal's reply. The Bill itself defines music as inclusive of a series of repetitive beats. Did anyone then note the irony when at this moment, outside room 11, a car alarm went off sending its repetitive whines off to initiate a few migraines? The answer of course is no, neatly drowned as it was by the repetitive bleats of the wannabe government MPs.
"The Government have no quarrel with the nomadic way of life,” claimed David MacLean in the Standing Committee and Neil Gerrard (Lab MP -Walthamstow) was "glad" to hear it "Does the minister then dissociate himself from a leaflet used by the Hon. Member for Hereford and Stortford (Bowen Wells) during the last election, entitled 'Conservatives Against Gypsys?" asked Gerrard.
”I do not associate or dissociate myself with or from anything that I have not read," retorted field marshal MacLean. “I'll show it to you,” Gerrard squeezed in before the Chairman ruled the exchange irrelevant to the amendment under consideration.
However, the truth of the Government benches' association with blatantly racist election material was demonstrated at the end of the session when Neil Gerrard crossed the floor to hand MacLean a copy of the leaflet before leaving.
Field marshal MacLean, unaware that anyone was still watching (most people were leaving the committee room), read the leaflet and laughed out loud. He then walked over to a group of four lingering Tory MPs (Nicholas Hawkins, Derek Conway, Peter Butter and Jaques Arnold). In turn, each of them laughed out loud except Arnold, who blew his cheeks in a way that recognised the leaflet might not look too good if it was published.
Printed originally in SQUALL 5, it was decided that a reminder was necessary.
Actors of Parliament - the theatre continues - Squall 7 - Summer 1994.