Tom Richmond: There is plenty to keep our part-time MPs busy

IT is an insult to taxpayers, and hardworking families across Britain, that the Parliamentary timetable is so threadbare that MPs are now only expected to spend two full days a week in an already half-empty Commons.

The official reason, put forward by Commons leader William Hague who clearly cannot wait to retire from frontline politics next May judging by his carefree demeanour, is that the coalition has completed the majority of its legislative programme.

What absolute twaddle – such a lame and self-serving response simply shows that members of Britain’s political elite continue to occupy a parallel universe in comparison to the paupers whom they purport to serve once in a while.

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If Mr Hague is devoid of ideas for MPs to discuss before polling day, let me give the Richmond MP a helping hand.

First, a law needs to be passed to abolish the concept of five-year fixed-term parliaments that was introduced out of necessity in 2010 to ensure the coalition did not collapse prematurely. Post-2015 protocols and rules of engagement should be left to the next government to determine.

Second, George Osborne’s “northern powerhouse” plans need further scrutiny. Instead of posing with Manchester City’s footballers on Monday, the Chancellor should have been taking part in the Infrastructure Bill debate. Not only does his Autumn Statement promise about new Pacer trains for Yorkshire commuter services appear to have been premature, but the electrification of the TransPennine Express between Leeds and Manchester – due to be completed by December 2018 – could be shunted back by three years.

Third, what should be the role of Britain’s Armed Forces in a rapidly changing world? I ask this after reports that soldiers have been instructed to take almost four weeks off work to help Army bases save on heating bills. It does not inspire confidence in the Ministry of Defence. Such a debate could also encompass Britain’s overseas aid contributions – and whether this should be linked to GDP.

Fourth, how can there be closer collaboration between schools and local businesses after the IPPR think-tank highlighted shortcomings in vocational education? In the week when the coalition celebrated the creation of two million apprenticeships since 2010, this issue is made even more pertinent because of moves to open a new grammar school in Kent.

Fifth, what should be the role of town halls? The controversy over local government cuts is only going to become more acrimonious with the passage of time, hence the need to review the responsibilities of councils and how the care of society’s most vulnerable is to be funded in the longer term. The longer this question remains unanswered, the harder it will be to come up with a solution.

This is not an exhaustive list. Far from it. But they are just five issues arising from this week’s news agenda. They do not all require immediate legislation, but it should not prevent Ministers and MPs from debating these issues and setting the parameters for the next election.

It is, after all, what they’re still paid to do and anything less would be a dereliction of duty on their part.

I SEE politicians quickly rallied to the defence of bored Tory MP Nigel Mills after he was photographed playing the online computer game Candy Crush on his Parliamentary iPad during a meeting of the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

They appeared more concerned about how the incriminating photograph was taken, and any breach of security, rather than the conduct of Mills – and the damaging message that his conduct sends out. I suggest he resigns to save himself from further embarrassment.

I KNOW that it is not fashionable to say “I agree with Tony Blair”, but this was my sentiment when the former premier bemoaned the lack of politicians in public office with little real-life experience.

His words are worth repeating. “At the very time when leadership is needed, the gene pool of political leaders has shrunk,” said Blair in America. “How many leaders... in a Parliament or Congress have real-life experience in responsible positions outside of politics?”

I can only assume that Labour’s former leader has Ed Miliband in his sights. But I would like to ask Blair this question: why did he do the precise opposite when in Downing Street and promote so many nonentities to his cabinet such as 37-year-old Ruth Kelly?

Remember her? I do. She was one of the worst Cabinet appointments in modern politics.

DESPITE all the doom and gloom about cuts, John Redwood – the former Tory minister – has pointed out that public spending will increase by £42bn for each of the next five years.

“That’s tight, but it only becomes a real cut if public sector costs escalate and if the public sector is unable to deliver, say, two per cent annum productivity and efficiency gains which are the bare minimum in much of the private sector,” he says.

CLARE Balding’s decision to scale back her Channel Four Racing commitments – she has opted to present the Boat Race rather than the Grand National when the two events clash – illustrates the prestige still associated with the BBC. Perhaps she’ll reconsider at Sports Personality of the Year tomorrow which is likely to be memorable for the number of credits that the Corporation has to give to rival broadcasters in return for a few token seconds of footage.

I SEE Ukip supporters are blaming a media conspiracy for a number of embarrassing headline-making stories in the past week.

I’d like to point out that it wasn’t newspaper columnists who were blaming immigrants for traffic jams on the M4, alienating mothers who breast-feed in Claridges or being accused of rigging the selection of election candidates.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point: Nigel Farage is more than capable of digging his own political grave without the assistance of others.