‘Parliament at its best’

Thame MP John Howell
Thame MP John Howell

YOU would have to have the emotional detachment of a Vulcan not to have been affected by two special Parliamentary occasions this week – the budget and the vote to commit British military personnel to enforce the UN resolution on Libya.

Whatever your view on whether we should be taking action in Libya or not, the occasion showed Parliament at its best.

I heard some of the most moving speeches since I became an MP – many of these came from MPs who had had personal experience of combat.

It was a far cry from the gung-ho, jingoistic comments which characterised the headlines of some of our national newspapers as colleagues re-lived the often harrowing effects combat had on them.

It was difficult not to recall the words of the marriage service during the debate that this was a decision not “to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.”

During the rest of the week I have had the opportunity to question those involved in the operations including senior military figures.

At the heart of all our fears was that without our intervention there was near certainty that Gaddafi would have turned his assault on Benghazi into a humanitarian catastrophe on a par with the massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica – a compelling reason to support the commitment of our forces.

The Budget is always a great Parliamentary occasion but of a somewhat different character.

I appreciate that there will be different views on the budget but I thought this was good news for Thame and for the constituency as a whole and three reasons shone out.

First, the measures on fuel duty will be welcome to those who have lobbied me intensively on this over the past few weeks.

It’s not been a unanimous view that we should help keep petrol prices low.

One local opposition councillor argued we should not do so as high petrol prices encouraged everyone to cycle.

As a highly rural constituency, the car here is not a luxury but a necessity.

Secondly, 80 per cent plus of our economy comes from the private sector and small and medium sized businesses make up the bulk of that.

They have already welcomed the reduction in corporation tax in the budget and the extension of the small business rate relief.

Thirdly I really welcome the £250m shared equity scheme which will help 10,000 first-time buyers get on the housing ladder.

Finally, in the midst of these great Parliamentary occasions, one debate probably slipped by everyone.

MPs voted to reject the salary rise they had been awarded by the independent regulator. Worth just noting, perhaps?