Silent man in council tax row

IN ALL the discussions about council tax – and other contentious political issues of the day – one Suffolk MP's name has never been mentioned.I'm often asked why Sir Michael Lord is never quoted on these major issues – it's because he's not allowed to say anything!Sir Michael is Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, but he is also second deputy chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons.

IN ALL the discussions about council tax – and other contentious political issues of the day – one Suffolk MP's name has never been mentioned.

I'm often asked why Sir Michael Lord is never quoted on these major issues – it's because he's not allowed to say anything!

Sir Michael is Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, but he is also second deputy chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons.

That's a posh way of saying he's deputy deputy deputy speaker – and as such is one of four MPs who take no part in party political affairs during parliamentary sessions.

Under strict parliamentary rules he can take no part in debates in the House of Commons – except when he's chairing them – and he cannot state his views on any of the burning political issues of the day.

He has to be seen as impartial for when he's chairing debates.

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There are four full-time speakers for the House of Commons.

The Speaker himself is Michael Martin, who was a former Labour MP but now sits in the House as "The Speaker."

His deputy is Saffron Walden Tory MP Sir Alan Haselhurst, who has the title Chairman of Ways and Means, and he has two deputies: Sir Michael and Labour MP Sylvia Heal.

Although he cannot take part in party political debates – which the council tax row certainly fits into – Sir Michael is able to get involved in other issues which don't split so firmly along party lines.

One of these is the discussion over the future of Broom Hill pool – which is in his constituency.

He has been actively involved in trying to find a way of keeping it open and has been asked to sit on the new panel set up to look at alternative funding for it.

Sir Michael's role in the House of Commons would appear to suit him down to the ground.

He's never been one for the rough and tumble style of politics, and he's never been a politician who's been desperate to see his name in the papers.

After his election in 1983 he straight away got down to constituency business in his own quiet way, and never sought to climb the greasy ministerial pole.

In fact he did put his first step on the ministerial ladder by becoming Parliamentary Private Secretary to John McGregor in the mid 1980s.

However he resigned from this position on a matter of principal – he did not support moves to make Sunday shopping legal – and never figured on the ministerial radar again.

But Sir Michael has carved out a niche for himself at Westminster – he's well liked and respected by MPs from all sides even if he isn't that well-known by the general public.

But he's now 65 years old – and although he's never so much as hinted at stepping down, it's difficult not to wonder how long he sees himself staying on in the House of Commons.

THIS week's documentary about police racism was shocking – but I'm afraid I didn't find it completely surprising, especially the views of the ex-Metropolitan police officer.

I have never, ever, encountered any sign of racism among the police in Suffolk and Ipswich – but then I'm white and middle-class so there's no reason why I should.

But everything I've heard and seen of the police around here seems to be very positive.

But I can't say the same about the Met.

Some time ago – before Stephen Lawrence and the McPherson inquiry – I bumped into someone I had known at school and who was now a PC in London.

Without any prompting, he spewed forth all kinds of racial stereotypes and used the kind of language the nation heard in Tuesday's documentary.

I haven't seen him since. I don't know whether he's modified his views in the light of the report.

But the impression I came away with then was that his views were "normal" in the organisation he was a member of.

It came as no surprise at all to me when the Met was labelled "Institutionally racist."

Clearly the government and senior officers are trying to change this – but I remain to be convinced that their message has been taken on board by the rank and file.

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