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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 12:19 GMT
Commons Confidential: January 2008
Nick Assinder
POLITICAL DIARY
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Despatches from the House of Commons
1130 GMT, THURSDAY 24 JANUARY

Could it be true - Scotland's national dish, the delicacy the English either love or loathe, but never fully understand, is under threat.

Some haggis
Scotland's iconic dish is under threat
The haggis, it appears, may be on its last legs - not that it has legs, of course.

And, no, it is not that it has been hunted to extinction.

According to a Commons motion from Orkney and Shetland Lib Dem MP, Alistair Carmichael, a decision to withdraw EU support for the training of butchers in Scotland, the "iconic dish" might disappear.

He points out that a recent survey showed a number of haggis producers in Scotland said there was now a shortage of skilled workers in the craft butchery trade.

And he has called on the government to do everything possible to ensure that the haggis industry in Scotland is adequately supported.

Now if ever there was a campaign a celebrity chef should take up, surely this is it.

1600 GMT, WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY

Quote of the day comes from the prime minister during question time when asked about home secretary Jacqui Smith's remark that she did not feel safe on London streets after dark.

Police demonstration
Some of the record numbers of police
Puffing up the government's record on law and order, Mr Brown declared: "There are more police than ever in our country and we will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our citizens."

As one backbencher pointed out after the session - there certainly are large numbers of officers on the streets - many of them heading for Downing Street in particular to protest at their staged pay rise.

... At least they would have been heading for Downing Street if they had not been banned from that particular route under Labour laws.

1200 GMT, TUESDAY 22 JANUARY

Commons leader Harriet Harman has shown a new willingness to answer difficult political questions.

Harriet Harman and colleague at previous meeting
Ms Harman has no doubt economy is fine
As ministers pitched up for the weekly cabinet meeting in Downing Street they were greeted by shouts from the assembled media about the economic situation.

Most were reluctant to make any overly-precise predictions - the official line simply being that, thanks to Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling's handling of the economy, the UK is "well placed to withstand this uncertainty in the global economy".

No such Whitehall-speak or fudging from straight-talking Ms Harman, however.

When asked whether Britain would be pitched into recession she brusquely snapped back: "No."

So that's that then, all is well, no need to worry.

1630 GMT, THURSDAY 17 JANUARY

What is the one text message an MP does not want to receive?

Andy Burnham
Mr Burnham had confessed without telling his mum
"PM wants to know exactly what you said on Today programme," perhaps?

Or: "Who was that woman you were pictured with in the News of the World?"

Apparently not. According to chief secretary to the Treasury, Andy Burnham, it is the one which reads: "You had better give your mum a call - she's a bit upset."

This is the message the minister received from his brother last July after his confession that he had smoked cannabis "once or twice at university" appeared in the newspapers.

"That was the first my mum had heard of it and, believe me, it's the message you don't want to receive," he told journalists at a Westminster lunch.

1530 GMT, WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY

File this one under "bolting the stable door" - the prime minister has today unveiled a new body created to advise the government on risk.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown needs to handle risk better
The Downing Street website reveals: "Gordon Brown has announced the formation of a new council aimed at transforming the way Government deals with high profile risks."

Now, I know it doesn't mean the sort of risk we are all thinking about (how to handle party donations and the dangers of ministers taking their eye off the ball) but timing is everything.

And, by the way, the body will be known as the RRAC - which sounds like something certain ministers are very familiar with at the moment.

1530 GMT, TUESDAY 15 JANUARY

No one would accuse "cheeky" Lib Dem frontbencher Lembit Opik of any lack of enthusiasm.

Lembit Opik
Mr Opik was asked to kindly leave the room
However, even for him his latest eagerness to get stuck into his new housing portfolio went a bit far.

He turned up at the standing committee of MPs examining government legislation in the area, all fired up and ready to argue his party's case.

Unfortunately, not just any MP can sit on a standing committee they have to be selected - so Mr Opik had to be very politely asked to leave the room.

1630 GMT, 1130 GMT, THURSDAY 10 JANUARY

Now there are moves to ban hands-free mobile phones from cars, it was probably only a matter of time before there were calls to ban the use of sat nav units.

A sat nav system
Call for car sat navs to be banned
A new petition on the Downing Street website declares, perhaps reasonably: "Firstly, most road users mount them in the middle of the windscreen, creating a blind spot. Secondly I see drivers tapping in details onto the screen while driving all of the time, surely this is just the same as "send a text message" which is illegal. Thirdly, It is also illegal to have a tv screen within the drivers view, surely the gps device is a form of a screen? "

Then, however, the petitioner appears to betray another agenda, adding: "And finally, yet another old fashioned skill is being lost as dumb drivers blindly follow what a computer is saying without even picking up a map and attempting to plan a route for themselves."

I'll bet they said the same about maps once. They killed off the old skills of plotting routes by the sun and star - that's a real man's way to navigate.

1630 GMT, WEDNESDAY 9 JANUARY

Talk about tempting the fates.

British troops
Minister praised new computer system for servicemen's pay

A Labour minister in the Lords, Baroness Crawley was answering questions over servicemen and women sometimes not being paid the correct wages.

She took time to praise the new computer system which allows them to check up on their salaries.

"The system has been successfully rolled out on time, to budget to all three services," she said.

She then added, perhaps foolhardily: "It is a major IT change programme, one of the biggest in the world I am told - so I hope nobody downloads it and puts it in the post."

Nice to know ministers, at least, can retain a sense of humour at such times.

1630 GMT, TUESDAY 8 JANUARY

Parliament's Portcullis House is infamous for being one of the most expensive office blocks ever built, and for suffering a list of "teething troubles" since the day it opened in 2001 at a cost, it was said, of 1 million for every MP housed in it.

Big Ben and Portcullis House
Portcullis House suffered some teething troubles
The air conditioning didn't work, escalators broke down, even the coffee machines couldn't deliver water at the right temperature.

So it is nice to know something works - perhaps too well.

Apparently, the fire alarms are hugely efficient, having led to the complete evacuation of the premises no fewer than 13 times last year alone.

Just picture the sight of hundreds of MPs and staff standing outside on the banks of the Thames shivering, or being rained on as fire officers investigated the suspected blazes.

Then imagine their emotions as they were told on 10 of the 13 occasions that it was a false alarm.



SEE ALSO
Commons Confidential: December 2007
08 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: November 2007
05 Dec 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: October 2007
05 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: July/Aug 07
15 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: June 2007
03 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: May 2007
04 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: April 2007
19 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: March 2007
17 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: February 2007
06 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Commons Confidential: January 2007
05 Feb 07 |  UK Politics



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