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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK

Goodbye, green benches

Nyta Mann

Overnight on Thursday, after four weeks with no MPs, one by one and count by count the 2001 House of Commons intake will be revealed. But we already know some of the grandest names that will not be returning to Westminster.

John Major, Tony Benn, Mo Mowlam and Sir Edward Heath are among those who have taken their leave of the green benches.

The departure of Sir Edward and Mr Benn sees the final disappearance from the Commons of the generation that fought in the Second World War.

The Conservative former prime minister retired after more than 50 years as an MP - long enough to have become Father of the House.

Former cabinet minister Mr Benn, the veteran left-winger and noted parliamentarian who came within a whisker of winning his party's deputy leadership in 1981, was the longest-serving Labour MP.

That both men had achieved the status of fixtures and fittings of the House is reflected in the fact that one of the final acts by MPs of the last parliament was to grant them the freedom of its premises and facilities.

Peerages spurned

Both have spurned the idea of travelling the short distance across Westminster's central lobby to the Lords.

Indeed Mr Benn left Westminster with the knowledge that he made a lasting difference to the place by becoming, after a long battle, the first peer to renounce his title to take up a seat in the Commons.

When he first announced his intention to stand down from the Commons at the end of the last parliament, it was so he could have "more time to devote to politics and more freedom to do so".

He wasn't joking, having spent much time in recent years warning against the increased undermining of parliament's right and duty to hold to account an executive decreasingly inclined to attend it.

Another ex-prime minister leaving the Commons but refusing a place in the Lords is Mr John Major, the man who led the Tories to their most cataclysmic defeat for nearly a century in 1997 - but had earlier, lest it be forgotten, led them to a victory in the 1992 election that took almost everyone by surprise.

Ms Mowlam, the hugely popular former Northern Ireland secretary, is also understood to have refused a peerage.

She stood down as an MP after an unhappy end to her parliamentary career.

Though she remained in the cabinet for the full stretch of the last parliament and despite being a Blairite, she ended up moving to the Cabinet Office in a job that never really gelled.

Political assassin

Senior Commons retirees who have accepted a seat in Another Place include Michael Heseltine and Sir Paddy Ashdown.

Mr Heseltine, who now has more time to spend with his arboretum, is of course the man who will always be best remembered as Margaret Thatcher's political assassin.

When the crown passed to Mr Major instead, the then-Henley MP became deputy prime minister, president of the board of trade (a title he resurrected to replace the plainer "trade and industry secretary") and, famously, the occupant of a Whitehall office the size of a tennis court.

Former Special Boat Squad member Sir Paddy left the Commons without seeing his grand hopes fulfilled of a "progressive coalition" with New Labour.

His fellow Lib Dem Robert Maclennan, a defector from Labour to the Social Democratic Party who became its leader briefly before taking it into a merger with the Liberals, will join them in the Lords.

Ex-ministers bowing out

Other Tories standing down include Sir Norman Fowler and Teresa Gorman.

Former Health Secretary Sir Norman goes to the Lords - as do former Transport Secretary John MacGregor and former Defence Secretary Tom King.

As the MP for Billericay, Ms Gorman's enemies and admirers alike saw her as a fitting parliamentary representative of Essex girls.

She was also a stalwart Tory feminist, consistently backing abortion rights and railing against the chauvinistic nature of a male-dominated Commons.

The maverick Eurosceptic was one of the eight MPs who had the whip temporarily removed for voting against the government on a confidence motion towards the end of John Major's prime ministership. But during the 2001 election campaign she failed, as had been rumoured, to come out for the UK Independence Party.

One Labour chiefs won't miss

One MP the Labour hierarchy is glad to see the back of is the member for Brent East, Ken Livingstone, the left-winger who was a regular thorn in the party's side.

Other Labour names that have gone are Malcolm Chisholm, who stood down as junior Scottish Office minister in protest at the government's policy on lone parent benefit; former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies and Welsh First Secretary Rhodri Morgan.

Mr Chisholm will now concentrate his efforts in the Scottish Parliament and Mr Davies and Mr Morgan will continue their careers in the Welsh Assembly.

So too will Plaid Cymru's former leader Dafydd Wigley, who left to focus on the Welsh Assembly seat he won in 1999.

Devolution has seen a notable change to the candidates' lists in this election, with 11 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and five Welsh Assembly Members (AMs) deciding not to run again for Westminster.

There is no legal requirement for them to do so, but that is the practice being adopted by those who have had dual portfolios.

So notable figures including Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish and Scottish National Party Leader John Swinney have relinquished the Commons brief.

Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader John Taylor and Ken Maginnis, the party's pro-Good Friday Agreement security spokesman, have also left the Commons and will go to the Lords.

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