Taming the Beast of Bolsover! - Greg Knight MP reports on life at Westminster

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All Members of Parliament have two places of work and two distinct roles.

One is to attend Parliament in order to consent to, or to withhold consent from, the plans of the Government of the day.

This requires MPs to be at Westminster when the House of Commons is sitting.

Then there is the constituency role of dealing with people’s problems.

I take the view that this work is highly confidential and, like a doctor, I would never reveal details of someone’s problem without that person’s specific consent. You will therefore not be reading detailed descriptions of constituents’ personal problems in this column but I do hope to give you a flavour of what is happening at Westminster and to bring you up to date with political gossip.

I do not intend this column to be a detailed diary of the nation’s woes but more an examination of some of the current issues with occasional light-hearted tittle-tattle.

The riots in some major cities last month were a disgrace to our country.

Now that order has returned, some armchair observers want to analyse the motivation behind the looting.

It does not take too much examination to realise that this was criminality, pure and simple.

It had to be confronted and defeated.

The vast majority of law-abiding people are appalled by what has happened in their own communities.

The good news is that more people have recently been arrested, charged and prosecuted.

And there is growing evidence that the recent more robust approach to policing in London has resulted in a fall in offending.

The Government is right to say that whatever resources the police need they will get and whatever robust tactics the police want to employ, they will be given legal backing for.

If you believe everything you read in the press, you would think MPs were always at each other’s throats.

Of course, we all have our differences – and on some issues the differences are very great indeed, often leading to insults and angry scenes.

But there are issues which unite us too. Currently, a growing number of MPs are campaigning for better labelling laws, particularly in relation to food products.

This follows revelations that many packs of meat marked “British” are actually foreign meat which is just packaged here.

And it was revealed as recently as last week that a third of breads, many unlabelled, contain far more salt than is recommended.

Some cuts of chicken sold in supermarkets labelled as “fresh chicken” are chicken fillets pumped with water to make the portion look bigger and then salt is added to disguise the watery taste.

In my view, when this occurs the law should require labelling to display the words “water” and “salt” in a typeface as large as the word “chicken” so that people know what second-rate food they are buying.

Unfortunately, some time ago we gave away many of our powers on food labelling to the European Union and so making any change in the law here now is not easy.

Not many MPs can better the veteran left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner in debate.

“The Beast of Bolsover” – as Skinner is sometimes known – has become something of a legend for his cutting interventions and insulting interruptions, on Prime Ministers and backbenchers alike.

But Mr Skinner doesn’t always emerge as the winner.

A few years ago, he asked then Arts Minister Tim Renton: “How many people in your department are (a) men and (b) women?”

For once, even he was silenced by the reply: “All of them.”