This comment is re-posted here, beginning this time with its final sentence:
…. my biggest overall impression is that there was nothing, NOTHING [during the years that Swire felt free to speak in Parliament] requiring any substantial expertise that a new Independent MP like Claire Wright couldn’t have done just as well if not better.
Hugo Swire became a minister in 2010, so we should get some indication of how he behaves as a back bencher from his time as an MP prior to 2010 – though in opposition at this point of course. I guess we should expect that, as an opposition MP charged with holding the Labour government to account, we should be seeing a far more questioning approach. Fortunately, his contributions are available online as part of the Hansard archive for us to review, as follows:
In 2006/2007 session, Hugo spoke in the commons on only 15 occasions – that’s 15 occasions out of several hundred sitting days and several thousand hours of debate, though of course not all of these 15 occasions actually contained anything of any significance. For example on one of these occasions he only said “Will the right hon. Lady give way?” to Tessa Jowell – not exactly earth shattering. He did speak about the lottery funding of the 2012 Olympics, the BBC and drugs in prisons on several occasions.
He started rehearsing his role as a Foreign Office minister by asking asking about Gaza, but did manage to mention East Devon a couple of times – on one occasion pleading for better protection against wrecks like the Napoli at Branscombe, and on another occasion to congratulate Devon Air Ambulance on backfilling for shortcomings of the NHS. However he did not secure a single debate on issues of serious import to East Devon.
So that is two mentions of East Devon in 2006-2007 but without securing any specific debates about issues affecting East Devon. Not IMO exactly good value for money – several hundred thousand pounds in salary and expenses for one short plea for support for the coastline after a shipwreck.
In 2007/2008 session, he spoke on 27 occasions. He rehearsed further for his ministerial role with questions about Zimbabwe, Afghanistan & Serbia, Muslim law, bank support for South American exports, and relationships between Harriet Harman and foreign oligarchs (perhaps he felt this was something he should research in case he needed to know about it in his future role). He also spoke about art collectors (presumably based on his expertise as a fine art auctioneer), female genital mutilation (not sure about his expertise on this subject), the sale of Shackleton barracks, casinos / gambling (again), election funding (oh, the irony considering the current scandals), called for hard evidence in support of government arguments about foetal abnormalities (oh, irony again given the lack of hard facts during the referendum), farmers growing eco-fuel, and against the EU Lisbon Treaty.
But to his credit he did speak very briefly about Job Centre closures in Sidmouth, Exmouth and Axminster, about cut-backs in care for the elderly, about the Waterloo-Exeter rail link, about funding for community power and heat generation in Cranbrook, pensions funding for Devon & Somerset Fire Service. More notably he secured two debates about the closure of Post Office Counters in small communities, and about the sell off “to the highest bidder” of Rolle College, Exmouth and more generally about education funding in East Devon cf. UK averages. (Of course, the Conservative government of which he was a minister made education funding in East Devon even lower cf. UK average, but surely that should not detract from his stance when in opposition, should it?)
For 2007/8, having secured two debates for East Devon issues I would mark Hugo as delivering better value-for-money than the previous year, though undoubtedly there were many more occasions where he could have spoken about issues of importance to East Devon and 27 occasions in several thousand hours of debate is not exactly a major contribution to political thinking. So, still poor value-for-money.
IN 2008/9 Hugo spoke on about 40 occasions. He continued his rehearsals for a ministerial role for a 3rd year running with comments on Afghanistan, Iran and Gaza, and drew on his expertise of army life (a very short experience indeed – a bit like his university experience) to ask questions about reductions in the strength of the TA, equipment shortages, and armoured vehicles held up in Israeli customs. He also spoke about transparency for MPs expenses (whilst his position on transparency was unclear on this occasion, we know from his outburst re his families use of tax havens that he is not that keen on transparency), on reducing the number of MPs (but funny how the government he was a minister in failed to make this happen), on getting more people registered to vote, on Labour economic disaster, Swine Flu, funding for local councils for heritage archives (of course later made made MUCH, MUCH worse under his own government), banks privatised after the financial crisis, Lyme disease, that we should join the Euro (yes – really!), and the perception of MPs having their “noses in the trough at a time of an economic recession if not a depression” (irony again). But he also spoke very briefly about tourism and taxes on furnished holiday lettings, road links to Exeter Airport and funds for mitigating its environmental impact, marine conservation cf. MV Napoli, Samurai Sword crime in East Devon, SW educational funding (again), fuel poverty (particularly in Exmouth), the EDDC judicial review into boundary changes, and secured debates on much higher than average sewerage charges in the SW, and about the MSC Napoli shipwreck.
So again, Hugo secured debates on two areas of interest to East Devon, by 40 comments in several thousand hours of debate is hardly stunning. Still terrible value-for-money.
Hugo spoke 28 times this year. He spoke on Gaza/Hamas/Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, USA/Argentina/Falklands, EU regulations, on restricting freedom of protest (in Parliament Square), on Lyme disease (again), on treatment for wounded armed servicemen, TA funding (again), bovine tuberculosis, pensioners cold weather payments, dementia, lottery funding, and unitary government in Devon, educational funding for Devon, upper gastro-intestinal surgery (based on a complaint by a constituent), water charges in the SW (though this time for drinking water rather than sewerage), Met Office redundancies, raising a 69 signature petition about home education (but of course later being a minister in a government that ignored petitions with several thousand times as many signatures) and securing a debate on Seaside Town Regeneration to discuss tax changes for furnished holiday letting.
Whilst this was perhaps a shortened parliamentary year (because of the election), 28 comments including securing one debate is still a pitiful result. Conclusion: Still poor VFM.
I should add that with the exception of the debates he secured which he introduced with a substantial speech, most of these were short comments or questions rather than making any serious points.