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Baron Whitby’s barren year battling for Birmingham: one question and £23K in parliamentary expenses

Baron Whitby’s barren year battling for Birmingham: one question and £23K in parliamentary expenses

🕔07.Jan 2015

Mike Whitby, the former Tory city council leader, famously promised to “battle for Birmingham until the day I die” when he was elevated to the House of Lords just over a year ago. So, it’s a good time to examine the workload of the Baron Whitby during the past 12 months, says Paul Dale.

On the face of it, it’s not what you would call battling. Some light skirmishing, perhaps.

Apart from a formal maiden speech, his Lordship has contributed only once in the Lords as a follow-up to a question he submitted, according to our research.

That was on July 23 when he rose to ask Trade Minister Lord Popat what the Government was doing to increase trade with China (see below).

The noble Lord has not spoken in any debates according to Hansard, nor is he recorded as being a member of any select or all party committees.

He did, though, attend the Conservative party conference in Birmingham where he spoke at a fringe meeting in the Library of Birmingham’s ‘Lord Whitby Room’, named in recognition of the key role the former council leader played in delivering the £188 million library which is now facing severe financial difficulties and the prospect of significantly reduced opening hours.

From October 2013 when he became a peer to July 2014, the latest period for which records are available, Lord Whitby attended the House of Lords on 62 days and claimed a total of £17,700 in allowances and £5,645 in travel costs. He voted on 59 occasions, always remaining loyal to the government, but was also absent for several votes according to Public Whip.

Lord Whitby lists several directorships in the parliamentary register of interests, a number of which are out of date. As well as declaring substantial shareholdings in Skeldings, the Black Country engineering firm he owns, he claims to have a remunerated position as leader of the Conservative group on Birmingham city council, a job he gave up in May 2014.

Perhaps the 66-year-old is still finding his feet in the upper house, or it may be his good works are going on behind the scenes and the results are yet to become clear.

When he left the city council in May 2014, Whitby promised to stand up for Birmingham in his new role, declaring at his final cabinet meeting: “Although I am ending my time with the city council, I will be back in another form, continuing to battle for Birmingham in the House of Lords whichever party is running the city council and whichever party is in government.

“Whether it is to push for the equitable distribution of funding, the recognition of what this city can do to complement the nation’s growth agenda and project the harmony we have with the cultural diversity in this city – which is second to none and something we can all be proud of.”

And before that he told the Birmingham Post: “I plan to take our message to London and beyond.

“This peerage gives me the opportunity to continue that work and is an extension of my political career. I will not give up pushing the case for Birmingham until the day I die.”

Chamberlain File readers will recall that Whitby’s parliamentary career got off to a rocky start after he was admonished by Conservative whip the Earl of Shrewsbury who had to remind the former council leader that the House of Lords “is not a club”.

Shrewsbury sprang into action after Whitby, who was still a member of the city council, excused himself from attending council meetings on the basis that he was under a three-line whip to be in the House of Lords. But this was incorrect, Shrewsbury pointed out.

The Earl of Shrewsbury explained: “I am his Lords whip, and I can assure you that we haven’t had a three-liner for a very long while, and Lord Whitby is not a member of Her Majesty’s Government but a very new backbencher, and learning.

“The noble lord should perhaps realise that having accepted a ‘working peerage’ he should do something about it. This place is not a club, and he was sent here for a purpose – to support the Government in its legislative agenda. And to respond to the Whips!”

Conservative whips subsequently let it be known that Whitby had been placed on “probation”.

For the record, here is the only known question asked by Baron Whitby:

Lord Whitby (Con)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase trade with China.

to which he followed up the minister’s answer with;

Lord Whitby (Con)

I welcome the Minister’s reply. My question relates to visa applications. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, visited China recently, he vowed to address the visa difficulties confronting Chinese tourists, business employers and students wanting to come to Britain. Will my noble friend kindly update the House on what progress has been made to ameliorate these difficulties? Also, having visited Birmingham International’s extended runway yesterday, where he witnessed the inauguration of a direct flight from Birmingham to Beijing, will my noble friend welcome that extra airport capacity, and will he use his office to ensure that Chinese airlines use it?

Lord Whitby was contacted this morning by the Chamberlain Files to comment on his parliamentary work, but so far has not been available.

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