Hairless good boyo creates dazzling effect

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The Independent Online
To begin at the beginning. It is afternoon in the great brown, gothic brown, MP bobbing, minister yelling House. And on a green bench at the front, William Hague - Secretary of State for Wales and very good boyo - is alternately answering questions and dreaming of leading his party.

Destined for greatness, Hague seems to radiate light from an opening in his head. This is because his pate, almost entirely devoid of follicular product, is for some reason the shiniest at Westminster. Other hairless heads are matt finished, but Hague's is done in skin-coloured deep-gloss, polished with an expensive chamois by an extremely competent and vigorous chamber-maid. Together with his agreeable smile, the effect is - literally - dazzling.

A Yorkshireman himself, all around him he hears the lilt of the valleys, as Welshmen (no women), ask and reply to questions. Win Griffiths (Lab, Bridgend) speaks in Chapel language of youngsters being "imbued with moral purpose and direction". The hirsute and virile-looking junior minister, Gwilym Jones (who is as hairy as Hague is smooth) delivers himself of non sequiturs and absurdities, in a beautiful, almost musical voice. "Anyone in any doubt about Labour's lack of priority for the health service, should look at what they've done to education," he says at one point.

But it is Alan Williams (Lab, Carmarthen) who really gets things moving. Mr Williams suffers two disabilities: one - that he has a voice exactly like Gladys Pugh from Hi-de-hi - is involuntary. The other - a haircut borrowed from Ringo Starr in 1964, and never subsequently restyled - is of his own making. He raises the case of a Mrs Tattersall and her seven children, who inhabit three rooms in Llandovery. His colleague Allan Rogers (Lab, Rhonndda) asks how many are on the housing waiting list in Wales. The minister is indignant - of course they don't have figures for the homeless, and no histrionics will force them to produce any. But he can tell the House, apparently, how many new trees have been planted in the principality. Which leaves the strong impression that the Welsh Office is far more exercised by treelessness than homelessness. "What about tree- houses?" heckles one Labour member.

The shadow Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, with that handsome plausibility which characterises so many Welsh politicians, is baiting the Tories over law and order, which can "only be restored by spanking schoolchildren and shooting burglars". This is a reference to Welsh Tory, Walter Sweeney (majority 19, Vale of Glamorgan), who is sitting opposite. Mr Sweeney, a large, half-varnished wooden man (who looks like something that I once made in woodwork class, but decided not to take home) apparently believes in instant and summary justice for burglars. If I saw him late at night, canvassing in my driveway, I'd certainly wonder where I'd put that Olympic .22 calibre handgun.

Mr Sweeney is a fan of yet another Welshman, Michael Howard, who is presenting his Bill for banging everyone up for ever. Harrying him from argument to clause is my final Welshman, Alex Carlile (Liberal Democrat, Montgomery). Mr Carlile is retiring at the next election, and that is the only sense in which he is retiring; in every other way - with his curling lip and glasses halfway down his nose - he is wonderfully arrogant. For every smooth elision of Howards, Mr Carlile has the answer. If the government had thought sentences too lenient, how many had the Attorney-General appealed to have increased? No reply. Weren't some criminals going to have less supervision and shorter sentences as a result of the proposed legislation? Apparently so. We will miss Mr Carlile.