Parliament The Sketch: Puppy-dog Fabricant has to be put down by the Speaker

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The Independent Online
POOR MR FABRICANT. He is so eager, so hasty, so puppyish in his manner that it is impossible not to love him, or to entirely quell the urge to pat him on the head. Partly this is curiosity, I confess - if you could just touch those sleek golden locks, you feel, you might be able to solve the lingering mystery of their composition.

But it is also because he takes his reversals so well - irrepressibly good-humoured in the face of opposition rough-housing. Tip him over on his back and he just scampers back for more.

Unfortunately, puppies are not always able to contain themselves at moments of excitement, and yesterday Mr Fabricant revealed that he is still not completely House-trained.

The accident happened like this. The first two questions on the order paper in Treasury Questions were about the government sales of gold. Mr Fabricant was up second, eagerly nipping at the Chancellor's ankles in a way that suggested he was in line for one of the chief whip's chocolate drops. But he became so agitated by Mr Brown's reply (the equivalent of a cursory boot in the chops) that he lost control of himself. He rose again to bark out a furious point of order. "Due to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply Madam Speaker", he said, "I give notice that I intend to raise that matter on the adjournment". This is a pretty standard way of expressing indignation in the House, quite often employed by that serial expostulater Tam Dalyell. But Mr Fabricant had forgotten, along with virtually every one else present, that such a move has procedural implications.

Ms Boothroyd had not. "In that case I will move straight to question three", she said briskly, reminding Mr Fabricant that all further exchanges on the matter were now out of order. This was bad news for Francis Maude, who had just loaded both barrels and was even now tensing to rise into firing position. He sagged back as Labour's bemused snorts ripened into gleeful laughter.

Nor was Mr Maude the only one to be dismayed by Mr Fabricant's incontinence. If he could have reached, I think Sir Peter Tapsell would have smacked his colleague on the nose with a rolled-up order paper, so apoplectic was he to have his hobby-horse cut from under him by friendly fire. He made a valiant attempt to continue the assault, spotting his opportunity during a question to Patricia Hewitt about what steps the Government was taking to make sure that people in poorer communities had access to financial services. What about poorer communities in South Africa, raged Sir Peter, features suffused with indignation. Did the Government care nothing for the 2,500 Ghanaian miners who, along with their dependants, had been plunged into abject poverty by the drop in the world price for gold? ("Plunged" is one of Sir Peter's favourite words, pronounced with a hell-fire relish for irreversible catastrophe.)

His passion for the rights of oppressed Third World workers has arrived late in life but, like many belated converts, his devotion to the cause appears to be all the fiercer for it. Some Labour MPs are reluctant to believe that Sir Peter is in earnest, that this radical internationalism simply looks better than lobbying to protect the profits of multinational mining companies. But I wonder. I think Sir Peter hankers after a place in the sun. If dank cul-de-sacs in Hackney can be named after Nelson Mandela, surely there is room for a Sir Peter Boulevard in Soweto or the Tapsell Memorial Leisure Centre in Accra.

Yesterday, Ms Boothroyd cut him off just as he was getting into his formidable stride. She wasn't about to have her procedural triumph undermined like this - but the workers of Ghana and South Africa can take comfort, the sword shall not sleep in his hand.

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