The Sketch: Muzzled Widdecombe cornered by The Millbank Hunt

THE FIRST matter to arise in Home Office questions was the Government's tagging initiative but Labour MPs were far more interested in Mr Hague's gagging initiative, an experimental programme designed to allow Ann Widdecombe to lead a useful life in the community, but which will automatically ring an alarm bell in central office if she utters the words "fox", "hounds" or "unconscionable savagery in this day and age".

Labour MPs already exhilarated by the breeze of radicalism stirred up by Mr Blair's statement on fox-hunting were even more refreshed to find that the Conservatives' most effective saboteur had been disabled over the weekend.

So when Ms Widdecombe eventually got to her feet, to rasp her cheese- grater voice across the House's sensibilities, she was greeted by Labour MPs with a raucous tally-ho. Some members imitated hunting horns, others simply cried "halloo" at the sight of the prey.

Ms Widdecombe paused briefly to scent the air, then moved onward: "The Minister", she said, "will be aware of the story that emerged over the weekend". "Yes! Yes!" shouted Labour hunt followers, urging their frontbench hounds onwards. Unfortunately we had to beat across quite a bit of dull country before we picked up the trail again.

Ms Widdecombe wanted to know whether ministers had been aware of threats made by the convicted terrorist Patrick Magee before his early release. It wasn't Magee at all, replied Geoff Hoon, and besides he wouldn't comment even if she got the name right.

Then there was a rather boggy detour into questions of electoral reform, enlivened only by a splendidly irascible contribution from Eric Forth, who gave the impression he thought it had all been downhill since the introduction of universal suffrage and that anything to cut the numbers making it to the polling booths was to be encouraged.

Perhaps they might even be located at the centre of mazes, to ensure that only genuinely determined citizens would exercise their democratic rights. Jack Straw shrugged off his intervention quite easily, gently reminding Mr Forth that it had been more than 100 years since the electoral arrangements had been looked at and that "life has moved on since then".

His colleague Paul Boateng had a much harder time, though, with a question from Andrew Mackinlay from his own side. Mr Mackinlay wanted to know why British Transport Police didn't have powers of arrest outside their own jurisdiction and he was so fierce about the matter that it looked as if he might seize Mr Boateng in a half-Nelson and march him down to the local station on charges of wasting public money.

Even the thick and unguent ointment of Mr Boateng's manner couldn't quite salve the sting here, though he tried, raising his eyebrows and smiling suavely, as if it was Mr Mackinlay who should be embarrassed by this little outburst, and not its target.

Then, at last, we were back to the hunt, with Geoff Hoon confirming to the House that the Government was "actively considering how to take this matter forward". Labour were cheerfully provocative, Conservatives genuinely indignant.

Douglas Hogg was the first up on the Conservative side and the first MP to draw a comparison between the Government's release of convicted terrorists and its prospective imprisonment of innocent fox-hunters, but he wasn't the last; Michael Colvin got up to highlight this entirely theoretical irony too.

Neither man made the obvious logical leap - that both issues might be resolved to their satisfaction if future terrorist releases took place in the Quantocks of Somerset - ten minutes downwind of a well- regulated pack of hounds.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders