Andy McSmith's Diary: An hour debating the use of 'the' – no wonder our noble Lords nod off

Gordon Brown had the worst record for showing up at PMQs

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Indy Politics

I am sorry I missed Friday’s session in the House of Lords, the first riveting hour of which was spent debating a proposal to remove the word “the” from a piece of proposed legislation, and to replace it with “a”.

The debate was dogged by the inability of the noble lords and ladies to agree on which “the” they were supposed to be removing. Was it the first “the” – in which case the legislation would lay down that it was “a duty of the Secretary of State” to meet the specified target – or the second “the”, in which case it would be “the duty of a Secretary of State”?

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean was for replacing the first “the”. He was contradicted by the Countess of Mar, who pointed out – and I quote – “The noble Lord’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Skerlmersdale, reminded the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, that the Lord Speaker said the second ‘the’ when she proposed the amendment. Would the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, like to speak to that?”

That seemed to clear the fog until some minutes later when the Deputy Speaker, Lord Sewel, announced that he had been advised by the clerks that in fact it was the third “the” that was supposed to go, making it “the duty of the Secretary of State” to meet a target.

In the end, they gave up. The amendment was withdrawn. 

Tory’s Valentine’s requests

You are expected to work hard when you are a Conservative candidate, even if you are only running for a council seat in a place where Tory voters are an endangered species. Daniel Hill gamely contested Walkden North, in Salford, last May, and came third, a very long way behind Labour and Ukip. He is trying again this year, but footslogging around his local ward is not all that Tory headquarters expects of him. He tweeted yesterday: “CCHQ seem to think I can campaign in Bolton, Rossendale, Warrington and Weaver Vale on Valentine’s Day. Four emails in one hour.”

Blair loved PMQs stage

The House of Commons Library published an interesting paper on the history of Prime Minister’s Questions, from which we learn that Tony Blair had the best record for showing up at PMQs out of any of the past five prime ministers, and Gordon Brown had the worst.

There is also some polling data. When asked to respond to the statement that “there is too much party political point-scoring instead of answering the question”, 67 per cent agreed, 5 per cent disagreed. For that 5 per cent who think there is too much answering the question and not enough political point-scoring at PMQs, I feel nothing but respect.

Paper blizzard at the FO

The Foreign Office had a problem they could have done without yesterday, in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, when their email system packed up and staff were running around hand-delivering bits of paper. The system was back up again by mid-afternoon.

No match for ‘Delilah’

The ruckus over the 1960s hit “Delilah” is an excuse to retell a story about its lyricist. For those who missed the fun, the Pontarddulais Male Voice Choir was feeling flat at the weekend after it was banned from singing “Delilah” at the Wales vs England rugby match. It was a smash hit half a century ago for Wales’s favourite crooner, Tom Jones, but the organisers thought a song about a woman being murdered by her jealous lover was not in the best of taste. The lyricist was Barry Mason, who co-wrote other hits. One day, he was in the toilet at a posh hotel when a man standing nearby started whistling “The Last Waltz”. “I wrote that,” said Mason.

“I thought Les Reed wrote it,” the other replied.

“Yes, but I wrote the lyrics.”

The whistler replied: “I wasn’t whistling the lyrics.”