Donald Macintyre's Sketch: How do you solve a problem called Maria?

If I was faced with the kind of questions she is faced with, I would really be quite worried indeed

Labour’s Dennis Skinner may not abide by the  letter of Page 396 of Erskine May’s Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament. But he’s obviously a fan of The Sound of Music.

As often, when an MP is in trouble and there’s an outbreak of widespread public angst about whether parliamentarians are up to the task of “self-regulating themselves”, as Labour’s John Mann put it yesterday, the issue – so far from  dominating the Commons itself – seeps into it under a kind of back door.

So Mann, who lodged the original complaint against Maria Miller and was  yesterday denied a formal Urgent Question by the Speaker, asked on a Point of Order what chance there would be to discuss “not the behaviour and actions of any individual Members” – heaven forbid! – “ but the principle of self-regulation of MPs by MPs?”

This triggered a sonorously lengthy reply from Speaker John Bercow that he was glad about the way Mann had phrased it, because “I feel sure that he is well familiar with Erskine May page 396, which specifically stipulates that there cannot be debate on the conduct of an individual… member, other than on a substantive motion. No substantive motion is on the Order Paper, and therefore no such discussion can – or should – take place.”

Which was fine, except that by then Skinner had seen his opportunity to mention the dreaded name, or half of it anyway.

It had “just crossed my mind” he claimed to the Speaker, “and I thought I had better use it before you do: how do you solve the  problem called Maria?”

Bercow assured MPs that it “was perfectly possible” for the issues raised by Mann to be “aired” in an “orderly” way in “the form of a question or debate” before the Commons broke up this week.

Hmm. Given that no main party’s recent past is  untroubled by expenses problems, don’t hold  your breath.

Earlier we had Eric  Pickles. Maddeningly – though typically – MPs failed to use the “Topical  Questions” section of their session with the Communities and Local Government Secretary to raise the one burning Pickles issue of the day: his surprise outburst against “militant atheists” at the weekend.

Boasting of having stopped an attempt to prevent parish councils starting their meetings with prayers, Pickles had announced: “We are a Christian nation. We have an established Church.  Get over it.”

It was tempting, if difficult, as he spoke at the dispatch box yesterday, to imagine him in clerical garb. Difficult, but not impossible.

Hardly the amiable and self doubting hero of the TV series Rev of course.

But put him in a Cardinal’s red robes and he’d be a dead ringer for Thomas Wolsey, “the Scarlet Beast” himself. After all did Shakespeare, no less, not describe Henry VIII’s henchman as a man  “of unbounded stomach?”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
News
The 43-year-old rapper was stopped at the Lamezia Terme International Airport in Calabria after he had played a concert in the city on Friday night
people
Sport
Pedro has been linked with a move to Manchester United
transfers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen