Ministry of silly questions

Parliamentary debates give MPs the chance to hold government to account. But not all lines of inquiry are worth pursuing, as Mike Bonnet discovers

The interrupted and infamous question almost asked by John Hemming in the House of Commons wasn't the only significant query raised in Parliament last week. As the Speaker reprimanded the Liberal Democrat MP for "flouting" a court order, the repercussions of which could drastically change media-privacy law in this country, a matter of equal importance raised by Life Peer Lord Jay of Ewelme was finally resolved: the fate of Albert, the stuffed anaconda who resides in the library of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Lord Jay, who has sat in the Lords since 2006, submitted a written question to the House on 9 May concerning the Government's plans "for the future of the stuffed anaconda in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office library". And just shy of two – no doubt sleepless – weeks later, the Government responded and it turned out that the anaconda had a name.

The Minister for the State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Howell of Guildford, replied: "Albert, the 20ft-long stuffed anaconda, has graced the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) library for more than a century.

"He remains proudly in place, just as he did throughout the noble Lord's distinguished career in the FCO, and continues to be held in great affection by FCO staff. We have no plans for Albert other than to clean and stuff him from time to time."

If his intention was to ask the strangest question heard in Parliament, Lord Jay has some competition. Last July, Labour MP John Spellar, who by some twist of fate is now shadow Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, asked the Secretary of State for Health: "whether he plans to ban the sale of (a) tea and coffee with sugar and (b) cheddar cheese sandwiches in hospitals". The Government responded tersely – and somewhat bemusedly – with "no".

Former Conservative MP David Amess also fell foul of the House in 1997, when he asked a question in the Commons about "cake", the fictional drug that featured in the satirist Chris Morris's spoof documentary Brass Eye.

Yet all of these questions pale when compared with the eccentric questioning of the European Commission President from former Dutch Liberal MEP, Florus Wijsenbeek.

In 1998, Mr Wijsenbeek, who was apparently concerned about the fate of shoes that were being washed ashore, enquired whether the commission was aware that "in a single winter 68 left shoes and 39 right shoes were washed up on the Dutch island of Texel and 63 left and 93 right shoes were washed up on the Shetland Islands?", before continuing: "Does the commission consider this a fair distribution and is it prepared to provide a fair allocation of shoes between each member state?"

Somewhat disappointingly, though not altogether surprisingly, the commission's response was negative. Undeterred, Mr Wijsenbeek's other claim to fame is being the subject of an official reprimand by the College of Quaestors, the body responsible for maintaining discipline among MEPs, for repeatedly riding his bicycle through the parliament building in Brussels.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?