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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living