The Sketch: MPs reading the news? Pigs (and bats) might fly


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Indy Politics

Something was missing in the Commons yesterday. When a department's ministers submit to their regular interrogation, the session concludes with something called “topical questions”.

The MP doesn't give notice of the subject, which is supposed to be, well, topical. Yesterday the airwaves were positively crackling with a scary new survey showing that the people who eat the most processed meat are 44 per cent more likely to die early than those who eat the least. Yet not one MP thought to ask Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson, pictured, about it.

This was even more odd since the MPs had a now routine canter through the subject of horse meat, its main point of interest being the faith the deeply eurosceptic Paterson now has in the EU's ability to solve what he repeatedly refers to as an international "criminal conspiracy". Indeed, he boasted to MPs, he had a "constructive meeting with the French, German, Austrian and Finnish ministers in Brussels" on the subject only last week.

Not that "topical questions" were all boring. The senior Tory Sir Tony Baldry asked whether it was "acceptable" that historic churches were being made "unusable" by "bat faeces". Junior environment minister Richard Benyon appeared to agree that a European habitat directive was being over-zealously applied to the planet's only winged mammals.

Later Sir Tony reminded MPs of York's battle to acquire Richard III's remains, despite a decision to reinter them in Leicester Cathedral. The city's Labour MP Hugh Bayley pleaded for a meeting of experts and clergy to take account of the "wishes that King Richard expressed during his life". But as the Tory Edward Leigh pointed out, the monarch "did not have much time to plan a funeral".

All this was admirable. But not a whisper all morning about that processed meat report. Whatever MPs are reading on their iPads, now increasingly a must-have accessory in the Commons, it doesn't seem to be the news.