Young head stays cool under MPs' scrutiny: Seven-year-old takes appearance before select committee in his stride. Charles Oulton reports

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The Independent Online
A LATE train from Norwich and problems in London on the Circle Line had made him breathless by the time he appeared before MPs in the Grand Committee Room, a condition he tried to remedy with several gulps of water.

But by the 39th minute and after several invitations by the MPs to tell them what he did at the Avenue After School Club in Norwich, he was sufficiently composed to answer their question and he did so with none of the parliamentary obfuscation so familiar on such occasions. 'When we get there,' he said in a voice squeaking with tension, 'we have some sandwiches for tea.'

As parliamentary revelations go, it does not compare with William Waldegrave's defence of ministerial subterfuge, or Lord Howe talking about the Pergau Dam, but it caused a stir nonetheless, if only because of the witness's age. William Scott, 7, is not the youngest to appear before a committee in the Houses of Parliament - that honour probably goes to one of a number of children who appeared before select committees in the 19th century - but he is certainly the youngest in recent times.

When he appeared before the all-parliamentary group on parenting, which is taking evidence on the changing needs of the family, it was difficult to distinguish the witness from his mother, Jean, so closely intertwined had they become. But as he became accustomed to his surroundings - the room's last big occasion was the grilling of the Maxwell brothers - his mother released him and he was out on his own.

The first rule of giving evidence: stay cool. It was an important day for William, the hero of his school, and he did not want to let anyone down. Hand on chin - three MPs promptly followed suit - he looked around, familiarised himself with the arched carved ceiling and the grey stone walls and then read a note passed to him by one of the MPs.

'Hello William, We are all very nice really, Peter Thurnham.' He pushed it away with an audible sigh, like a senior civil servant reading an indecipherable message from a junior aide.

It was clear from his few utterances that he enjoyed his after school club, which he attends three hours each day after school so his parents can both continue working full-time. In answer to several leading questions from MPs, he agreed he would be cross if he was not allowed to go to the school, he liked playing outside, playing games, particularly computers, and he had lots of friends.

He dealt circumspectly with questions from the press about what he had thought of his interrogators. He agreed the questions were sensible and that he might like to meet John Major. But it is sometimes difficult to fathom children. What did he really feel about the day? One clue perhaps. His reading matter on the train down: the Gunpowder Plot.

(Photograph omitted)

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