Mr Hain's evil twin, Hoon's joke, and an issue of security

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The Independent Online

When Paul Tyler broached the subject of security in Business Questions, the Speaker jerked upright so quickly the blood drained from his brain to his opposite end. Through the oxygen starvation he spluttered: "I am responsible for the security of this House! The worst thing we could do is to discuss security on the floor of the House!"

Really? Would that be the worst thing? If we go through the moral calculation, can't we work out something even more alarming? If a condom full of anthrax were lobbed into the proceedings and an old booby led 400 MPs out of the chamber to infect two million Londoners ... wouldn't that be worse than talking about it? And is that what he's planning to do?

Again? Or not? Or are we really not allowed to discuss it? Mr Hain responded toadily: "Can I very much welcome what you said on security?" To which the answer must be: "I don't know: can you?" He went on to say how criticism in the press of the security arrangements had been "bitterly resented by you and myself". Was this the same Peter Hain who had kicked off Business Questions last week with a swingeing attack on the "old fashioned culture" in the Serjeant-at-Arms office. No it wasn't. That had been Mr Hain's evil twin. Or a robot. Or a mass hallucination.

Geoff Hoon was in an extraordinarily good mood during all this. He made a joke. People laughed. He baited Nicholas Soames by ignoring his many questions. He smiled, he dispensed his bland vacuities with an amused air. Something's up, you know. There's a reshuffle due. What could he have been told about his future? That he's been fired? No wonder he's cheerful.

He came to the House to announce a mysteriously small number of extra troops to be sent to Iraq, even while he predicted an upsurge of violence. It was to do with the elections. No, not the Iraqi elections you fools, the local elections here on 10 June.

The real troop deployment can be announced after the protest votes have been counted.

For we did learn that British troops will certainly be committed to a larger role in a wider zone. He boasted of it, if you listened carefully. "There are a range of issues we are currently considering," he kept saying, when asked how many troops were to be sent where and when and what for. It only means one thing (or two things, if you include its opposite).

But it was all we had to go on, for, as the Speaker had said: security was not to be discussed on the floor of the House.