The Sketch: Another Thursday; one more helping of miscellany

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The Independent Online

Thursdays are a miscellany at best; very little of importance happens on Thursdays (no letters, please). But miscellanies have their own charm.

Meg Munn got up for her 10 minutes of fame; it happens every month for the Minister of Equality (sic). Everyone laughs because she isn't paid. Personally, I think she should be paid the same as ministers. Or more precisely, that ministers should be paid the same as her.

MPs are like Polish plumbers. The ministerial market is flooded with cheap labour. This flagrant disregard of the law (of supply and demand) is setting a very poor example to the rest of us. What else? Miscellaneous facts. The cost of nuclear clean-up is £56bn. The German gas price has gone up by 75 per cent in a year. By 2020, 80 per cent of our gas will be imported through the Interconnector. There's been a 23 per cent rise in Chinese prosecutions for intellectual property theft. More than 2.3 million jobs have been created since 1998, and more than 1.2 million young people are neither employed, in education or training. If you work for 30 years you're entitled to a state pension of £3,500.

Into this miscellany, the ineffable Geoff Hoon, acting as Leader of the House, injects as much ineffability as he can spare. He is very well provided for, in that regard. He is like that Interconnector which pumps in Russian gas. His answers can be boiled down to: Yes. No. and: "Well, it's a constant challenge, isn't it?"

Late in the session, David Howarth said something from the Liberal benches that reached through the ineffability. He asked whether the Regulatory Reform Bill "known as the Abolition of Parliament Bill" could go through its committee stages on the floor of the House, "in view of its massive constitutional importance".

Mr Hoon trained in constitutional law and so was able to say: "Yes, no, well it's a constant challenge isn't it, but the position is the case," before sitting down.

Apparently, this Bill which is going through Standing Committee the week after the recess creates extraordinary new powers for ministers. Had you heard about it? You must be a drafting clerk.

The previous Regulatory Reform Bill used to allow ministers to change laws as long as they were "relieving burdens", abolishing regulations. This new reform will allow them to amend any laws they like (bar tax) and create new offences (up to two years in prison) by statutory instrument. That is, without debate or a real vote, or the cumbersome democratic stages of three readings in both Houses.

It is the oligarchy in action. Ministers are putting it through quietly, and we seem to be letting them. As Mr Hoon says. Constant challenge. The position is the case.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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