The Sketch: Careless talk can be rather taxing

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The Independent Online

It's the fault of my notes not his speech patterns. But it's a close call either way. The point about Mr Prescott's gloriously free-form syntax is that one always knows exactly what he means. How different to his highly educated colleagues - what they say could mean anything. As circumstances change they can adapt what they said through a wide arc of meaning.

He stuck to his script, down to the pre-prepared jokes. One ended up: "Now we've got the Dirty Dozen!" He was referring to the Tories standing for the leadership. It sounded such an unpleasant thing to say, I started wondering about the lack of nastiness that's been settling around the House. Has some deal been done on the respect agenda? It's not a bad idea - we have merely been taking them on their own estimation after all. If the received idea about our leaders is that they are lying, deceitful, power-mad callous, greedy and cruel, it's only because we have believed what they tell us.

Into Standing Committee D for ID Cards. We mustn't rush to judgement. But what a flat-foot Tony McNulty, the Minister for Immigration, is.He was asked by Bournemouth MP, Tobias Ellwood, to give an example of ID cards foiling a terror threat anywhere in the world. "I shan't," he replied. Nor did he accept the word "terrorism" was useful in a definition of "national security". He didn't want definitions of anything much. They were "unduly" or "dangerously" specific. He wanted to catch activities remote from terrorism (renting a car, or a house) that might be a far-flung part of a terrorist process. But not mention terrorism. How else could they get convictions?

He has 60 separate powers to make regulations under this Bill, but he won't tell us what they are. National security, probably. No wonder he doesn't want to define it.