The Sketch: Dirty boats and dirtier jokes in the House

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The Independent Online

Maybe it's hysterical deafness but I'm sure I heard reference to the Royal Angrier Regiment. The British Army would rather have one of them instead of a Royal Anglia Regiment, surely? And then the Speaker called for the Sexual Offences Bill to begin with the words "Secretary of State Bonkit!" Wouldn't we rather one of those than a Blunkett? A female colleague was quite sure she would, saying: "Oh yes, oh yes. Oh God! Don't stop!"

It was unusually impenetrable yesterday - baffling even for connoisseurs of bafflement. Elliot Morley answered an Urgent Question with a statement so opaque as to defy comprehension. Indeed, it was so unintelligible that we were half-way through before we realised we hadn't understood anything at all. I rang up his office to get a copy of it, but kept getting Ben Bradshaw's answering machine. Brilliant, actually; impenetrable at every level. The urgent question concerned toxic ghost ships doomed to roam the oceans until or unless they could find a berth in Hartlepool. What the actual question was eluded me, let alone the answer.

What I've got written down is this: "Morley: 'The notifier applied for their waste licence to be modified in accordance with the EU regulation allowing for the variations permissions under the Habitats directive that this invalid licence reverted to the original trans-frontier arrangement that was not eligible to be completed on the terms of that consignment note.'"

David Liddington always sounds better than you think he's going to (he rather brilliantly uses his appearance to manage our expectations firmly downwards). It appears from what he said that the Government and its agencies were all over the shop and (as Mr Morley put it) "the scrip shaps, ahem, scrap ships" were told to stay in America by one of our agencies shortly before being told to come on over by another one.

Chris Bryant came in on the Sexual Offences Bill early with an intervention: "There's an assumption in this House that we all know what a brothel is." As we scoffed and jeered and tried to think of some more appropriate heckle than "Speak for yourself!" we heard Mr Bryant tell the House that under the legislation, a brothel is "anywhere that people may resort for lewd homosexual behaviour". So the laugh was on us. The under minister reassured Mr Bryant that brothels were to be restricted to places offering prostitution. Which is what everyone assumed in the first place.

Then there was talk of "blanket requirements" and being "watchful for abuse" and I started to feel like I was trying to wring double entendres out of the material like a housewife wringing the moisture out of a wet towel. But this couldn't be an appropriate response as they were talking about sentences of up to 14 years for buying sex from a 16- or 17-year-old. That seemed one of the maddest ideas that this parliament has yet considered. If anyone thought Michael Howard was a draconian Home Secretary we can safely assume that history has not only caught up with him but cantered on by.