The Sketch: Falconer votes for his own Judgement Day

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The Independent Online

Pessimists don't expect to hear anything interesting in Scottish questions, and things were running to form before the optimists were vindicated.

Someone whom I'd never seen before in my life - frankly I doubt whether anyone will see him again - stood up at the Tory front bench and told the House that a quarter of 1 per cent of pension credits in Scotland were being paid into post office card accounts. "Is that too little or too much," he asked. Try to interest yourself in that question. A minister with big, wild, highland hair replied with something achingly inconsequential and finished by snapping: "Let me look after my own constituents!" It all explained why whisky is so important to Scotland: it's nature's great anaesthetic.

Then it was that Gregory Barker asked a question. You can't help thinking Mr Barker has been held upside down in too many flushing lavatories at his public school (hence the hair). He observed that we were a third of the way through the Government's 10-year transport plan, so he wanted to know whether trains were a third more reliable, roads a third less congested and so forth. Minister Darling made a revealing answer, itemising the billion here and the billion that was being "invested" by the Government. He made absolutely no mention of what this money was doing, merely that it was being spent.

This is important because "investment" in the NHS is now up to European levels and yet returns are woeful. After seven years the Government is still climbing its learning curve. If only they'd pay for their own education, in the way they want us to.

Charlie Falconer really has done well for himself: from legal hack to one of the very highest offices in the land. That's an arc that rivals Jeffrey Archer's. But when asked on radio about the reasons for abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, he admitted that the system was working perfectly well already, that judges were beyond criticism, and that the essential problem was that he, as Lord Chancellor, couldn't be trusted to do the job. That's why reform was essential. You can't help liking a politician who tells the truth like that.

Alan Duncan asked the Secretary of State whether he'd seen the latest Gay Times? Given the difficulty he might have in reaching the top shelf? Charmingly put, considering. Mr Duncan pointed out that the Government's proposal to make judges "more reflective" of society (ie, more gay, disabled, ethnic and women judges) would result in their judgments being scrutinised for the appropriate bias.

But was that all he disapproved of? Very far from it. The abolition of the Lord Chancellor was a classic New Labour construct, he had told the House: "It wins a momentary headline; it projects an image of radical momentum; it brings no benefit to anyone; it has shallow intellectual roots; it will probably cost a fortune and it pollutes a proven structure with the taint of party politics." Mr Duncan is by the far the best dressed member of the Commons, I think we can trust his account to be scrupulously fair to both sides?

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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