The Sketch: Hatbox's replies are like verbal snoring

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The Independent Online

MP payments scandal! It's not declared in the Members' Register but Harriet Harman gouges money from the public purse every month in the form of "a salary"! Pathetic joke, it's the best I can come up with after an hour of listening to her.

Her answers as Leader of the House are the verbal equivalent of snoring. When she gets up, her first word is very often, "Ummm..." Then she repeats the question in a dazed way and finishes by saying she notes the concern, and she's concerned and she will pass the concern on to the people concerned with the concerns.

Ann Cryer asked about those schools again who are refusing to display leaflets and give advice on the avoidance of forced marriages. It used to be Harman's special subject. "Perhaps Ofsted can shed some light on the matter," she murmured.

Alistair Carmichael asked about the trainee journalist in Afghanistan facing death "for downloading and distributing a report on the oppression of women". She said the Government was always concerned at all times and would stand up for free speech in all countries.

The ad for that product called "the intelligent duvet" flashed across my mind, I don't know why.

Having criticised John Bercow for his 70-word questions, I have to tell you that Hatbox speaks a good deal more slowly than Bercow and took 186 words to reply to Richard Shepherd.

There's often a bit of a sob at the bottom of Shepherd's larynx and it was evident when he asked about the Lisbon debate. It's being guillotined so savagely, he said, that the borders, visas, asylum and immigration parts were not debated at all. "Get out the Kleenex box!" Chris Bryant jeered from his PPS's position. He thinks he's being loyal, perhaps and that people will notice.

James Clappison asked whether Harriet's imagination stretched so far as to say that what has taken place in the Treaty debate amounts to detailed, line-by-line consideration? She was able to say: "Yes." And it wasn't a lie. She wasn't saying there was a line-by-line process but that her imagination was extensive enough to conceive of some alternative reality where this could be true.

George Young on European scrutiny: the Liaison Committee thinks her proposals are so bad they need to be withdrawn before Thursday. At the end of a 157-word reply, she said: "We want to get something that everyone agrees is an improvement on the way we currently scrutinise European business." A clear failure, but she didn't say she'd withdraw the motions.

PS: Conway debate. Blah, blah, blah, blah. With one good suggestion from David Winnick: If MPs employ family members, let them record it in the Register of Interests.