The Sketch: If Question Time was for anything, nobody now knows what that was

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The Independent Online

Is it me, or is there nothing happening down there? They do what they can to Keep Buggering On, in Churchill's wartime phrase, but there is an underlying - not to say overarching - sense of nothing much happening. The only movement is that of the interregnum moving into its maturity. The standing water does nothing except stand ever stiller.

Hang on, Geoffrey Robinson has lost a little weight. That counts as an event in the scheme of things. When David Blunkett lost weight it was possible to guess at the reason why. What is Geoffrey up to? We can assume he is preparing himself for the moment that his bridegroom cometh. He rose and asked a question. He demanded to know whether the minister would continue with her excellent work opening hospitals. The minister agreed. Geoffrey smiled with satisfaction.

Surely he won't remain on those back benches long past 1 May? But who will he replace? Gordon Brown can't afford to get rid of John Hutton at once. The new ruler must display magnanimity. He must support the man who said "G*rd*n Br*wn! What * ******* awful **** ********!"

Such are the idle thoughts left to us, waiting. Here's another idle thought. Question Time really needs a bit of that modernisation that people talk about. Enoch Powell once said it was foolish to ask what the House of Lords was for. "It just is," he said. "It came about. We don't ask what oak trees are for, do we?" It's easy to react warmly to that sort of conservative thinking when young, but it won't do, really, as time starts running out.

The House of Lords really is for something. But if Question Time ever was for anything, nobody now knows what that was, exactly.

Advocates say it is "to hold the Government to account". Stephen Dorrell pointed out that the number of patients treated within six months has risen from 86 per cent in 1990 to 87 per cent now. He asked: "Is that 1 per cent a good return for all the huge investment?" The minister said that they always needed to do more. Then Keith Vaz said some GP practices put administrative difficulties in the way of people trying to make appointments.

He was told of a pending patient survey. Tim Loughton said the experiences of 50 countries with the Government's "psychiatric Asbos" reveals no medical benefit to them. He was told the report is being peer reviewed. Peter Lilley referred to a General Medical Council finding that there are between 200 and 1,000 applicants for medical positions so why was so much spent on raising the pay of GPs and consultants? The minister said Lilley wanted to cut doctors' pay.

There is any amount to be said on either side of all these questions. But the House of Commons Question Time is neither the time nor the place for it.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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