The Sketch: Migration debates sound better with Carla Bruni

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The Independent Online

"Was that Carla Bruni on your phone?" I asked. Anthony Steen replied with fine comic timing. "I don't know, I didn't answer it."

"Not the caller, man, the ringtone!" His phone had gone off in the middle of Phil Woolas' observations to the European Scrutiny Committee.

Carla is one of those pretty girls who sings to give us an excuse to look at her. She's a bit like Minister Woolas in that regard. He has rather a fascinating voice, beguiling and gossipy. But he doesn't look like Carla, and though he speaks English I couldn't understand him any better than I do her.

He did say he didn't know how many migrant workers there were in Britain. It surprised Bill Cash into saying: "That's very honest of you!" Also, his words caused an alarm to go off in some whip's office because the next time the minister said "I'm going to be honest with you," a bell started ringing and everyone left the room.

How many A8 and A2 migrant workers are in Britain?

He gave us a stream of figures with one, 665,000, meshed in there towards the end. That's "the stock" as he put it. Excluding people here for less than a year, and those in collective accommodation (by my estimate another 665,000).

James Clappison asked him to repeat the figure. He wouldn't. "I've told you already." Did the Office of National Statistics have a different figure? "They speak for themselves." Weren't they a government body? "I speak for the Home Office." But the ONS had produced a lower figure (487,000) and one more suited to the Government's calm-down requirements. Why, Clappison asked, wouldn't he use their figures?

There was no answer to that. Maybe Mr Woolas doesn't like Mr Clappison. Maybe he doesn't like the Office of National Statistics. Maybe they're a bit too independent-minded to be used as a government source. Only time will tell.

Moving back through the day, the Business Rates Supplement is going to raise £600m and was given four hours' debate.

John Redwood said how abject the House of Commons had become. Its whole function is to grant supply, and yet a £20bn Treasury supplement had been nodded through this week without even having been on the Order Paper. Let alone the famous "quantitative easing". No vote on that, no debate even.

"We are happy to debate economic policy at any time in this House!" the PM had declared.

But it isn't really so, is it? Had there been a debate on the £44bn extra lending the banks were said to have signed up for? "The quantitative figure" as Gordon called it.

And what about the £1 trillion of backing we're up for? Has that been put to the House?

No. We just nod along dreamily, as though listening to a Carla Bruni song.