The Sketch: Minister is not just out of her depth - she can't swim

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The Independent Online

The House of Lords really shouldn't be reformed, it's doing perfectly well as it is; and by the iron laws that govern these things, Jack Straw's modernisation proposals can only make matters worse.

As a case in point, they've sent back the Government's extradition proposals, heavily amended, in an attempt to give British citizens the same sort of protection against extradition to America as American citizens have against being deported to Britain. They - undemocratic, unelected, indefensible - have been protecting British liberties far more effectively than the Commons.

To repudiate their Lordships, Joan Ryan came to shake her box of Cheerios at the House, yesterday. She is the minister, selected by some combination of Buggins turn, affirmative action, and sheer, shuddering incompetence, to force through the Government's will (to stand shoulder to shoulder with George Bush).

She is the unfortunate creature who misled the European Scrutiny Committee last week, putting in a performance only very slightly better than Alan Clark's on the day his career collapsed. It's not just that she's out of her depth (that's the case with most of us): the problem is she can't swim.

She read out her argument, and had a few planted interventions to help her along (they were obviously planted because she was able to read out her responses, fingers moving syllable by syllable across her prompt sheet). But when she responded to interventions she couldn't help saying things like "evidence" and "information" were the same. You can't say that in a room full of lawyers.

The important Lords' amendments are based on the idea that we have to produce "evidence" (uncontradicted by the accused) to extradite Americans, but they only have to produce "information" (or as we call them, allegations) to extradite Britons. Joan pulled a phrase out of her Cheerios box: "This is rough parity." Or "not parity" as we say.

The Tories argued the case on the legal technicalities, and Edward Garnier needled Dr Demento Reid expertly. He got him up saying something so unintelligible I've had to edit it for clarity: "I wasn't saying there was no reciprocity but he was requiring identity to get reciprocity into today's position." There's no need to talk like that. That's showing you're out of your depth but that you've had swimming lessons.

Emily Thornberry brought up the prospect of Britons ending up in Guantanamo Bay under these allegations. Joan Ryan reassured us it wouldn't happen. But that if it did happen it wouldn't happen again. Cheerio!

simoncarr@sketch.co.uk

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