The Sketch: Read Labour's lips... no new answers, only evasion

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The Independent Online

Home Office questions. The administrative questions are quite interesting. For instance, is drug addiction in prison now part of the punishment? If gathering ethnic-arrest data was a modernisation, will the next phase of modernisation be to abandon ethnic-arrest data? Are we actually going to have special prisons for mental patients?

But the political answers to these questions are pitiful. A Tory pointed out that a three-person police team can't arrest anyone during busy times because it takes them all off the street for three hours. The answer from Big Lug McNulty went: "They are arresting people under legislation passed in this House by a government doing something about antisocial behaviour in the teeth of an opposition who talks tough but votes soft." Does anyone really wish to know that? And if they do, are they satisfied by hearing it? And what have they heard? If anything?

Vince Cable said the police officers' pay freeze was happening at a time when 80 per cent of the Home Office management received very generous bonuses notwithstanding the fact the department wasn't "fit for purpose". McNulty replies: "Just ****ing shut up, you gonk! ******! ****ing pathetic!'' But my lip-reading's not what it was.

And ministers make their stupid point about the Tories' tax news whenever they can. An opposition herbert pointed out an administrative problem: the Government is well behind on its targets for 24,000 new patrol assistants. The political answer from the Home Secretary was we wouldn't have any new police if the Tories cut £21bn from public spending. What on earth has that got to do with it?

Feeling a little unsatisfied by these exchanges, your correspondent (me, I mean) went off to watch the European Standing Committee considering EU Document No 10014/06.

It was an exercise in futility that would have delighted connoisseurs. For anyone outside the political class, everything was unintelligible. MPs were scrutinising the rate of voluntary modulation of farm payments. What is voluntary modulation? I never found out. Questions are pointless. That's not me, that's what minister Barry Gardiner said. Until the regulation is passed, "the rate of voluntary modulation won't be set" and therefore, "today may prove to be a less than satisfactory scrutiny debate". Hear, hear.