The Sketch: Simon Carr

You want to know about Scotland? Don't ask me, I'm just a minister
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The Independent Online

Lynda Clark, the advocate general for Scotland, scored a hat-trick in question time yesterday. Three successive questions elicited the three most uninformative responses of the year: 1. That's confidential; 2. That's a matter for the Scottish Assembly; and 3. Don't ask me about policy, I'm a law officer.

Brilliant. She's impenetrable. The most admired quality under the Toniban. You just can't get inside her burka. Which is why opposition is so important, as Nicholas Winterton said. For your scrutiny. For your holding the Government to account. Indeed, that's what the House of Commons is for.

So let it be privatised forthwith. Contract the House of Commons functions out to cowboys, Dellboys and fly-by-night Fagins. Tories could reapply for their old jobs, and half a dozen of them might be lucky enough to keep their places But not Jackie Lait. No. Not the Tory haggis who leads on Scotland. No, Ms Lait must never be allowed back in the chamber. She must be arraigned for crimes against democracy, tied into a bag of cats and thrown into the Thames (it's the tradition). The Scottish First Minister's financial irregularities are a disaster for the reputation of the Labour party and the new Scottish Parliament, and just in time for Scottish questions.

Mrs Lait's question on this subject was such a model of plodding incompetence that she made the Speaker look prestigious and that's a sackable offence in itself.To scotch the First Minister Ms Lait rose to the despatch box. It will be interesting for textual sadists to compare this report with Hansard's reconstituted version.

Did Helen Liddell not wish (the answer would be no) "that her predecessors had taken the advice of Tory members of both houses (no) and particularly of Lord Mackay (no) who wished to decouple the relationship between the number of Westminster and Holyrood members (no). And does she not just hope (no). Just a little bit (no) that the result of the consultation of the Boundary Commission. And the, um, this consultation. Is. That. Out. From underneath him. Will be redistributed the first member of the. The first minister. Of Scotland. Helen Liddell said no and that was the end of that.

The degradation of public discourse is far more advanced by the inhuman rubbish talked by Rosie Winterton in the matter of CAFCASS, some wretched quango that's supposed to be looking after children in an integrated, cross-cutting, over-arching sort of way. Labour's David Kidney and Paddy Tipping and the Lib-Dem Vincent Cable put concise questions asking why so many of the quango personnel had resigned. Why it was unaccount-able. Why it was failing the public. Why positions were empty.

Her answers consisted of admitting the problems and then affirming their opposite. Everyone shared the central aim, she explained. The body was fully accountable. Independent evidence showed delivery was satisfactory.

William Cash asked her if the quango had told its staff the Lord Chancellor's department was responsible for unpopular decisions, but told the High Court it was independent of the Lord Chancellor's office. "The honourable gentleman and I have been together upstairs," she began. And everyone laughed so much she didn't have to answer. Such is scrutiny.

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