The Sketch: Why you can't legislate for the talent of a cunning PM

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The Independent Online

Those who say the Prime Minister lies should consider yesterday's PMQs: "... if there were such requests for any type of equipment for Afghanistan or elsewhere, it would be a duty to meet those requests".

Now, we all know that the Army needs more helicopters in Afghanistan. They're trying to lease civilian helicopters. Brigadier Butler, late of 16 Air Assault, said they wanted more helicopters. And yet the Prime Minister must be telling the truth or he'd never get away with it. How has he done it? Seriously? How has he arranged his statement to be true even though it isn't true?

We saw it again when Cameron taunted him about his successor. Does he endorse Gordon Brown? The PM gave the economic stability speech he always gives. Brownites said that their man had at last been publicly endorsed; but Blairites said the opposite. Amazing. Only our Prime Minister can mean so many different things to so many different people. He creates a sort of littoral truth. Depending on the tide, the demarcation changes between the shoreline and the sea.

As football commentators used to say: "You can't legislate against talent like that."

Around now, the Speaker joined in, to universal pleasure. The old booby launched himself when Cameron asked about the prime ministerial succession. That was out of order, the Speaker ruled. The Prime Minister could only answer on government business. The leader of the Labour Party, he said, is not government business (it is, a bit, the way things work).

"Are you honestly saying," Cameron started well but unwisely. You shouldn't poke the old brute when he's asleep, even if he's on his feet. Cameron then repeated his original question about the succession and the Speaker declared: "I'll allow that!" Let's just leave it.

Jack Straw's new proposals for the legislative process are much less important than his proposals for MPs' postage budget. They recognised this and gave far more thought and energy to the latter. His serious, well-received proposals for Standing Committees are entirely pointless.

That a Bill Committee (as they will now be) can call for expert evidence is a little late for pre-legislative scrutiny.

Also, the Government (in the form of its whips) will decide how many evidence sessions will be allowed (because they appoint the Programming sub-Committee). Even if the Speaker manages to get a member of his Chairman's Panel to preside over the Bill Committee, there's nothing in Straw's proposal to say that he or she will have any influence over the sub-committee.

As Andrew Tyrie provocatively asserts: Get rid of standing committees. They're just there to clear up government mess that shouldn't be made in the first place.

simoncarr@sketch.co.uk

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