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The day I addressed the Commons when drunk

Tuesday 07 September 1999 23:02 BST

IN ALAN Clark's Diary, he tells how, in July 1983, he faced his first questions in the Commons as a minister and was a success. But everything did not go according to plan next time after the MP decided to visit a wine-tasting before appearing in the House at 10pm.

"We `tasted' the first bottle of '61 Palmer, then `for comparison' a bottle of '75 Palmer then, switching back to the '61, a really delicious Pichon Longueville ... By 9.40 I was muzzy."

As he smoked "a huge Havana" in the back of his ministerial car on the way to the Commons it became obvious the Order needed lots of work that he had no time for.

He had been instructed to "just stick to the text". "As I started [to read], the sheer odiousness of the text sank in ... Helter-skelter I galloped through the text.

"Sometimes I turned over two pages at once, sometimes three. What did it matter? There was no shape to it...

"Up bobbed a teeny little fellow, [Greville] Janner by name, a Labour lawyer who always wears a pink carnation in his buttonhole.

"He asked me what the last paragraph meant. How the hell did I know what it, meant?"

Things got worse: "A new Labour member whom I had never seen before called Clare Short, dark-haired and serious with a lovely Brummie accent, said something about she'd read that you couldn't accuse a fellow member of being drunk, but she really believed I was incapable.

"`It is disrespectful to the House and to the office that he holds that he should come here in this condition.'

"Screams, yells, shouts of `Withdraw', counter shouts. General uproar ... The House was alight.

"Soon, wearing an uneasy half-smile definitely not catching my eye, appeared the figure of the Leader of the House, John Biffen, to sit in his appointed place.

"Now this was a bad sign. The Leader only attends a debate after ten o'clock when their is a major row. And a truly terrible threat began to seep through me."

The division was called but Mr Clark found little sympathy among his colleagues in the Lobby. "The `little garden gnome' Peter Rost sidled up and said, `After a performance like that I almost considered voting against'."

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