His Ability to Fill Airtime with Verbal Padding Was Impressive
Byline: QUENTIN LETTS
SHOULD the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, ever find himself with some spare time - it could happen, you never know - he should be snapped up by the Radio Four gameshow Just a Minute.
Towards the end of Defence Questions yesterday, Mr Hoon matched the late Kenneth Williams at his Just a Minute peak.
He did not quite flap his wrists and say 'matron!' with nostrils flared, but his ability to fill airtime with verbal padding was every ounce as impressive.
Question Time lasts for an hour a day. The Order Paper lists about 25 to 30 prewritten questions from MPs. Seldom do ministers waffle past the first 15 questions.
Yesterday there were 24 questions. Several Hon Members were away on fact-finding missions/foreign freebies/hot-pash trysts with their pneumatic assistants. The House was not full. Business moved at an unprecedented pace.
The session started at 2.30pm.
By 3pm we had trundled as far as question six, about European defence policy. By 3.15pm we had reached under-strength regiments (question nine).
Just another normal day.
Then a series of mishaps occurred. We had the parliamentary equivalent of a batting collapse. Quite a few MPs who were listed on the Order paper failed to show. Their questions were bypassed. Faint unease fluttered across Mr Hoon's gaze.
Lindsay Hoyle (Lab, Chorley) was down to ask about the Hawk 128 Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft.
Mr Hoyle was absent. Bill Tynan was listed to raise the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft. Of Mr Tynan, plus several other question-setters, was there none. Ivor Caplin is a long-knuckled minister who, viewed from certain angles, can resemble a prehistoric caveman.
Across his broad brow formed contours that in Neanderthal cavespeak might translate as 'oggrunff ?' - or in modern English, ''ere, wot's goin' on?'
Anne McIntosh (Con, Vale of York) now played a dirty trick. York's tweed- skirted Miss Right, hitting question 13 with all her pert power, demanded to know what the blazes was happening with the RAF's new Typhoon fighter. …