26th May 2000 at 01:00
Sam (again) will have to tread warily in future. The minister provoked one of those rare outbursts of cross-party unanimity when he referred to the Parliament's venerable education, sport and the arts committee as "my committee."

This possessiveness, nay affront to parliamentary democracy, outraged the Liberal Democrats' Jamie Stone who said he hoped it would not happen again - or words to that effect. Even the ultra-loyalist chair Mary Mulligan slapped his wrists for implying the committee was not independent of the Executive.

"We all know the minister talks in a very fiendly way," Mulligan said enigmatically, but in future he should be more "restrained".

It was left to Peter Peacock, the deputy, to act as sweeper and his reply showed he has a future as a civil servant of the Sir Humphrey class should his political career ever bite the dust. The reference to "my committee" was not meant to be taken in the possessive sense, Peacock said. "He meant that this is the committee to which he relates and to which he accounts."

We felt another fine distinction coming on - "guidance" and "guidelines" on sex education springs to mind.

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