The first day back after the recess is like the first day of a new school term: endless inquiries about have you had a good holiday (for me the holidays seem like – and were – weeks ago). The House was in a very good humoured mood at the first question time with tributes to the outgoing Leader (Cathy Ashton – off to be the new Peter Mandelson in Brussels) and courteous welcomes to Ministers performing in their new roles for the first time.
Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, informed the House that he knew that Cathy had not been expecting the move and he could testify to this, having been having lunch with her when the call came from No 10. Jan Royall, the new Leader of the House, then regaled everyone with the fact that she had been having a swim when the Prime Minister’s phone call came. (There is a worrying emphasis on fitness amongst our new leadership – Steve Bassam, the new Lords Chief Whip, told me that he was in his running shorts about to go for a jog when his call came.) Finally, Andrew Adonis, the new transport minister having been promoted from his previous job in education, told the House that he had been at the Wallace Collection when the Prime Minister phoned and had been roundly ticked off for taking a call there by one of the custodians.
Pleasantries over the House then got stuck into the minutiae of the Planning Bill for the next seven hours.