By George Jones, Political Editor
Last Updated: 1:11am GMT 04/11/2006
The House of Commons is suffering from a plague of mice, but the authorities have turned down requests for a cat to scare them away.
Aaaaaah!! There's a mouse in the House!
They can be seen regularly scampering around reporters' rooms, and even in the bar in the press gallery. The small brown mice are increasingly bold - even tame- emerging in the evening.
One was found contentedly eating crumbs on a political correspondent's desk, and was not disposed to move until the last morsel was consumed.
The Daily Telegraph room has several mice running around on the floor, or nesting behind their computers. They have been seen running up and down desks, and over the computer keyboards, leaving behind unsavoury droppings.
The latest invasion could be another sign of global warming. But it is more likely to be the result of major structural changes to the Press Gallery during the recent long summer recess, when the rooms were shut up for months.
The work appears to have forced the mice out into the open. Requests for a House of Commons cat to do its traditional job of catching vermin have been rejected by the "authorities" on health and safety grounds.
A mouse once annoyed Winston Churchill as he was given a post-war speech. Instead of listening to Churchill's speech, the other MPs were busy staring at the mouse.
Anne McIntosh, Conservative MP for Vale of York, asked for a cat to be introduced after seeing mice in the Commons Tea Room. "I was told it could not because it would get too near the food. So it's all right for the mice to get near the food, but not the cat."
She said that on another occasion she was in one of the Westminster cafeterias with her husband, John Harvey. He had left his canvas briefcase open for a while. Later, when he opened it up again, a mouse, which had earlier been dining in the cafeteria, jumped out.
"I screamed," she said.
The pest controllers are being called in but they are pessimistic about the prospects for eradicating the mice.
Small traps containing poison have been a permanent feature in the Palace of Westminster for some years - but the mice avoid them, preferring more nourishing scraps from take-away food and snacks, increasingly consumed at desks by journalists and MPs.
There is also a suspicion they have developed an immunity to poison.
Six years ago, there was consternation when a small brown mouse appeared in the Commons chamber during a debate on a Bill to allow members of the Irish Parliament to stand for election to Westminster. Unlike its political counterparts it showed no compunction in crossing the floor of the House.
To cries of "shame" the mouse moved from the Labour benches, across the chamber and over to the Opposition.
Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten was also a witness to the mouse's brief political career.
He said at the time: "It flirted with New Labour for a bit and came to the Tories, and as a Liberal Democrat I made a lunge for it - but like an England cricketer I let it slip.
"I think the moral of the story is we need a cat to try and stop this sort of thing happening in the future."
Once a mouse upstaged Winston Churchill when he was delivering a mighty post-war oration in the Commons. Astonishingly, he could not command the attention of MPs.
Instead, all eyes were on the small brown mouse, which was slowly and purposefully crossing the floor of the Commons from beneath the Government benches to the Opposition benches across the way.