Oh, they are titchy today, aren't they," declared National's Nick Smith, attempting to further wind up the already coiled springs on the Labour benches in Parliament yesterday.

Smith, of course, meant "tetchy" not "titchy". But "titchy" could catch on. Its meaning - "very small" - could perhaps be extended to include being irritable with the Speaker.

Labour MPs were certainly exhibiting a certain "titchiness" towards Smith's namesake, Lockwood Smith, who may

now be wondering why he is making the effort to require National's Cabinet ministers to be more forthcoming when answering questions from Opposition MPs.

This initiative to make ministers more accountable to Parliament would seem to be to Labour's major advantage, however its

MPs appear to think the Speaker is being less than consistent in applying his ruling and constantly remind him when ministers' answers stray from what they were asked.

Labour's frustration boiled over yesterday with its MPs complaining not only about the quality of ministers' answers, but also the length of some answers, the Speaker allegedly telling ministers how to answer questions, and his purported failure to punish Government MPs for interjecting.

One MP guilty of the latter was Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who delighted colleagues by derailing Phil Goff's attempt to make the Prime Minister look unknowledgeable by asking John Key what was the current status of the New Zealand Skills Strategy developed by Labour.

After Key's less than detailed responses, suggesting he was not overly acquainted with the document, the Labour leader sought leave to table a copy of the strategy so the Prime Minister could be "better informed".

"That was so last year," interrupted Bennett, her putdown rubbing in the fact that National was now the Government.

Goff's complaints to the Speaker about Key's answers followed similar questioning of Key's replies to Goff's separate questions asking whether the job summit talk of a nine-day working fortnight meant workers would suffer a 10 per cent wage cut or whether they would get some financial recompense from the Government.

The insistence of Goff and other Labour MPs on proper answers was coming close to biting the hand that feeds.

However, Labour's Michael Cullen, a former Leader of the House and current "Father of the House", then somewhat surprisingly took a different tack by pondering aloud whether the Speaker had in fact bitten off more than he could chew with his accountability initiative.

He said once the Speaker got into the business of trying to determine whether a minister had answered the question, then the Speaker had to make a judgment on the detail of what the minister had said or not said. Cullen effectively questioned whether that was a role the Speaker should assume.

Cullen's intervention was remarkable in that he seemed to wish to axe an initiative from which Labour stands to gain.

However, his remarks suggest that a voice of long parliamentary experience does not think the Speaker's brave new world is really a goer.