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Public wrangles over private business

Mark D'Arcy | 11:49 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

Conservative backbencher Peter Bone is having fun this morning, moving his (actually the absent Christopher Chope's) Broadcasting (Public Service Content) private member's bill; but his attempt to get more Commons days devoted to private members' business floundered this week. Mr Bone argued that the current extra-long parliamentary year meant that MPs were owed 13 more days pro-rata to bring in bills on their own account. The Leader of the House, Sir George Young, offered four.

Mr Bone then objected to the government resolution which would have provided four extra days and put down an amendment - and then failed to extract any further concessions from Sir George. I gather the normally affable Leader e-mailed all Conservative MPs, blaming Mr Bone for the need to keep them in the Commons late into Monday evening, so that Mr Bone's amendment could be voted down. And the row over that delayed David Cameron's triumphant appearance alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1922 Committee meeting. The PM and the Terminator were, I gather, kept waiting outside, while the two protagonists slugged it out. And Mr Bone, recognising, perhaps, that he was on a hiding to nothing, has now pulled his amendment, and the House has approved plans for just four extra private members' days.

A storm in a teacup perhaps, but not quite the hands off, "let the Commons be the Commons" approach the Coalition once promised. I'm not sure that preventing a handful of procedurally adept backbenchers from putting down large numbers of no-hope bills, in a kind of Thatcherite performance art, constitutes a death blow to our democracy, but surely part of the point of an independent Commons is to irritate and challenge ministers.

And as for those backbenchers who complain that Messrs Bone, Chope, Hollobone etc have hogged all the slots for extra private members' bills, they should work harder at learning and exploiting the rules of the Commons.

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