Swabians, chairs and clerks

Fun and games on the James Wharton EU Referendum Bill, with the first committee stage session finally staggering to a close at half-past midnight, having disposed of just two groups of amendments…

The snail's-pace of debate signals that Labour and Lib Dem MPs seem determined to fight an attritional battle against the Wharton Bill, perhaps with the intention of ensuring it is not triumphantly passed through committee by the time of the Conservative Party conference.

A bleary-eyed Mr Wharton told me he thought the committee had now got past "initial chest-beating" phase. But he expected it to have to sit for several more days to dispose of the vast volume of amendments raised up by his opponents.

But at least he had the rare honour of a prime ministerial visitation; David Cameron, who was addressing the backbench 1922 Committee a few doors down the committee corridor, paid a brief visit. No-one can remember another instance of a PM showing his or her face at a bill committee, which suggests that he's developing a surer touch with the troops.

But the upshot of last night's shenanigans - at one point the Lib Dem Martin Horwood was listing major historical events which took place on 31 December, the planned deadline date for a referendum in 2017, including the Vandals and Swabians invading Gaul in 406 AD, and the birth of Sir Alex Ferguson in 1941 - is that we can expect the committee stage to drag on well into October.

Titanic battle

Elsewhere another titanic electoral battle was being fought out. Last night, the Labour former minister Fiona MacTaggart emerged as the victor over the Conservative Peter Bone in the contest to be the Commons co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on people trafficking.

By the standards of APPGs, the turnout of voters (all MPs and peers are entitled to vote) was considerable, with a group meeting of Labour peers being held in one of the rooms helping outweigh the strong turnout of Conservative MPs on the corridor for the '22 meeting.

Unusually, both sides seem to have been running a whipping operation on behalf of their candidates - each snarling "they started it!" at the other….

Young guns

Finally, much Olympian amusement in the Lords, at the Commons celebrations for the 650th anniversary of the appointment of their first Clerk - Robert De Melton, the first known Clerk of the House, who took office in 1363.

The Lords note that their top official, the Clerk of the Parliaments, predates that appointment by nearly half a century. King Edward II appointed the first known holder of the office in 1315 at a Parliament held in Lincoln.

And then they add the killer line: "Of course they don't mention the proper title of the Clerk of the Commons....Under-Clerk of the Parliaments."

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