What are MPs up to over EU bill?

Bemused by what's going on as the Commons debates the EU Referendum Bill?

Don't worry, even most MPs will be a bit bewildered.

This is a Private Member's Bill and the rules of debate are a bit different.

There is no time limit on speeches, so long as MPs stay within the rules and avoid hesitation, deviation or repetition.

They can keep on going unless the House votes to end debate - and the Chair won't allow a motion to do that until there had been sufficient debate, and the rule of thumb is that means 90 minutes per group of amendments.

Then you need 100 MPs to vote to close the debate; that's why the Conservatives are on a three-line whip to attend today.

The key fact about this report stage debate is that the amendments - of which there are now over 80 - have been "grouped" into four lumps, each of which must be debated and voted on.

So four groups, each debated for at least 90 minutes (in fact the first group took three hours), followed by a vote which will take perhaps 20 minutes. The Bill's promoter, James Wharton, will be doing well to get through two of the groups today…

Conservative MPs have been urged not to speak, but Labour and Lib Dem MPs are speaking at length, and even offering each other "in flight re-fueling," in which a speaker is interrupted with elaborate parliamentary courtesy: "I thank the Hon Gentleman for giving way; he is making an excellent speech but has he considered….. I'm most grateful for that intervention from the Hon Lady who is a great expert…."

They can drone on in this vein for hours. And do.

And then there are the points of order - and they have been coming thick and fast , with the Chair having to rule on each, on advice from the Clerks….another few minutes wasted!

Most Private members Bills can be killed by these tactics.

They have very limited time available for debate in the Chamber. But for this Bill the Conservative whips have cleared the decks.

Other private members bills are being delayed so that this is the only bill available for MPs to debate on the next available Friday, when it will probably get through to Third Reading and be sent off to the Lords, where much more serious resistance awaits….

So what we're doing today is an exercise in pointing out problems in the Bill - real or imagined - and making Conservatives sweat to get it through.

Just keeping most Tories away from their constituencies on a Friday might be seen as a campaigning gain by Labour.