Where have all the bills gone?

MPs spend a lot of time at the moment grumbling about the lack of legislative action to keep them gainfully employed in the Commons - but the reasons are more complicated than just the government not serving bills up in good time.

The rules allowing Commons bills to be "carried over" from one parliamentary year to the next are supposed to smooth out the workload, but now they're helping cause a bit of a logjam.

At least two bills - the Deregulation Bill and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill have cleared their committee stage, wherein a group of MPs comb through the fine detail, and could now return to the chamber for report and third reading debates.

But they won't because there is not enough time to get them through the Lords before the end of the current parliamentary year.

Why is that a problem?

Because the rules for carryover only apply when a bill has not cleared the House in which it started.

This may sound arcane, but it means that if any of these bills clear the Commons, they can't be carried over to be presented to the Lords in the new session.

And that's a bit of a nightmare for government business managers; because it means that the Bills in question will have to be debated in June, after the Queen's Speech debate, and possibly before any of the shiny new bills doubtless to be offered up in the new legislative programme.

In practice - given a State Opening on June 3rd, followed by a four day Commons debate, the earliest possible moment for the Commons to debate any stage of any bill is June 11th.

And if that day is allocated for an opposition motion, the leftovers from the 2013-14 session might have to be kicked into the following week.

That in turn means that those bills won't be debated in the Lords till very late in June or at the beginning of July - which may explain why their Lordships are scheduled to sit right up to July 31st.

All this helps explain why the Commons is so visibly running out of steam, now.

There are increasingly strong rumours that the current session will effectively be ended on May 15th or even May 8th - but if MPs are let off early, there's a catch.

Normally the end of the Westminster year is signalled by the slightly absurd ceremony of prorogation, in which Royal Commission of House of Lords worthies don crimson robes and cocked hats and read out a message from the Sovereign in archaic English.

But once Parliament is prorogued, it can't be called back without a State Opening ceremony - and a three, or even four week gap is a long time for the nation to be without its parliament.

Suppose there was an international crisis, or a disaster of some kind?

The solution is to adjourn Parliament, leaving the option of recall open, and prorogue late in May.

Exciting, eh?

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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