Brecon and Radnorshire by-election: The sneaky technique of debating a writ

By-election Image copyright Reuters

What is it about writs - the Parliamentary motion to trigger a by-election - when it comes to Brecon and Radnorshire?

Wednesday's kerfuffle - with Plaid Cymru's Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts alleging that the laying of the writ has been delayed so that an incoming prime minister would not be greeted with an embarrassing result on the very day they win the Conservative leadership contest - sent me scurrying to my files.

Rewind 24 years and some virtuoso parliamentary manoeuvring by Labour veteran Dennis Skinner went on around the writ for the previous by-election.

In 1985, Enoch Powell seemed close to pushing his private member's bill to outlaw embryo experimentation through the Commons.

The Unborn Children (Protection) Bill would have made it illegal to create a human embryo by in vitro fertilisation for any purpose other than to allow a woman to have a child.

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Week ahead in Parliament

The view from Westminster bridge Image copyright AFP

Call me a cynic, but the unbearable lightness of Monday's Commons business (and indeed the preceding Thursday's), with no votes due and hardly a select committee sitting, suggests an unofficial long weekend policy is now operating.

This is allowing MPs to turn up in Westminster on Tuesday and sidle off again on close of business on Wednesday - a policy which will continue at least until the arrival of a new prime minister and which may well last until the summer.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Parliament remains becalmed. Behind the scenes Westminster may seethe with politicking and angst, but the front of house legislative agenda is threadbare, leaving MPs to busy themselves with nuggets of technical legislation and general debates.

And until there is a new government, armed with a new agenda, expect more of the same.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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And the big Commons question this week - and indeed for the weeks to come - is "will there be a contested vote of any kind?"

At the moment the whole machinery of government and Parliament is just barely ticking over, waiting for a new prime minister and a new agenda; all substantial legislation is on hold, so the Commons and Lords are mostly dealing with minor technical legislation or backbench and opposition day debates.

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Week ahead in Parliament

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Never mind the agenda, feel the politics.

Parliament is back after its Whitsun recess - but events away from the Commons and Lords chambers will overshadow the rather thin business within them.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Scaffolding on the Houses of Parliament Image copyright PA

Events beyond the SW1 post code will be driving politics this week, with many MPs hitting the campaign trail rather than lingering in Parliament.

Will the results (which are not revealed until Sunday) be a political game-changer, creating some kind of momentum for some kind of Brexit progress?

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Week ahead in Parliament

House of Commons Image copyright AFP/ Roger Harris/UK Parliament

It's another week of waiting for Godot, or at any rate Brexit, with a thin diet of humdrum legislation before both the Commons and the Lords.

There is some talk that the long-awaited Withdrawal Agreement Bill might be launched into the Commons, perhaps on Thursday.

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Plans for interim Parliament take shape

Artist's impression issued by UK Parliament of Richmond House Image copyright Forbes Massie Studio/PA

The Palace of Westminster, the home of Parliament, is in danger of going the way of Notre-Dame.

The electrical system is iffy, the pipes leak, the stonework is crumbling and the roofs need replacement.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Houses of Parliament Image copyright PA

Against the background of a relatively bland parliamentary week, Westminster will seethe with life after the local elections, and with the European elections now looming on the horizon.

After a couple of weeks of close encounters with the electorate - culminating in some bruising results for the two big parties - there will be furious internal debate about Brexit, and some of it may spill over into the chamber.

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Week ahead in Parliament

Theresa May in the House of Commons Image copyright Getty Images

Bland. Soothing. Routine. The parliamentary agenda for the coming week keeps MPs and peers in a kind of holding pattern while the government figures out its next moves on Brexit.

But looming at the end of the week is an extra-parliamentary event that could transform the political mood and send events careening out of control.

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