Chamber time

When the radical Conservative, Douglas Carswell, scraped the last place in this year's private members' bill ballot, I didn't think he had much chance of getting whatever bill he proposed onto the floor of the Commons.

He was allocated a slot low down the agenda, and his chances of any debating time at all depended on the fate of those bills above his - if they were debated at length there would be even less time available for his bill.

His prospects faded still further when it became clear he intended to present a bill to withdraw Britain from the EU; no-one in government was going to lift a finger to help.

But fortune favours the brave.

With the demise of a bill by Labour's Lindsay Roy, Mr Carswell's European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) Bill was suddenly second on the agenda, with a fair prospect of at least being debated. So now it's on the order paper for this Friday, behind Lib Dem awkward squaddie John Hemming's Family Justice (Transparency, Accountability and Cost of Living) Bill.

Mr Hemming's bill is controversial in its own right. He has long complained that the family courts, which decide issues like custody and parental access to children, are unaccountable and arbitrary, and he wants to reform their workings. One way to stop Mr Carswell's bill reaching the floor is to ensure that very long speeches are made debating the Hemming Bill.

So Friday will provide an interesting test of the new Chief Whip, Sir George Young. Will he seek to shut off debate - which would have been the automatic response of many of his predecessors - or will he take the view that debate should be allowed to happen? A very large contingent of Tory eurosceptics and Better Off Outers will be keen to find out the answer, not least because there are plenty of further opportunities for Euro-dissent coming down the track.

And no-one should be under any illusion that the Commons is actually going to pass Mr Carswell's Bill. Time is very limited and private members' bills are deliberately left vulnerable to all kinds of procedural obstruction.

His aim is to examine some of the issues about EU withdrawal. As well as the pros and cons, there are all kinds of concerns about how it might be handled. What would happen to the vast number of regulations passed under the European Communities Act, since 1972, for example?

And if he is denied a chance to even talk about these things, by some procedural conjuring tricks, the result could be an explosion of online hostility from the legion of cyber-sceptics out there.

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