Private members bill games

Ho, ho ho!

Some amusing Private Members Bill japes in prospect when the Commons Friday sittings resume in September.

I wrote last week about the dilemmas created for some Tory backbenchers, by Lib Dem Mike Moore's Bill on setting a legal minimum for overseas aid spending.

Now, in an oblique sort of way, Christopher Chope, the Conservatives' zen master of private members bill procedure, has got in on the act. Having joined the annual sleepover - by which those MPs who are determined enough can secure a high place in the queue for private members bills which are next in priority behind the bills in the annual ballot - he plans to use one of the slots to introduce a similar sort of bill to Mr Moore's - but not too similar.

The Moore Bill would guarantee 0.7 per cent of the UK's national income will be spent on aid; the Chope Bill, currently listed fourth on the agenda for Friday September 5th, would guarantee that Britain met the NATO target to spend 2 per cent on defence.

It will almost certainly not get discussed, but at the end of a Private Members Bill Friday, at 2.30pm, there is a little ritual under which bills that have not been debated are painlessly pole-axed. The titles are read out, one by one, and then a whip shouts "object," and the bill is thereby killed. (This process is always worth watching, because, every now and then, a bill can be allowed to have a second reading without objection, and is sent through to committee stageā€¦. It's a sneaky low profile way of moving legislation on)

On this occasion the aim seems to be to get whips "objecting" to a bill on defence spending which many Tory backbenchers would rather like, so that, the following week, when Mr Moore comes to the wicket, they can make the point that if it's wrong to guarantee a minimum spend on defence, how can it be right to guarantee a minimum spend on aid?