House points

The fly-fishers are back; when the chairs of select committees were up for election last summer, MPs learned to dread running the gauntlet of glad-handing candidates who would lurk at various strategic bottlenecks angling for votes.

The departure of Huw Irranca-Davies, who's quitting Westminster to seek a seat in the Welsh Assembly, has created an opening for a chair of the Environmental Audit Committee - which he has only held for a couple of months. That committee chair has been allocated to the Labour Party - but all MPs across all parties have a vote in the election, which will be held next week.

Nominations close on Monday, and so far three runners have emerged: former leadership candidate Mary Creagh, Co-Op party stalwart Geraint Davies and Barry Gardiner. That last name is an interesting one, because Mr Gardiner - an acknowledged energy policy expert - is part of Labour's shadow energy team.

He says his leadership are completely relaxed about his attempt to swap the front bench for the committee corridor. An effective chair is crucial to the impact a select committee has, and Environmental Audit, with its cross-government remit, could become a real powerhouse, under the right leadership.

Trouble ahead for the Trade Union Bill?

Looking at the membership of the special select committee peers voted to set up, to consider the impact of the Trade Union Bill on party funding (there were warnings that its provisions could cut funding for the Labour Party by £6m), I suspect there might be.

The crossbench peer and former Treasury mandarin Lord Burns is the chairman, and batting for the government are four Conservatives: Lord Callanan, Lord de Mauley, Lord Robathan and Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury. Labour field ex-union officials Baroness Dean (former Leader of SOGAT), Lord (Larry) Whitty (ex GMB) and Baroness Drake (a former President of the TUC) plus the former Leader of the House, Lord Richard. The Lib Dem contingent consists of Lord Tyler, who first proposed this committee, and Lord Wrigglesworth.

And the team is completed by the newly arrived Crossbencher, the Earl of Kinnoull.

Looking at that cast of characters, the committee will probably end up providing a line of argument helpful to the Labour-Lib Dem cause when it reports at the end of February, tee-ing up hostile amendments which could well be voted through at report stage - unless both Crossbench peers repeatedly side with the Conservatives.

Rights of the House

Last week saw a relative rarity; a meeting of the Commons Privileges Committee, which deals with matters touching the rights of the House. It was a private meeting so I don't know what they talked about - but just about the only privileges issue in their in-tray is the complaint from the last parliament that three witnesses, Tom Crone, Colin Myler and Les Hinton, and that the company they had worked for, News International, misled the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee….

This dates all the way back to 2012 when, on a majority vote, the committee included that claim in their report on the phone hacking scandal.

While there were a number of live criminal trials of other individuals accused of hacking offences, the Privileges Committee postponed any action - but the coast is now clear. Could we see a final act in the hacking scandal? Will witnesses like Les Hinton (he issued a rebuttal of the committee's claims, which he called "unfair, unfounded and erroneous") be re-examined, or will the complaint be dropped as quietly as possible. Watch this space.

Changing a convention?

When an MP is arrested, for whatever reason, the fact is recorded in the Commons business papers; this is an immemorial convention dating back to the days when such an arrest may well have been an attempt by the Crown to interfere in the workings of Parliament. But these days it can highlight an allegation against an MP at an early stage, far earlier than would be the case for non-MPs.

Next month the Commons will vote on a proposal to change that, so in future arrests will only be reported where the Clerks consider that what has happened is, in some way an infringement of the rights of Parliament; so an arrest for, say, a bar-room brawl, would not be publicised in the Commons business papers; but the Damian Green case, where an MP's Commons office was searched, would.

Of course this would not stop Her Majesty's Press finding out in other ways....it just wouldn't be via an official Commons publication.

More on private members' bills

Blink and you'd have missed the one overt sign of it, but behind the scenes, there's a considerable spat under way about the game-playing over private members' bill debates on a Commons Friday. Last week, private members' bill terminator Chris Chope was so annoyed at the government's tactics that he shouted "object" - and blocked an attempt to give an unopposed second reading to an uncontroversial measure to tidy up an MPs' hardship fund, set up after World War II, much to the visible annoyance of the bill's promoter, Sir Paul Beresford.

A minimal morsel of revenge, perhaps, but it presages a bigger problem. You see, the supply of private members' bills is drying up.

So many of the current crop of bills were killed off at second reading, that there are only a handful left to return to the Commons for report stage and third reading - and there are still plenty of sitting Fridays scheduled: on 29 January, 5 and 26 February, and 4 and 11 March. If there are no bills left to come back to the Commons, where they would take priority for debate, then all sorts of presentation bills and ten minute rule bills might suddenly end up being debated.

Bills on subjects like human trafficking, ovarian cancer, bat habitats, BBC privatisation and much, much more might surface for debate.

And since most of them emanate from Mr Chope and his usual suspect colleague, Peter Bone, they will mostly be on subjects the government would prefer not to have debated and not to have to respond to. I particularly like the sound of Mr Bone's Prime Minister (Temporary Appointment) Bill, which currently tops the agenda on 4 March.