Fridays are when Private Members' Bills get their Second Reading and today we see three of them on parade. The first is the one that is causing all the excitement, James Wharton's European Union (Referendum Bill). The way the media is going on about it, one would think that today's debate will pass the Bill into legislation; the way some eurosceptics are going on about it, one would think that not only will today's debate pass the legislation but it will actually get us out of the European Union by some magical procedure.
Today's debate will do neither; it will merely push matters on to the next stage, which is Committee and then Report and Third Reading in the House of Commons, after which the Bill will go to the House of Lords. It does have a very fair wind from the government, which is always helpful to a Private Member's Bill and David Cameron together with his side-kick, William Hague, appear to be benefiting from the implication that, somehow, this is all their idea. In a way it is. As this blog has pointed out before, the sequence of events was interesting: Mr Cameron makes a speech, which promises a referendum in 2016 or 2017, assuming there is a Conservative-led government in place; there is a mild rebellion of Conservative MPs who want legislation for a referendum; in a ballot for Private Members' Bills one of the rebels comes top and promptly introduces a Bill that reflects faithfully what the Prime Minister said. Some people think this is a defeat for the Boy-King. Not so but far from it - this is yet another victory for him over his party and its not very bright members.
There is, as it happens, another Bill going through that has its Second Reading this morning and that is Christopher Chope's EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits). There have been several attempts to pass a Bill of this kind, notably by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and some of them went some way. Sadly, none of the Bills ever became law and, I suspect, Mr Chope's will not either. Under no circumstances will HMG allow an audit of costs and benefits of our membership of the European project to be carried out, except on its own, rather dubious, terms.
UPDATE: Second Reading is agreed to by 304 to 0. It would appear that opponents of the Bill stayed away or abstained. There is much rejoicing in some eurosceptic circles, particularly among the ones I would call faux-eurosceptic, the organizations that are concentrating on the referendum at the expense of discussions that matter: how do we get out and what do we do after that. They (and we all know who they are, though every time I turn round there is at least one more) can rest easy - those funds are not about to dry up.