Commons nuggets

All the cool kids in the Commons want their own parliamentary commission, after Andrew Tyrie's Banking Commission wowed Westminster and demonstrated quite how much clout a pacey, hard-hitting inquiry by parliamentarians could carry.

And my spies tell me the Commons Liaison Committee - the super-committee of select committee chairs - is keen on the idea of a Commission to look at the future of the Civil Service in the 21st Century. Hmm.

Part of the reason the Banking Commission worked so well was the sheer intensity of its inquiry, with vast quantities of evidence gathered, processed and reported on, at a very rapid pace. Like soldiers on some gruelling exercise, the Commission bonded during this ordeal and was forged into a very effective unit. It's hard to imagine an inquiry into the Civil Service would attempt to yomp to conclusions in quite the same way. And who would pay for it? The government coughed up extra cash for the Banking Commission because ministers wanted it; if Parliament wants to set up new Commissions, Parliament will have to find the funds and personnel - perhaps at the expense of its wider committee system.

The Banking Commission enjoyed the services of some of the top gun committee clerks and had extensive specialist support - but it would be fun to see the Sir Humphreys on the receiving end of that level of scrutiny.

Syria solo

Tory awkward squaddie John Baron has got his debate on Syria. The Commons Backbench Business Committee has scheduled a debate next Thursday, on his motion that there should be no "lethal support" for the rebels, without the prior approval of the Commons.

There's ennui in the government ranks, where they believe the prime minister has pretty well met Mr Baron's requirements already, while reserving the right to take urgent action, if circumstances require. So the stolid talents of FCO minister Alistair Burt will be deployed to anaesthetise the House.

But Mr Baron, who feels the Commons was bounced over Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, remains determined to nail the government to the wall….his request for a debate sent the Backbench Business Committee into a bit of a conniption fit, because there was a competing request from the Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Richard Ottaway, who wanted a more general debate that might also have encompassed the unfolding crisis in Egypt.

Committee members came up with the wheeze of having Mr Ottaway's general motion and allowing Mr Baron's motion to be put as an amendment, and adjourned to see if the Speaker, who decides which amendments to call, would be prepared to play ball. I suspect Mr Speaker may have been reluctant to set the precedent - so the outcome was that Mr Baron's motion was chosen. And the result may now be that, come Thursday, MPs will be solemnly debating Syria, when the spotlight is on Egypt.

I don't believe it...

Gay marriage is back next week, when the House of Lords reaches the report stage of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill - and the big question peers are asking is what entertainment will be provided as they await the key votes.

At earlier stages of the bill they were treated to a screening of Skyfall… a secret agent film very popular with young people, m'lud. This time, it's rumoured, the actor Richard Wilson, aka Victor Meldrew, may be on hand to keep the troops amused. He'll fit right in.

Signal failure

Pick your train metaphor: the Transport Committee's report on Rail Franchising is running late owing to disagreement on the line. With most rail lines up for re-franchising in the next few years, and given recent problems with the system, this is a sensitive area. So even without knowing exactly why members couldn't agree their report, the fact of disagreement is pretty significant.

Select committee reports carry much more weight if they're unanimous, because that means a cross-party consensus has been achieved, so, if and when the report emerges, it will be worth studying the formal minutes at the back, where any votes on amendments to the report will be recorded.

Long grass?

It's all gone rather quiet on Leveson. After the last minute inclusion of "statutory underpinning" for a press regulation system, in the dying days of the last parliamentary year, the compromise proposal for non-statutory statutory regulation seemed to be a done deal.

But the promised royal charter for an independent regulator has yet to appear. The latest whisper is that the government wants to set up a special committee to advise the Privy Council on the terms of the charter…this wouldn't need any parliamentary approval and some suspicious souls see it as a way of depositing the issue in very long constitutional grass, where it may lurk until 2015, which happens to be election year.

Fine feast

Much excitement among HS2 opponents over the awful kicking administered to Department for Transport officials when the Public Accounts Committee looked at the financial case for the scheme, this week. They're beginning to hope that a hostile PAC report could deliver a mortal blow to HS2, prompting the government to at least postpone the scheme beyond the next election, and allow it to be quietly dropped thereafter.

"You don't eat an elephant at one sitting - even a white one," gloats one HS2-sceptic.

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