Today was the day that parliament had a rather long list of private members bills to debate. Originally there were sixty-four on the list. As this informative post from Kerry McCarthy tells us, they’d normally expect to get through about three of them. The MPs sponsoring the rest of the bills were pretty much wasting their time.
Number eight on the original list was Nadine Dorries bill to teach girls between 13 and 16 how to say no to sex. The Guardian’s headline was MPs to debate sexual abstinence lessons bill, which was slightly disingenuous as the chance of the debate reaching that far down the list was tiny.
But this morning, when the order of business for today in parliament was published Dorries bill was missing from the list. Everyone assumed that Dorries was responsible for this removal. As a spokeswoman for the Commons information office told the Guardian “No one would be able to remove a private members’ bill without the permission of a member”. The assumption seemed to be that Dorries had realised the futility of being so far down the list and had removed the bill. She wouldn’t have been the only one – the published list only contains forty-nine of the expected sixty-four bills.
At lunchtime, things got even more interesting. A new Twitter account called @NadineDorriesMP appeared with this tweet (in reply to a joke by John Prescott):
@johnprescott My bill has not ‘jumped off at Edge Hill’ if you care to read the order paper, it’s number eight on the list!!
Something about this timeline didn’t seem right to me. That tweet was posted at 12:47, which is almost two hours since I first saw the order of business without her bill. I assume the order of business was published some time earlier. The first hint I had that the bill had been withdrawn was this blog post by Kerry McCarthy which was published just after 10am.
On the basis that the real Nadine Dorries would have known by 12:47 that her bill was not on the order paper, I called the new Twitter account as a fake. But it seems I was wrong. People like Iain Dale confirmed that it really was her (and, yes, this is one of the few things I’d trust Iain Dale on).
All of which leaves us with a bit of a mystery. Either Dorries withdrew her bill or she didn’t. If she did then the first tweet on her new Twitter account is a complete lie. If she didn’t then we need to ask who did withdraw her bill – given that it’s only her who is supposed to be able to do that.
And even if someone else managed to withdraw her bill without her knowledge, something still doesn’t ring true. If she was expecting to debate her bill (no matter how tiny the chance) then surely she would have been hanging around in parliament all morning and I can’t believe that she didn’t see the order paper and notice her bill was missing. Or that one of her friends saw that it was missing and asked her what happened.
All in all I find it incredible that she could have got to 12:47 without knowing that her bill was not on the list. So how do you explain that tweet?
This is, I think, the third time that Dorries has joined Twitter. And with her first tweet she has already started people thinking that this time is going to be no different to the previous occasions. She will be ineptly trying to use it to promote her strange view of the world. And she will quickly make herself a laughing stock once more.
Update: At 16:37 this afternoon, @NadineDorriesMP tweeted the following:
Just to make it absolutely clear and leave no doubt whatsoever, my Bill was NOT withdrawn
Curiouser and curiouser. So, now we are left with two questions. 1/ Why wasn’t Dorries’ bill on the order paper? And 2/ At what point did she realise it wasn’t on the order paper?
Update 2: Welshracer may have got to the heart of the matter here. He points out what it says on the official parliamentary web page for Dorries’ bill.
The Bill was not printed and so was not moved for debate on 20 January 2012.
What do we make of this? One interpretation would be that Dorries didn’t withdraw the bill for debate, but that someone in her office forgot to get the bill printed so that it could be included in the debate.
But even in those circumstances you’d think that she’d get a phone call from the people who were planning the day’s business telling her what had (or hadn’t) happened. I still can’t believe that she didn’t know the bill wasn’t on the order paper when she sent her first tweet at quarter to one.
Update 3: Couple more pieces of information came in overnight.
Firstly, it seems that the new @NadineDorriesMP Twitter account was set up two weeks ago. It seems she resisted using it until goaded into it by John Prescott yesterday.
Secondly, the Independent managed to speak to Dorries about this confusion. She says:
The Bill is still live, but there was more chance of being struck by a meteor than getting it debated, so we told the Commons office not to bother printing a hard copy. What I didn’t realise was that if you don’t order it to be printed, it automatically comes off the agenda.
Of course I wouldn’t withdraw it … a lot of people had paid train fares to come and protest. It would have been churlish.
So we finally have the truth (or, at least, Dorries’ version of it). She knew it wouldn’t be debated so she decided not to have the bill printed. She didn’t know that would automatically remove it from the order paper. She didn’t withdraw the bill out of respect for the people who were coming to protest against it.
It’s also not clear to me in what sense the bill is still live. This was the final opportunity to debate private members bills before the end of this parliamentary session. Any unfinished business from this parliamentary session doesn’t get passed on to the next one, so anything that wasn’t approved is, as far as I can see, effectively dead.
You couldn’t make this up!