The Week In Westminster: I see a vacancy, and it's not Fiona Jones's

FIONA JONES, the former Labour MP for Newark, was the surprise winner of the week, leaving vast quantities of egg on the faces of both main parties. Her successful appeal poses a nightmare this weekend for Madam Speaker who, last month, declared the Newark vacancy under the rules of the 1983 Representation of the People Act.

The Act makes no provision for an MP to be reinstated if a conviction is quashed and the Speaker's Office has been searching in vain for legal precedents to guide Ms Boothroyd. Technically, a by-election should be held, but the smart money must be on the Speaker finding a way to invite Ms Jones back to the Commons without a by-election. Whether Ms Boothroyd has powers to reverse, unilaterally, the vacancy is unclear. A possible route is for the House to pass a resolution empowering the Speaker to declare the vacancy void.

Ms Jones, whose local party has been suspended, was not exactly popular in the constituency and was hung out to dry by Labour's Millbank headquarters, which refused to fund her legal expenses for the appeal.

In the unlikely event of a by-election, natural justice must require the Labour leadership to endorse her candidacy and pull out all the stops to help her hang on to her wafer-thin majority.

But the Conservatives'Chief Whip, James Arbuthnot, is also in the doghouse for jumping the gun by breaking with precedent and seeking to move the writ for the by-election before Easter. If Mr Arbuthnot's move had been successful we would already be in the middle of a by-election campaign. A writ is normally moved by the party which previously held the seat and, as this column two weeks ago, such breaches of convention usually come back to bite with a vengeance.

Mutterings from backbenchers, already grumpy at Mr Arbuthnot's lacklustre performance, predict a change of job when William Hague reshuffles his team in June. If Mr Arbuthnot is moved it will cost him financially, as he is one of only three opposition MPs, in addition to Mr Hague, who is paid an official salary on top of his MP's pay. Tory MPs are talking up David Maclean, a former whip and Home Office minister, as a possible successor.

u

QUESTIONER OF the week award goes to Sir Michael Spicer (C West Worcestershire) who, having spent years giving John Major a hard time as a Maastricht rebel, put his skills to good use by flooring John Prescott when he stood in for Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions. Sir Michael used the infinitely more effective tactic of a one-sentence question: "Will he give an absolute guarantee that the withholding tax will not be introduced in this country?"

Unusually, the normally assured, combative and confident Mr Prescott lost the plot and stared in silence, open-mouthed at Sir Michael. To put it bluntly, Mr Prescott had no idea what this tax was (any more than 99 per cent of MPs) and burbled gibberish about the poll tax and local authorities.

Luckily for Mr Prescott the Tory Deputy Leader, Peter Lilley, stood next and stuck to his scripted question on fuel duty. Mr Lilley's response highlighted the disadvantage of being tied to a pre-planned question. Sir Michael had created an opportunity for Mr Lilley to go for the kill. Instead, Mr Prescott continued to roar incoherently like a seriously injured elephant until the Speaker called time at the end of his worst half-hour since the general election.

Bad numbering, marking and tagging of his briefing file by officials was as much to blame for the disaster, as he turned page after page, looking in vain for the correct answers. But this was the first time in nearly two years that any trouble has befallen Mr Prescott, and, like an elephant, he never forgets who causes him pain. He will recover quickly and retribution will surely follow.

u

BARONESS YOUNG has not only caused trouble for homosexuals but she has also thrown a spanner in the works for the Government's policy on devolution.

By defeating the second reading of the Bill to reduce the age of gay consent she has ensured a constitutional crisis for the new Scottish Parliament before it has even been elected.

The Bill now falls and cannot be reintroduced until the next session of Parliament in November. In order for the Parliament Act to apply, the Bill must be reintroduced in exactly the same form as before. But by November the question of the age of consent in Scotland will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. This means that the Bill to be re-introduced in the Commons would be different to its predecessor and would have to begin its passage all over again through both Houses.

Liam Fox, the Conservative constitutional affairs spokesman, raised the matter in the Commons as a point of order, demanding a statement from Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to clarify under what legislation the Government intends to implement such proposals.

There is nothing in law to stop the Government from imposing the Bill on Scotland, thereby enabling Royal Assent to be given under the terms of the Parliament Act next January, but it would hardly be an auspicious start for devolution. Ministers were noticeably reticent on the question of using the Parliament Act and Baroness Young may yet have the last laugh.

Most Conservative MPs just want the issue to go away - especially the closet gay MPs who fear exposure. They are dreading yet another debate where they will be forced either to run a mile from the voting lobbies or to vote against their consciences.

u

GORDON BROWN, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be taxing the nation by stealth but the Tory Treasury spokesman, Francis Maude, did not tax Mr Brown at all during Treasury Questions.

Mr Maude seems to have given up challenging Mr Brown altogether. At the start of Question Time, Mr Maude only managed two brief interventions against Mr Brown's deputy, Alan Milburn, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. But halfway through, he left the Conservative front bench altogether and did not return.

MPs were amazed that Mr Maude had deserted his post and left the remainder of the session in the hands of his juniors. There has already been much criticism of Conservative MPs for failing to attend but, up to now, at least the opposition spokesmen have sat it out.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game