Parliamentary pick

As MPs enjoy the summer recess, and look ahead to returning to Westminster in September, Democracy Live takes a look at the highlights from the last parliamentary term.

Gay marriage bill becomes law

The first gay marriages in England and Wales could be held as early as next summer, following Parliament's approval of the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Bill on 16 July.

Supports of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill wore pink carnations in the Commons

The plans divided Tory MPs, but were backed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Entrenched divisions continued as MPs considered Lords amendments to the bill - the final stage in the bill's journey.

But peers' amendments were signed off, and the bill went for Royal Assent.

The changes will not be forced on religious organisations who will have to "opt in" to holding same-sex ceremonies.

Tributes to Thatcher

News of the death of Margaret Thatcher prompted a special recall of Parliament for MPs to pay tribute to the former Conservative prime minister.

Lady Thatcher, who served as PM from 1979 to 1990, died after a stroke, following many years of ill-health.

Mr Cameron opened the six-hour tribute debate in the Commons

Leading the tributes, Prime Minister David Cameron described Lady Thatcher as an "extraordinary leader and an extraordinary woman" who "made Britain great again".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said she was a "unique and towering figure", but said he disagreed with much of what she did.

The Conservative backbenches were packed with members wishing to share their memories or thoughts of Lady Thatcher.

But the session was not without criticism of the former prime minister.

Labour backbencher David Winnick used his speech to criticise many of the policies of Lady Thatcher's government, and accused her of having a "brutal contempt" towards the unemployed.

Public Accounts Committee casts spotlight on BBC pay

Senior BBC executives faced tough questioning from the Public Accounts Committee over the level of pay-offs to senior BBC managers.

BBC executives faced rigorous questioning from MPs on the committee

The National Audit Office has criticised the BBC for paying out £25m in severance to 150 senior BBC managers, and risking "public trust".

MPs grilled the BBC's new director general Lord Hall; BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten of Barnes; Lucy Adams, director of Human Resources, and Anthony Fry, BBC Trustee about the severance packages.

Lord Hall said the payments were "from another era, and we are putting a stop to them".

The BBC announced in April that it was consulting staff on capping redundancy payments at £150,000 or 12 months' salary, whichever is lower.

May welcomes Abu Qatada deportation

On 7 July, radical cleric Abu Qatada was deported from the UK to stand trial in Jordan, following a lengthy eight-year legal battle.

Home Secretary Theresa May came to the Commons the following day to update MPs.

Mrs May blamed human rights laws for the delay in deporting Abu Qatada

Mrs May said lessons needed to be learnt from the case to ensure such a lengthy deportation process "never happens again".

She said the government would look at how to make it harder for terror suspects and extremists to claim benefits, and to limit the number of deportation appeals funded by the taxpayer.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour would scrutinise the government's proposals.

Abu Qatada was first arrested in the UK over alleged terror connections in 2001 and has fought deportation since 2005.

His deportation was finally able to proceed after the UK and Jordan signed a treaty agreeing that evidence obtained through torture would not be used against him.

EU Referendum Bill

Friday sittings in the Commons, dedicated to private bills proposed by backbench MPs, are often less well-attended events.

Introducing his bill Mr Wharton told MPs it would "give the British public a real say" on Britain's membership of the EU

But the green benches were packed for the second reading of Tory James Wharton's bill, which paves the way for a post-2015 referendum on Britain's EU membership.

Although it is a private member's bill, it has the full support of the Conservative frontbench, as it enshrines in law David Cameron's pledge to renegotiate UK membership of the EU and then hold a referendum if they win the next election, in 2015.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have dismissed the bill as stunt designed to appease the eurosceptic right-wing of the Tory party.

Introducing the bill in the Commons, Mr Wharton, who came top of the private members' bill ballot, said it would "give the British public a real say".

It cleared its first Commons hurdle by 304 votes to 0 - although only a handful of Labour MPs took part as they and the Lib Dems boycotted the vote en masse.

The bill is currently at committee-stage in the Commons, where MPs carry out line-by-line scrutiny.

Divisions over high-speed rail plans

Controversial legislation paving the way for a high speed rail route was announced in the Queen's Speech in May, and had its second reading - when the general principles of a bill are debated - the following month.

The proposed HS2 route will link London to Birmingham by 2026, with two second-phase branches to Manchester and Leeds, via Sheffield

The proposed route will link London to Birmingham by 2026, with two second-phase branches to Manchester and Leeds, via Sheffield.

Opponents say the route - estimated to cost £42.6bn - is a waste of taxpayers' money, and will damage the environment.

More than 40 MPs signed a motion in the name of former Tory Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, declining to give the bill a second reading.

But the amendment was rejected by a majority of 288 votes. The bill went on to pass its first Commons hurdle, with 330 votes in favour and 27 against.

The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill has since undergone committee-stage scrutiny by MPs, and is awaiting its remaining stages in the Commons; after which it will be passed to the Lords.

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