What's happening in Parliament next week?

  • 13 January 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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The pattern of the weeks before Christmas continues - with torpor in the Commons and hard grind and occasional confrontation in the Lords.

Monday in the Commons opens with questions to the Education Secretary Micahel Gove and his team, before MPs move on to two Labour debates. The first is on individual voter registration - the planned switch to a system under which every voter is respobsible for registering themselves. This is controversial because Labour contend that it will drive voters off the register in many constituencies - particularly in the inner cities. That is followed by their second Opposition Day debate - on the NHS.

The big event on the committee corridor is what looks like the final evidence session for the special committee examining the law on Privacy and Injunctions (2.15pm). Justice Secretary Ken Clark, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Attorney-General Dominic Grieve will be asked for their thoughts on the need or otherwise for reform. The committee of MPs and peers examining the Draft Lords Reform Bill will hear from the former Lord Speaker Lady Hayman and Lord Cormack, (the former MP Sir Patrick Cormack, who now specialises in patronising the Deputy Prime Minister at Lords Questions).

In the Lords, the main business is day three of detailed consideration of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - with Justice Minister Lord McNally attempting to fend off amendments from, among others, Lord Tebbit, who wants to ensure that people suing for clinical negligence will not lose the right to Leagal Aid.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary William Hague will star at question time, and that will be followed by a debate on the Portas Review on the future of town centres. The debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, and, unusually, there will not be a substantive motion calling for some action by the government. The committee relaxed its usual requirement because of the strong cross-party interest in the subject.

There's plenty of select committee activity. The head of the new National Crime Agency, Keith Bristow, is before the Home Affairs Committee (11am) to talk about his organisation, which becomes fully operational next year.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, is before the Treasury Committee (at 10am) to talk about financial stabilty - the long term policies needed to forestall future credit crunches and similar disasters.

The Transport Committee (10.05am) launches its new inquiry into road safety with a series of witnesses including the Road Haulage Association, the Association of British Insurers, the AA, cyclists groups and the Motor Cycle Insustry Association - the UK has been successful in cutting the number of accidents, but the committee wants to look at how to continue improving safety. And the health minister, Paul Burstow, will be giving evidence to the Health Committee on Social Care - one of the key issues for its chair, the former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell.

Meanwhile, peers will be continuing their detailed look at the Welfare Reform Bill - day four of the scheduled six day report stage. Will the government face more defeats by the alliance of Labour peers, Crossbenchers, who turned out with unusual unanimity, and abstaining Lib Dems?

And one of the great utilisers of our National Archives, the constitutional expert and historian Peter Hennessy, now Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, has a dinner time debate on the release of official documents. The government is supposed to be relaxing the 30-year rule to 20 years - but has yet to push through the statutory instrument to enable the change. Lord Hennessy hopes to prod ministers into action and aims to persuade the minister in charge, Lord McNally, to launch a new initiative to see whether papers previously considered too sensitive to publish can now be released. This should be a delight.

The Commons opens on Wednesday with Welsh questions - where Secretary of State Cheryll Gillan can expect plenty of teasing about the ramifications for her Buckibnghamshire constituency of the decision to go ahead with the HS2 scheme - she had reportedly threatened to quit the cabinet, if it was approved. That is followed by PMQs - and then MPs go into Committee of the Whole House mode to debate the detail of the Local Government Finance Bill. This would return control of business rates to local councils and allow local decisions on how to distribute council tax benefit. Labour have already suggested this is being debated in detail in the chamber because otherwise there would be nothing for MPs to do.

They could always attend some of the many select committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday . The Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15am) has a double-headed session covering first, Risk Perception and Energy Infrastructure, and then the Census and Social Science. The Environmental Audit Committee (2.15pm) has a session on Protecting the Arctic; and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be opening its inquiry into the Environment White Paper, which sets out how the government plans to factor environmental issues into its decision-making.

And the Public Accounts Committee will be looking at NHS services for people with long-term neurological conditions, based on this report from the National Audit Office.

In the Lords, peers continue their detailed committee stage scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - and there's a short debate on the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission for Northern Ireland.

On Thursday, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Caroline Spelman, headlines at question time - and there are also questions to the Commons representative for the Church Commissioners, the Conservative former minister, Tony Baldry. Then MPs will slog their way through a series of parliamentary chores: first they debate an EU document referred by the European Scrutiny Select Committee on integrated EU infrasturucture, then there's a motion on public bodies' scrutiny of draft orders and then a debate on national policy statements on ports. Crowds are already gathering.

Things are a little livelier on the committee corridor - where the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee takes a look (at 10am) at proposals to allow voters to unseat - "recall" - errant MPs. The government recently unveiled a system under which MPs found guilty of serious wrongdoing could be removed by a local vote. Two MPs, Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell will be giving evidence - as will Peter Facey of the constitutional reform campaign Unlock Democracy, who is on record warning that the proposals do not go far enough and will stoke voter cynicism.

The Culture Committee (10.15am) will be continuing its look at the workings of the gambling laws with the chief executive of the Gambling Commission, and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith.

In the Lords (from 11am) peers will be enjoying one of the few remaining debating Thursdays left to them in the current parliamentary year. Pressure of business means they will be spending most of their remaining Thursdays on detailed scrutiny of legislation - but on this occasion they will be debating housing strategy and managing the growth of major cities.

Only the Commons sits on Friday (from 9.30am -3pm) when MPs will be putting the finishing touches to Rebecca Harris's Daylight Saving Time Bill. This calls for a review of the evidence on the benefits or otherwise of putting the clocks forward by an hour - on road safety and energy-saving, for example. The main change at committee stage has been to require the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be consulted before any change is made - and with that proviso, the bill now has government support.

Then, the Liberal Democrat Don Foster will be shepherding through the Live Music Bill - a House of Lords Private Members' Bill from his Lib Dem colleague, Lord Clement Jones, which lifts some of the more burdensome bureaucracy imposed by the Licensing Act from small music venues, including pubs. The bill removes the licensing requirement for unamplified live music taking place between 8am and 11pm, for amplified live music taking place between 8am and 11pm before audiences of no more than 200.

It has been through its committee stage and Mr Foster will be seeking to complete report and third reading - and wave if off for Royal Assent. If he succeeds this will be a relatively rare example of a Lords Private Members' Bill making it into law.

(And apologies to readers for failing to provide my usual guide to procedings for Parliament's first week back - it rather slipped through the net in the pre-Christmas period.)

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