Week ahead in Parliament

  • 27 January 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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The same old, same old in Parliament this week, with the Lords chewing their way through the fine details of some big bills while MPs amble through a gentle programme of work, and wait for their lordships to start sending revised versions of government bills back to the Commons.

In fact, they do get a bill back this week - hot from the Upper House will come the Welfare Bill - and expect it to bounce back there with a loud thwacking sound, minus most of the amendments peers have worked so hard to put into it.

Concerned groups will have to watch closely to see what changes and compromises might be made in that process. Will ministers simply reject everything from the Lords, or swallow a few of them in a spirit of good will? Will they offer alternatives? Keep your eyes peeled.

And so to the actual business. Monday in the Commons opens when Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and his team will answer questions in the Commons. Viewers may be puzzled by an outbreak of toilet humour following last Tuesday's unfortunate incident in which the Lib Dem junior minister Andrew Stunell found himself trapped in the gents off one of the voting lobbies and couldn't escape…oh dear, what can the matter be…

Then, MPs get a rare treat - new legislation in the form of the Civil Aviation Bill, which regulates the operators of the big airports.

The big committee hearing is the Treasury Committee's continuing examination of the Financial Services Authority report on the multi-billion pound failure of RBS - the Royal Bank of Scotland (at 3.15pm). This time it's the leadership of the FSA before the committee, headed by Lord Turner, the chairman, and Hector Sants, the chief executive. As designated head of the soon-to-be-created Prudential Regulatory Authority, which will take over the policing of financial institutions, Mr Sants may find himself in the sights of several committee members. There have already been criticisms that no-one has taken the rap for the RBS debacle - and pointed observations that Mr Sants was on the bridge when it hit the iceberg. A poor performance here could damage him in his new role.

An eminent panel of witnesses give their views on the future of the Upper House to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill (at 4.30pm) - former Home Secretary David Blunkett, legal expert Lord Pannick (who has recently argued that the Commons does have the power to over-ride the Lords and force through reform of the Upper House), Lord Cunningham of Felling, who chaired a previous joint committee on Lords reform issues, and former Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Grocott.

In the Lords, the marathon continues…day six of the nine-day committee stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, with peers crawling through the section dealing with civil litigation. The former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott is expected to speak on access to justice for people that have been victims of defamation or invasion of privacy by the media. And I hear word of a cross-party alliance of peers who aim to highlight the importance being able to sue multinational companies in this country over their activities abroad.

On Tuesday, the Commons begins with Justice Questions, where the joke du jour will probably revolve around Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's reported reluctance to deal with aides to the prime minister as opposed to the boss himself.

One peculiarity of the day will be the Labour MP John Mann's presentation of a series of bills which disperse various government departments to cities outside London (Education to Nottingham, for example); bring British forces back from Germany and, er, limit the salaries of ministers - among many other subjects. Presentation bills of this kind are halfway between an Early Day Motion and a Ten-Minute Rule Bill - and almost never get anywhere. So don't expect much more than a brief burst of parliamentary ceremonial.

And there is, in fact, a Ten Minute Rule Bill as well - from Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards, giving the National Assembly for Wales powers over electricity generation. That is followed by the conclusion of the committee stage consideration of the Local Government Finance Bill.

On committee corridor, the Education Committee will quiz Secretary of State Michael Gove at 9.30am - and at least some of the questions will have come from members of the public via Twitter. The committee wanted to ensure its questioning reflected the concerns of the education world, and so set up the hashtag #AskGove. They've had thousands of suggestions - some less than polite. But the experiment will bear watching.

The Transport Committee (at 10.05am) has a one-off evidence session on reform of the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL), the organisation which guarantees holidays in the event of a travel company going bust. The Fo (at 10.10am) has a session on British foreign policy and the Arab Spring with the Labour peer, former Foreign Office Minister and UN luminary Lord Malloch-Brown.

Peers gather to perform the last rites over the Welfare Reform Bill - with opponents still hoping to extract further changes. They then move on to the first of two report stage days on the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

On Wednesday, International Development questions precede PMQs in the Commons, and then - after a Ten Minute Rule Bill on arrangements for security searches of disabled people at airports, from Labour's Tom Blenkinsop - it's on to the first of helping what promises to be a prolonged parliamentary ping-pong tournament….

The Lords having finished mauling the Welfare Reform Bill, the Commons has its chance to examine the changes they have made. MPs will doubtless be invited to reject them, and it will be interesting to see if the government makes any attempt to buy off their lordships with a few concessions. This ritual will be repeated with several other bills throughout February, March and, probably, April.

There's plenty of activity in committee-land: the International Development Committee (at 2.30pm) concludes its short inquiry into the birth of the new nation of South Sudan - a country they visited in December - with the aid of Minister Stephen O'Brien, and Mark Mallalieu, the head of DFID in South Sudan; and the Environmental Audit Committee (at 2.15pm) hears from Secretary of State Caroline Spelman and Treasury Minister Chloe Smith about the Green Economy.

The Lords return to the Legal Aid Bill - still on the civil litigation changes. They will also debate occupational pensions.

Thursday in the Commons opens with Vince Cable taking Business Innovation and Skills questions, followed by questions on House business and then there is a general debate on transparency and consistency of sentencing.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (aka "Cleggwatch") has its first session on lobbying - a scene-setter with the pressure group Spinwatch, a lobbyist, and an academic, all at the table together. Have your popcorn ready (at 10am). The Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions (at 10.15pm) hears from the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan and (at 11.15) Lord Hunt of Wirral, chair, Press Complaints Commission.

It's day two of committee consideration of the Scotland Bill in the Lords - with the crossbencher Lord Eames, the former Archbishop of Armagh, leading a lunch time debate on human trafficking.

And neither House sits on Friday.

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