Week ahead in Parliament
- 16 February 2012
- From the section UK Politics
After a gruelling week on the legislative front line, their lordships depart for a half term break, while MPs return, refreshed, to the fray.
MPs return to the chamber on Monday, when the first order of business is Defence Questions - with Philip Hammond and his team fielding questions on everything from their attempts to get the deparmental budget out of the red, to the contribution the armed forces will make to security during the Olympics.
It's a fair bet that, after a week away, there will be a ministerial statement or two and perhaps an urgent question to be answered. And then the House will move on to a Backbench Business Committee debate on a motion from the Conservative backbencher John Baron - he has a long record of opposing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the day ends with a debate from Labour's Graham Stringer on the future of biomass.
On committee corridor, the Public Accounts Committee has a session (at 3.15pm) on whether the public is being overcharged for money raised via the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) based on this report from the National Audit Office. Witnesses include Robin Herzberg, from Carillion Private Finance; Nigel Middleton, from Barclays Infrastructure Funds; Mark Hellowell, from the University of Edinburgh; Sharon White, director General Public Services, HM Treasury and Geoffrey Spence, chief executive, Infrastructure UK.
The Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.15pm) ponders the building regulations for electrical and gas installation and repairs in homes, espcailly houses with multiple occupation.
And at 4.45pm the Commons Administration Committee will be discussing the rules around TV coverage, with witnesses from the BBC, ITV and SKY followed by John Angeli, director of Parliamentary Broadcasting.
Tuesday's business begins with health questions - which are bound to be a testing experience for Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. Lib Dem critic Andrew George is helpfully asking him if he will withdraw his much-mangled Health and Social Care Bill. That may attract a one-word answer, but the response to the Conservative Oliver Colville's question on the levels of Public Finance Initiative (PFI) debt in hospitals might attract an interesting response.
That's followed by a ten minute rule bill from the Lib Dem John Leetch on Road Safety - and then it's on to consideration of the latest set of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill - with peers still digging their heels in over the proposed under-occupancy penalty for Housing Benefit and the Universal Credit. This week they voted, by a majority of 10, to exempt war widows, foster carers and the severely disabled from the so-called "bedroom tax". Will the Commons be asked to reverse that change and continue the current round of Parliamentary ping-pong?
In committee-land, the Education Committee (at 9.30am) asks "how should examinations for 15-19 year olds in England be run?" They will hear from various examining bodies. The Justice Committee (at 10.30am) looks at how, 12 years on, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has been working. Witnesses include Maurice Frankel, of the Campaign for Freedom Of Information; Alexandra Runswick, deputy director, Unlock Democracy and Professor Robert Hazell, and colleagues from the University College London Constitution Unit.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (at 10.30am) continues its investigation of library closures with witnesses from local government and from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. And the Environmental Audit Committee looks at protecting the Arctic (at 2.15pm).
It's Scottish Questions when the Commons gets underway on Wednesday. And then, at midday, hostilities between David Cameron and Ed Miliband are resumed at prime minister's questions. Recently, Mr Speaker Bercow has allowed PMQs to over-run its normal half hour, perhaps as a kind of injury time to compensate for the usual bouts of shouting and general disorder. Will he continue that practice?
The Conservative GP Dr Phillip Lee has a ten minute rule bill on annual statements for healthcare costs, and then Labour continuers the health theme with a debate demanding the publication of the NHS risk register - the internal document listing the problems foreseen by officials with the government's proposals to reshape the NHS in England.
The health secretary has been refusing to publish it, despite a ruling that he should, from the information commissioner. Labour clearly believe it will provide further ammunition for their campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill.
It's a particularly busy day on committee corridor. Hightlights include a double-headed session of the Home Affairs Committee on drugs and extradition (at 11am) and another double-header from the Transport Committee starting at 9.35am with evidence on whether new EU proposals to regulate the number of hours that pilots fly will compromise aviation safety. The committee will hear from British Airline Pilots' Association. Then the committee questions Transport Minister Theresa Villiers (at 11.15am) on the reform of ATOL - the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing system, which ensures travellers against the collapse of their transport company.
At 1pm, the Public Administration Committee rounds off its inquiry into strategic thinking in government with the coalition's designated strategic thinker, Oliver Letwin MP, minister for government policy. The Scottish Affairs Committee (at 2.15pm) hears from the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore in its inquiry into the referendum on separation for Scotland. The SNP are still boycotting the committee after a spat between one of their MPs and the committee chair last year. Will this tempt them back?
And the Public Accounts Committee has a double-headed session with top civil servants - first (at 3.15pm) they're looking at the issue of accountability with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Home Civil Service and Permanent Secretary at the DCLG. Then at 4pm they turn to the government's attempt to cut its costs.
On Thursday it's transport questions, women and equality questions and the weekly Business Statement in which the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, announces what MPs will be debating for the coming two weeks. Then MPs turn to a series of orders uprating social security benefits and amending pensions regulations.
The day ends with an adjournment debate led by the Conservative Nick de Bois on motor insurance fraud and the death of Ricky Burlton - a constituency case about a young man run over and killed by an illegal immigrant who, it turned out, had no driving licence but who had procured car insurance. The individual was arrested but absconded from hospital and because he used a false name, he has never been apprehended. The debate will address the problem of individuals with no driving license being able to purchase car insurance and therefore evade most police techniques such as ANPR cameras which rely upon checking the insurance status of a vehicle.
On the committee corridor, David Lidington, minister for Europe, gives evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee at 3pm, which is concluding its inquiry into the eurozone pact and its impact on the UK - the consequences of the UK's only ever use of its veto. He may be joined by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague - at least for the first half hour - to cover the wider picture. But that's not yet confirmed.
Earlier, at 10am, the Liaison Committee, the super-committee composed of all the select committee chairs, has a rare public evidence session with someone other than the prime minister. It will be pondering select committee powers and effectiveness with the aid of uber-pundit Peter Riddell, of the Institute for Government; Professor Robert Hazell and Dr Meg Russell, of the UCL Constitution Unit; Professor Matthew Flinders, department of politics, the University of Sheffield and Dr Ruth Fox, Hansard Society. This inquiry could provde to be crucial in the Commons' attempts to improve its own performance.