Week ahead in Parliament

 

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This week, the Commons demonstrated that unexpected events can generate a fair bit of parliamentary excitement, even when the business on the order paper looks fairly humdrum. For most MPs, it was the first week they could remember without any whipped votes - and even when there was a vote, on Thursday, over the issue of uprating pensions by the CPI rather than the RPI, only 265 out of 650 MPs turned out.

But there was an emergency debate on Europe and an urgent question on the Health and Social Care Bill, both of which produced lively debate - and the Europe debate could yet have reverberations for government policy.

So what delights lie ahead?

On Monday, Commons business begins with questions to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and his team - perhaps a chance for a final Labour thwack at the just-passed Welfare Reform Bill. That's followed by a statement by the prime minister reporting back on the European heads of government summit - and following last week's emergency Commons debate, his words will be closely scrutinised by his own backbenchers.

Then there are two Labour-led debates: on jobs and growth in the low carbon economy, on a motion accusing the coalition of frittering away Labour's green legacy; and on living standards, on a motion warning of a squeeze on families resulting from the government's tax and benefit changes, and calling for the Budget to include measures to help them.

On the committee corridor, the Public Accounts Committee - MPs' powerful financial watchdog - has a session (at 3.15pm) called Child Maintenance and the Enforcement Commission. Are the government's plans to cut the cost of the child maintenance system credible? Questions were raised by this report from the National Audit Office. The committee will quiz Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary of the Department of Work and Pensions.

Meanwhile the Education Committee continues its inquiry into attracting, training and retaining the best teachers - with an evidence session at the York Guildhall at 3pm. They're not the only committee going walkabout - the Home Affairs Committee is in Miami and then Bogota, looking at drugs policy and the Business Innovation and Skills Committee is in Sheffield meeting apprentices and looking at co-operation between universities and hi-tech companies.

The Communities and Local Government Committee has also joined the exodus - they'll be in Bournemouth Town Hall, taking evidence about park homes at 2pm. Park homes are static caravans or non mobile prefabs. There is increasing pressure for government to do much more to better protect the rights of their residents from 'rogue' park owners who mistreat, threaten and blackmail owners at a number of sites. There are widely differing opinions about how widespread the problem of intimidation by site owners is... it varies from "at a minority of sites" to "widespread" depending who you talk to. The committee will be talking to residents, site owners and local councillors.

In the Lords, it's question time for half an hour - and then the House embarks on the first of four and a half days of report stage scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. This has been every bit as controversial and bitterly opposed as the Welfare Reform and Health and Social Care Bills, so expect more government defeats, compromises and promises of reviews as it inches through the Upper House.

Watch out for three key amendments emanating from the Conservative peer and former Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, and the crossbench peer and QC Lord Pannick. One would force the government to ensure that legal aid is available for all who require it. If this is voted for by peers, the bill and the cuts of £350m in legal aid will have to be scrapped.

Another calls for legal aid to be administered by an independent director - preventing the justice secretary from taking direct control of the legal aid budget, which would allow him to block funding for particular kinds of action, such as clinical negligence, welfare claims or miscarriages of justice against the police. Critics say the bill would allow ministers to block claims against the government and the state by the back door. The third calls for a pre-commencement impact assessment for the bill, and, if passed would probably mean a long delay before it could come into effect.

On Tuesday, MPs kick off with questions to the Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team. Then they continue with the second reading debate on the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill - which is intended to curb the painfully high water bills charged in the south-west. MPs need a second bite at this debate, because it was curtailed to make room for the emergency debate on the European summit, held last Wednesday. Business in the chamber ends with an adjournment debate led by the Reading MP Alok Sharma on rail ticketing and overcrowding.

In Westminster Hall, the Commons parallel debating chamber, one of the subjects will pick up complaints about the Legal Aid etc Bill - the effect of changes to legal aid on the not-for-profit advice sector. Labour's Yvonne Fovargue will argue that the bill will stop more than half a million people accessing help with everyday legal problems over debt, benefits, family breakdown and disputes with employers.

There's plenty of committee business too. At 4pm, all the select committee chairs come together in the Liaison Committee to quiz the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Topics include public service accountability and policy on Syria and Iran.

Elsewhere, the Committee on Human Rights (at 2.20pm) hears from Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on the justice and security green paper. The Transport Committee (at 10.05am) has a double-headed session covering road safety, with junior Transport Minister Mike Penning and then moves onto flight time limitations - the acceptable hours for pilots and aircrew.

The Justice Committee (at 10:30am) continues its look at the budget and structure of the Ministry of Justice with Frances Done, chair of the Youth Justice Board; and Peter Handcock of HM Courts and Tribunals Service. And the Health Minister Simon Burns is the star witness at the Health Committee, as it concludes its inquiry into NHS workforce planning.

The Lords sits at 2.30pm - and the main business is day five of the seven day report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill

On Wednesday, Commons business opens with Northern Ireland questions, followed by questions to the prime minister - and then David Cameron remains in his place to open a debate on sending "an humble address" to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee. In practice, this is an opportunity for MPs to make speeches congratulating the Sovereign on her long reign.

There's an opposition day debate on a subject chosen by the Democratic Unionists (subject to be announced), and a backbench business debate on a motion proposed by the Conservative Dominic Raab - he wants the Commons to follow the lead of the US Congress and other parliaments, and ban a list of Russians allegedly involved in the death of the Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who attempted to expose massive corruption and was tortured and killed in prison. Under Mr Raab's proposal they would not be allowed to enter Britain or own property here - a precedent he hopes could then be applied to human rights abusers in other countries. The day in the chamber ends with an adjournment debate on the progress of the Historical Enquiries Team, led by the DUP's Jim Shannon.

On committee corridor, the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) will look at the scheme for Adult Apprenticeships - after this National Audit Office report suggested that more value for money could be extracted from the £1.4bn programme. The main witness is Martin Donnelly, the permanent secretary of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

There's a whole string of other committees: Education (at 9.30am) continues its look at child protection, with officials from social services departments' Safeguarding Children Boards. The Treasury Committee (at 2.15pm) hears from top executives from the Credit Rating Agencies - the powerful bodies who assess the credit-worthiness of governments and financial institutions; and Environmental Audit Committee (at 2.15pm) gets the views of the RSPCA, and RSPB, National Gamekeepers' Organisation, and Angling Trust on wildlife crime.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (at 2.30pm) gets the views of water companies on the water white paper and the Scottish Affairs Committee (at 2.30pm) hears from leading political academics including Vernon Bogdanor and John Curtice, plus pollster Peter Kellner, the Scotland referendum.

The Lords are back on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. There is a panoply of amendments, one of which addresses the issue of cash payments by scrap metal dealers, courtesy of Lords Bradshaw and Faulkner of Worcester, who had tried to put a clause on this issue into the Protection of Freedoms Bill. Peers also join the continuing parliamentary debate on road safety with a short debate on rebalancing the responsibilities of motorists and cyclists on the roads.

On Thursday, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey makes his question time debut as a cabinet minister. Then MPs turn to Backbench Business Committee debates on International Women's Day - led by Labour's Fiona Mactaggart and Conservative Amber Rudd, and on the future of social care - led by the Conservative Sarah Newton. In Westminster Hall, there's a debate on the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013.

As usual on a Thursday, there's not much committee business - but the Foreign Secretary William Hague has a general session with the Foreign Affairs Committee, from 10.10am.

Peers sit at 11am - for yet more of the Health and Social Care Bill - day six on report stage, with one more day to go...and with new amendments popping up all the time.

 
Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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