Week ahead

 

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It's a very big parliamentary week, with a Royal visit, the Budget, and big battles over a series of bills in the Lords, with possible overspill into the Commons.

The government will be hoping that the worst of the legislative tortures it has faced in recent weeks will be over, come Friday.

Commons business opens on Monday with Home Office questions. Then - assuming no urgent questions or ministerial statements - the day's main Commons business is consideration of Lords' amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. This might be a bit less perfunctory than usual, because the addition of an anti-stalking law, in amendments at third reading in the Lords (see previous posts), has added a major new chunk of law at the last possible moment. MPs from the All Party Group on stalking, and others, may seek some tweaks to the proposals.

That's followed by a debate on the Waste Water National Policy Statement - the planning rules for dealing with nationally significant improvements to the infrastructure for waste water (the proposed Thames tunnel springs to mind). The day ends with an adjournment debate on the future of shipbuilding, led by Glasgow Labour MP John Robertson.

The highlight on the committee corridor may be the Communities and Local Government Committee's latest hearing on park homes (at 4.15pm). The committee's been disturbed by some of the evidence it's heard from tenants living in mobile home parks. In this session, the star witness will be Detective Inspector Mark Colquhoun, the senior investigating officer for a West Mercia Police investigation into criminality at a site in Worcestershire in 2007, called Operation Kingpin. This led to seven persons (including the two site owners) being convicted of offences of conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit blackmail and conspiracy to defraud.

Elsewhere, the Science and Technology Committee (at 4.15pm) quizzes Energy Minister Charles Hendry on risk perception and the energy infrastructure - are anxieties about nuclear power stations exaggerated? And the Work and Pensions Committee (at 4.30pm) hears from Chris Grayling about the work programme, which aims to take people off benefits and into employment.

In the Lords, questions range from quantitative easing, sustainable development and tribalism in Libya. Then peers move onto the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.

First, there will be a motion from the crossbencher Lord Owen calling for the debate to be postponed so that peers can consider the detailed decision that the Department for Health's transitional risk register for the bill be disclosed. This is the official assessment of the risks involved in the changes to the NHS in England proposed in the bill. The government has lost two appeals against an instruction to publish this document, after a Freedom of Information request. Lord Owen insists he's not trying to stop the bill by procedural manoeuvre, simply to ensure an important factor is properly weighed by peers.

The health minister in the Lords, Earl Howe, has written to peers urging them not to support Lord Owen. He says the government opposed the publication of documents which envisage worst case scenarios as part of an internal policy discussion; they could "be subject to alarmist misrepresentation".

If the Owen motion fails, peers will move onto the debate proper, when Labour will make one final attempt to stop the bill, with an amendment from Lady Thornton to decline a third reading, because, they argue, the bill is widely opposed and unsupported by any democratic mandate. This is a rare step for the Opposition to take in the Lords, and the handful of recent examples of its use include the Maastricht Treaty (European Communities Amendment Bill, 1993) and the abolition of the GLC. Given the solid coalition vote behind the bill so far, it would be surprising if it were to fall at this final hurdle.

There will also be a short debate on access to proper sanitation and safe water in the developing world led by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price.

On Tuesday, the big event of the day is a ceremony in Westminster Hall (at 11am) when MPs and peers gather to present "an humble address" to Her Majesty to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

When the Commons convenes for business, Nick Clegg, fresh from his triumphs standing in for David Cameron, takes questions in his own right. Expect Conservative backbenchers to be a little less inhibited about rubbishing his plans for Lords reform at a lower profile occasion than PMQs. It's sometimes suggested that some of the new intake of Conservative MPs are keener on Lords reform; will any of them put their heads over the parapet and say so?

Mr Clegg is followed by Attorney General Dominic Greave and his deputy, the Solicitor General, Edward Garnier, who have their own 20 minute mini-question time, starting at about 3.10pm. The Conservative MP, Aidan Burley, has a ten minute rule bill to relax some of the restrictions on the weight of powered wheelchairs and the lower age limit for driving them.

Then - assuming all goes according to government plans in the Lords - MPs consider the hundreds of amendments made to the Health and Social Care Bill in the Lords. The total number of changes is pretty impressive, and while many are mere tweaks to terminology, others create significant new structures, which were not in the bill back in the distant days when it passed the Commons. So expect a row over the lack of opportunities for MPs to mull them over.

It's a light-ish day on the committee corridor. The Foreign Affairs Committee (at 4.15pm) has a session on British foreign policy and the Arab Spring. The star witness will by junior minister Alistair Burt. The Public Administration Committee (at 4.30pm) hears from former Home Office Minister, Lord West of Spithead, on business appointment rules - is there a "revolving door" between the government and jobs with the contractors supplying services to it?

After the morning's ceremonial, normal business resumes in the Lords chamber, with half an hour of questions to ministers and then the final report stage day of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - which will be rather less festive. The government has lost nine different votes on this bill, and will be under pressure on the final day over its proposals to change the rules on bail, so that it will be granted in cases where there is no real prospect of a defendant being jailed. Proposed changes to the law on squatting are also expected to be challenged and the government will also introduce the promised new measures to clamp down of metal theft - it is proposing tougher penalties for scrap metal dealers who receive looted metal.

Wednesday will be dominated by Chancellor George Osborne's Budget statement. First, (from 11.30am) there are questions to the Cabinet Office ministers Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude, and then, at noon, to the prime minister. Then the Speaker leaves the chair to be replaced by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. This is a procedure which dates back several hundred years to the days when the Commons did not want its Speaker presiding over debates on money matters because he was seen as a creature of the King.

All the theatrics of a Budget will follow, with the Chancellor announcing his good news and bad news, and perhaps plucking some rabbit out of his metaphorical hat as a final flourish. The leader of the Opposition then has to respond immediately - perhaps the single most difficult parliamentary task any MP faces. Ed Miliband will have only minutes to digest a vast mass of complex data and try to offer a response. Throughout the Chancellor's statement he will be receiving notes from a backroom team analysing each announcement, and they will continue to arrive even after he has begun to respond - and he will have to build them into his speech as he arrives. Leave aside the politics - this is a hard trick for even the most adept Commons performer to pull off. Four days of debate on the contents of the Budget then follow.

Only a few select committees will sit - the Education Committee squeezes in a final session (at 9.15 am) in its inquiry into exams for 15 to 19-year-olds, with minister Nick Gibb, and the bosses of the examinations regulator OFQUAL. The Scottish Affairs Committee (at 2.30pm) continues its look at the workings of referendum campaigns and the Northern Ireland Committee looks at Ireland's forthcoming Decade of Centenaries starting with that of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Another legislative milestone in the Lords. Peers move to the fifth and final committee stage day on the Scotland Bill - clause 10 and referendums; and they will sit until the committee stage has been completed. The Conservative former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth has a battery of amendments on everything from requiring a referendum to approve a Scottish income tax rate, which is higher than in rest of UK, to giving the Scottish Parliament the right to set air passenger duty and the aggregates levy while removing the right to create new taxes

There's also a sting in the tail - one amendment would make the act fall if the Scottish Parliament has not passed a legislative consent motion within two months of its passing. Another Conservative, Lord Caithness, is proposing a two-stage independence referendum process: first, an advisory referendum, and if that produces a "yes", a second binding vote. He also wants an opt-out clause of Orkney and Shetland to the effect that they don't have to join an independent Scotland unless a majority of their voters support independence. (I blogged on Lord Caithness's family history in January).

Labour's Lord Foulkes also has an array of amendments and the Liberal Democrat Lord Steel proposes that any referendum should be overseen by the Electoral Commission. The one party viewpoint we won't hear is that of the SNP, which has always declined to nominate members to the House of Lords; their view may be put by some Welsh Nationalist allies.

Thursday in the Commons begins with questions to the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Then the Budget debate continues. Normally the debate is separated into a series of themed days, with appropriate cabinet ministers opening for the government. At the time of writing it has not been announced what those themes will be.

There are a smattering of select committee sessions - the Public Administration Committee (at 10.15am) continues its look at business appointments rules and the Home Affairs Committee (from 11am) continues its inquiry into drugs with witnesses from the British Medical Association, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Royal College of General Practitioners, plus the National Treatment Agency. Then there's a short one-off session on the role of private sector companies in policing, with evidence from the Chief Constable of Surrey, Lynne Owens.

In the Lords, peers debate the UK economy in the context of the Budget statement.

Unusually, the Commons sits for government business on Friday (from 9.30am) - the continuation of the Budget debate.

I'll post separately when I get details of the subjects to be covered on each day of the Budget debate - and there's normally a rapid series of hearings of the Treasury Committee to go through the contents of the budget. More later...

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

Week ahead at Westminster

There's still time for a soupcon of high-powered politics as MPs and peers prepare to decamp for their Easter break.

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    I am slightly concerned to read that our MP's will be holding 'an humble debate' where they will be queuing up to out-grovel each other in their flattering of the Monarch.

    Surely the Monarch should offer 'an humble statement of gratitude' for the Commons supprort over these past sixty years.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    Why some newspapers and radios and tv broadcasting corporations use the expression : Polish concentration camp Auschwitz .
    While the camp was constructed by the Germans and operated by the Germans as well .
    Still it was sited in Poland but besides the Jews the Polish were killed mostly there

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    5. Some Lingering Fog

    Whilst Parliament is in London their constituencies are not. As they need a second residence to reflect this they obviously spend a considerable amount of their time there. Perhaps a partial reduction in salary should also reflect this!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 5.

    4. Jaykay

    On Budget Day I am hoping that the government will set a good example to public sector workers by introducing regional differences in MP's pay structure - but don't hold your breath!

    --

    As the Houses of Parliament are in London I would suggest that they will all end up with the same rate.

 

Comments 5 of 9

 

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