Week ahead

 

Battle commences this week, as the Lords Reform Bill goes before MPs for what promises to be a fractious few months in the Commons. (I'll be posting, separately about the tactical battles around the bill).

But Tory irritation will not be confined to the orgy of Clegg-bashing the bill will provide. Keep an eye out for Thursday's EU debates, which will provide hard-line backbenchers with a chance to keep up pressure on their leadership on all things European.

It's a fairly humdrum week in the Lords, but note the increasing fashion for debates about the health implications of our eating and drinking habits. Something's brewing here (no pun intended) and the increasing chatter on these subjects may presage a move towards "health taxes" to shift consumers onto the path of dietary righteousness.

There's not much committee business, apart from one highly charged session….the Treasury Committee continues its probe into the interest rate fixing scandal by taking evidence from the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Paul Tucker, whose conversation with Barclays boss, Bob Diamond, at the height of the credit crunch, in October 2008, is one of the key moments in the saga.

Barclays has published its account of that phone call; Mr Tucker will face questions about the strong impression they give, that he was pushing the bank to lower its Libor rate, with the support of "senior Whitehall figures". The identity of those figures is a key political question. The committee sits on Monday at 4.30pm.

Monday in the Commons begins with questions to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and her team. Then the Commons launches into a rare two-day second reading debate on the House of Lords Reform Bill (see separate post).

The adjournment debate, led by Luton MP Gavin Shuker, is on the theft from a museum of the Wenlock Jug, a rare and important medieval treasure.

There's not much committee business. The Communities and Local Government Committee boldly go to Sunderland, where (from 9.30am) they'll be taking more evidence on their councillors in the community inquiry, in the council chamber at Sunderland City Council. Back on the committee corridor, the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) put one of the government's flagship housing policies under the microscope. How effective is the £1.8bn Affordable Homes Programme, which is intended to deliver 88,000 new homes? The committee will look at its success rate and financial viability, in the light of this report by the National Audit Office.

The Lords begins (at 2.30pm) with question time. The Lib Dem Lord Dykes (once a pro-European Conservative) has a question on when the government will raise the issue of EU monetary and banking union at EU ministerial meetings. The main business is the fourth day of committee scrutiny of the Justice and Security Bill - with a short debate on the government's long-term strategy for the arts and cultural sector led by the crossbencher the Earl of Clancarty, an elected hereditary peer.

It's Cleggorama on Tuesday in the Commons. Business begins with questions to the deputy prime minister. This is always a pretty bare-knuckle occasion, but with day two of the Lords Reform Bill second reading to follow, I expect it to be even nastier than usual.

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert has a ten minute rule bill to allow local planners to prevent a change of use for the premises of independent shops and pubs - it's being presented as a fightback against "Tescopoly". Then the Lords Bill resumes. The vote on second reading will be taken at 10pm. Labour will support it, but there will certainly be a number of Labour and Conservative refusniks. More will come out of the woodwork for the vote on the programme motion - if it is, in the end, put to MPs. That motion is voted on without debate - standing orders assume that any discussion of the merits of a timetable motion occurs within the main debate. This will be a very significant motion for the coalition, and the voting patterns will be studied on all sides.

In committee-land, the Treasury Committee (at 10am) has a one-off evidence session with Marcus Agius, the chairman of Barclays Bank. The committee hasn't yet sorted out its relationship with the new parliamentary inquiry into the rate-fixing scandal, and that is bound to be the subject of the hearing. The chair, Andrew Tyrie, who's also chairing the parliamentary inquiry, may have a demarcation dispute with himself.

Following its report into football governance, the Culture Media and Sport Committee (at 10.30am) will quiz Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, about the response of the football world - there will be another session with the FA and others, the following week. The committee has already warned the bodies running football that they need to sharpen up their act, and if it is not satisfied with the response, it may recommend legislation to impose better governance on the game.

Meanwhile, as the trials of Glasgow Rangers continue, the committee will launch a new inquiry into the finances of football clubs, with, I'm told, Scottish examples very much in mind. But the public phase of that inquiry is unlikely to start until September.

At the Public Administration Committee (at 10.30am) the former BP boss Lord Browne is quizzed about his report on the effectiveness of non-executive directors installed in government departments, to bring business experience to bear on the operations of Whitehall. Euro-pundits Mats Persson and Charles Grant give evidence on the future of the EU to the Foreign Affairs Committee (at 10.30am).

The Home Affairs Committee has a double-headed session, starting at 11am. First, members will take evidence on drugs from the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, Release, and the former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, Tom Lloyd, followed by Trevor Pearce, director general of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. That is followed by evidence from the immigration minister, Damien Green, on…immigration policy.

In the Lords, question time ranges across the link between sugar consumption and diabetes, and the number of mothers with infant children in prison. The main business is the detailed scrutiny of the Financial Services Bill. This is scheduled to be day three of eight, but more time might be added to allow the law to be changed in response to the rate-fixing scandal - which might even lead to the bill being parked for a while, to allow new amendments to be drafted.

The short dinner time debate is on and the role of the drinks industry in preventing anti-social behaviour, led by the Crossbencher Baroness Coussins.

Wednesday in the Commons begins (at 11.30am) with questions to the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, followed at high noon by prime minister's questions - the last before the summer break. Then MPs debate options for changing their sitting hours - the most radical suggestion emerging from the Procedure Select Committee is for the House to sit an hour earlier on Thursdays, at 9.30am, and then rise an hour earlier - the aim being to allow MPs from Scotland and far-flung areas of the UK to leave a little earlier for their constituencies. It may not sound earth-shaking, but there's no change to Commons sitting hours that does not upset someone, so the debate could be a little more heated that might be supposed.

Topping the bill on the committee corridor is the joint appearance, at the Environmental Audit Committee, of the DEFRA Secretary, Caroline Spelman, and the machinery of government supremo, Oliver Letwin, to discuss the extent to which sustainability is built into government decision-making (at 1pm). With several NHS Trusts in severe financial difficulties, the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) has a session on NHS Trust financial resilience. The Science and Technology Committee meets the preferred candidate to take over the Medical Research Council, Donald Brydon, for a pre-appointment hearing.

In the Lords (from 3pm) question time covers farming regulation, harmonising British time with that of the UK's main European trading partners, and the health of carers. Then peers resume detailed scrutiny of the Justice and Security Bill.

Commons business gets under way at 10.30am on Thursday, with questions to the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, followed by the weekly statement from the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, on forthcoming debates. Then MPs debate three "European documents". These are papers from the EU which have been referred to the full House of Commons by the European Scrutiny Committee, and this latest group cover the reform of the EU Court of Justice, the draft budget and the EU Human Rights Strategy. And the paper on the draft budget looks a likely target for the currently rampant eurosceptics on the Tory backbenches. The EU Commission is proposing a 6.8% increase in its spending - an increase the UK government regards as unacceptable. Backbenchers might propose a tougher rejoinder - perhaps urging an outright cut in the budget.

Meanwhile, in the parallel debating chamber, Westminster Hall, there will be a backbench debate on bank competition - a discussion proposed by Andrea Leadsom, Teresa Pearce, Mark Garnier, Tessa Munt, George Freeman and Penny Mordaunt. There's a strong view around Westminster that the banking sector could do with more players and tougher competition between them.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, are before the Defence Committee (at 2.30pm) for a general Q&A about the work of the armed forces. Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan is before the Welsh Affairs Committee for her annual general Q&A session (at 3.30pm). And the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee continues its inquiry into the quality of legislation - would vetting of bills by a Legislative Standards Commission force government departments to draft better laws?

The first business in the Lords (from 11am) is the introduction of veterinary scientist Professor Alexander Trees as a peer. He will sit as a crossbench or independent peer. The day's questions to ministers include the need for treatment programmes for people who are addicted to legally prescribed drugs, the impact on authors of copyright exemption for schools, and unemployment in Wales.

That is followed by a series of short debates led by backbench peers - Labour's Lord Campbell-Savours leads a debate on the implications for political representation and democracy of the proposals of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission. Labour peer and author Baroness Rendell focuses on the problems faced by families in the rented housing sector. And, finally, the Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves raises the issue of coastal access in England - a subject he pursued in the last Parliament, during the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.

The Commons sits at 9.30am on Friday, for its second day of debates on the new crop of private members' bills. Topping the bill is the Conservative Richard Ottaway's Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which tightens the regulations to make it harder for thieves to sell on looted metal. The bill is backed by the government and has a good chance of going forward for detailed consideration. Next on the list is the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill, introduced by another Conservative, Richard Harrington.

The Lords are not sitting.

But watch out for one annual event: a lot of NGOs and human rights organisations will take a keen interest in the report of the Combined Committees on Arms Exports Controls, which will be published on Friday. This is a joint committee of members of the Business and Enterprise, Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development Committees which, every year, scrutinises the government's annual report on the control of strategic exports, including weapons. It is chaired by the Conservative former Armed Forces minister, Sir John Stanley.

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

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