The week ahead in Parliament
- 11 October 2012
- From the section UK Politics
Both houses will be in action next week - and MPs will be trying out their new sitting hours.
They'll sit at 11.30am on a Tuesday, rather than 2.30pm and they will also convene an hour earlier on a Thursday, at 9.30am, in order to allow a slightly earlier exit for those MPs heading for far flung constituencies. Any change in the Commons sitting hours, however minor, always seems to encourage a symphony of whinging from those whose routine is disrupted - and it would not surprise me if the first whinges were heard at next week's House business questions, on Thursday. The new Leader of the House, the former health secretary Andrew Lansley, may find his parliamentary colleagues every bit as truculent as the BMA.
A few months back, the government's business managers had doubtless expected that this month would be dominated by committee-stage debates on the Lords Reform Bill - and now that measure is no more, the legislation before MPs looks pretty humdrum and a remarkable amount of it is being considered in detail in a Committee of the Whole House. But look out for statements from a variety of ministers on issues which have arisen since the last sitting.
Oh, and watch out on Sunday morning for what promises to be a hard-hitting Public Administration Select Committee report on the role of Special Advisors (SpAds) in government. Some of the evidence sessions in the inquiry which produced this report have been pretty acerbic, and given the travails of several SpAds in the Labour years, and, more recently, the role played by the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's SpAd, in the News Corp bid to take full ownership of BskyB, their supervision, and the degree to which their masters are responsible for their activities remain pressing political issues.
The Commons returns on Monday at 2.30pm, with the Home Secretary Theresa May and her team first up for questions. This will mark the debut of several ministers in new roles, including the Lib Dem Jeremy Browne (moved over from the Foreign Office), Mark Harper (promoted after a gruelling spell promoting Nick Clegg's constitutional reform agenda), and James Brokenshire, who has been promoted within the department and now includes security issues within his brief.
The new Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is expected to make a statement on the West Coast Mainline debacle - which could be a little awkward, since his last parliamentary comment on the issue was before the Transport Select Committee in September, before the franchising process for the bid unravelled, when he said he was "satisfied that due diligence was done by the Department." Other ministers may well have to deliver statements on other matters; it's a good bet that the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore will have something to say about the terms on which a referendum on Scottish independence will be held.
Then MPs will turn to detailed committee stage scrutiny of the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill - which allows the government to provide financial assistance of up to £50bn in support of infrastructure investment. It is being fast-tracked through the Commons, with the third reading debate following immediately afterwards.
The big event on the committee corridor is the Communities and Local Government Committee hearing (4.10pm) on planning, housing and growth, with the new ministerial team of Mark Prisk, Minister for Housing and Nick Boles, Minister for Planning, giving evidence. Will they re-ignite the controversy about planning the need to develop more land for housing which engulfed their predecessors and led a rather unseemly spat between the government and the National Trust, among others?
In the Lords (2.30pm) there is a question on the UK's self-sufficiency in energy from the former Coal Board chief, Lord Ezra. And peers then move on to the seventh day of detailed committee stage consideration of the Financial Services Bill. The theme of technical changes to financial legislation is then continued with the report stage of the Trusts (Capital and Income) Bill, which revises the law on capital and income in trusts.
There's an earlier start to Tuesday in the Commons (11.30am) when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg will be at the dispatch box for the usual blast of scorn and loathing from Labour, and not a few Conservative backbenchers. There's also a short question time for the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. Then the Tory backbencher Robert Halfon, who has long campaigned on issues around the price of fuel, presents his latest Ten-Minute Rule Bill, the Vehicle Fuel Receipts (Transparency of Taxation) Bill. It's worth remembering that several ideas first floated in this kind of bill have been picked up and implemented by the government (there were 3 in George Osborne's last budget).
MPs then turn to the report stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which, among other things, sets up the Green Investment Bank and abolishes the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading Competition to create a new Markets Authority. The adjournment debate, on the miscalculations of former spouses' armed forces pensions, is led by the Conservative, John Glen.
As ever, Tuesday is the busiest committee day. The highlight may be the debut before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the newly appointed Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Michael Fallon. He is supposed to be talking about progress on Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund - but given that he has been sent to BIS as a Conservative counterweight to the Lib Dems' Vince Cable, committee members will undoubtedly be keen to probe his views on wider issues.
The Justice Committee (9.30am) continues its inquiry into youth justice, with evidence from a variety of charities and pressure groups and from Dr Becky Morland, Consultant Counselling Psychologist at the Peterborough Youth Offending Service. The Energy and Climate Change Committee (10am) has a one-off session on whether international aviation and shipping emissions should be included in carbon budgets, with evidence from David Kennedy, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change and the Air Transport Action Group, Sustainable Aviation, the UK Chamber of Shipping and WWF-UK. The Scottish Affairs Committee (11.30am) continues its investigation into blacklisting in employment, with evidence from David Smith, the Deputy Information Commissioner.
NB the planned Defence Committee hearing on the proposed merger of BAE Systems and EADS has been cancelled - along with the merger itself.
In the Lords (from 3pm), Labour's equalities spokesperson, Glenys Thornton celebrates her birthday with a question about unemployment among older women. After question time, peers continue their report stage scrutiny of the Local Government Finance Bill. The day is focussed on the bill's provisions to allow councils to set up their own schemes to distribute Council Tax benefit - expect Labour amendments calling on the government to fund its standard scheme in full and to require the government to spell out who should be considered "vulnerable" and therefore entitled to a reduction in their Council Tax. Labour failed to win an amendment that it pushed to the vote this week - but is angling for support from Crossbench and dissident Lib Dem peers.
Also worth watching will be a "regret motion" from Labour's Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on the National Health Service (Clinical Commissioning Groups) Regulations 2012. This is one of the sets of regulations parliament will be asked to approve which fill out some of the detail of the NHS reforms in the Health and Social Care Act, which caused such problems to the Coalition. As many as 200 sets of regulations may emerge - and these bar local councillors, secondary care specialists and others from membership of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups, which will play a key role in the new system. It is rare for motions of this kind to be put to a vote, but with vast numbers of regulations due to appear under the health reforms, and as a result of the Welfare Reform Act, that convention may well be stretched in the months to come.
On Wednesday (from 11.30am) Welsh questions - and the debut of new Secretary of State, David Jones - are followed by Prime Minister's Question Time. There's also a Ten Minute Rule Bill on including Relationship, Drug and Alcohol Education in the school curriculum from Labour's Diana Johnson. MPs then polish off the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, with the second day of report stage consideration, followed immediately by the third reading.
It is another busy day for the Select Committees. The Education Committee (9.45am) focuses on Support for home education - the session will include the debut appearance of the new Education Minister Elizabeth Truss. The spending watchdogs of the Public Accounts Committee (3.15pm) will be considering the findings of a National Audit Office report highlighting the benefits flowing from the innovative use of competition to award companies licences to transmit electricity from offshore wind farms.
The Lords (from 3pm) continues its marathon scrutiny of the Financial Services Bill with the eighth day of committee stage consideration. And there is a short debate on measures to help young offenders find employment or training on release from prison.
Thursday sees the Commons convening at the new, earlier, time of 9.30am. The new Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has his first question time - although he will have been blooded after making his statement on Monday. He is followed by Maria Miller in her role as minister for Women and Equalities - expect plenty of questions on gay marriage. And then there is the weekly business statement by Andrew Lansley.
The main debates are on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee: firstly the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - with supporters of the regiment arguing that it has been sacrificed because ministers are afraid to disband Scottish regiments in the run-up to the referendum on independence. The second debate is on the use of intercept evidence in courts and inquests. Finally, the Conservative Nick de Bois leads an adjournment debate on Government support for pseudoxanthoma elasticum. PXE is a very rare condition which can lead to sufferers going blind in their forties. His aim is to highlight how difficult it is to secure powerful drugs like Lucentis and Avastin to prevent or delay the onset of blindness.
The only committee action is the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am) which has a double-headed session. First they continue the exploration of the case for a constitutional convention for the UK. Then they move on to ensuring standards in the quality of legislation.
In the Lords (from 11am) question time includes the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Blair of Boughton asking about the Police Federation ballot on the legal prohibition on police officers going on strike. As is normal on a Thursday, there are a series of debates chosen by backbench peers - the subjects are excellence in education, the centenary of the Scott Expedition to Antarctica and proposals for further developments in the bus industry.
Both Houses are sitting on Friday to debate Private Members Bills. The Commons convenes at 9.30am and first up is Peter Aldous' Mobile Homes Bill - which aims to provide greater protection to mobile home owners from unscrupulous site landlords. The bill draws on a government consultation exercise earlier this year, and on a recent report by the Communities Select Committee on abuses by owners of caravan parks. Second on the list is the Marine Navigation (No. 2) Bill from Sheryll Murray. The "No.2" indicates that a similar bill is simultaneously being considered in the Lords. The bill would allow Trinity House, which funds lighthouses through a levy on the shipping industry to use its vast expertise in the commercial sphere and tender for private contracts. The idea is to allow it to raise money, so it can reduce the levy. The bill also extends the jurisdiction of harbour police so that they can operate more than a mile from their harbour, if necessary. Third on the agenda, if the house gets that far, is the Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill from Labour's Michael Connarty.
In the Lords (from 10am) peers will be debating the Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill. This is yet another offering from the Lib Dem super-lawyer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. The aim is to ensure that long term cohabitees do not discover that they have no right to the home they have shared, if one partner dies. Lord Lester has an impressive hit rate in changing the law. He is one of the architects of the current Defamation Bill, and this issue is another of the causes he has long campaigned on. Second on the agenda is the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, proposed by the Crossbencher, Baroness Cox.