Week ahead

  • 14 December 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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On Monday, the Commons convenes at 2.30pm for Communities and Local Government questions, but the day's big event will be David Cameron's statement on the European Council - will there be an EU budget deal? Will the Euro-zone take action to address its economic crisis - and will Mr Cameron's backbenchers be content with whatever emerges?

My impression is that attitudes towards the EU budget, in particular, are hardening, with many backbenchers furious that Britain is already signed up to increased contributions, thanks to Tony Blair, and determined to ensure the EU budget is kept in its box.

Then it's on to the report stage and third reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill - the measure to streamline planning procedures and encourage infrastructure investment.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers cover NHS funding for R&D at major teaching hospitals, the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta on 15 June 2015, and the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo . There's also a private notice question (a rarer event than in the Commons) from the Crossbencher Lord Alton, on the impact on regional and world security of North Korea's recent missile launch.

Peers then canter through the third reading of the private member's bill to regulate Caravan Sites Bill, the second readings of two relatively uncontroversial EU-related measures, the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill and the European Union (Approvals) Bill, and debate recent developments in the European Union.

There's quite an eminent list of speakers for that last debate, including the former diplomat Lord Hannay, the former EU Commissioner Lord Britten and the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Owen.

Tuesday in the Commons begins (at 11.30am) with Justice questions. That's followed by an intriguing-looking Ten Minute Rule Bill from the Conservative Alec Shelbrooke, promoting the idea of a welfare cash card. Then it's on to the second reading of the Justice and Security Bill - the measure which will allow civil courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings - "secret courts" to critics - to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

That's followed by a debate on the fund for European aid to the most deprived - an EU issue referred to the full House by the European Scrutiny Select Committee. And the adjournment debate is on UK exposure to high carbon investment - led by the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Meanwhile, in Westminster Hall there are a series of debates led by backbench MPs - topping the bill one on Yorkshire and the Tour de France, as the Conservative MP Julian Smith leads a show of political support for the decision to stage the Tour's Grand Depart in Yorkshire in 2014 (it often stages part of the race outside France). Will the most senior Yorkshire MP, William Hague, pop in to give his endorsement, I wonder?

Other subjects raised by backbench MPs include government funding for Cornwall, the effects of welfare reform on disabled people, their carers and families and votes for 16 and 17-year-olds.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) there are questions to ministers on safeguarding the position of the National Lottery and humanitarian aid to refugees from Syria. Then peers polish off the Crime and Courts Bill and the Small Charitable Donations Bill - it looks as if the calculation is that there won't be much controversy on either, because they then move onto what looks like a pretty major debate on the Leveson report on press standards.

This could be quite an occasion. Look out for speeches from Labour media guru Lord Puttnam, Lord Fowler, the Conservative former Cabinet minister, and former chair of the Lords Communications Committee, Lib Dem superlawyer Anthony Lestor, who has drafted a bill to enact Leveson; and the Press Complaints Commission Chairman Lord Hunt of Wirral. There are grumbles that the debate will be hampered because the House authorities have refused to allow those participating to have hard copies of the Leveson report, leaving them to rely on copies in the library.

The debate will be a chance to consider the many responses to Leveson: the Letwin Royal Charter idea, the Lestor bill, the Labour proposals - and Labour peer Lord Lipsey, who'll be opening proceedings, has arranged for briefings from the Media Standards Trust and others. It will be interesting to see what consensus emerges... the expectation is that it will be that the status quo is not an option; but that any role for statute should be as limited as is compatible with making Leveson's remedies effective. The question peers may wrestle with most is whether this requires any statutory backing at all.

On Wednesday, the Commons gathers at 11.30am for Cabinet Office questions, followed at noon by the last prime minister's questions of 2012. Conservative awkward squaddie Peter Bone presents a Ten Minute Rule Bill aimed at protecting religious groups like the Brethren from losing charitable status. He's garnered strong support from other MPs. The main debate is on the second reading of the Energy Bill, which seeks to reform the electricity market and provide a new framework for low-carbon generation. Since it runs across one of the major fault-lines in the coalition, expect some fun and games.

And, on a related subject look out for the Westminster Hall debate on giving communities a share of shale gas profits (from 4pm - 4.30pm). Defusing local opposition to "fracking" to extract gas from rocks deep below the surface is an issue many of the more tactically-adroit MPs are increasingly concerned about. In October the Conservative Mark Menzies suggested a new regulator in an adjournment debate and, hey presto, the Chancellor made the idea flesh in his Autumn Statement. Will the idea of giving communities some share of the profits, be taken up in the same way? The Conservative Eric Ollerenshaw leads this short debate, but expect a number of the growing band of fracking-aware MPs to weigh in. Other subjects to be discussed in Westminster Hall include food banks in Scotland, HIV risks in developing countries and the economy of Coventry and the West Midlands.

It's the last debating day before Christmas for their lordships (from 11am). Question time covers members of the armed forces who have sustained life-changing injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, and progress on proposals for an EU-US free trade agreement. Then peers turn to the second reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill.

MPs soldier on another day - and on Thursday they meet (at 9.30am) for Business, Innovation and Skills questions. They'll get the agenda for their first week back in January - although expect all kinds of extra statements and urgent questions to pepper the order paper when they return - and then the chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Tim Yeo, leads on Consumer Engagement with Energy Markets and its new inquiry on energy prices, profits and poverty.

Then MPs have their traditional debate before the Christmas recess - a chance to raise any subject they like. Since the advent of the Backbench Business Committee, this has been fashioned into a rather more coherent event, with speeches grouped according to subject, and a team of ministers organised to reply to each grouping. The result is a much more sensible use of chamber time, with backbencher rewarded by some kind of response from a relevant minister, rather than one harassed sacrificial minister promising repeatedly to get other ministers to write to those who'd spoken.

Over in Westminster Hall, meanwhile, there's a Backbench Business Committee debate on the first annual inter-departmental ministerial report on human trafficking. There's a strong backbench group of 44 MPs and a fair few peers who chivvy ministers on these issues - and they pushed the government into agreeing to publish this document every year.

Current luminaries include Peter Bone, Michael Connarty and Margot James - and even seasonal goodwill won't save the immigration minister, Mark Harper, from a rough ride, if they don't like what they hear. They will be armed with a series of specific concerns - particularly the fate of under-18 girls forced into prostitution by traffickers. At the moment, they are placed in the care of local authorities and often end up being re-trafficked, and the group will push for responsibility to be handed to agencies like Barnardo's and the Salvation Army, instead.

And after that, our Parliamentarians are off till 7 January 2013.

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