- 13 January 2013
- From the section UK Politics
This week's big parliamentary event will be the Lords vote on boundary changes on Monday afternoon.
Unless some sudden and unexpected outbreak of sweet compromise occurs, this will see the first occasion since the founding of the Coalition in which Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are whipped to vote in opposite lobbies.
I won't rehearse all the intricacies of this saga, but the Conservatives believe the boundary changes would end an unfairness in the electoral system; and if the change is blocked, their prospects at the next election will suffer. But Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have withdrawn their support from the measure in retaliation for the defeat of Lords reform. There will be a kerfuffle in the Lords about whether the boundary review can be killed by an amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill - but the expectation is that a Lib-Lab alliance will force the amendment through with a comfortable majority.
The question then is whether relations between the two Coalition parties will be poisoned, or whether they can pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again. Expect plenty of Lib Dem bashing, and watch to see whether the Libs respond or possibly leave their angry partners to it.
What's beyond doubt is that defeat on this will be a very serious setback for David Cameron. So watch for aftershocks, perhaps spreading into the Commons.
Meanwhile, there's plenty of other interesting action in both houses...
Monday in the Commons begins (at 2.30pm) with Defence questions - with one listed question raising the readiness of British forces based in the Falkland Islands - and then (assuming no statements by ministers or urgent questions) MPs will turn to the second reading of the Crime and Courts Bill, which has already been through the Lords.
But for once the main action will be that crucial vote in the Lords. See above.
On Tuesday, the Commons convenes at 11.30am for Health questions. That's followed by a promising-looking ten minute rule bill from Labour's John Denham. He wants to require supermarkets to publish pricing data on all the goods they sell in a standardised, accessible, online format so consumers can compare prices.
The idea is to strip away the complexities of buy one get one free deals and other special offers and find out which supermarket really offers the best value. Mr Denham, who's quitting Parliament at the next election, has a reputation as a smart thinker who's usually several steps ahead of his colleagues, and he may be pioneering a new consumerism which could become a theme for Labour, if the government doesn't co-opt it first.
The day's big debate is a historic one. MPs will be asked to approve an order under the Scotland Act, to allow the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum on independence. This is the product of the Edinburgh Agreement between David Cameron and Alex Salmond, and had all party backing, so there won't be much suspense about the outcome. But quite a few MPs want to put down markers about the ground rules for the referendum - watch out for Scottish Affairs select committee chair Ian Davidson, whose committee published a report this week, highlighting a series of concerns, and for the Conservative Eleanor Laing, who wants provision to be made for Scots living outside Scotland to have a vote. The result might be some quite sparky clashes between the SNP contingent and, in particular, their regular sparring partner, Mr Davidson.
And the day ends with an adjournment debate led by the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, on Remploy Marine Fife.
Meanwhile, there will be a series of backbencher-led debates in Westminster Hall. Subjects include (at 9.30am) scam mailing, led by the Conservative Heather Wheeler; party political broadcasts (at 11am) led by the Conservative George Eustice; and raising electoral registration, led by Labour's Nick Smith.
Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm), the first event of the day is the introduction of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is reincarnated back into the House as Lord Williams of Oystermouth. After question time, peers polish off the third reading of the Lib Dem Lady Thomas of Winchester's Disabled Persons' Parking Badges Bill, and then they move onto the second committee stage day on the Public Service Pensions Bill - a huge change to the pensions system in the public sector, which has so far not provoked major clashes in the Chamber.
And the day ends with a short debate on retraining and work programmes for prisoners - led by the Lib Dem, Lord Carlile of Berriew.
Wednesday in the Commons begins (at 11.30am) with Welsh questions, followed by PMQs. And then there's another ten minute rule bill, this time from the Lib Dem former health minister, Paul Burstow, who's now chairing the joint committee looking at the Draft Care and Support Bill, which will revamp the system for looking after elderly and disabled people. His bill aims to hold corporations criminally accountable for abuse and neglect in care settings, and require them to supply information to Adult Safeguarding Boards, and to introduce a new offence of corporate neglect. The day's main debate will be on Labour motions - yet to be announced.
In Westminster Hall (from 9.30am), there are backbench debates on the government review of personal, social, health and financial education, led by Labour's Barbara Keeley, and the former communities minister Bob Neill has a debate at 2.30pm on the new local government standards regime.
In the Lords (from 3pm), peers canter through the report stages of the European Union (Croation Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill and the European Union (Approvals) Bill and then turn to the Scottish referendum order which was debated by the Commons on Tuesday. MPs don't get to amend such orders, but in the Upper House the rules are different and the uber-unionist and former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has put down a battery of amendments....
There's also a short debate on the regulation of clinical research and innovation led by the Conservative, Lord Saatchi.
On Thursday (from 9.30) the temperature in the Commons will probably be a bit lower - if any sparks fly they will probably emerge during Transport questions. The jousting during the weekly Commons Business Statement has become rather ritualistic, with the main protagonists, the Leader of the Commons and his Labour shadow trotting out rather laboured pre-scripted jokes.
And those two sets of questions will be followed by two debates chosen by the Commons Backbench Business Committee - first Labour's Michael Meacher leads a debate on Atos Work Capability Assessments - the assessments of disabled people's ability to work, by a private company. And then the Conservative defence expert, Julian Lewis, opens a debate on the nuclear deterrent - this might bring out some Coalition tensions, because the Lib Dems have managed to forestall a government commitment to replace the aging Trident nuclear missile system.
In the Lords, from (11am) question time includes a query about the latest plan for a major Severn Barrage from the Crossbencher, Lord Hylton. (I haven't managed to get very excited about most of this week's Lords questions.) Then peers move on to debate subjects chosen by backbenchers - these include: the government position on the European Development Fund and other EU aid budgets in the current negotiations on future EU funding; the Local Government Finance Settlement; the impact on families of changes to tax and benefits and an interesting looking tekky subject, the use of online tools, including social media, to combat youth unemployment.
Friday is private members' bill day in both Houses - in the Commons, MPs will start with the report stage of the Antarctic Bill, which has been piloted through by the Conservative Neil Carmichael.
And then they will turn to a series of measures proposed by Labour's Thomas Docherty, who was one of the intrepid group of MPs who spend a night in the Commons Public Bill Office to be first in the queue for slots to introduce a bill which were left over after the MPs who'd won top places in the annual ballot for the right to bring a bill in had had their turn. (Apologies if you have to read that sentence twice - it's a piece of arcane parliamentary procedure which may well be abolished in the next couple of years, but I promise you, they actually do this sort of thing.)
Mr Docherty has introduced bills on legislation for minimum tariffs for energy companies, financial literacy, wild animals in circuses and social tariffs for water companies. At this late stage of the parliamentary year, he can't hope for more than a chance to float a couple of these ideas, but will he even be allowed that? It is entirely possible that someone may decide to put down lots of amendments to the (quite blameless) Antarctic Bill, to use up all or most of the available time. We shall see.
The Lord sit at 10am to debate the latest crop of private members' bills sent over from the Commons. These include the committee stage of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, the second reading of the Prisons (Property) Bill, the second reading of the Marine Navigation (No. 2) Bill and the second reading of the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill - the measure which will abolish the long-disused law allowing MPs to be unseated because of mental illness.