Week ahead

 

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 But Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have withdrawn their support from the measure in retaliation for the defeat of Lords reform.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.

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

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    If as we are told 75% of our laws are made in Brussels why do we even need 600? How about 200?

    WHAT DO THEY DO FOR THEIR MONEY???

    And why are they asking for a huge pay rise? This is a madhouse run by the inmates.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 16.

    7.Sanchez - "If the Libdems blocked equal sizes for constituencies, they would be forever electoral toast. It would be an astonishingly undemocratic act."


    That is NOT what they are doing - the Govt refuse to use the ACTUAL population figures for each area, instead trying to use incomplete statistics to do the dividing......

    ....Gerrymandering at it's worse......

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    #8 So why should a vote in the Highlands be worth more because it is more remote? And why "registered voters"? We just had a census, why not on that?
    Because proportionally more tory supporters register to vote than the working class. They will do anything for an advantage.

    Had they based it on the census they'd probably have got it through, as it's obviously fairer.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    Rationalisation to suit the Tory party. They obviously think messing up the boundaries again will give them a better chance of getting the majority vote in more constituencis.PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IS THE BEST OPTION. The real kind not the version on offer when the Tories and L.Dems started off.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 13.

    12..
    GoatC 555
    "Cameron failed to get a majority in 2010."

    That is why Tories are spending £12m on boundary changes - as they are targeting 40 key Constituencies as they know that is the only chance they have. That is why Butch Flashman is being nice to the peripheral Parties, and hoping to dupe them & the Literal Doormats!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    Cameron is very unlikely to get what he wants as regards reducing the number of MPs. This is a very good thing, as it means he has very little chance of obtaining a majority in 2015. And let's not forget that under first past the post, which Cameron supports wholeheartedly, he failed to get a majority in 2010. People just don't trust the Tories to govern for the whole country.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 11.

    #9 In our household we refer to a onesy as a baby-grow (large size obviously). Seems about right for the LDs

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    Cameron couldn't win an election agains one of the most unpopular PM's ever, in a recession. So first order of business was to stack the deck at the next one.

    That the lib dems ever agreed to it showed their lack of spine.
    That they changed sides because Cameron didn't really try on Lords reform reflects still worse on them. Meanwhile Dave still comes out of this looking better. How exactly?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    The Literal Doormat turncoats have ditched every ethical argument they had, so don't be surprised if they sell-out on this one also. The Tories are spending £12m, on this scheme and part of this is likely to be promised to the Literal Doormats to bulk up their dwindling coffers. So expect the usual from the Literal Doormats, wearing their onesies with the Tories sack race!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 8.

    #3 this is nonsense. The proposal is to have all constituencies (with a couple of exceptions such as highland & island constituency) to be the same size (+/- 5%) of registered voters.

    What is wrong with that?

    Libs are behaving like spoilt 5 year olds on this.

    #2 It is the Boundary commission which sets the constituency boundaries and reviews every 5 years not the Tory party

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    If the Libdems blocked equal sizes for constituencies, they would be forever electoral toast. It would be an astonishingly undemocratic act.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 6.

    The Lords need to put the interests of the citizens of the UK before party political posturing - isn't that the whole point of having a non-elected element in the legislature?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    So, the Mental Health Discrimination Bill attempts to abolish a law allowing MPs to be unseated because of mental illness.

    In some quarters MPs would be deemed to be Sociopaths & in some other quarters that condition is seen as a mental illness.

    So, in theory are the lunatics running the asylum?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 4.

    Falklands. . . . Carry on as normal
    Supermarket pricing. . . . .Ban BOGOF
    Wales. . . . .Let them deal with it themselves
    Atos. . . . . . Let UK qualified docs deal with it
    And Friday just looks like a money swinger for themselves. . . .Antarctic. . . .oil? Scrap Metal. . . .tax?. .. . . And they can stay in their job even if they are psycotic. . . . . .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    There is no reasonable arguement against equal sized constituencies....


    ....but the Tory bill DOES NOT propose equal sizes......



    .....if it did they equalise them based on real statistics.....



    ....not on the dodgy method they refer to use for the exercise, which "just coincidentally" would rig all future elections in the Tories favour as it would not lead to equal sizes.......

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 2.

    Most don't want 'equalization of constituency sizes'. This means that large towns and cities will have their interests set aside by being tied to dormitory villages- predominantly Tory. The Tories have gerrymandered borders every time they have been in office. I do not believe that the Lib Dems will block their proposals - they haven't seriously opposed the Tories since they seized office.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1.

    I do see how the LibDems could consider using the Lords to "kill off" equalisation of constituency sizes. A clear majority of voters want equalisation of constituency sizes as an obvious necessity for democracy. The Liberal "Democrats" simply cannot afford to act so undemocratically.

 

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