- 11 February 2013
- From the section UK Politics
This week's big parliamentary event is undoubtedly David Cameron's statement on the outcome of the EU Budget summit...a piece of political theatre which could set the tone of the continuing debate on Britain's relationship with the EU for months, maybe years, to come.
It is crucial for the prime minister to bring home results from these summits that satisfy his own party and head off the electoral threat posed by UKIP, and, conversely, it is crucial for Labour to stop him. So the stakes are high, and the noise levels will probably be high as well. Expect plenty of interventions from Mr Speaker, to at least try and calm excited MPs.
On another issue, the government may attempt to head off its problems over press regulation (see previous post) with a statement, probably from Cabinet Office policy wonk Oliver Letwin, on its own proposals for a press regulation system. It is entirely possible he will come to the House at some point this week, to unveil his ideas and answer questions, so keep an eye out for that.
Monday's proceedings open at 2.30 pm with questions to the Home Secretary, including, in a week where the issue of violence against women will be raised on several occasions, tackling female genital mutilation - police efforts on this problem are likely to be criticised at a Home Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, and see also Thursday's Backbench Business Committee debate.
After an hour of questions, the prime minister will make his statement (see above) and then the EU theme continues with the remaining stages of Commons consideration of the European Union (Approvals) Bill, which would ratify a series of changes to the way the EU works, including a reduction in the number of Commissioners.
After that, there's a chance for MPs, under the aegis of the Backbench Business Committee, to complain about the effect of the latest Local Government Finance settlement on rural councils.
The rural theme is maintained at the end of the day (at 10pm) when Labour MP Chris Williamson, a long standing activist in the League Against Cruel Sports, has a half-hour adjournment debate on policing violence at hunts. This is just the latest of a series of skirmishes between pro and anti-hunting MPs, and Mr Williamson can expect an above average attendance for an adjournment debate as he alleges police indifference about assaults on people monitoring hunts to make sure they don't involve chasing actual foxes.
Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) question time includes some promising subjects - the exemption of private companies providing services to the NHS from corporation tax, limiting the ongoing closure of public libraries across the country and predicting the number of jobs that would be created by leaving the European Union.
Next, peers should complete their consideration of the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill - which removes laws allowing people to be disqualified from serving as MPs, jurors and company directors. This started life as a private members' bill in the Commons, piloted through by the Conservative, Gavin Barwell, and will be steered through third reading by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham.
Things may then become a tad less consensual as peers get their first chance to debate the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill - the measure which is designed to make sure that benefit payments don't increase faster than wages. This kicks off a bit of a benefits theme in the upper house, this week.
On Tuesday, the Commons meets at 11.30am for questions to Nick Clegg. I'm pretty sure this is the Deputy Prime Minister's first appearance at the dispatch box since the Coalition split over the parliamentary boundaries vote, a couple of weeks ago. Tory MPs won't have forgotten or forgiven, so he can expect a rough ride, with yet more venom added by the impending Eastleigh by-election. DPM questions are never pretty: this could be nasty. Mr Clegg may also be asked about the creation of more Lords to join the already crowded benches of the Upper House and about his party's attitude to amendments to e Defamation Bill, that could enact Lord Leveson's core proposals on press regulation....watch this space. There will also be a 20-minute mini-question time for the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve.
The day's main business is two Opposition Day debates on education and infrastructure.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions cover the government's plans to commemorate the centenary of World War I, the need for a reduction in domestic food waste, and the interest rate rigging scandal in the City. Then the debates are a mixture. There's the second reading of the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill, the third reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, another private members bill sent over from the Commons (but watch out for attempts to amend it to include a time limit, or sunset clause, as was promised by government ministers in the Commons, but rejected in the Lords - if ministers find they can't keep such promises, future private members' bills may have a harder time getting approve by MPs).
Then peers turn to the Public Service Pensions Bill - a measure which makes big and painful changes, but which has had a surprisingly smooth passage through parliament. There may be votes on a couple of detailed points, including the retirement age of Ministry of Defence firefighters. And then there's a short debate on UK women's safety in light of the government report 'An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales'. The debate will be led by Lord Desai.
On Wednesday, the Commons meets at 11.30am for Scottish questions, (increasingly an exercise in synchronised SNP-bashing) followed by prime minister's questions at High Noon.
Then Peter Luff, the Conservative former Defence Minister and former chair of the Business Select Committee, presents a ten minute rule bill on enabling pupils in primary, middle, high and secondary schools to gain greater understanding of careers in science, technology and engineering.
And then it's on to the day's main event, a motion on the annual Police Grant and Local Government Finance reports. This is usually an epic whinge-athon, at the best of times, ( I doubt history records any instance of an MP telling a minister their patch has been given too much funding) but with local councils and police forces facing an unprecedented squeeze, the minister may face an even rougher ride than usual. And the qusterity continues after that, as MPs turn to a motion on the Draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2013; Draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2013.
Westminster Hall hosts an all-day series of backbench debates (from 9.30am to 5pm). My eye was caught by awkward squaddie Chris Chope's debate on collective ministerial responsibility, which should provide an entertaining bout of cross Coalition sniping.
In the Lords, the same subject surfaces at question time, with the Conservative Lady Miller asking about the constitutional convention of cabinet collective responsibility....
After questions, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, pilots the Prisons (Property) Bill through third reading.
Then peers turn to a whole raft of orders and regulations under the Welfare Reform Act... these are detailed changes to reshape the whole system, and Labour peers have put down a series of "regret" motions against them. Social Security minister Lord Freud will be batting for the government.
On Thursday both Houses have chances to discuss the issue of violence against women and the "One Billion Rising" campaign. In the Commons, it takes the form of two Backbench Business Committee debates - the first is on protecting future generations from violence against women and girls, and as well as raising the issue, the objective of the group who applied for the debate is to secure a commitment from the government to refocus the way sex and relationship education is taught, to prevent violence against women. The second debate is on preventing sexual violence in conflict. In the Lords, meanwhile, Labour's Lady Gale raises the "One Billion Rising" campaign at question time.
One interesting factor underlying these discussions is a conscious attempt to put together the kind of alliance of powerful women ministers and backbenchers across parties that promoted a lot of legislation and policy change on women's issues in the last parliament.
Back in the Commons, business opens at 9.30am with questions to the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller. again questions about the amended version of the Defamation Bill and any alternative system of press regulation unveiled by the government, may feature. Then there's a mini-question time on women and equalities, for 20 minutes, before the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, announces what MPs will be doing when they return from their half-term break on 25 February.
After those backbench debates, the Commons day ends with an adjournment debate led by Conservative Karl McCartney on increasing employability skills of young people.
In the Lords (from 11am) questions cover domestic violence worldwide (see above) and the progress of the academy school programme. Then peers have their first debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill - the measure to allow princesses to inherit the throne if they're older than their brother princes, and remove some of the restrictions on members of the royal family marrying Roman Catholics.
Neither House sits on Friday, and Parliament returns from its half-term on Monday 25 February.