- 1 March 2013
- From the section UK Politics
Another week, another rebellion.
This week's political pinch point is the Justice and Security Bill - which would allow judges in civil cases to consider material not disclosed to people who were suing the UK over, for example, their detention in Guantanamo Bay. The aim would be to allow cases to go ahead, without revealing national security material to, for example, terrorist suspects.
A cross-party rebellion over the use of these "closed material proceedings" looks likely, with Tory civil libertarians, like David Davis and Andrew Tyrie (chair of the All Party Group on Rendition, which did so much to raise the issue in Parliament) hoping they can at least extract more concessions from the government.
It's rumoured the report stage and third reading of the bill have been brought forward to this week, to avoid the possibility of Lib Dem MPs being instructed by their party's spring conference to vote against. The report stage consideration will start on Monday, and conclude on Thursday, and the third reading will follow immediately after.
The wily Ken Clarke is leading for the government - because, critics say, his liberal credentials could be deployed to persuade some opponents of the bill not to rebel - and can be expected to have some concessions to offer.
Opponents of the bill believe it has been "written in Washington via MI6" and that the government is "there for taking if the Libs show some spine..." But its supporters believe any rebellion will be containable and ministers will win the day. Perhaps things might have been different if the Liberal Democrats had lost Eastleigh….
Here's my run-down of the week's action in the Commons and the Lords.
On Monday, the Commons meets at 2.30pm for Education questions - followed (assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions) by the report stage of the Justice and Security Bill (see above). Then watch out for the adjournment debate, when the Conservative Stephen Barclay will discuss the regulation of health professionals. Mr Barclay, a smart member of the Public Accounts Committee, wants to explore why more doctors, nurses, specialists, etc, are not disciplined or struck off in the wake of scandals like that in Mid Staffordshire. This will be the prelude to a searching examination through various Commons channels of major failings in the NHS.
Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across assisting families facing homelessness as a result of housing benefit, and representations received from the public on the negotiations for the new EU budget. Then peers turn to the second report stage day devoted to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, where a number of issues may be forced to a vote - the key one is an amendment to stop the bill removing a duty to promote equal opportunities, with peers on the receiving end of intensive lobbying.
And watch out for the amendment to bring caste within the scope of equality legislation. This commands cross party support with such luminaries as the Lib Dem Lord Avebury, the Conservative Lord Deben (the artist formerly known as John Gummer), and Labour's Lady Thornton - and the Dalit Solidarity Network, which campaigns on behalf of those at the bottom of the South Asian caste system (sometimes called "untouchables") is organising a mass lobby in support.
There's also a short debate on commemorating the centenary of the World War I - led by Labour Peer, Lord Clark of Windermere.
The Commons sits at 11.30am on Tuesday for Foreign Office questions, and then the former Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has a ten minute rule bill on Property Blight Compensation - doubtless not unrelated to the proposed HS2 high speed rail project. The ramifications of this mega-project are set to surface in the Commons in all kinds of ways in the coming months, as MPs grapple with the constituency implications, and, indeed, it surfaces in Westminster Hall....see below.
The MPs have an Estimates Day debate on the Budget and Structure of the Ministry of Justice. In theory, these days are the opportunity for the Commons to exercise its core responsibility to monitor the use of public money - in practice, they're debates on issues raised by select committee reports. And that will be followed by a debate on the financing of new housing.
There are a couple of promising-looking backbencher-led debates in Westminster Hall. First up (at 9.30am) is the Conservative Marcus Jones on the beer duty escalator, which looks set to attract the kind of campaigning which made the fuel duty escalator such a hot potato for the Chancellor; and later in the day, at 2.30pm, the Labour former Minister David Lammy will be talking about Crossrail 2.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) peers should complete their consideration of two more private members' bills sent over by MPs - the Presumption of Death Bill and the Mobile Homes Bill - and then they turn to their second committee stage day on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. This is a contentious measure - but any votes are more likely to come later, at report stage.
On Wednesday, the Commons opens (at 11.30am) with half an hour of Northern Ireland questions, followed by prime minister's questions, where, post Eastleigh, the attitude and decibel level of Conservative MPs will be closely monitored. Then, Labour's Seema Malhotra has a ten minute rule bill on Blood, Organ and Bone Marrow Donation (Education). And that's followed by another Estimates Day debate, this time on the government's big benefits reform, the Universal Credit. A debate on the Regulation of Medical Imports in the EU and UK follows and the day ends with an appearance by the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who leads an adjournment debate on radioactive contamination in Dalgety Bay, in his constituency.
The highlights of the backbench debates over in Westminster Hall look to be the Conservative Richard Harrington's debate on the future of British retail (at 2.30pm) and his colleague Paul Maynard's debate on youth participation in World War I commemorations (4pm).
In the Lords (from 3pm), questions range across measures to detect and prevent sudden cardiac death and the number of EU employees who pay either no tax, or reduced rates. Then, peers turn to another private member's bill from the Commons, the third reading of the Antarctic Bill - before resuming the report stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill .
There are several amendments in play on issues like liability of employers after industrial accident, regulation of lettings agents and against the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, where Tory icon Lady Trumpington has signed an amendment along with Labour's Lord Whitty and the Bishop of Hereford. There's also a short debate on sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, led by the Bishop of Wakefield.
On Thursday, the Commons sits at 9.30am for a potpourri of question times. First up is the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Owen Paterson, and then MPs have a chance to quiz their colleagues who speak on behalf of the Church Commissioners, the Public Accounts Commission and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission.
After the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley has updated MPs on what they'll be doing in the coming week in his Business Statement, MPs will nod through a Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill - these give parliamentary authority for funds requested by the government, and are part of the 'supply procedure', by which Parliament meets the government's requests for resources.
Then the House comes to the day's main event - the report and third reading stages of the Justice and Security Bill. Unusually for a Thursday, there's a full scale three line whip in force on the government benches. (see above)
There could also be some real entertainment in Westminster Hall, where the normal Thursday debates on select committee reports have often proved to be rather perfunctory affairs.
On this occasion there will be a debate (1.30pm - 4.30pm) on the Scottish Affairs Committee report: "The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Terminating Trident - Days or Decades?"
This examines what would happen if an independent Scotland insisted on the immediate removal of the Trident nuclear missile submarines from their base on the Clyde. The technical difficulties and costs or relocating the submarines to a new base outside Scotland would be huge - and the committee has suggested that the result could amount to forced unilateral disarmament of the UK.
So there's the scope for a really good row over one of the key issues around Scottish independence. One question is whether any SNP MPs will attend. Their committee member, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, fell out with its Labour chair, Ian Davidson, and has boycotted the committee ever since. The SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, normally speaks for the party on defence issues - a contribution by either would set sparks flying.
Over in the Lords (from 11am), questions to ministers cover action to encourage women and girls to take part in sport, the under-representation of women, especially black and ethnic minority women, on FTSE 100 boards, and the action plan for ending violence against women and girls in schools. Then peers turn to their annual International Women's Day debate, followed by a debate on developments in the Commonwealth.
Neither House sits on Friday.