- 8 March 2013
- From the section UK Politics
This week's big bill is the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, the measure which is supposed to avert another financial crisis, by enacting the recommendations of the Vickers Report.
And to add a bit of spice to the proceedings, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking (the uber-committee investigating the City) will publish a report that very morning entitled Banking Reform: Towards the Right Structure.
The Commission's last report on the bill said the government wasn't going far enough on key issues like requiring the banks to keep more capital in relation to their debts, and on enforcing a ring-fence within banks, between utility and "casino banking", where they want tougher rules, and a reserve power to allow the Treasury to enforce a split across the whole sector, if it decides that the old habits are reappearing.
A lot of the Commission members radiate scepticism about the bill (which is a kind of skeleton measure, empowering Treasury ministers to write the detailed rules on the running of banks, the firewall etc) so expect quite an astringent offering, when the report appears, and no backing down from their previous position.
This will matter, because there will doubtless be an attempt to amend the bill in the Commons - and the government might accept some changes - but that will be backed up by a much more serious threat in the Lords, where the Commission's membership can muster formidable support for the changes they want to make.
That apart, any excitement in Parliament next week will probably come from the unscheduled business like ministerial statements or urgent questions - because the main agenda is pretty humdrum.
Early in the week, watch the amendments put down for the Crime and Courts Bill....this has long been touted as a possible vehicle for introducing Lord Leveson's proposals for press regulation, but the deadline for putting amendments down to achieve that will fall next week.
At the moment the Labour peer Lord Puttnam has attached "Leveson" amendments to the Defamation Bill, and the prime minister may end up dropping that much campaigned-for measure to liberalise the libel laws, rather than allow the Commons to vote on them. Attaching similar amendments to a different bill might both give the government more time to find a compromise and get the Defamation Bill off that particular hook.
There's a bit of a queue of bills amended in the Lords building up, and they all have to be approved or rejected by the Commons... and the Defamation Bill's being held in a kind of parliamentary purgatory while alternative press regulation proposals, based on the Conservatives' preferred idea of a Royal Charter, are negotiated.
But agreement seems to be elusive and without it there's a chance Labour and the Lib Dems might be able to push Leveson-style statutory regulation through. The bill has to be passed by the end of the Parliamentary year, early in May. Interestingly, this week's statement of forthcoming Commons business, by the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, mentioned that Tuesday 19 March has been set aside for "proceedings on a bill", which might signal the deadline for sorting out the issue and bringing the Defamation Bill back.
(And incidentally there's also talk that something similar might be attempted in the Lords, with a last minute attempt to attach Leveson amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill....)
Here's my rundown of the week's scheduled events....
The Commons meets at 2.30pm on Monday for Work and Pensions questions, then - assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions - MPs turn to the second reading Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across inequality in income in the UK, access to justice for those who will not be able to receive free legal advice on social welfare law (and this is the latest shot in a guerrilla campaign against changes to legal aid rules which come into force from 1 April) and future railway re-openings.
Then peers move onto their final scheduled half day of report stage debate on the much-mangled Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill - ministers lost three votes on detailed amendments this week. Expect at least one vote, on an amendment from the Labour peer, Lord Mitchell, on directors' pay.
After that there are a series of short debates, and the two which caught my eye are on the recommendations of the Francis Report into the Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and on a European Union Committee report on Somali piracy.
Tuesday starts at 11.30am as the Commons sits for Treasury Questions and then the Conservative backbencher Graham Evans has a ten minute rule bill on National Commonwealth Military Day (one of a number of Commonwealth-related events this week). Then there are two Labour-led debates, on tax fairness and apprenticeships.
In the Lords (at 2.30pm) questions cover the effective implementation of the stalking offences added to the Protection of Freedoms Act, last year, and the UK's lack of foreign language skills.
Peers then turn to the second report stage day on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill - here watch out for an ambush aimed at the government's City Deals programme, which hands extra powers to city councils.
Labour and Lib Dem peers will be pushing for an annual report on how that's working out. There could also be a vote on planning powers for broadband infrastructure in areas of outstanding natural beauty, following some lobbying from countryside groups.
On Wednesday, the Commons begins work at 11.30am with International Development questions, followed at noon by prime minister's questions.
After that the Labour MP Diana Johnson takes centre stage to move a ten minute rule bill to allow the Consecration of Women Bishops. This is intended to remind the Church of England that Parliament is increasingly impatient with the General Synod's failure to authorise what many MPs see as the next logical step after the decision to allow women priests - and there might be an attempt to ensure there's a vote, simply to emphasise the level of Commons support.
Then MPs turn to the report and third reading stages of the Crime and Courts Bill (see above).
The Lords (from 3pm) there's a question to ministers on their consultation of early years practitioners on plans to increase the maximum ratio of carers to babies and toddlers - and then peers move onto report stage consideration of the Succession to the Crown Bill, the measure which allows gender equality in the rules of succession, so an older princess will trump a younger prince, in future.
This could bring some of the Lords' traditionalists to the fore - Lord Laing of Monckton has tabled an amendment to extend the number of people who still need the Queen's permission to marry, and Lord James of Blackheath has an amendment to require the approval of the Scottish Parliament. And they'll also debate Commons amendments to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill.
There's also a short debate - continuing this week's Commonwealth theme - on the impact of discrimination against gay men and women in Commonwealth countries on efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.
On Thursday, the Commons sits at 9.30am for Energy and Climate Change questions, which will be followed by the weekly Business Statement, by the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley.
And the rest of the day is devoted to subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee: Sir Alan Beith launches of a report on Youth Justice, from the Justice Committee and then MPs discuss Accountability and Transparency in the NHS with MPs Charlotte Leslie, Philip Lee, Stephen Barclay, John Pugh, Sarah Wollaston and Kate Hoey leading the debate.
Meanwhile, over in Westminster Hall there's a debate on Commonwealth Day led by Sir Alan Haselhurst, who chairs the UK Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. There was an attempt to get all Commonwealth parliaments to have a Commonwealth-themed debate on on Commonwealth Day, (Monday 11), but alas the UK Parliament didn't manage to arrange one, and this is the nearest they could get.
In the Lords, (from 11am) there are questions on forcing British companies to disclose any tax avoidance schemes that could be detrimental to poorer countries. That's followed by a debate on Afghanistan's regional relationships and their impact on its long-term future, and then peers will be asked to approve a couple of Church of England measures, on the diocese in Europe and clergy discipline.
Neither House will sit on Friday