Week ahead

It's been a staccato couple of months for Parliament, what with the Easter break, prorogation and, next week, Whitsun.

And honourable members and noble lords are off on another break next week, returning on 3 June. But they do manage to cram in a fair bit of activity afore they go....with the focus of the Commons action the report and third reading stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Coupes) Bill.

The government's now in a bit of a tangle, because of fears that an amendment supported by Labour and by Conservative backbenchers, to allow heterosexual couples to sign up for the civil partnerships already available to gay couples, could trigger a multi-billion pound avalanche of new costs for pension schemes.

The cabinet minister in charge, Maria Miller, has already announced she'll bring forward amendments on the issue, and the situation will probably develop further, over the weekend.

Monday in the Commons (at 2.30pm) begins with Work and Pensions questions, and then, assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions, MPs begin their detailed scrutiny of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. This is the first of two report stage days, with amendments grouped into several subjects - (a) sex education, (b) conscientious or other objection to marriage of same sex couples, (c) equality law, (d) religious organisations' opt-in to marriage of same sex couples, and (e) protection against compulsion to solemnize marriages of same sex couples or to carry out activities in relation to the solemnization of such marriages.

In particular, watch out for this proposal to amend the 2004 Civil Partnership Act, to leave out the words "of the same sex", and thus allow heterosexual civil partnerships. An eclectic coalition of MPs have signed this including arch-critics of the bill Tim Loughton and Stewart Jackson, the SDLP's Mark Durkan, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem Greg Mulholland.

Up on the committee corridor there's the first meeting of the new Energy and Climate Change sub-committee on local energy (2pm) looking at the contribution small and medium-sized projects could make to the UK's energy supply, and at barriers to medium-sized and community-owned projects. The witnesses include experts from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the UK Energy Research Centre, and the Combined Heat and Power Association.

The Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) takes time out from chastising big companies over their tax arrangements to revisit a golden oldie - the troubled programme to provide the Navy with new aircraft carriers and strike capability. This time they're focusing on the chopping and changing over the precise aircraft which will fly from the new carriers on the distant day when they become operational. The committee will be following up this report from the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, with assorted Ministry of Defence Officials and the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff.

The Transport Committee (4.05pm) looks at the impact of claims for whiplash on the cost of motor insurance - with medical witnesses and the insurance industry. The Communities and Local Government Committee (4.10pm) rounds off its inquiry into the private rented sector with the Housing Minister Mark Prisk. Then they turn to a new inquiry into community budgets (from about 5.10pm) looking at progress in various initiatives to coordinate different strands of public spending in particular neighbourhoods, as well as the Troubled Families Programme.

And the super-committee on the National Security Strategy (4.30pm) hears evidence on the UK's, er, National Security Strategy from a series of distinguished experts including Professor Mike Clarke, the director general of RUSI; Sir Stewart Eldon, the former UK Permanent Representative to Nato and Dr Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across increasing sports in schools, asylum seekers' right to work in the UK after six months of waiting for a decision on their application - and the proportion of deaths recorded as caused by cancer where the actual cause of death was the treatment.

Then peers get their teeth into some of the new bills announced in the Queen's Speech - first is the Offender Rehabilitation Bill which deals with the release and post-release supervision of offenders, including the plan for a year's guaranteed supervision. Justice Minister and Lib Dem Leader Lord McNally leads for the government.

That's followed by the second reading of the Mesothelioma Bill - which sets up payments scheme to help workers who were exposed to asbestos as a result of negligence by their employer. The problem is that they may not develop diffuse mesothelioma until years, even decades later, but once diagnosed, the condition is terminal.

It may not be possible to determine which employer was responsible, and even if it is, the company in question might have been wound up, long before. The bill sets up a limited scheme which will make payments to people with diffuse mesothelioma and dependants of those who have died from it. They'll be eligible for a payment if they were first diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma on or after 25 July 2012, when the government began its consultation on the issue.


The Commons sits at 11.30am for Justice questions - and then comes the second day of the report stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which will be followed by the third reading debate (see above).

The adjournment debate sees former Communities and Local Government minister Bob Neill raising the increasingly common phenomenon of supermarkets taking over the sites of pubs - his subject is "the proposals of Lidl UK to demolish the Porcupine public house, Mottingham". After which MPs are off on recess until Monday 3 June.

Meanwhile in Westminster Hall (9.30am -5pm) there will be a series of debates led by backbenchers - my eye was caught by the last two debates: Labour's Alex Cunningham discusses the armed forces recruitment age from 4pm to 4.30pm, and then the Conservative Damian Collins raises the question of marine conservation zones.

There's a decent helping of committee action: the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is the star witness at the Justice Committee inquiry into the work of the Crown Prosecution Service (9.30am). The British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the British Council of Shopping Centres give their thoughts on the UK retail sector at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (9.30am) and paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson joins former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell before the Education Committee to talk about school sports following London 2012 (9.30am).

There's an ultra-topical session of the Health Committee (9.30am) looking at emergency services and emergency care. This first evidence session on emergency services and emergency care has been brought forward because of rising concern, and because another inquiry into the workings of the new NHS structure in England is discovering that it's too early to gather worthwhile evidence. The witnesses include Dr Patrick Cadigan of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Mike Clancy of the College of Emergency Medicine and and Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

The Treasury Committee (10am) takes a look at the government's new approach to using the private sector in the delivery of public infrastructure and services, Private Finance 2. Lord Deighton, the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, and Geoffrey Spence, the chief executive of Infrastructure UK, will be asked if the new version of PFI deals with the concerns the committee raised in its report on the original version, in July 2011.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (at 10am) looks at the environmental implications of bioenergy - growing plants for fuel, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land use. Does it genuinely reduce carbon emissions; the question of whether it crowds out food production, and the impact on air quality, biodiversity and water resources? Witnesses include the RSPB, the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, and industrial users. In the afternoon they have another session, this time focusing on energy prices, profits and poverty with witnesses from Ofgem and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The committee's analysing energy prices, energy company profits and fuel poverty to see if consumers, particularly those on low incomes are being treated fairly.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (10.30am) continues its post Leveson look at press regulation - with senior newspaper industry witnesses; and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (3pm) continues its investigation into food contamination with witnesses from the EU Directorate General for Health and Consumers.

Across in the Lords (from 2.30pm) ministers face questions on the UN Arms Trade Treaty, public awareness of the UK's £46bn annual trade deficit with the EU and the G8 meeting on 17 June. Then peers turn to the debut of another important piece of legislation - the second reading of the Care Bill - which reforms the system for social care and support for adults, support for carers, the safeguards against abuse and neglect. It's a bill which could touch every family in the land.


The Commons end of Westminster will be deserted - but the Lords legislate remorselessly on. They open for business at 11am with questions on daylight saving time and road deaths, the circumstances which might justify an escalation of action against the regime in Syria and the extension of the Public Lending Right to e-books and audio books.

Then it's on to more new legislation, starting with the second reading of the Intellectual Property Bill, followed by the second reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill which abolishes the Audit Commission. After which peers take a break till 3 June, as well.

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