- 21 July 2013
- From the section UK Politics
The Commons may have finished for the summer, but their lordships grind remorselessly on until 30 July.
So Parliament is sitting and a number of peers are keen to make that point, especially if ministers start making big policy announcements in the media, when they could be making them from the Dispatch Box.
The twitteratti should keep an eye out for the hashtag #sneakystatements, with which Labour plan to rebuke any such excursions; also keep an eye out for Private Notice Questions, if really major announcements are made.
Most of the week's business is pretty humdrum, but Wednesday's second reading debate on the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill could see the opening shots of a long legislative war of attrition.
At the moment, a modest 14 peers are listed to speak - but they include several members of the now-dissolved Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, notably the former Chancellor Lord (Nigel) Lawson, but also the Lib Dems' Lady Kramer and Labour's Lord McFall of Alcluith.
(Another key figure, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, isn't listed, but is expected to be an influential figure as the bill wends its way through Lords consideration).
They were part of a super-committee which produced five reports in under a year, all agreed unanimously, on the back of 171 hours of evidence-taking in 76 hearings, digested in 74 hours of private meetings. After all that, they will not expect their conclusions to be ignored, and they even described their final report as "a letter to the Lords", so expect them to put down markers for changes they want to see.
The bill was paused for a while in the Commons, to await the Commission's final report - and when it resumed, the Chair, the Conservative former Treasury special advisor Andrew Tyrie was worried that the government was making supportive noises about its key conclusions, like the need for an "electrified ring fence" between so-called utility and investment banking operations, and then watering down the legislative response, in the bill...
In the Commons report stage debate he said:
He sounded a warning on what the government can expect to happen in the Lords:
Of course much depends on what's in amendments that the government has promised to deliver in time for detailed consideration in the autumn, which will fill in some of the detail in what is essentially a framework measure which will be filled out by regulations, later on. So many peers are waiting to see the colour of the government's money, and I imagine that much of the subsequent debate will be aimed at extracting detailed assurances about the content of those future regulations.
Business on Monday begins (2.30pm) with a City-flavoured moment, with the introduction ceremony for the former Governor of the bank of England, Sir Mervyn King. Will he weigh in on the Banking Bill, in due course?
Questions to ministers range across encouraging religiously selective schools to adopt more open admission policies, the number of soldiers made redundant since the Strategic Defence Review who have reached full pension age, and the proportion of the UK's critical national infrastructure owned by foreign companies. But perhaps the most promising looking is the fertility expert Lord Winston's question on the health risk from air pollution in London - underpinned by the statistic that air pollution leads to 29,000 premature deaths a year.
That is followed by debates on three different bills; first there's the third reading of the Mesothelioma Bill - which provides for compensation for workers exposed to asbestos who've now developed diffuse mesothelioma because they were negligently exposed by their employer to asbestos. And then there's a committee stage debate on the Labour peer Lord Dubs' Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill, which would give peers the vote in general elections.
And there's the seventh of eight days of committee stage debate on the Care Bill. This is still an exercise in probing the detail, with few votes likely. But watch out for an amendment from the Labour peer and former health minister, Lord Warner, calling for the independent public finance watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility to carry out a study into the macro-cost of the care system.
Then, finally, peers repeat one of their regular rituals Orders and Regulations, debating yet another Motion to Regret an order to abolish a quango; this time the target is the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and once again the Justice Minister Lord McNally will be pitted against Labour's Lord Beecham... but it is unlikely to be forced to a vote.
The Lords select committees are also in action. The Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Committee (3.45pm) will be hearing from Michèle Dix, managing director of planning, Transport for London; and Charles Horton, managing director, Southeastern.
Their questioning will focus on the importance on improvements to the transport system in winning the Games for London, whether the Games stimulated new investment in transport, whether more joint working between transport operators is a legacy from the Games, including whether travelcards and Oyster cards will be permissible on high speed services and whether steps are being taken to improve accessibility to public transport for disabled people.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper is before the EU Committee dealing with Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment issues (4pm) and the special select committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence (4pm) hears from Peter Callaghan, director general of the Commonwealth Business Council, Uday Dholakia, the chairman of the National Asian Business Association (NABA) and Chair, Leicestershire Asian Business Association and David Maisey, director, Institute of Export and at 5.30pm from Nick Baird, Chief Executive Office, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
On Tuesday (from 2.30pm) ministers field questions on the Independent Reconfiguration Panel report on children's congenital heart services, and plans for improving infrastructure to enable businesses and employment to grow. And Labour's Angela Smith has a topical question on the impact of cuts to "bobbies on the beat".
Peers then move on to the report stage of the Intellectual Property Bill - look out for an amendment on criminal penalties for design theft being pushed to a vote and then they debate a motion on to EU police and criminal justice measures - watch out for an amendment from the crossbench peer and former diplomat, Lord Hannay, declining to agree with the government's decision on the opt out from some powers, until ministers respond to the report on the issue from the Lords EU Committee.
There was a similar amendment down when the Commons debated the same issue, but there were behind the scenes talks and the concerns of select committee critics were addressed; something similar may happen here.
The dinner break business is a short debate on representations to Russia and other European countries about the Khodorkovsky case at the European Court of Human Rights - Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the jailed Russian billionaire whose case has raised human rights concerns. Over in Grand Committee in the Lords parallel debating chamber, the Moses Room (from 3.30pm), peers continue their committee stage debate on the Energy Bill. Ministers will field probing amendments on the amount of coal to be burnt in the short and medium term, and the consequential carbon emissions.
Up on the committee corridor, Financial Secretary to the Treasury Greg Clark is before the EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee (9.45am) where they're taking evidence on the continuing euro area crisis - they'll ask if he can foresee an "endgame" about the EU Budget and whether enough is being done to stimulate growth, promote competitiveness and tackle youth unemployment. Another likely subject is whether relations between euro area members and non-euro area members are becoming more strained as euro area integration deepens.
The special committee reviewing the Mental Capacity Act (10.30am) quizzes advocacy service providers about their experiences of representing vulnerable people. In the wake of the government response to the confidential inquiry into the premature deaths of people with learning disabilities, and the independent review of the Liverpool Care Pathway, advocacy has emerged as a key issue when clinicians are considering serious medical treatment or the withdrawal of active care. The committee will ask if the Act is clear enough on when the advocate should support their client in making a decision and when it is permissible to overrule those wishes in their client's best interests.
And the Science and Technology Committee (10.30am) has a session on "Nuclear follow-up". They'll hear from the Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, and Professor David Mackay, the Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It could be an interesting encounter given Mr Fallon's recent answer in a magazine interview when asked about climate change: "You are getting me into theology now, I don't deal with that..... My job is to make sure the lights stay on."
The Lords Communications Committee (3.15pm) continues its hearings on media plurality, with witnesses from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The questions are likely to focus on the way that service licences, editorial culture and due impartiality feed into the organisation's internal plurality. And the committee will also ask major questions about the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and impartiality and the breadth of opinion reflected across the BBC's output on the other.
On Wednesday (from 3pm) questions include how much of the government's £30m fund for the new technologies to tackle diseases of poverty has so far been awarded and the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping in the UK.
Peers debate the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group called Get Britain Cycling (the Commons are due to hold a parallel debate in September) and then they move on to the third reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill - which abolishes the Audit Commission and allows for referendums on Council Tax increases - look out for an amendment from the Labour former minister, Lord Wills on applying Freedom of Information to contracted-out council services. Then it's on to the second reading of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill (see above).
On the committee corridor there are hearings on EU cigarette smuggling strategy at the EU Sub-Committee for Home Affairs, Health and Education (10.30am) and on the Olympic and Paralympic (again 10.30am) where the witnesses are Barry Hearn, Chairman of Leyton Orient FC and others to be confirmed. The focus will probably be the decision to award the Olympic stadium to West Ham and the impact West Ham's move there might have on Leyton Orient FC and the wider redevelopment of East London.
And so to Thursday when peers meet at 11am for question time - and where the subjects for discussion include reducing VAT on the retrofitting of existing buildings to encourage energy saving and discussions at the G8 summit on states' individual progress towards the 0.7% of GDP target for overseas aid.
Then peers move on to their normal Thursday series of backbencher-led debates. The one to watch may well be the first, on the "international economic and cultural contributions of English Premier League football to the UK" - led by the Conservative Lord Bates. This could well morph into a chance for peers to sound off on issues around their favourite clubs - the speaker's list includes some known Liverpool, Birmingham and Middlesbrough fans.
Fresh from attaching amendments on humanist weddings to the gay marriage legislation the Labour peer Lord Harrison leads a debate on the contribution of atheists and humanists to UK society - and then peers return to one of their favourite debating topics with another debate on the contribution of the arts to education, health and emotional wellbeing.
Across the corridor in the Moses Room there's the final committee stage day on the Energy Bill - where the topics for discussion are access to the electricity market and the renewables obligation.
No committees are scheduled to sit - and nor are peers on Friday.