Week ahead at Westminster
- 27 October 2013
- From the section UK Politics
After a rather low key week of backbench debates and opposition days, MPs are suddenly confronted with a week of heavy-duty legislating, with a spicy Labour opposition day thrown in.
I think there's a bit of a theme of coalition angst developing, with tensions visible in the Energy Bill (Lords report Stage) and the Immigration Bill (Commons committee stage, Tuesday and Thursday - see my committees blogpost).
Then there's the Labour debate on qualifications for teachers in free schools (Commons, Wednesday), with a thick slab of backbench rebellion for dessert on Thursday.
And there's also a fair amount of interesting backbench action.
There will not be a vote on the Thursday debate on the intelligence services, but it will still be worth watching to gauge the mood of MPs and the response of ministers.
The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Home Office Questions.
That's followed by a statement from the prime minister; with coalition tensions surfacing in all kinds of places at the moment will David Cameron's report back on the latest summit of European heads of government leave Nick Clegg grimacing?
After that MPs turn to the second reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill - this abolishes the Audit Commission and provides for local referendums on increases in the council tax.
The bill has already been scrutinised in the Lords, but plenty of issues remain for MPs to sink their teeth into; it includes proposals for the communities secretary to control the content of newspapers produced by local councils (aka "Town Hall Pravdas") which Labour regard as absurdly centralising for an avowedly localist government.
And there are claims that the referendum mechanism for council taxes would control the total amount that people in a particular area would have to pay, but allow police authorities, fire authorities and other bodies which can levy part of the council tax to take an increasing share of the pot, while squeezing the amount available to local councils... Expect some fun at Committee Stage.
The day's adjournment debate, led by the Lib Dem Lorely Burt is about proxy purchasing of tobacco and the tobacco products directive.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the first business is the introduction of two more new peers - Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury and Lord Paddick - the Lib Dem candidate in the last London mayoral elections and a former senior officer in the Metropolitan Police.
Questions to ministers range across the reliability and value for money of public services provided by private companies, reviewing the National Curriculum to help prevent violence against women and include sex and relationship education, recent developments in the Sudan and the plans for the national rollout of Universal Credit - the government's flagship benefit reform.
Then peers move on to their first report stage debates on the Energy Bill - which is suddenly rather politically charged.
This is the point in the life-cycle of a bill in the Lords when hostile forces pounce with their amendments, and there are quite a number down on issues ranging from including a decarbonisation target to increasing competition in the energy market.
The minister, Baroness Verma was given a torrid time on these and other issues during the committee stage debates, and she now faces the added complication of coalition tensions on green levies on energy bills.
The Conservative Tim Yeo led attempted in the Commons to insert a decarbonisation target for 2030 into the Bill, and something similar will be tried again here, in the shape of an amendment from a cross party alliance including the crossbench peer and scientist Lord Oxburgh, Lord Stern.
He is the Crossbencher and economist who produced a report "A Blueprint for a Safer Planet," on climate change policy for Gordon Brown and Labour's Lady Worthington.
The Lib Dems appear to have dropped the idea of a decarbonisation target in exchange for continued green energy subsidies - but their voting behaviour becomes very unpredictable, if that deal is seen to be unravelling.
There are amendments on boosting competition.
The one from a cross party group including the former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Jenkin, Labour's Lord Berkley, Lib Dem policy heavyweight Lord Roper and the crossbencher Lord Cameron of Dillington calling for a stronger duty to promote competition.
Lord Berekley goes further in another amendment, which would require electricity generators to sell off their retail businesses - allowing energy retailers to choose their suppliers.
Several amendments may be pressed to a vote with peers likely to hit the Aye and No lobbies at about 4.30-5pm.
Other targets for amendments include demand reduction (amendments from the Labour peer Lord Grantchester and from the Bishop of London) and biomass power from Lord Roper and others.
The dinner break business is an EU Committee report on establishing a European Public Prosecutor's office.
MPs begin their day (11.30am) with Foreign Office Questions, after which the Conservative Richard Fuller has a Ten Minute Rule Bill which would require taxis and private hire vehicles to install CCTV.
He says there's an increasing pattern of attacks on drivers and this measure would help protect them.
Then they move on to the report stage and third reading of the Pensions Bill - which makes significant reforms to the state pension system and bereavement benefits.
It brings forward the timetable for increasing pensionable age to 67 and introduces a framework for future increases in pensionable age.
It also contains a number of measures relating to private pensions, including a power to provide for a system of automatic transfers of a person's accrued rights to benefits under a pension scheme to another scheme of which that person is an active member.
And that's followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to the reform of Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor's Office.
The day ends with an adjournment debate on the plans of a Chinese developer to rebuild the Victorian Crystal Palace on Penge Common in South London.
The local MP, Jim Dowd, notes that the scheme would attract an extra two million visitors and wants assurances that the local infrastructure would be improved to cope, and he also wants as much information as possible for the community.
The subjects for backbench debates in Westminster Hall include financial support for people with haemophilia infected with Hepatitis C (led by Labour's Paul Goggins 9.30am - 11am), and British nuclear test veterans (led by the Conservative John Baron 2.30pm - 4pm)
The march of the new peers continues when the Lords meets (2.30pm) with the arrival of Baroness Neville-Rolfe - a career civil servant whose CV includes a spell in Sir John Major's Downing Street policy unit and Labour peer Lord Haughey, a Scottish refrigerator magnate, already nicknamed "The ice man."
Questions to ministers cover vulnerable consumers who are being charged for receiving bills and statements through the post, and the regulation of the internet.
But the most interesting may be the question from the former Law Lord, Lord Lloyd about implementing the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Vinter and Others v. UK - (Gary Vinter, Jeremy Bamber and Peter Moore).
This is the case of three life sentence prisoners with "whole life" tariffs, which meant they will never be considered for release other than on compassionate grounds, with a test which is almost never reached.
The ECHR held that the United Kingdom is in breach of Article 3 of the Convention by imposing whole life orders without possibility of review for murder.
This does not mean the prisoners will be released but it does require the UK to create a review process to allow whole life orders to be reconsidered in the light of changing circumstances.
The day's main debate is on the third reading of the Care Bill: the key issues are deferred payments for social care - the scheme which would allow people to in effect borrow from local authorities against the value of their home to pay for their care needs, with the money being recouped by selling their property after their death.
Labour's Lord Lipsey has an amendment down on concerns raised last week about the government's plans to restrict the availability of this scheme to people with assets less than £23,250 - his amendment would forbid any threshold.
There is a cross-party amendment on the need to ensure people have access to information and financial advice, as they take important decisions about their future.
And the government has amendments on parent carers.
After that, peers turn to the second reading of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Key issues include dangerous dogs, guns, extradition, legal highs, miscarriages of justice, tobacco proxy sales, ID theft, forced marriage, nuisance orders, and the debate may signal where the pressure for change will be strongest when peers start to debate the detail of the bill.
The Commons meets at 11.30am for questions to Cabinet Office ministers Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin and the newly-arrived Greg Clark.
And that is followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.
The Ten Minute Rule Bill from Labour MP Ian Mearns is on hate crime against people with learning difficulties and disabilities.
The main debates will be on opposition motions, and the first will be on education - new shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt is already emerging as the kind of lucky general Napoleon always preferred.
He's been presented with a juicy political opportunity thanks to the coalition rift on qualifications for teachers in free schools, an opening his predecessor, Steven Twigg would have loved.
Mr Hunt will be putting down a motion which would give the Lib Dems the chance to vote for Nick Clegg's line, as opposed to Michael Gove's - and he'll have a chance to crow whatever they do.
The second debate is on the future of the probation service.
In the adjournment debate, the Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills will be raising the murder of his constituents, Rachel and Auden Slack, a mother and baby who were killed by Rachel's ex-partner, Andrew Cairns.
Cairns was detained under the Mental Health Act, but released when a psychiatrist assessed him as being of no risk to others.
The police's handling of complaints of harassment and stalking against Cairns was criticised by the Coroner last week, and Mr Mills will be asking for assurances that similar cases will be handled more effectively in future.
There's the usual array of backbench debates in Westminster Hall: Conservative James Clappison talks about the experience of cancer patient (9.30am - 11am).
Lib Dem Tessa Munt discusses the revision of the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003. These reduce the permitted sugar content for jams, jellies and marmalades, and for curds and mincemeat. They amount, she warns, to "sounding the death knell for curds and mincemeat as we know them" (11am - 11.30am).
Labour's Mary Glindon leads a debate on electronic vehicles and vulnerable road users (2.30pm - 4pm), Willie Bain on Low pay and the national minimum wage (4pm - 4.30pm) and Caroline Nokes on the Release of bodies from hospital (4.30pm - 5pm).
In the Lords (3pm) proceedings begin with the introduction of the Paralympic swimmer Lord Holmes of Richmond, who will sit as a Conservative.
The subjects for questions to ministers include enabling those who enforce the tax laws to accomplish their tasks better, public awareness of the UK's net contribution to the EU budget and requiring free schools and faith schools to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum.
After that, peers will debate two committee reports: the Communications Committee report on media convergence; and Economic Affairs Committee report on corporation tax.
These will be followed by a question for short debate on the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Syria.
The Commons meets at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport Questions and questions to the Culture Secretary Maria Miller in her other role as minister for Women & Equalities.
That's followed by the weekly Business Statement, when the Leader of the House sets out what MPs will discuss in the coming week.
After that the real fun begins with the report Stage and third reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill - this is a mere paving measure to authorise some preliminary spending on the controversial scheme.
But the considerable Commons resistance has mobilised and the government faces a deluge of amendments, with more certain to arrive before the deadline for submitting them on Tuesday.
Many come from HS2-sceptic ex-Cabinet Minister, Cheryl Gillan.
Her amendments cover adding a commitment to take the line to Scotland onto the face of the Bill, and requiring connectivity with other public transport - airports, local rail and even HS1 - the Channel Tunnel rail link.
Meanwhile former cabinet ministers Caroline Spelman and Frank Dobson are proposing an ingenious compensation scheme based on transferable bonds, to cope with the planning blight faced by people and businesses around the proposed route.
Labour's Lillian Greenwood will move a series of amendments intended to ensure the scheme generates apprenticeships and training opportunities.
The selection of amendments, expected to be announced on Wednesday, is normally decided by Mr Speaker, but since he has a direct constituency interest in HS2, it might be delegated to one of his deputies.
The expectation is that the government will get the scheme through, but this is only the appetiser for the bigger battle to come, over the private bill which will authorise the final route.
In the wake of recent revelations about the activities of US intelligence services, and Britain's GCHQ, there's a debate on oversight of the intelligence and security services in Westminster Hall, led by three high-powered backbenchers; the Lib Dem Julian Huppert, the Conservative Dominic Raab, and Labour's Tom Watson.
Mr Raab told me the aim was to put the intelligence services on a "clear legal basis" with proper accountability to Parliament - adding that the debate would give MPs a chance to probe the effectiveness of the existing arrangement.
This centres on the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which is currently chaired by the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and is not a normal select committee, but a group of parliamentarians appointed by the prime minister.
The Lords meet at 11am when two more new peers arrive; Lord Balfe - a former Labour Euro MP who switched to the Conservatives in 2002; he is David Cameron's Trade Union Envoy, and Lord Palumbo of Southwark - Jamie Palumbo, the founder of the Ministry of Sound nightclub, who will sit as a Lib Dem.
The issues put to ministers at question time include the cost of upgrading the West Coast and East Coast main lines, increasing the number of new-build homes and the need for a review of amounts payable from public funds, in the light of the amounts paid in respect of the mental health tribunal for Ian Brady.
The day's main debates are on Labour motions, on affordable housing and the under-occupancy charge (aka the "bedroom tax") and on the cost of living and the impact on family budgets.
Then, there's a question for short debate (QSD) from former minister Don Touhig on the impact of redundancies in the armed forces; cost of living, Margaret Prosser, followed by another QSD on plans to support economic diversification in the Overseas Territories.
As usual, Friday in the Commons is private members' bill day (from 9.30am).
Labour's Andrew Gwynne will launch his Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill - which aims get contractors working on government projects to provide apprenticeships and skills training.
And the Lib Dem Mike Crockart has the second reading of his measure to clamp down on cold calling, the Communications (Unsolicited Telephone Calls and Texts) Bill.
I would be surprised if Culture Media and Sport Committee member Damian Collins' Football Governance Bill was reached - but this is an issue which seems to pop up in the Commons more and more frequently, as MPs become embroiled in the troubles of their local clubs, so it will be interesting to see what is said, if he does get the chance to speak.
The bills further down the agenda, Michael Meacher's United Kingdom Corporate and Individual Tax and Financial Transparency Bill, and bills on Asylum, Foreign Nationals (Access to Public Services)
Sexual Impropriety in Employment, and the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) from Tory awkward squaddie Christopher Chope will almost certainly languish at the bottom of the order paper, never to be debated.