Week ahead at Westminster
- 7 December 2013
- From the section UK Politics
The Banking Bill should arrive at the end of its long and winding legislative road this week, with the Lords third reading debate on Monday and the Commons debate on the myriad of changes made in the upper house on Wednesday.
But there's plenty more serious legislating under way - and I'm increasingly struck how issues raised by backbenchers via ten minute rule bills and Westminster Hall debates are being picked up by the government.
They're becoming quite an effective channel for influencing policy and legislation - ask Conservative Michael Ellis who has been promised action on medical research after he presented a ten minute rule bill, or his colleague Nick de Bois, who will see an amendment added to the Children and Families Bill this week.
So it is well worth keeping an eye on apparently peripheral parliamentary activity.....
But a word of caution: there's going to be a lot of shifting around to make room for extensive tributes to Nelson Mandela, to which most of Monday may now be devoted.
So much of what follows is subject to last-minute rescheduling, as the knock-on effects reverberate through the programme for next week.
An extensive revamp will be a serious headache for the government business managers, especially in the Lords, where the programme is already a touch backed up.
I'll update when things are clearer, next week.
Meanwhile here's my look at the programme as it stands on Friday:
The Commons opens for business at 2.30pm - with Defence Questions postponed in favour of tributes to Nelson Mandela.
Then MPs are scheduled to move on to the second reading debate on the Intellectual Property Bill - which has already gone through the Lords.
The bill is not particularly controversial - it creates a research exemption from freedom of information, a new reporting duty on the Culture Secretary on intellectual property and economic growth, and for the automatic extension of certain existing copyright.
That is followed by a debate on rural communities led by the Conservative, Anne McIntosh, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee - which recently reported on the state of rural communities.
There is, however, some talk that normal parliamentary business will be cancelled as a mark of respect - to allow the whole day to be devoted to tributes.
The adjournment debate is on improving dementia care and services in UK.
Conservative Alec Shelbrooke will highlight that by 2030, over 3 million people will be over 85 years old and many will need support for their health problems, including dementia.
He will argue that it is crucial to plan for this now and build the support structures needed to deal with the predicted increase in cases of dementia over the next 20 years.
Mr Shelbrook hopes his debate will offer MPs a chance to share local data and highlight variations in care across the country, strengthening the case for a new National Strategy.
In the Lords (2.30pm) question time ranges across recent developments in Burma affecting ethic groups like the Kachin, Shari and Rohingya peoples , funding for programmes proposed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the official information available for long- and short-term visitors to the UK, and in particular artists and entertainers, and the impact of recent energy price rises on local authorities, compared to a price freeze.
Peers are expected to have an opportunity to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela - and it is not clear how much time, if any, will remain for the day's scheduled legislation.
We're approaching the endgame for the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill - which reaches its Lords third reading.
The government has put down rafts of amendments to meet promises made during the report stage debates, where intense pressure from the Lords members of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking led to substantial re-writes to key parts of the Bill - ministers' word being made flesh, so to speak.
In particular the precise wording on proprietary trading, in effect speculative playing of the markets by banks, will be studied closely to make sure it meets the promises made by the minister, Lord Deighton, and the Treasury spokesman, Lord Newby.
Then it's on to the first of three report stage days on the Children and Families Bill - where it seems to be raining amendments.
A group of Crossbenchers headed by Baroness Finlay want to tackle smoking with an amendment on standardising cigarette packaging, and she has another down about making it an offence to smoke in a vehicle with children present.
Labour's Lord Hunt of King's Heath and Baroness Hughes have a similar amendment down on this issue - to make it an offence making it an offence to sell or supply any tobacco product which would have a detrimental impact on the health or wellbeing of children under 18.
Baronesses Jones, Hughes and Kidron are campaigning for sex and relationship education.
Their amendment calls for a review in the sex and relationship education guidance for schools.
There are several amendments to provisions for looked-after children. The Earl of Listowel has an amendment to make it a duty to provide information to people who request it about children's support on returning home to the care of their parents or others with parental responsibility. Also related to data access, Baroness Young has an amendment down making it "duty of every local authority and voluntary organisation that looks after or provides accommodation for a child or young person to maintain records as prescribed by regulations." Lord McColl heads an amendment that would create the role of a "child trafficking guardian" to "represent the best interests of each child who might be a victim of trafficking." Popular idea but unlikely the funds will be available.
The Countess of Mar (a Crossbencher) along with Baronesses Masham (CB) and Massey (Lab) has a series of important amendments relating to children with Special Education Needs. She argues that the Bill focuses on provision for SEN children who are within the mainstream system, and not on children who can't access mainstream education and therefore can't gain the education they need. Her amendments would allow "online and blended learning" to become a recognised additional resource for schools and councils.
Another amendment to watch out for will give people who've been adopted should be able to access the medical records of their birth parents and families, a key issue when dealing with hereditary ailments.
This was a cause pressed by Lib Dem Lady Hamwee and, in the Commons, by Tory backbencher Nick de Bois.
The Commons day begins (11.30am) with Treasury Questions, followed by a ten minute rule bill from Labour MP Ian Austin on a Commission of Inquiry on Standards in Education.
Picking up on the recent Pisa statistics showing Britain's continuing poor performance in world education league tables - which he says are an indictment of successive governments, he wants a high powered independent Commission to build a new consensus about how to boost educational performance.
Then MPs polish off the report stage and third reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill - which makes a series of changes to the rules on NICs.
Labour's Shabana Mahmood has amendments down on reviewing the employment allowance and its related costs - and the expectation is that they will argue that although they support cutting National Insurance payments for small businesses, the government are not picking up Labour's idea of funding this partly by increasing Corporation Tax on big businesses.
In the adjournment debate Labour's Gareth Thomas, the chair of the 32-strong Co-operative Party MPs, will highlight the contribution of co-operatives and mutuals to local communities .
Over in Westminster Hall there are debates on the international response to HIV and AIDS (9.30am - 11am) led by Labour's Pamela Nash; on the Perkins Review of engineering skills (2.30 - 4pm) led by the former defence minister and former chair of the Business Select Committee, Peter Luff, and on mindfulness in education (4.30 - 5pm) led by Labour MP Chris Ruane.
In the Lords (2.30pm) Ministers field questions on translators who have worked with the British forces in Afghanistan, closures of NHS walk-in centres and discussions with fashion retailers on improving factory working conditions.
The day's main business is the Second Reading of the Defence Reform Bill which allows for the contracting-out of defence procurement services.
Key issues are single supplier contracting and reserve forces.
During the dinner break there will be a short debate on the Financial Transaction Tax proposed by the European Commission.
The Lords EU Sub-Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs warned that the proposal was flawed, unworkable, and would fail to fulfil the Commission's own objectives.
It also found that the proposals would have a serious impact on the City of London and could force financial institutions to relocate away from the UK and the EU as a whole.
Angela Merkel has made the FTT a key part of the new German coalition deal, and while the UK has opted out of the proposal, it still has significant implications for this country - a flavour of the committee's view comes from the title of its latest report: The Financial Transaction Tax - alive and deadly.
The Commons meets at 11.30am for Cabinet Office Questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.
The Lib Dem former Minister David Heath proposes a ten minute rule motion calling for judicial oversight of surveillance of telecommunications.
And then it's on to the Lords amendments to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill - consideration of.
This should be quite a substantial debate, given that the Banking Bill is now much bigger and was heavily amended in the Lords.
It will also be the last opportunity to press for changes, in the form of motions to disagree with amendments made in the Lords and offer amendments in lieu...
I suspect this would only happen as a last-ditch response on some issue where members of the Banking Commission felt ministers had failed to live up to their promises.
It's a fair bet the government will attempt to overturn Lord Eatwell's amendment creating a licensing regime to boost standards of professionalism in financial services.
And Labour MPs will probably attempt to toughen up the provisions on imposing a leverage ratio on banks - an issue on which the Chancellor made concessions in the Lords.
There's the usual series of backbench debates in Westminster Hall (9.30am - 11am). My eye was particularly caught by the one on the badger cull in England led by labour MP Chris Williamson (2.30pm - 4pm).
In the Lords (from 3pm) ministers field an interesting question about whether there should be a permanent royal residence in Northern Ireland, before moving on to more normal issues like whether the career services in schools do enough to make pupils aware of apprenticeship opportunities, and regulating payday loans to people without a regular income
The main law-making is consideration of Commons amendments to the Energy Bill.
Lots of the Lords amendments were agreed to in the Commons - for example, the changes to contracts for difference, the subsidy mechanism for new generators.
But will the Lords push to re-instate their overturned amendment 105 on the emissions limits for power stations which has implications for the future of coal-fired generation?
This will be followed by the final day on committee of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Key issues are independent approval for long term covert police operations, extradition and automatic right of appeal, and court and tribunal fees.
That last theme continues when peers debate a move to block two sets of regulations on legal aid - the Criminal Defence Service (Very High Cost Cases) (Funding) Order 2013 -and the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2013.
The Lib Dem Lord Carlile of Berriew will be seeking a "Prayer to Annul" arguing that the orders would unilaterally cut the fees paid to barristers in major cases by 40%, a move which, unsurprisingly, is being opposed tooth and nail by the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.
He regards the changes as completely unacceptable and warns that they would undermine the quality of representation defendants would receive in long complicated cases.
His Lib Dem colleague, and Justice Minister, Lord McNally, bats for the government.
The Commons meets at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport Questions followed by Women & Equalities Questions and the weekly business statement from the Leader of the House.
Then, backbench business kicks off with 20 minutes devoted to the Commons Liaison Committee Report "Civil Service: lacking capacity" - Committee Chair Sir Alan Beith, presides.
Expect renewed pressure to create a Parliamentary Commission on the model of the now wound-up Banking Commission, to look at the future of the Civil Service.
That's followed by a general debate on the fishing industry - this used to be an annual event before the advent of the Backbench Business Committee Frank Doran, Margaret Ritchie, Jim Shannon, and Sheryll Murray will lead the debate.
The day's third backbench debate is on Ford and Visteon UK Ltd pensioners.
Visteon was the parts business of Ford, which was spun off as an independent entity.
When it collapsed, the entitlements of 3,000 ex-employees, most of whom had spent most of their careers with Ford, were cut.
There is a continuing legal battle and media campaign arguing that Ford should pick up the bill for the pensioners - and one of the aims of a prime-time chamber debate is to turn the spotlight on the US parent company, including by reaching out to members of the US Congress.
Ford says Visteon was an independent business that was responsible for its own decisions.
There is also pressure for more protection for staff pensions where companies are spun off in similar circumstances.
The Conservative Stephen Metcalfe and Labour's Geraint Davies - who both have constituency interests in the issue, lead the debate.
Over in Westminster Hall (1.30- 4.30pm) MPs have a chance to debate two reports from the International Development Select Committee - and the Government responses to them.
The first is on Global Food Security and highlighted the pressure on food supplies in developing countries and the second, on Violence Against Women and Girls, called for greater strategic priority to be given to the issue.
In the Lords (11am) questions to ministers will cover apprenticeships, spare capacity in London hostels for the homeless and the predicted savings from the under-occupancy charge (aka the Bedroom Tax).
Then peers turn to a series of debates on subjects chosen by backbenchers: Lord Dubbs leads on patient choice at end of life; the impact of the replenishment pledges for the global fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and, finally, on reducing the size of the House of Lords.
This is led by the constitutional scholar, Lord Norton.
He aims to highlight that the size of the House has increased, is increasing, and needs to be rowed back, both because the sheer number of peers is now opening the House to public ridicule and because of the resulting pressure on the resources of the House.
He also wants to highlight just how unsustainable the pressure is likely to be in two or three years' time if the current rate of new appointments to the peerage is sustained.
There's also an intriguing looking short debate on the guidance issued to Parliamentary Counsel - the specialists who draft laws - on the use of gender-neutral language in legislation.
Neither House sits on Friday.