Week ahead at Westminster

Still no sign of the return of the Immigration Bill - last seen at the end of its Commons committee stage, back on 19 November.

It's not as if the press of vital business is squeezing it out of the programme.

There's plenty of time available for backbench debates and opposition days, as we approach the fag-end of this parliamentary year.

For my money the most politically explosive event on the agenda (you never know what statements or urgent questions might pop up) is Friday's Lords committee stage for the EU Referendum Bill.

Will Europhile peers seek to bog it down?

The government business managers (who include the Lib Dems) seem prepared to provide quite generous amounts of debating time, making a couple of extra Fridays available.

This could be because they don't want to be accused of unreasonably restricting the time available to the bill, and want to be able to point to an ample allocation, or maybe, just maybe, there's a Lib Dem calculation that allowing it through could cause a bit of havoc in the Tory ranks.

Here's my rundown of the week's main events:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Communities & Local Government Questions.

After which there may or may not be a ministerial statement or urgent question.

The day's main legislating is the second reading of the Intellectual Property Bill.

This measure, which has already cleared the Lords deals with patents, designs and creates a new research exemption from disclosure under freedom of information.

I'm not sure how long MPs will dwell on it.

Next there is a motion to extend the deadline for passing the Children and Families Bill until 21 March.

The bill started life in the Commons in the last parliamentary year and is now rather bogged down in the Lords.

There's been one narrow defeat there, on an amendment to "clarify that 'involvement' of each parent in the child's life refers to involvement that specifically 'promotes the welfare of the child', and does not refer to 'any particular division of a child's time'."

But after 12 long days in grand committee, debate had proceeded at snail's pace, with more concessions and u-turns than any legislation since dogfight over the Public Bodies Bill.

It still has two more days of Lords report stage discussion scheduled at the end of this month, and this motion ensures it doesn't bump up against the terms of the original motion to allow it to be carried forward into the current parliamentary session.

Expect a bit of Labour sniping about the Coalition's parliamentary management.

After that MPs move on to a debate chosen by their Backbench Business Committees, on Payday loan companies. It will be centred around this report from the Business Innovation and Skills Committee, which called for close monitoring of the activities of the loan companies, a clampdown on the marketing techniques they use, including advertising on children's' TV, restrictions on the use of continuous payment authorities and an industry levy to fund debt advice.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across the Girls' Education Challenge, incursions by Spanish vessels into Gibraltar's territorial waters and delays at the frontier, plans to revise under-occupancy charge and the number of people on the lowest incomes lifted out of income tax by the rise in personal tax thresholds since 2010.

Then peers move on to day three of the report stage of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill: key issues include the oversight of covert police operations, port and border controls and extradition.

The dinner break business is an motion to approve a statutory instrument on the legal aid costs in criminal cases - and a regret motion from Labour's Lord Bach on civil legal aid costs.

Meanwhile over in the Moses Room, their Lordships equivalent of Westminster Hall, the Pensions Bill is expected to complete its last grand committee day with more discussion on personal pensions.


In the Commons (from 11.30am) the first business is Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions, to be followed by a ten minute rule bill on the accreditation and inspection of adventure and gap year activity companies, from the Labour MP, Kate Green.

The day's main debate is on a Labour motion on pub companies - there's not text available at the time of writing.

The day ends with an adjournment debate led by the Conservative Craig Whittaker, on the staying put agenda for looked-after children in residential care.

This is about allowing children in care to remain in council homes as tenants after they reach the age of eighteen.

In Westminster Hall, watch out for the debate on ticket abuse (2.30 - 4pm) led by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson and Conservative Mike Weatherley caught my eye.

With an eye to the forthcoming Consumer Rights Bill, they've set up an all-party group to argue for changes in the law to combat the activities of ticket touts, who can price people out of gigs and sports events.

It is an area the Police want to see regulated, and this is the first move in a strategy to influence the Bill.

Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) ministers field questions on the public health impact of fortifying flour, government policy on busking, and the annual cost of service widow's pension - that last once comes from the former chief of the defence staff, Lord Craig of Radley.

The day's main legislating is the third reading of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill - Labour intend to return to the constituency spending limits in part two of the bill and force a vote on them (peers have a bit more scope for amendments at third reading than MPs).

Some trade union issues will also be considered.

The bill will be followed by ping pong on Commons amendments on procurement, in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for International Development Questions, followed by Prime Minister's Question Time, at noon.

The Conservative Matthew Offord will present a ten minute rule bill on an animal welfare issue - outlawing animal collars which can administer electric shocks, and then the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill bounces straight back from the Lords, to allow MPs to debate the amendments made in the upper house.

Will the government seek to reverse its defeats on the bill, which include exempting NGO/charity staff costs from campaign spending thresholds, and registering meetings between lobbyists and ministerial special advisors?

If even the quite fantastically anodyne European Union (Approvals) Bill could provoke a Tory rebellion, then the next business, the debate on the European Commission Work Programme 2014, should be causing the Tory whips' antennae to twitch.

This programme is a bit less definitive with European elections due in May but it does give some indication of what the Commission might prioritise once a new European Parliament has been elected, and a new Commission appointed, towards the end of this year.

It wouldn't surprise me if a few warning shots are fired from the Conservative benches, where MPs' blood is up, with the EU Referendum Bill (see Friday, below) in play.

In Westminster Hall there are the usual debates on subjects chosen by backbenchers - my eye was caught by the Conservative Graham Jones (11 - 11.30am) who has chosen the hot topic of fixed odds betting terminals.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) question time ranges across the switchover to digital radio, ensuring electoral registration levels do not decline, and the steps being taken to combat human trafficking and other forms of contemporary slavery.

The day's main event is the final half day of report stage on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - the key issues will be justice focused, including a big vote on miscarriages of justice on which the government ran into heavy criticism at committee.

The bill will be followed by two short debates, Baroness Ford on increasing the supply of affordable housing; and Baroness Wheeler on actions to inform the public about dementia and the support available to individual sufferers.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Business, Innovation and Skills Questions, followed by the weekly Business Statement from the Leader of the House.

The main debates are on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee - first on the Shrewsbury 24, and release of papers.

This was the case of 24 building workers who were charged following the first ever national building workers strike in 1972.

They picketed building sites in Shrewsbury during the dispute and were prosecuted in Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973.

They became known as the "Shrewsbury 24".

There's a campaign to have the cases referred to the Court of Appeal.

That is followed by a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The day ends with an adjournment debate on flooding in northern Lincolnshire led by local MP Martin Vickers.

Meanwhile, in Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm) there's a chance for MPs to debate two reports from select committees; the Foreign Affairs Committee's on The FCO's human rights work in 2012, and the International Development Committee report on Violence Against Women and Girls

In the Lords (from 11am) the subjects at question Ttme include support to the metal theft taskforce, responses to recent flooding and the increase in the UK's public sector debt since 2010.

The day's main debates are on subjects chosen by Labour peers: Lord Harrison on the Role of international trade in increasing employment and economic growth; and from Lord Rooker on the resilience of the UK in the face of economic and climactic challenges and pressures.

The final business of the day is the EU Committee debate on the UK's 2014 opt-out decision on EU police and criminal justice measures, led by the former diplomat Lord Hannay of Chiswick.


It's private members' bill day in both the Commons and the Lords.

MPs gather at 9.30am for the report stage debates on Philip Hollobone's Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Bill , which makes some technical changes on the permitted signatories of notices.

Then it's on to Sheryll Murray's Deep Sea Mining Bill.

After that it's Docherty day - the second reading debates on a series of private members bills presented by the Labour MP Thomas Docherty.

First up is his Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill, which would, for example, outlaw pubs imposing blanket bans on service personnel.

At this stage in the parliamentary year the point of these bills is less to change legislation and more to highlight issues.

Also on his list, the Train Companies (Minimum Fares) Bill, the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill and the Jobs Guarantee Scheme (Research) Bill.

Over in the Lords (10am) it's the committee stage of the EU referendum Bill - which could quite easily go beyond a single day...

So far there are 35 amendments down on issues ranging from the secretary of state's powers to determine matters relating to the referendum (sweeping powers for ministers is always a good upper house issue); wording of the question on the ballot paper; the end date for the timing of the referendum, voting age, and the anomalous position of ex-pat voters and Gibraltarians.

The amendments mostly come from assorted Labour, Lib Dem, crossbench and Plaid Cymru peers, but a handful are signed by the Conservative Lord Bowness - who seems to be rather breaking ranks, when his colleagues are being asked to speak as little as possible and not amend, because passing amendments makes it far harder to pass the whole bill (see endless previous blogposts).