Week ahead at Westminster

As predicted here a couple of weeks ago, the State Opening of Parliament will be late - on June 3rd - a month later than usual, to steer clear of the European and local elections in late May.

So prorogation, the formal end of the current parliamentary year, will be no later than Wednesday 21st May.

This means the final year of the current Parliament will be rather foreshortened, but even so, many MPs and peers are wondering whether they will have much legislation to chew on.

Already, their lordships have been told their Easter recess is being extended by a week, and they will rise on Wednesday 9th April and not return until Tuesday 6th May - and that their summer recess is to be extended until Monday 13th October.

Meanwhile the Commons Backbench Business Committee is being given extra time above and beyond its normal allocation of debating days, and there seem to be more opposition days being made available to Labour and the smaller parties as well, to keep business in the Commons chamber going.

This is the legacy of the coalition's strategic decision to front-load its legislative programme, so that its major reforms had time to be registered by the public before the next election.

MPs and peers got used to being force-fed big bills at a fearsome pace, and seem at a bit of a loss now the pace has slackened.

Few expect the next Queen's Speech, when it finally arrives, to be chock-full of exciting goodies.

But the implication that big bills should be placed before Parliament to provide our legislators with occupational therapy until the next election seems a little silly.

There are plenty of alternative ways in which they could spend their time; they could do more committee work, they could invent a process to review the impact of the laws they've already passed, they could spend more time on the detail of the remaining measures before them - how about a "till they drop" report stage on the Care Bill, examining all the amendments on this very important measure?

As it happens, the Care Bill occupies two Commons days next week - and there are plenty of amendments down, not least from the former Health Minister, Paul Burstow, who chaired the committee of MPs and peers which scrutinised the Bill in draft, and who can therefor offer a very informed view of its content.

This is possibly the most important bill of the 2010 Parliament, in terms of its impact on the lives of people in this country, and it's an area where the fine detail and the nuances of the process can have an extraordinary impact on vulnerable people, so it deserves considerable attention.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:

Monday March 10th

The Commons day begins at 2.30pm with Home Office questions.

Which may well be followed by the usual Monday clutch of urgent questions or ministerial statements.

The day's main legislating is the report stage of the Care Bill - as discussed above, there are plenty of amendments down. Lib Dem ex-minister Paul Burstow will propose changes in several areas, notably on giving the Police a right to access, via an Adult Safeguarding Access Order, where a family member or carer is preventing them from talking to a vulnerable person who might be a victim of abuse.

He and his cross-party supporters want to clarify that someone receiving care paid for by the public, via a private company, is protected under Human Rights legislation, which would give important protection where someone was, for example, facing eviction from a care home.

He also has amendments down on considering the case for appointing a Commissioner for Older People in England, and on holding regular independent reviews of the demand for social care, to ensure proper long term planning of services.

Inspired by a constituency case, Labour MP Sheila Gilmore is proposing an amendment on the entitlement to "portable" funding for social care of people who move between the nations of the UK.

She cites the story of a constituent who suffered paralysis in England, moved back to Edinburgh to be with their family, and ran into a dispute over who paid for their care needs.

Similarly, the Conservative Jeremy Lefroy, who had to deal with the fallout from the scandal at the Mid Staffs NHS Trust, has put down an amendment resulting from that experience.

At the moment the health secretary has to accept or reject the recommendations from any report from the NHS watchdog, Monitor, when it investigates this kind of case.

He believes the official response would be faster and more effective if they were given a limited power to cherry-pick, so that a problem with one recommendation did not lead to a long delay.

Watch out, too, for a "Lewisham" amendment, resulting from the case of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which went bust.

Paul Bustrow and others argue that the current rules allow a reorganisation of health services in those circumstances to go through without sufficient consultation.

In Westminster Hall (4.30pm - 7.30pm) Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Conservative Pauline Latham lead a debate on an e-petition on stopping female genital mutilation in the UK.

Committee of the day is the Transport Committee hearing (4.05pm) on local decision-making in transport spending.

This may sound a little dry, but it centres on the demise of local budgets for transport subsidies - which is a big issue in many parts of the country.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) a few sparks may fly over Lord Carrington of Fulham's (the former Conservative MP Matthew Carrington) question on the economic impact of the London Underground strike in February.

Then peers move on to the continuing committee stage debate on the Immigration Bill - key issues include access to services and inclusion of students in the immigration statistics, and, in particular, the requirement for landlords to check tenants' immigration status.

Labour Peers are performing what has become one of their classic manoeuvres, and moving an amendment requiring a pilot scheme be conducted and the results studied, and that Parliament has to give further approval before those provisions can be rolled out across the whole country. .

There will also be a short debate on the situation in Gibraltar, during the dinner break.

Tuesday March 11th

In the Commons (from 11.30am) its Treasury questions, followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill from the Labour MP Jim Dobbin requiring Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which are the Government's new vehicle for economic development, to include a co-operative and social enterprise business specialist - and include encouraging co-ops in their objectives.

Then MPs return to the Care Bill to complete the report stage and third reading.

The day ends with an adjournment debate on World Water Day, led by the Northern Ireland Alliance Party's MP, Naomi Long.

In Westminster Hall there is the usual assortment of debates led by backbenchers, starting (9.30 - 11am) with a debate on the treatment and prevention of cancer, led by the Conservative Pauline Latham, who is particularly concerned about raising awareness of malignant melanoma.

And the Conservative Ben Wallace (4.30 - 5pm) leads a debate on the Ministry of Defence's relationship with International Military Sales Ltd.

My Select Committee highlight for Tuesday is the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee hearing on Flood Insurance (3pm), with the Association of British Insurers.

"Close to incendiary," says one committee source.

In the Lords 2.30pm questions to ministers include health and social care specialist Baroness Pitkeathley asking about abolishing the practice of paying retainers to GPs for providing services to care homes - and the day's most important legislative action is the "ping pong" or, to give it is formal title, "Consideration of Commons Amendments" on two bills.

First the Offender Rehabilitation Bill where a vote is expected on Parliamentary oversight of the privatisation of probation services.

Then peers move on to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, where a vote is also likely on the compensation criteria for miscarriages of justice.

Labour's Baroness Hayter will then move a "regret motion" on the abolition of the National Consumer Council, which she says, among other things results in the responsibility for overseeing Estate Agents Redress - covering 25,000 estate agents across England and Wales, and the two Ombudsmen Services - going to Powys County Council in mid-Wales.

The Dinner Break debate is on promoting the involvement of women internationally in politics, public life, the economy and society.

Wednesday March 12th

In the Commons (11.30am) Cabinet Office Ministers Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin emerge from the engine room of government to take questions from MPs and at noon it's prime minister's question time.

The day's Ten Minute Rule Bill, from Lib Dem Julian Huppert aims to promote local landlord accreditation schemes and calls for a review of the legal framework in the private rented sector.

Then MPs complete the report stage and third reading of the Intellectual Property Bill, and deal with Lords amendments to the suddenly-contentious Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill - which modifies the devolved framework in Northern Ireland.

There's also time available for considering other Lords amendments - presumably with the Offender Rehabilitation Bill and the Anti-social Behaviour Bill in mind (see Lords, Tuesday).

In Westminster Hall (9.30 - 11am) the Labour MP Angela Smith has a debate on the decision by leasing companies to transfer 89 carriages from the cross-Pennine route to commuter services in the South-East - a decision raised at PMQs this week by Jack Straw.

And watch out for the Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg's debate (4 - 4.30pm) on three parent children and Mitochondrial transfer - looking at the implications of new developments in fertility technology.

Wednesday's big committee corridor event will be the Defence Committee hearing on Afghanistan (2.30pm), with Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond.

This will cover the planning for the British military pull-out, the fate of any equipment left behind, and the lessons to be learned from UK involvement.

There's also a European Committee (8.55am!) on the European External Action Service - something the European Scrutiny Select Committee has been calling for since last November.

In the Lords (from 3pm) the main business is a short but important debate on the third reading of the Pensions Bill, where the Minister, Lord Freud, has endured a torrid time.

The key issues are on information statements to individuals on their state pension, and on cold weather payments.

This will be followed by day four of the committee stage of the Immigration Bill - covering more on immigrants' access to services, including on the NHS, work, bank accounts and driving licences.

The dinner break debate is on plans for the future of the wartime code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park - led by one of its surviving staff, the Conservative Baroness Trumpington.

Thursday March 13th

The Commons opens at 9.30am for culture, media and sport questions and women and equalities questions - followed by the weekly Business Statement from the Leader of the Commons, setting out what MPs will be debating in the ensuing weeks.

The chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts, will deliver a statement and take a few quick questions on his committee's new report on local government procurement, and then MPs move on to a Backbench Business Committee debate on the badger cull.

In Westminster Hall (1.30 - 4.30pm), the Conservative Sir Alan Haselhurst will open a debate on Commonwealth Day.

The day's committee highlight, indeed the only Select Committee meeting, will be a political and Constitutional Reform Committee hearing on voter engagement (10am) with evidence from the Hansard Society and the Electoral Reform Society.

In the Lords (11am) there's a question to ministers on the decision not to publish the November 2011 Major Projects Authority review into HS2 - and the main debate is on the role of primary and secondary education in improving social mobility.

This is followed by a debate on the Lords Science and Technology Committee's report on regenerative medicine.

Neither House sits on Friday.

Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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