Week ahead at Westminster
- 28 March 2014
- From the section UK Politics
For MPs starved of legislative meat to chew on, relief is at hand. Not one, but two new bills hit the Commons next week - the Wales Bill and the Finance Bill - the measure that implements the Budget.
And on Thursday the running battle over the establishment of a Parliamentary Commission on the Civil Service continues.
This week, in a little-noticed move, the House of Lords voted to consider such an idea, if put forward by the Commons, with former Minister and Leader of the Lib Dem peers, Lord McNally noting that the idea of a politically neutral civil service, appointed on merit, "should not be let go casually, without proper parliamentary scrutiny."
The whole issue has become entangled with the behind the scenes debate about the future of the Commons Backbench Business Committee - would it be over-reaching itself, and invite a clipping of wings, if it facilitated the creation of a commission that ministers really don't want?
In the Lords, the report stage of the Immigration Bill could prove testing for the government, although Peers won't get on to the most controversial section of the Bill, on deprivation of citizenship until the following week.
Here's my detailed rundown:
Monday 31st March
The Commons kicks off (2.30pm) with work and pensions questions.
As usual there's a good chance of an urgent question or ministerial statement on some issue that has cropped up at the weekend - and that would take place at 3.30, if it materialised.
Then MPs move on to the second reading of the Wales Bill, which makes changes to the electoral arrangements for the Welsh Assembly and gives effect to many of the recommendations in the Silk Commission on extending the devolutionary settlement.
Expect calls for more of them to be added in as a response to the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum - but there's also the intriguing possibility that a couple of Labour devo-sceptics might break cover and attack the Labour-run Welsh government over its running of the NHS.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the main event is the final day of the report stage of the Water Bill, with issues around fracking and flooding to be fought out.
Expect votes on a consultation requirement on climate change when setting flood targets, and on a report on inclusion of leaseholders in flood re-insurance schemes.
There will also be a short debate on measures to improve the health of deaf people.
Tuesday 1st April
The Commons gets underway at 11.30am with health questions - this is now pretty much the nastiest regular fixture on the Commons calendar, with real needle between Jeremy Hunt and his Labour shadow, Andy Burnham.
That's followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the regulation of gambling advertising from the Conservative, Jake Berry.
He wants to ban advertising for betting and gambling before the watershed, arguing that children should not be exposed to it.
It will be interesting to see if anyone speaks against; gambling ads provide an appreciable part of the revenue for sports channels in particular.
The big event is the Second Reading debate for the Finance Bill - this implements the detailed changes to taxation announced in the Budget, including increasing the tax-free Personal Allowance to £10,000 in 2014-15 and legislating for a further increase to £10,500 from 2015-16, and reducing the starting rate of income tax on savings from 10% to 0%, and extending the band to which it applies from £2,880 to £5,000. The Treasury says this will benefit 1.5 million people, including over a million with total incomes below £15,500, who will then pay no tax at all on their savings income.
In the Lords (2.30pm) proceedings begin with the arrival of yet another new bishop - the Lord Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff.
The main business is the first report stage day devoted to the Immigration Bill - where the issues include biometrics and appeals.
Expect a vote on an amendment to require a series of reports and then further debate before changes to the right of appeals can come into force.
Labour believe there is strong cross-party support.
There is also a short debate on early access to innovative medicine for life-threatening conditions from Lib Dem Baroness Thomas of Winchester.
Wednesday 2nd April
In the Commons (11.30am) half an hour of Northern Ireland questions is followed by prime minister's question time.
Then there's a Ten Minute Rule Bill, presented by the SNP's Angus MacNeil.
His Scotland (Independence) (Westminster Representation) Bill follows on from the previous week's bill from the Conservative John Stevenson, which would have excluded Scotland from the 2015 General Election in the event of a Yes vote in September's independence referendum.
Mr McNeil's rejoinder is a bill saying that Scottish MPs should leave the Commons on the day of Scottish independence - following the precedent set over Ireland in 1922.
The day's main debate is on a Labour motion - yet to be announced. And there will also be a motion to approve a Statutory Instrument relating to terrorism legislation.
In Westminster Hall the Conservative backbencher Laura Sandys leads a debate on the Elliot Review ( the review set up in the wake of the horsemeat contamination scandal) and food crime (9.30am - 11am And in the afternoon (2.30 - 4pm) Labour's Jenny Chapman opens a debate on the future of English Heritage.
Also worth watching is the debate (4.30 - 5pm) led by the Conservative MP and former Foreign Office lawyer Dominic Raab, on the transparency of UK visa bans.
He will argue that the UK has a "bizarre system" under which the names of people banned for holding unsavoury views are routinely made public. But the names of, for example, known torturers are not. He will make the case that the British public have every right to know who is banned from coming in, and who isn't.
In the Lords (from 3pm) peers will consider Commons amendments to the Intellectual Property Bill, before moving on to the third reading of the Defence Reform Bill, where a government concession is expected on a "sunrise" for the section dealing with Government-owned defence procurement.
No votes are expected on either bill. There will then be three short debates on: International Roma Day; cinema culture in the UK; and a global goal on inequality in the post-2015 development agenda.
Thursday 3rd April
The Commons meets (9.30am) for energy and climate change questions, followed by the weekly Business Statement setting out the Commons agenda for the following week.
Barring statements or urgent questions, the remainder of the day will be devoted to subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee: first there's the launch of the Work and Pensions Committee report on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, by Committee Chair Anne Begg, and that will be followed by a debate on sanctioning of benefit recipients led by Labour's Michael Meacher.
The main debate will be on Civil Service reform.
The original idea of the group behind it, led by Public Administration Select Committee Chair, Bernard Jenkin, was to propose the setting-up of a Parliamentary Commission modelled on Andrew Tyrie's highly-successful Banking Commission, to consider reform of the Civil Service.
But the committee has opted for a general debate to test the waters, and will only schedule a debate on a motion to create a commission if wide support for the idea surfaces.
And the final event of the week will be an adjournment debate on the blasphemy law in Pakistan, led by the Conservative, Rehman Chishti.
Unusually for a Lords Thursday (from 11am) there will be votes.
Various aspects of the Immigration Bill will be fought out as it reaches the second day of its report stage.
Watch out for amendments on access to public services and on the requirement for landlords to check their tenants' immigration status, on houses in multiple occupation, the National Minimum Wage, gang-masters, and access to the NHS.
In the short lunch debate, Labour continue their guerrilla resistance to the Bedroom Tax/Spare Room Subsidy with a regret motion from Baroness Sherlock on the Housing Benefit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations.