- 27 June 2014
- From the section UK Politics
There's some genuine legislative meat for both houses to chew on this week, but there's no doubt that the toughest political battle will come when the Prime Minister reports back on this week's EU summit - and the battle may not be between the parties.
The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Communities and Local Government Questions - but that's just an amuse-bouche for the day's main event, David Cameron's Prime Ministerial Statement on the EU council meeting where Britain's objections to the nomination of Jean Claude Juncker as the next President of the Commission were over-ridden.
While there will doubtless be much criticism and mockery directed at the PM and his negotiating strategy, the people to watch may be not so much the Opposition front bench as the Conservative back-benchers.
Will a failure to block Mr Juncker tip some eurosceptics, who'd given their leader's renegotiation and referendum strategy the benefit of the doubt, into supporting outright withdrawal? There are already senior MPs who remark that if Mr Juncker can't be stopped, what chance does Mr Cameron have of achieving any serious euro-reform?
Will there be a concerted attempt to nail the Prime Minister to well-defined reform objectives, like control of EU immigration and benefits, and to a commitment not to campaign to stay in the EU, if these are not achieved?
Already some eurosceptics are focusing on what their 2015 election manifesto will say on the issue. And it will also be worth watching the more subtle gradations of opinion between the "new wave" eurosceptics (get-outers, actually) like Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, and the old-guard Maastrictistas like Sir Bill Cash and Bernard Jenkin.
These two camps have frequent disagreements on tactics and strategy - if they find themselves in alignment, Mr Cameron will have a formidable party management problem on his hands.
This should be a pretty long discussion and may well absorb a couple of prime time hours in the Chamber. It will be followed by a Labour Opposition Day Debate entitled "Chaos and waste at the Department for Work and Pensions."
Leaving aside the important issues about the implementation of Iain Duncan Smith's proposed super-benefit, the Universal Credit, I suspect Labour business managers take a certain sly pleasure in forcing the Leader of the House to announce debates with this kind of title. I think I spotted a bit of a wince when this one came up, during the Business Statement on Thursday.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) Peers get their first chance to debate the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The key issues will include the costs of Judicial Review, extreme pornography, juries, and young offenders.
And watch out for warning shots from the large contingent of lawyers and former judges in the House, who may take exception to Nick de Bois' backbench amendment introducing mandatory sentences on the second conviction of adults and minors for possession of a knife.
The Commons meets as 11.30am for Justice Questions, and then MPs move on to the detailed Report Stage consideration of the Finance Bill - the measure which puts the tax changes announced in the Budget into law.
Labour have six big amendments down - on keeping the 50p income tax rate, and on opposing the changes to stamp duty, where they would use the resulting revenue to reverse the so-called Bedroom Tax.
Another amendment would enshrine safeguards proposed by the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves, on the proposed changes to the private pensions system. These include ensuring high-quality advice is available, including steps to combat the risk of mis-selling, ensuring that pensions tax relief does not benefit only the richest, and ensuring the reforms do not result in extra costs to the state, either through higher social care bills or pensioners falling back on means-tested benefits.
And there are also a couple of amendments Labour designed to close various tax loopholes.
Watch out too for concerns over changes to the DOTAS - disclosure of tax avoidance schemes - rules, which would require those involved in around 65,000 long running tax disputes to pay the bills sent to them by HMRC up front, and dispute the figures in court later, if they wish.
Influential figures including the chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, think this amounts to restrospective legislation, which is corrosive to the whole tax system and the wider economy, because it creates uncertainty for investors.
And watch out too for some warning shots around a consultation announced in the Budget on giving HMRC powers to seize money direct from people's bank accounts, if they have failed to settle an outstanding debt after several warnings; critics say it amounts to allowing the taxman to delve into bank accounts on their own say-so, without having to justify the move to a court.
Over in Westminster Hall my eye was caught by Labour MP Toby Perkins' debate (2.30 - 4pm) on government policy on legal highs.
A 14-year-old schoolboy in his Chesterfield constituency suffered a catastrophic reaction after taking what he describes as a "lethal legal high" the boy's father, who saw his son on the edge of death, could not believe these products were legal.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers include one on moving UK elections from Thursday to Sunday.
The day's legislating is devoted to the Second Reading of the Consumer Rights Bill , which has now cleared the Commons. It deals with such matters as trading standards inspections, nuisance calls, secondary ticketing, rip-off letting agents fees and other areas of consumer detriment.
The Commons opens (11.30am) with Scotland Questions, followed, at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.
Then MPs polish off the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Finance Bill.
In the Lords (from 3pm) Peers have the first of four days of detailed Committee-stage debate on the Serious Crime Bill - among the subjects at issue are recovery of property derived from the proceeds of crime.
The dinner break business is a short debate on supporting the World Health Organisation's work to strengthen surgical care and anaesthesia to reduce the global burden of disease.
In the Moses Room (the Lords equivalent of Westminster Hall), there is a debate on the EU Committee's report on "Genuine Economic and Monetary Union", followed by a one-hour debate on co-ordinating the assistance given to disabled students at school, in further education and at work.
The Commons assembles at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport Questions, and Women and Equalities Questions, The Leader of the House delivers his weekly Business Statement, and that is followed by backbench debates on Protecting Children in Conflict and on Social Mobility and Child Poverty.
In the Lords (11am) the main business is the Conservative debates on strengthening the UK's manufacturing sector, and on the importance of investment in the rural economy.
There is likely to be a topical short debate in between.
After the rural economy debate there are two regulations for approval on copyright and rights in performances - the one on Quotation and Parody might provoke a chuckle or two.
In the Moses Room, the Committee stage of the Infrastructure Bill commences - the day's key issue is the conversion of the Highways Authority into an arms-length government owned company.
Neither House sits on Friday July 4th.