Looking ahead

MPs and peers are now off for their Easter break. The Commons returns on 16 April and the Lords a week later.

MPs will immediately sink their teeth into the Finance Bill - the detailed measure implementing the Budget; and the SNP and Plaid Cymru have already stolen a march by putting down an amendment declining to give it a second reading because it fails to address fuel prices.

It's up to the Speaker to decide whether that gets debated or not - but with all the issues around pasties and pensions, not to mention income tax allowances and child benefit, the Finance Bill should provide quite a political dogfight. Labour will certainly try to devise an amendment to attract the support of Tory dissidents - and the rules for finance bills give them some control over what is debated by the whole House, and what is debated in committee.

The committee stage will be taken on the floor of the Commons on Wednesday and Thursday of the first week after Easter.

The Tuesday is reserved for dealing with the changes made in the Lords to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - which has been thoroughly filleted by peers. When was the last time a government was defeated in the Lords 11 times (count them!) on a single bill?

MPs will probably be invited to bat the changes away by asserting "financial privilege", the rule against peers interfering in financial matters. Peers were pretty annoyed when this device was deployed against changes they'd made to the Welfare Reform Bill - but those had implications for hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. They will be even more miffed if they're over-ridden on financial grounds when mere tens of millions are at stake.

There's even a school of thought that asserts that the government can't assert financial privilege if their amendments don't bust the Ministry of Justice's budget, and just move money around within it. I asked a leading Commons authority about that today - and the argument was dismissed with a single unparliamentary expletive.

Peers have a day reserved when they return to the fray, on 24 April, to consider the Commons response to their amendments - and my guess is that they will come up with alternative changes to the bill and bat it back to MPs again….and the process could continue for quite a while. And between bouts with the Commons, they'll be rushing through the bill promised in the Budget: to relax the Sunday trading laws during the Olympics, to maximise the money Britain can make out of the games.

All in all, the short Parliamentary session between Easter and prorogation (probably on 3 May) should be quite a fun-filled interlude.

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