Week ahead in the Commons

After the rigours of the Conference season, Parliament returns - but the parliamentarians are rather easing themselves back into Westminster life with a three day week, just Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Two of those days in the Commons will be devoted to the report and third reading stages of the Lobbying Bill - as before, the work will be shared between three ministers, with Chloe Smith from the Cabinet Office leading on the lobbying section, Jo Swinson from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills on the trade union section and Deputy Leader of the House Tome Brake on the non -party campaigning section, which is the really contentious bit.

Much of the debate will turn on whether opposition from charities, campaigning organisations, etc, has been defused by the amendments the Government promised at Committee Stage and delivered on October 4th.

Meanwhile, watch out for developments on the harrying of Andy Burnham.

Emails secured by the Conservative backbencher Steve Barclay, have prompted accusations that Mr Burnham, then Health Secretary, pressured the NHS watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, not to release damning information about failings at Basildon University Hospital, in the run-up to the 2010 election.

Mr Barclay, who has been following up an appearance by CQC officials before the Public Accounts Committee, secured a sample of 40 e-mails between health ministers and the CQC from January 2010, and is now pressing for more emails to be released, including those from December 2009 and February 2010.

He believes they contradict Mr Burnham's account of events to the House of Commons and he will be pressing for him to make a personal statement to MPs to correct the record - and will be using "every parliamentary device available to a backbench MP" to raise the issue on the floor of the House, if Mr Burnham fails to do so.

Labour are dismissing the issue as "the latest stage of an on-going Conservative Party smear campaign against the last Labour Government. These old, unfounded allegations have already been answered in full."

A statement from the Party insists that: "no evidence has ever been produced to suggest anything other than that Ministers acted properly at all times.

"The facts show that Ministers did the precise opposite of what is alleged.

"When problems at Basildon and Thurrock hospital first emerged, Andy Burnham made a full statement to Parliament and ordered an in-depth investigation of every hospital in England to be completed before the General Election.

"Action was also taken to improve the internal running of the CQC. On Basildon, a CQC press officer briefed the media without authorisation and before the Department of Health was officially notified.

"This was a breach of established practice and left the Department unable to respond properly to the many enquiries it was receiving, from public and press, following reports on rolling news programmes."

Reshuffle looming?

Elsewhere, there will doubtless be a growing murmur of reshuffle speculation.

On the government side, any changes are expected to be mostly confined to the middle ranks; Labour's reshuffle may be a little more wide-ranging.

And the result could be that some newly-minted ministers suddenly have to appear at the dispatch box and answer on subjects with absolutely minimal briefing. And we might see some select committee appearances postponed until new ministers have read themselves into their new roles.

We may also see some hint of the conclusions of a debate within Government on whether to include a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill - due in the Lords soon.

The government defeated an amendment on these lines from the (then) Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, Tim Yeo, earlier this year, but the balance of power is different in the Lords, and there, the choice facing ministers is not exactly yes-no, more whether to oppose and be defeated, or not oppose and have the clause inserted by the increasingly green-tinged Upper House.

Here's the detailed rundown:


On Tuesday, the Commons re-opens for business (2.30pm) with Justice Questions, which will almost certainly be followed by one or more ministerial statements, updating the House on issues that have cropped up during the conference recess.

There may be calls for extra time for the Lobbying Bill (see below) if these run on too long...

The Labour MP Grahame Morris will present a Ten Minute Bill on Freedom of Information (Private Healthcare Companies).

Then MPs move on to their Report Stage consideration of the snappily-titled Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Watch out for a series of cross-party amendments from the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, based on issues raised in their report on the Bill.

In particular, the committee chair, Labour's Graham Allen is gathering signatures for an amendment specifying that campaigning by charities during election periods should not be restricted charities should not be restricted unless the "Primary purpose "of any of their expenditure is party political.

And the day ends with an adjournment debate on government policy on Burma, led by Labour MP Valerie Vaz.

Over in Westminster Hall, there's the usual series of debated led by backbenchers - starting with the Conservative Michael Fabricant (9.30am - 11am) talking about UK-US relations.

My eye was caught by the subject chosen by Labour's Lyn Brown (11am - 12.30pm) Government recognition of the Bow match women's strike of 1888 - this was a strike of the women and teenage girls working at the Bryant and May Factory in Bow, East London, sparked by poor working conditions in the match factory, including fourteen-hour work days, poor pay, excessive fines and the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus.

The Lords convenes at 2.30pm - and the first business will be the introduction of the first two of the new batch of peers.

The Conservative Lord Horam (who has the distinction of having sat as a Labour, SDP and then Conservative MP) and the Lib Dem Baroness, Olly Grender.

Questions to ministers range across the traffic forecasts underpinning the road building programme, the prospects for a UN-led settlement in Syria and the importance of tourism to the economy.

After that, peers turn to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill - the first of a scheduled three days of consideration by a committee of the whole House (although it's easy to imagine extra days being needed).

Much will turn on whether the regulation hawks from the Parliamentary Banking Commission are happy with the amendments the government put down on October 1st.

They include reversing the burden of proof on senior executives, so that they are assumed to know about what is going on in their bank, unless they can prove otherwise; it will be rather more difficult to plead ignorance, and moves to increase the strength of top-level governance.


The Commons sits at 11.30am on Wednesday, for Welsh Questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.

Then, the Conservative Sir Paul Beresford continues his long-running campaign to make the laws controlling paedophiles more effective, when he presents a Ten Minute Rule Bill to amend the Coroners and Justice Act, to ban the possession of written child pornography.

Normally these are efforts to highlight an issue, but with Sir Paul, a formidable Commons tactician, there is every chance that he has a cunning scheme to get his bill into committee, with just a formal Second Reading debate.

After that, MPs move on to the second day of report stage debates on the Lobbying Bill - followed by what will probably be a pretty brisk, if not perfunctory, third reading debate.

And the day will end with an adjournment debate on mobile army surgical hospitals and the humanitarian response capability, led by the Conservative - Dr Phillip Lee.

There are more backbench debates in Westminster Hall, with two Conservative MPs tackling controversial issues: David Burrowes (2.30pm - 4pm) has a debate on policy on prosecution of offences contravening the Abortion Act - following a recent decision not to prosecute doctors accused of performing abortions on the grounds of gender.

There's a great deal of Commons concern about this issue (50 MPs signed a letter to the Telegraph to complain that the law was not being enforced) and the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who will be replying, can expect to face some tough cross examination from MPs.

Then Chris Skidmore (4pm - 4.30pm) has a debate on strike action by teaching unions

In the Lords, the new arrival of the day is Labour fundraiser Lord Mendelsohn.

Then question time covers the cost to the NHS of tendering and legal fees in commissioning services, whether the Licensing Act 2013 is helping prevent social disorder and suspending the under-occupancy charge.

After that, peers move on to the first of four days of detailed report stage consideration of the Care Bill.

There are several issues where peers may press for changes, including an amendment from the crossbencher, Lord Best, to place a statutory obligation on local authorities to take into account the importance of ensuring adults with care and support needs have access to suitable accommodation.

Lord Best said older and disabled people's housing needs often fall through the net when their health and social care needs are assessed.

During the committee stage it was clear that many peers took the view that proper housing was central to providing integrated social care, and had to be considered alongside the client's other needs.

Lord Hunt of King's Heath, Labour's deputy leader in the Lords, backed the amendment, so Labour will support it - an essential precondition for defeating the Government.

There are also moves to ensure that people who are, for example, selling up to move into a care home, fully understand the implications and, where necessary, get independent financial advice.

Another cross-party group - Labour's Lord Lipsey, the crossbencher Lady Greengross and the Lib Dem, Lord Sharkey have an amendment down.

A more technical issue is being pressed by a cross party group including the Conservative former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Labour former Health Minister Lord Warner, the Lib Dem Baroness Jolly and the Crossbencher Lady Greengross, which would give the health secretary a duty to promote individual well-being.

This is a duty that the Bill would already impose on local authorities, and the argument is that, since the health secretary has a decisive influence on the whole care system, he or she should have the same duty.

Labour have put down a similar amendment - and would probably support this one.

Another issue likely to be discussed on Wednesday is the issue of help for young carers, where the Government has worked hard to provide extra help, and we may see amendments to put the health secretary's promise of a beefed up inspection system into statute.


On Thursday the Commons opens for business at 9.30am with Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions, followed by a mini-question time for Sir Tony Baldry , the MP who speaks in the Commons for the Church Commissioners.

The Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley will deliver his weekly Business Statement, setting out what MPs will be debating for the next two weeks, and then MPs turn to two debates organised via their Backbench Business Committee.

The first subject is Free School Meals - not the Lib Dem initiative aimed at primary school children, but a motion highlighting the anomaly that 16-18 year olds at schools can claim free school meals, but not at further education or sixth form colleges, and calling for equal treatment between these groups.

Tory MP Robert Halfon, a practised hand at backbench business debates, after his campaign on petrol taxes, has led a campaign on the issue, with cross party support - and the support of the Education Select Committee chair, Graham Stuart, who thinks the current rules distort the educational choices made by disadvantaged young people.

Then there's a debate on the funding deal for more rural local authorities led by Neil Parish, Sir Nick Harvey and Robin Walker. They will be arguing that urban councils get 50 per cent more per head, and that the formula for distribution money to town halls fails to take enough account of the problems of more sparsely populated areas.

In Westminster Hall there are two debates based around the work of select committees: from 1.30pm - 4.30pm the report of the Environmental Audit Committee, on wildlife crime.

And then the report of the Work and Pensions Committee - "Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?"

In the Lords, (11.00am) two new Lib Dem Peers take their seats - Baroness Manzoor, the former legal services ombudsman for England and Wales and Lord Wrigglesworth, another former Labour MP who defected to the SDP.

The subjects to be raised at question time will include prosecuting medical professionals offering to perform abortions on gender grounds, making sure the House can cope with the latest influx of new Peers, and safeguarding the interests of Gibraltarians after recent Spanish activities in Gibraltar's Territorial Waters.

Then there is the usual Thursday series of debates on subjects raised by backbench peers: the implications of parity of esteem for mental and physical health - Lord Layard; the development of the co-operative housing sector in the UK - Lord Kennedy of Southwark and the impact of low-quality housing on child development - Baroness King of Bow.

Neither House will sit on Friday 11th.