Week ahead at Westminster

It's a curious week in the Commons, with one big legislative event - the immigration Bill - and two lots of backbench debates plus an opposition day.

Meanwhile in the Lords there is plenty of legislative action.... and the promise of fireworks over the Care Bill and the Lobbying Bill.

Here's my rundown of the week's events:


Monday in the Commons opens (2.30pm) with Communities and Local Government Questions.

After any ministerial statements and urgent questions are dealt with, MPs will then turn to two debates on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

First the Conservative Alun Cairns leads a debate on the future of the BBC, taking in recent scandals, editorial balance, the rigor with which the BBC investigates itself and future financing.

The second debate is on the state of natural capital in England and Wales.

It is based on the annual report, now published by an independent committee, which aims to help the Government better understand how the state of the natural environment affects the performance of the economy and individual wellbeing in England.

In the Lords (2.30pm) yet more of the latest wave of new peers are introduced.

They are Lord Verjee, the multi-millionaire owner of the Domino's pizza chain, and a major Lib Dem donor and Baroness Suttie, Alison Suttie, Nick Clegg's deputy chief of staff when the Lib Dem leader first became Deputy Prime Minister.

When the ceremonies are over, questions to minister cover the Russian government's attitude to gay rights, humanitarian aid to Syria, the impact of EU legislation on training and service delivery in the NHS and advice to social landlords whose tenants have fallen into arrears as a result of the under-occupancy charge - aka the Bedroom Tax.

The day's legislating includes what is expected to be a short, if not token, third reading debate on the European Union (Approvals) Bill which covers such matters as the establishment of an EU archive and the creation of a 'Europe for Citizens' programme designed to improve citizen participation.

The main event is the fourth and final report stage day devoted to the Care Bill, where an interesting row has arisen over a last minute addition giving new powers to special administrators sent in to sort out failed NHS trusts.

Annoyed Labour front-bencher Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is pointing to the timing, complaining that the new amendment surfaced out 10 minutes before the start of the England-Poland game.

The amendment appears to be a response to the recent legal battle over Lewisham hospital, where administrators downgraded the accident and emergency department, but saw their decision struck down in the courts because they'd exceeded their powers.

The new clause would give future administrators the power to take such steps in future.

Other key issues include: the independence of the care home and hospital regulator, the Care Quality Commission and the CQC's ability to investigate commissioning in social care; staffing levels; a CQC review of work practises and impact on care quality which includes the issue of 15 minute home visits by care staff and the use of zero hours contracts and the regulation and training of healthcare assistants.

During the dinner break peers will debate a motion regretting rule changes on Universal Credit, the Personal Independence Payment, the Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance proposed by Labour's Lord McKenzie of Luton.

These motions don't actually change anything but can be used as a way of saying "we told you so," in later debates...


On Tuesday the Commons sits at 11.30am for Health Questions - which will be the first direct clash between the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt and his Labour shadow, Andy Burnham, since Mr Burnham issued a threat to sue Mr Hunt for libel and Mr Hunt attempted to take the heat out of the situation by denying any slur on his integrity... will hostilities be renewed?

That encounter is followed by a ten minute rule bill, proposed by the Conservative Nick de Bois.

He wants to give the descendants of deceased adopted people access to information about their ancestors, particularly medical records - many medical conditions can be hereditary, so access can save lives.

Mr de Bois says existing procedures to provide access are cumbersome and don't always deliver, and he had been working hard to persuade ministers to make the process less tortuous.

Mr de Bois has been negotiating hard with ministers and hopes to find a way to get this into law - something not unheard of with this kind of Bill, but certainly very unusual.

The day's - indeed the week's - big legislative event is the second reading of the Immigration Bill, which aims to clamp down on sham marriages, increase powers to remove illegal immigrants, restrict access to public services, including imposing charges on temporary visitors for the use of the NHS and other services.

It requires landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants, and banks to make similar checks on new account holders.

And careful scrutiny reveals some painstaking Coalition deal-making: for example the obligation on landlords will be "phased," so that it will be rolled out in certain areas and will not be extended without a further vote in parliament, which will not be held until after the next election.

Then MPs will debate a European Document on the European Public Prosecutor's Office, which deals with breaches of EU law - the Government line is that Britain does not intend to sign up to this European institution, arguing that since EU directives are incorporated into UK law, breaches can be prosecuted by the UK authorities.

In Westminster Hall the day's backbencher-led debate highlights include one on Immigration controls (9.30am - 11am) led by the Conservative Priti Patel, who will be calling for new powers to remove criminals and limit immigration from EU states like Bulgaria and Rumania.

The increasingly regular topic of troubles at local football clubs is raised by the Labour former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth, when he leads a debate on football governance and the situation at Coventry City Football Club (4pm - 4.30pm) and the Conservative Julian Smith continues the pressure for action against the Guardian over the release of secret material which he believes could compromise national security (4.30pm - 5pm).

In the Lords at 2.30pm more new peers arrive.

Jeremy Purvis, who will become Baron Purvis of Tweed is a Scottish Liberal Democrat and ex- MSP. He is a key party strategist and heavily involved in promoting "Devo Max" as an alternative to Scottish independence.

And Fiona Hodgson, who will become Baroness Hodgson of Abinger.

She's no stranger to the House of Lords because her husband Lord Robin Hodgson is a Conservative peer.

Questions to ministers range across encouraging the study of foreign languages, the possibility of adding new millennium development goals - a subject which will come up again in a dinner break debate on Wednesday, and priorities for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo.

But the day's real fun will come when the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill arrives, hot from the Commons, for its Lords second reading.

On Friday the Joint Human Rights Committee (a select committee of peers and MPs) complained that the Bill had been rushed through the Commons before they could study it in detail, and called for it to be "paused."

Their report on the bill complains about several aspects, including the lack of clarity about the practical effects of part 2 - the section limiting election campaign spending by non-party bodies, dubbed "the gagging bill" by critics - which, the committee warns, might have a "chilling effect" on free speech.

With many peers serving on the boards of charities and campaign groups, it is quite possible that someone on the government side might go off piste, when section two is debated, and there is already talk that the bill might suffer the kind of mauling peers gave to the Welfare Reform Bill - although we'll have to wait until the report stage (the optimum tactical moment to put down hostile amendments) to find out.

But their Lordships may also take an interest in the lobbying section - which requires lobbyists to be registered and ministers' meetings with outside interests (lobbyists, companies, campaign groups, etc) to be published.

The idea is that a look at the list of meetings and a cross reference with the register should make it clear who is talking to who, about what.

And I hear talk of an amendment to bring meetings between lobbyists and ministerial special advisors within the reporting requirements of the Bill.

Arguments are continuing about how the amendment should be handled.


Wednesday's Commons business opens (11.30am) with International Development Questions, where the new shadow secretary Maria Eagle will make her debut, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time .

The day's ten minute rule bill is from Birmingham Labour MP Gisela Stuart, on funding for local authorities.

A little while ago MPs from rural areas held a debate to argue that their constituencies didn't get a fair share of the funding for local councils; today she'll argue that the government risks strangling the economies of the "core cities" which she believes are vital to promote growth, by under-funding their local authorities.

The day's main debates will be on DUP motions.

The first is on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, followed by a motion on Air Passenger Duty.

Over in Westminster Hall the backbench debates include one on the arrest of Greenpeace activists in Russia (9.30am - 11am) led by Labour's Chris Bryant.

And the Conservative Steve Baker (2.30pm - 4pm) will seek to highlight the role of co-operative schools.

His Wycombe constituency is home to a successful example, the Cressex Community School, and he wants to celebrate its success with pupils from all social backgrounds and point to the value of the co-op model in education.

In the Lords (from 3pm) the first business is the introduction of the Lord Bishop of Carlisle The Rt Revd James Newcome.

He takes the place on the bishops' bench vacated by the Bishop of Liverpool, who has now retired.

Questions to ministers include one from the Labour leader, Baroness Royall, on zero-hour contracts - a key campaigning issue for the opposition, at the moment.

And there are also questions about the schools' career service and reducing economic inequality.

Then, peers turn to the committee stage of the private members bill from the Lib Dem Lord Sharkey, to pardon the World War 2 code-breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing.

The day's main event is the final committee stage day on the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.

Banking Commission member, Archbishop Justin Welby will be otherwise engaged at the christening of Prince Georgeā€¦ but there should be some interesting discussion of bankers' remuneration, leverage, UK Financial Investments, the role of auditors and the duty of care, among other issues.

Lord McFall, the Labour peer who served on the Parliamentary Banking Commission has amendments down on the transparency of the Financial Conduct Authority's actions, and Lib Dem peer, Lord Sharkey, has an amendment down to allow local authorities to impose controls on payday lenders, which he hopes will attract cross-party support.

There will be a short debate on the UN High-level Panel report into the successor agenda to the Millennium Development Goals - Baroness Jenkin of Kennington/Baroness Northover.


The Commons meets at 9.30am on Thursday for Business, Innovation & Skills Questions, followed by the weekly statement on forthcoming Commons business, from the Leader of the House.

Then it's on to backbench business, in the shape of a debate complaining at the slow progress of the FCA redress scheme for mis-selling of interest rate swap derivatives.

It will be led by the Conservative Guto Bebb, who says some 40,000 businesses sustained financial losses after being sold complex financial products, but are still waiting for compensation.

After that MPs turn to the Transport Select Committee's report on aviation strategy - which urged the government to push ahead with an extra runway at Heathrow, and encouraged Gatwick Airport to develop its business case for expansion - as well as dealing with Air Passenger Duty.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm) there's a backbench debate on planning, housing supply and the countryside, led by Nick Herbert, Laurence Robertson and Anne Main.

The central point they want to make is the need to keep faith with the promise of localism in planning, and to avoid a return to "planning by appeal" in which local rulings are challenged and overturned.

There is growing concern amongst MPs about this issue, and Mr Herbert will be calling for the government to give proper weight to emerging neighbourhood and local plans, and to address infrastructure issues in its new guidance.

There are yet more introductions of new peers when the Lords convenes at 11am.

Taking their seats are Lord Finkelstein - the Times commentator and former head of the Conservative Research Department, Danny Finkelstein, and Baroness Humphreys, Christine Humphreys, President of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and a former Member of the Welsh Assembly.

Question time covers the progress of Lord Justice Leveson's proposal to regulate the press, young people's understanding of politics and the evidence that asylum seekers could now be safely returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The days main debates are on subjects chosen by Lib Dem backbench peers, and cover the economic impact of the UK's membership of the EU and the expected benefits of High Speed 2 .

And there will also be a short debate on promoting the needs of deaf people in the provision of public services.


Both Houses sit on Friday, to consider private members bills - in the Commons (from 9.30am) there will be the second reading of the Labour MP Sir Alan Meale's Private Landlords and Letting and Managing Agents (Regulation) Bill.

This will be followed by the second reading of the Conservative Justin Tomlinson's Graduated Driving Licence Scheme Bill .

It aims to improve safety for new drivers and cut their insurance costs by restrict them to zero alcohol and carrying no more than one passenger for their first year.

The bill also encourages "black box" technology which would monitor their driving habits and allow insurance companies to cut the premiums if they stuck to speed limits and avoided night-time driving, etc.

Interestingly, the Government is now consulting on these very issues, so ministers will be studying the parliamentary reactions to these ideas very closely.

So while the bill is unlikely to make it into law, some of its contents may well find their way into government legislation.

Further down the batting order, and therefor unlikely to be debated, are Sir Malcolm Bruce's Communication Support (Deafness) Bill, and a host of measures proposed by the Conservative awkward squaddie Philip Hollobone - the Young Offenders (Parental Responsibility) Bill, the Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the United Kingdom) Bill and the Asylum Seekers (Return to Nearest Safe Country) Bill.

Over in the Lords (from 10am) the Lib Dem peer Lord Tyler has the second reading of his Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill.

Now that 16-17 year olds are to be given a vote in the Scottish independence referendum, Lord Tyler argues that the voting age should be reduced across the UK - noting that it would be odd if they were denied a vote in a future EU referendum.

Labour peer and fertility expert Lord Winston has a bill to require a declaration on the use of animal research to be placed on medicinal products' labels.

The Conservative Lord Lucas will propose his Equality (Titles) Bill which will allow the succession of female heirs to hereditary titles and allow husbands and civil partners of those receiving honours to be allowed to use equivalent honorary titles to those available to wives.