Week ahead at Westminster

It's a busy week in the Commons, with a fair amount of low-key legislating, but it will build up to a crescendo on Friday, when the EU Referendum Bill is back in the chamber.

This offers connoisseurs an exquisite procedural battle - with a very stern whip compelling the attendance of pretty much all Conservative MPs to ensure the bill inches forward.

They will probably have to keep the next couple of Fridays free as well - because the chances are that the report stage will become a war of attrition.

I wonder if the pro-EU Lib Dems will be able to resist joining the fun - they're murmuring about "taking a back seat", but may find the temptation impossible to resist.

But the week's grimmest debate will undoubtedly be the Conservative Jonathan Evans' Westminster Hall discussion on "family annihilation" the mercifully rare phenomenon of people who murder their partners and children.

The number of these cases is increasing, and Mr Evans wants to highlight the public policy issues they raise, based on a series of university studies.

Almost invariably, there is a backstory of domestic violence, and it often emerges that the killer - or annihilator, to use the jargon term - has given warning signs, often to a doctor or therapist.

So there are issues to be discussed around the police handling of domestic violence cases and around whether patient confidentiality should trump public safety when there is serious cause for concern.

Mr Evans will be listening very closely to the response, which will come from a justice minister.


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Defence Questions.

It is entirely possible ministers will then make statements or face urgent questions about the sell-off of the state owned bank RBS, the new devolution deal for Wales, and quite possibly other issues.

The day's main debate is on the second reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill - a measure to tighten up the rules on NICs, covering such matters as preventing avoidance through disguised employment via Limited Liability Partnerships, and tackling avoidance schemes in the oil and gas industry involving claiming oil and gas workers working on the UK continental shelf are outside the UK.

Watch out for a bit of a pause at some point as no less than 26 MPs deliver petitions in support of the Rural Fair Shares Campaign.

This is something orchestrated by the Conservative Graham Stuart, a formidable campaigner who masterminded the derailing of George Osborne's "caravan tax", a couple of years ago.

He and a cross party band of supporters are arguing that rural public services - and not just the ones run by local councils - are underfunded in comparison to those in the cities, and calling for action to redress the situation.

This follows on from a debate led by Neil Parish in which saw a series of rural MPs put serious pressure on ministers.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) there's another new occupant for the Bishops' Bench - the Lord Bishop of St Albans Dr Alan Smith, whose political interests include environmental and green issues including the work of the World Development Movement.

There's also a new recruit to the Labour ranks as Baroness Kennedy of Cradley takes her seat - her husband is also a Labour Peer, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

Questions range across the cultural value to the UK of arthouse cinemas, the newly announced plans to give extra tax and borrowing powers to the National Assembly for Wales, the number of UK nationals on the staff of the European Commission and unqualified teachers in state-funded schools.

After that, peers turn to the second day of report stage debate on the Energy Bill, where the key issues are on coal and decarbonisation.

There's a huge list of government and opposition amendments on those subjects and on landfill, the approval of the design of nuclear power stations and operation of price guarantees to energy suppliers.

During the dinner break peers will also fit in a short debate on the report from their EU Committee on the UK opt-in to the Eurojust regulation.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Treasury Questions, after which Lib Dem John Hemming will propose a ten minute rule bill on benefit claimants (automatic transfer to alternative benefits).

The day's main debate is on the second reading of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill - which regulates online gambling.

There was extensive scrutiny by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and the bill is not particularly controversial - although given recent rumblings by Labour MPs about fixed-odds betting machines in high street bookies, that subject might be raised as well.

After that, MPs move onto a debate chosen by their Backbench Business Committee - Conservative Robert Buckland focuses on a new aspect of the cost of living, when he leads a debate on the water industry.

He points out bills are rising, but investment is falling, and he aims to highlight excessive executive pay and tax avoidance.

With the regulator, Ofwat, conducting a price review, the aim is to make sure they're aware of MPs' concerns.

There are a series of backbench debates in Westminster Hall - opening with the Conservative Fiona Bruce (9.30am - 11am) raising the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

She will be highlighting the increasing persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iran and Syria, where more than a quarter of the Christian population have been displaced.

She wants the government to view this as a human rights issue and act accordingly.

There are yet more new arrivals in the Lords (from 2.30pm) - Baroness Williams of Trafford - another big local government figure, Susan Williams, the former leader of the Conservatives on Trafford Council, and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb - Jenny Jones, the Green mayoral candidate in the last London elections.

She will be the first Green peer since Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who died in 2008.

Subjects to be raised in questions to ministers include the current UK review of EU competences, the free movement of labour within the EU and the budgets of local Healthwatch bodies.

The afternoon's legislating is on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Unusually for committee stage there's a possible vote - although it's a procedural issue rather than an amendment.

The subject is "pausing" part two of the bill on the issue of charities and non-party campaigning.

Given the number of peers who're involved in charities and campaign groups which are concerned about this, I doubt the government whips are entirely confident.

Then the debate switches to part one of the bill on lobbying and regulation of consultant lobbyists.

There will also be amendments aimed at bringing meetings between lobbyists and ministerial special advisors (Spads) within the scope of the Bill, from the Lib Dem Paul Tyler.

He points out that two of the government's major embarrassments in this parliament have revolved around special advisors to Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox.

Another amendment aims to include meetings between lobbyists and the chairs and chief executives of non-ministerial government departments.

That one comes from Lord Rooker, who is the former chair of just such a body, the Food Standards Agency.

Against the background of redundancies in the armed forces, the dinner-break debate is on the transition process for personnel returning to civilian life - it's led by the former chief of the general staff, Lord Craig of Radley.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Scottish Questions - which will see the debut of the new Secretary of State, Alistair Carmichael, who is billed as a more combative foil to the First Minister Alex Salmond.

At noon it's Prime Minister's Question Time.

The Conservative Alun Cairns presents a ten minute rule bill on unsolicited telephone calls (caller line identification) - he's co-chair of an energetic cross party group which has been pressing the issue of nuisance calls across several different parliamentary fronts (his Lib Dem colleague Mike Crockart has a private member's bill on the subject) and the aim of his proposal is to require non-domestic callers to display a caller ID.

This would facilitate complaints against persistent cold-callers.

He's also rather hoping that the attention the issue is attracting will deter phone companies from making extra charges to provide caller ID services.

The all-party group is in close touch with the government and they are anticipating new regulations may emerge soon.

That may provide a brief respite from the political row on energy prices before the subject returns in an opposition day motion.

And that is followed by a bit of procedural housekeeping as MPs consider a motion from the chair of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker (supported by government and opposition front benches), permitting amendments to bills to carry a written explanation of their purpose, which can be drawn up with the help of Commons clerks.

It might be trumped by another amendment backed by the Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Conservative Zac Goldsmith and the Labour chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, calling for these explanatory statements to be made compulsory.

This all sounds very twiddly, but it could prove an interesting test of the appetite for internal reform in the Commons.

In Westminster Hall there are more backbench debates including Jonathan Evans on family annihilation (4pm - 4.30pm) as mentioned above.

In the Lords (from 3pm) the day's new arrival is Lord Allen of Kensington, a businessman and media executive, who will sit as a Labour peer.

Questions to ministers cover refugees who have fled the war in Syria and making carbon monoxide detectors compulsory in all new and rental properties.

Then peers turn to the Energy Bill - it's the final day of report stage and the key issues are consumer protection and energy policy statements.

Lord Rooker, the former chairman of the Food Standards Agency, will lead a short debate on the impact of fortifying white flour with folic acid on the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects.

Studies have demonstrated that women who take folic acid supplements can halve the risk of their children developing conditions like Spina Bifida.


The Commons will be busier than normal, because MPs who would normally start drifting off to their constituencies have to remain in Westminster for Friday's festivities (see below).

The House meets at 9.30am for Transport Questions, followed by the weekly Business Statement, setting out the Commons' future agenda.

The main debates are chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

First there's a discussion of standardised packaging for tobacco products, and then there's a debate on the commemoration of the centenary of World War One.

Expect much discussion of local military connections, local commemoration efforts like the renovation of war memorials or projects at local schools to look at the fate of local people who volunteered or were called up, and a wider discussion of the historical significance of the Great War.

Some MPs regard it as a necessary patriotic endeavour, others as a pointless slaughter, and those views, fleshed out with family anecdotes, will doubtless be debated.

In Westminster Hall there are debates on two sets of select committee reports - the Energy Committee's highly topical report on Energy Prices, Profits and Poverty, followed by the Transport Committee's reports on the Cost of Motor Insurance and Whiplash Injuries, and the Government's formal responses to them.

In the Lords (from 11am) Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB and a major Conservative donor, takes his seat.

The subjects raised at question time include redress schemes for owners of leaseholder properties, appointing a scientist to the Professional Standards Authority and helping people with mental health problems with the cost of living.

As usual on a Thursday, the rest of the day is devoted to backbench debates - on the UK 's relationship with China; and on protecting the armed forces from vulnerability to legal challenge.

Between those, the Labour Peer Clive Soley has won an important balloted QSD (Question for Short Debate) on plans to review the supervision of the security services - his particular focus will be the need for greater scrutiny of the work of GCHQ - the communications monitoring operation.

And the former Speaker of the Commons, Baroness Boothroyd, leads a debate on the House of Lords' plans to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Will any personal memories be shared?

There are also five QSDs in the Moses Room - the Lords' equivalent of Westminster Hall.

Three of them focus on international development or Foreign Office issues - the situation of women in the Middle East in the light of the Arab Spring; the response to the aerial bombardment of Sudan; and the progress towards the Millennium Development Goals on the education of women and girls in developing countries.


There is a huge list of bills on the order paper for the Commons to consider when it convenes at 9.30am - but MPs will only be talking about one of them.

Yes, it's the return of James Wharton's European Union (Referendum) Bill for its report stage.

This is the moment of maximum vulnerability for a private member's bill and the ominous presence of ex-MP and procedural wonk Andrew Dismore in Westminster, in recent days, suggests that Labour backbenchers are planning to make merry.

Expect them to put down a cascade of amendments, which even if grouped together, will provide the opportunity for Mr Wharton's opponents to spin out the debate.

Under the rules which govern private members business, time limits are not imposed on MPs' speeches, which allows determined opponents of a measure to prevent it being voted on by making long speeches, and using up the available debating time.

The antidote to this is for a hundred or more MPs to vote through a closure motion, which ends debate on an issue and requires a vote to be held.

And, as at second reading, Conservative MPs are being whipped to attend, so they will probably be called upon to support closure motions to move the debate on.

The trouble is, that the chair won't entertain a closure motion until there's been reasonable debate on each group of amendments, which is usually interpreted as an hour and a half - and I would expect the fertile minds of opponents to come up with many such groups.

Labour's Micke Gapes is planning to table dozens of amendments on Monday, but the crucial decisions on grouping them will be taken by Mr Speaker, on the advice of the Commons clerks.

Having said that, as I write, there are only two sets of amendments down at the moment.

The first is from the Labour side - an amendment about the status of voters in Gibraltar; and the second is Conservative Adam Afriyie's amendment to bring the referendum forward to October 23, 2014 (from which the signature of Labour former Europe Minister Keith Vaz seems to have disappeared).

Mr Afriyie faced an organised attempt to rubbish his proposal, which threatened a finely-balanced internal Conservative compromise, and is said to be under huge pressure to withdraw it.

As for the other bills listed for Friday - Philip Hollobone's Residential Roads (Adoption by Local Highways Authority) Bill - and Peter Bone's Margaret Thatcher Day Bill and many, many more - they haven't got a prayer.

Over in the Lords (from 10am) it's also a day for private member's bills.

Watch out for the Rights of the Sovereign and the Duchy of Cornwall Bill from Labour's Lord Berkeley.

This is a wing-clipping exercise intended to cut the cost of the Royal Family.

Clause one amends the Sovereign Grant Act 2011 to reduce the cost and the number of royals who get free travel on royal duties.

Clause two amends the structure of the Duchy - one of the largest private estates in Britain, owning 120,000acres of land, including two per cent of Cornwall and most of the Scilly Isles - to become a public trust for the benefit of the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

And clause three removes the right of the Sovereign and Prince of Wales to give prior approval or not to bills which affect their "private interest".

Also on the order paper: the Health and Social Care (Amendment) (Food Standards) Bill, which focuses on food standards in hospitals, from the Conservative Baroness Cumberlege, the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, which aims to raise the age, from the Lib Dem Lord Dholakia and the Unsolicited Telephone Communications Bill from the Conservative, Lord Selsdon.