Week ahead at Westminster

Unless a whole lot of compromising is done over the weekend, next week's hot legislative action will be in the Lords, where the government will be seeking to fend off amendments to toughen up regulation, from members of the now wound-up Parliamentary Banking Commission (see earlier blog post).

Life is a bit more pedestrian in the Commons, with MPs mulling over the Water Bill and the Gambling Bill, before resuming the long march of James Wharton's EU Referendum Bill on Friday.

Here's my rundown of the week:


The Commons sits at 2.30pm for communities and local government questions.

Then (assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions) MPs get their first debate on the Water Bill - a new framework for the water industry, where the big issue will probably be the new system to underpin household flood insurance.

The day ends with an adjournment debate on the fire service in Derbyshire - Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins will be raising reorganisation plans which he warns will cut the number of fire stations and fire fighters by a third.

The package includes the proposed closure of a brand new fire station in his constituency.

Meanwhile, slightly offstage, an ad hoc committee of MPs will meet to consider banning qat - a narcotic leaf popular with people of east African heritage.

The home secretary will be seeking approval for a statutory instrument (SI) to categorise qat as an illegal drug - but she will face opposition from a number of MPs, including members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who've been taking evidence on qat.

The SI could be pulled if the opposition looks too strong...

And watch out for the first reading, i.e. publication, of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, the measure to authorise the first stage of HS2.

This won't be debated, although someone might decide to make some point of order to get an early kick at it.

And the first outing in the chamber, the second reading debate, won't be until next April, to allow for the required consultation on the environmental impact statement.

Commons rumour has it that local libraries have been told they should clear nine metres of shelving to accommodate because this promises to be a gargantuan document.

In the Lords at 2.30pm the first business is the introduction of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd the new Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

As an active judge he won't be taking part in debates.

Questions to ministers range across when the government will report on the pilot schemes on "Clare's Law", the reduction and reform of Business Rates, particularly for high street traders, the effects on women's incomes and standard of living of government economic policy and the steps the government are taking to prevent rape and violence against women and girls.

Then we're onto what will probably be a fairly brief committee stage for the Health and Social Care (Amendment) (Food Standards) Bill - a private member's bill to improve food standards in hospitals.

Peers then turn to their fourth committee stage day on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - and they return to a perennial irritant, the long running anti-war encampment in Parliament Square and the increasing regularity of demonstrations around the Palace of Westminster.

Lord Deben (the artist formerly known as John Gummer), Lord Campbell Savours and the Countess of Marr have put down an amendment seeking to extend the controlled area around parliament defined in the 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act.


The Commons begins (11.30am) with Health Questions - followed by a motion seeking permission to bring in a Ten Minute Rule Bill on electronic patient records.

The Conservative George Freeman wants to clarify some concerns in the current rules around patient data in medical research, which he hopes would advance the new diagnostics and treatments for UK patients.

It deals with issues like who owns patient data, where can patients find and access their medical records, and how can they find out what medical information their GP, the NHS and the Government are holding on them.

Other issues include how people can they research and understand family medical histories and how can people opt in or out of their clinical records being used in anonymised NHS research.

The main event will be the report stage and third reading of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill - which does pretty much what it says on the tin.

There's an amendment down from the Conservative James Duddridge, co-signed by the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee Chair John Whittingdale, which clarifies that a remote gambling terminal provided in a casino is not a gaming machine and provides for the secretary of state to be able to make regulations setting the maximum number of such machines which may be made available in a casino.

In Westminster Hall the backbench debate that caught my eye is Mary Macleod's on safe cycling in London (4pm - 4.30pm).

In the light of the tragic deaths of six cyclists in two weeks in the capital, the West London MP will call for a cycling summit bringing together the Mayor's office, Transport for London, representatives from London Boroughs, the Department of Transport and cycling safety campaign groups to identify any further actions to reduce cyclist deaths on the roads in London.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) question time covers the causes of food poverty and the use of food banks, allegations of human rights violations at the North Mara gold mine in Tanzania, and the evidence on whether artificial insemination of cattle spreads bovine TB.

The day's big event is that start of the two-day report stage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill - aka the Banking Bill - where a series of big but highly technical issues will be fought out.

These should include calls for a review of the working of ring fencing, a backstop mechanism for enforcing complete separation between "utility" and "casino" banking and a highly topical proposal to enforce stringent professional standards on bankers (see separate blog post).

Unless some compromise is agreed over the weekend, there will be votes on each of these issues, with the distinct possibility of a government defeat or two.

The latest word is that the Banking Commissioners and the Treasury are still arguing, but that some progress has been made on some smaller issues around accountancy and the legal definition of a bank, as well as remuneration, where ministers will try to defuse opposition by making some guarantees on the floor of the House.

Some progress has apparently been made on a review of the ring fence, but much depends on the timetable not stretching too far into the future (keep an eye out for new amendments popping up on Monday).

At Committee stage Labour wanted a review in two years' time.

I'm told there's no agreement on leverage. Treasury Minister Lord Deighton leads for the Government.

The Dinner-break debate, led by Labour's Baroness McDonagh on the future of NHS accident and emergency units - Health Minister Earl Howe replies for the Government.


The Commons opens at 11.30am for Northern Ireland questions and then, at 12 noon, prime minister's question time.

The day's Ten Minute Rule Bill, from the SNP's Mike Weir is on Winter Fuel Allowance payments for off gas grid claimants - this was the subject of his unsuccessful private members bill in the last session.

The idea is that that people who are not connected to the gas grid and have to have supplies of oil delivered, often to isolated areas with poor roads, should be have their winter fuel allowance advanced, so they can get their fuel safely delivered, before winter sets in.

The main debates are on Labour motions on the cost of living and the government's "economic failure", and then on business rates.

In Westminster Hall there will be the usual series of debates led by backbenchers of which the most interesting-looking are the Conservative Philip Davies on the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley (9.30 - 11am); Labour's Nic Dakin on the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis worldwide (2.30- 4pm) and Frank Doran's on helicopter transport over the North Sea (4 - 4.30pm).

In the Lords at 3pm questions to ministers cover the appointment of the next secretary-general of the UN, funding for NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups in England, and EU regulation of chemicals.

Unusually the report stage of the Banking Bill continues on consecutive days - and again there's the prospect of several votes and the possibility of more government defeats.

This time the issues are the rules for remuneration (i.e. bonuses) a subject on which the Archbishop of Canterbury's expected to speak, the fiduciary duties of bankers and the technical but crucial issue of "leverage ratios."

During the dinner break there will be a relative Lords rarity a "motion to annul" two sets of regulations proposed by the government.

The Lib Dem Lord Carlile of Berriew will be seeking to block the Criminal Defence Service (Very High Cost Cases) (Funding) Order 2013 and the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2013.

These, he would unilaterally cut the fees paid to barristers in major cases by 40%, a move which, unsurprisingly, is being opposed tooth and nail by the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association.

He regards the changes as completely unacceptable and warns that they would undermine the quality of representation defendants would receive in long complicated cases.

His Lib Dem colleague, and Justice Minister, Lord McNally, bats for the government.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for energy and climate change questions, followed by the weekly business statement by the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley.

That's followed by two debates chosen by the Backbench Business Committee: the first, on the issues facing small businesses will be led by the Conservative Anne Marie Morris, who chairs the All Party Group on Small and Medium Enterprises.

She wants to raise a series of ideas from business leaders large and small, on how the government might act in areas like local business rates, late payment, simplifying taxes and improving access to finance, to help them flourish.

The second debate is ahead of the G8 summit on dementia, led by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, Labour's Hazel Blears, and Lib Dem ex-health minister Paul Burstow.

In Westminster Hall, (from 1.30pm) the first subject is reforming the European scrutiny system in the House of Commons - I think this will be a statement by Scrutiny Committee Chair Bill Cash, following the publication of his committee's report on the system.

Then MPs debate police procedures in dealing with mental health issues (postponed from this week) (led by Mrs Madeleine Moon, Paul Burstow, James Morris) before moving on to retail and the high street (led by Ann Coffey and Justin Tomlinson).

In the Lords 11am question time covers the proposed Geneva II peace conference on Syria, the lack of prosecutions for female genital mutilation and the UK's gas storage capacity and its effect on energy prices.

Thursdays in the Lords are normally devoted to debates chosen by backbench peers - but they may be squeezed out in the New Year, because the legislative programme is beginning to slip a little behind schedule.

Meanwhile, the subjects today are the contribution of broadcast media to the UK economy, the take-up of apprenticeships among young people and public trust in the police, its role in effective policing, and the system for investigating complaints into police conduct - this one is interesting because it will be led by newly-anointed Lib Dem peer and former senior police officer, Lord Paddick.

And there will also be a debate of the report of the Lords Constitution Committee on constitutional arrangements for the use of armed force.


On Friday it's back to private member's bills in the Commons - where the (sloooowly) continuing report stage of James Wharton's EU Referendum Bill will resume.

After the snail's pace of debate the previous Friday, there are still two groups of amendments to be voted on, and then (potentially) a third reading to go through.

Perhaps it's ennui after a couple of Fridays of go-slow Commons scrutiny (sic) but I'm starting to wonder if opponents of the bill might be able to string things along into yet another day - which would be January 17th.

Alas, we won't get to the almost unimaginable delights of Peter Bone's Prime Minister (Replacement) Bill - which will be bumped from the top of the Order paper to make way for the Wharton Bill, because report stage proceedings take precedence at this stage of the parliamentary year.