Week ahead at Westminster

The Autumn Statement, unusually scheduled for a Thursday, a little after normal parliamentary prime-time, dominates this week's parliamentary action.

It will be a pretty important political and economic moment - and MPs will build up to it with some low-key legislating on issues like mesothelioma and clean energy.

Here's my rundown of the main events :


The Commons opens for business at 2.30pm, for Home Office questions.

Then, assuming there are no statements or urgent questions (and there frequently are on a Monday), MPs will turn to the Second Reading of the Mesothelioma Bill (which has already been through the Lords).

The aim of this measure is to compensate people like building workers and dockers, who have contracted this fatal disease through exposure to asbestos, but who can't pin down exactly who was responsible for their exposure.

Mesothelioma may develop decades after contact with asbestos, by which time the company for which the individual worked, and indeed the insurer which covered the company for this kind of liability may no longer exist, and it may be impossible to show precisely when they were exposed.

The bill provides for victims to receive 75 per cent of the normal compensation from the insurance industry in these circumstances - but there's now some dispute about how this system will deal with the legal costs in bringing a claim, and how it will deal with the recovery of benefits paid out under existing legislation.

Watch out for Conservative Tracey Crouch and Labour MP Kate Green putting down markers for the bill's report stage, where they will attempt to make changes, if the government doesn't meet their concerns on these issues.

Then MPs turn to a couple of motions relating to amend standing orders on Backbench Business and Select Committee Statements.

These are relatively innocuous and benign tweaks to the way the Commons operates - but there's some suspicion that a more controversial change, limiting the Speaker's (recently self-extended) powers to call amendments in the debate on the Queen's Speech might be added in.

The day ends with an adjournment debate on detention and deaths in custody of black people, led by the Conservative, Charles Walker, who has called for the prime minister to apologise for the "shameful treatment" of the families of young black men who die in police cells or mental hospitals.

He argues that there is a pattern of deaths in custody that needs to be addressed, and that families are often made to wait for far to long for the return of the body, or for an inquest.

And he warns of a growing sense of grievance in the black community.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers cover the number of disabled people who have lost access to adapted cars following result of changes to their entitlement to mobility benefits, establishing direct contact with the Syrian government to facilitate secure access to the humanitarian agencies throughout Syria, and whether the government will publish a policy paper on new garden cities .

The main legislating is fifth committee stage day on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill: key issues include community triggers, dangerous dogs, firearms and independent police complaints.

The dinner break debate is on the impact of changes to the welfare system on the people and economy of Wales.

And watch out for the last business in the Moses Room (the Lords equivalent of Westminster Hall, so called because there's huge mural of Moses bearing the tablets of the law) on the steps being taken to ensure that improvements in the rights of women in Afghanistan endure after British troops withdraw in 2014.


The Commons opens at 11.30am for Foreign Office questions.

Then the issue of setting a decarbonisation target for the UK, which has hovered over the Energy Bill for months, resurfaces in a Ten Minute Rule Bill from Labour's Ian Murray.

The day's main debates are on Democratic Unionist Party motions on cyber-bullying and on the persecution of Christians in the 21st century.

In Westminster Hall there are more debates led by backbench MPs. Four caught my eye:

Future ships for the Royal Navy - the Conservative Tobias Ellwood (9.30am - 11am) is suggesting that the latest warships designed for a high tech conflict, need to be more versatile.

He argues that some of the new generation of vessels could prove to be overspecialised for lower intensity conflict, maritime security operations, such as counter-piracy, and humanitarian and disaster relief work across the globe.

The housing pressures in the South East surface in the form of the proposed 10,000 home Mayfield new town in West Sussex is raised by local MP Nicholas Soames (11am - 11.30am).

Public Accounts Committee member and former minister Meg Hillier leads a debate on managing government contracts (4pm - 4.30pm).

Based on her PAC experience she wants to highlight how the government is "a poor customer" when it contracts out public services, with the result that taxpayers and service users get a poor deal.

As the MP for tech city in East London, she will highlight some of the problems small innovative businesses have in competing for public service work.

It's rumoured Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, the minister in charge of revamping the machinery of government, will reply.

And watch out for the debate on the adverse psychiatric effects of the Roaccutane form of isotretinion (4.30pm - 5pm).

Lib Dem ex-minister Sir Nick Harvey who has already highlighted the issue in an Early Day Motion (No 556) which notes that the drug has been implicated in reports of 878 psychiatric disorders, including 44 suspected suicides, since its registration in 1983 and urges its withdrawal in the UK.

In the Lords (2.30pm) questions range across 15-year-olds proficiency in reading, maths and science, taxing the rental income on property owned by people from overseas , and creating a legal right to talking therapy .

The main business is two second reading debates: first, the Pensions Bill, where key issues include a single-tier state pension (abolishing state 2nd pension), qualifying years, pensionable age, pension credit, private pensions and charges for schemes.

Then Peers will turn to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which makes a series of adjustments to the devolved government set-up, on declaring political donations, dual mandate (ie. MLAs sitting in the Commons and the Dail), the size of the assembly, length of assembly terms and electoral registration.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for international development questions and then at noon, prime minister's question time - which has plunged to new depths of noisy awfulness recently.

The day's Ten Minute Rule Bill motion will bear watching.

The Conservative Zac Goldsmith will be pushing for a much tougher measure to allow voters to unseat their MP and trigger a by-election.

The official coalition proposal is for a process overseen by the Commons Standards Committee, when "serious wrongdoing" is identified.

Mr Goldsmith wants a system where, say, 20% of electors in a constituency can sign a petition to recall their MP for any reason that can attract sufficient signatures.

It might be their performance as an MP, it might be that they have switched parties, it might be some policy position they have taken.

He believes the official government version of recall has no chance of getting through the House, but that his version would.

Watch to see if anyone opposes him and forces a vote... the division list could make interesting reading.

Cross-coalition tensions may surface when the Energy Bill returns to the Commons to give MPs a chance to look at the amendments made in the Lords.

One of these was the result of a government defeat, effectively toughening the emissions requirements to allow coal-fired power stations to continue operating beyond 2023.

That defeat in the Lords was orchestrated by the Lib Dem Peer, Lord Teveson, his party's energy spokesman in the Lords, and rebellion on it had a flavour of a quid pro quo for the Lib Dems not insisting on an overall decarbonisation target.

It's not clear if the government will seek to overturn the defeat in the Commons - which suggests there are continuing Coalition divisions.

Watch this space.

The other issue which might surface is over a government amendment which would result in a new objective for fuel poverty in England removes the current target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 and replace this with a duty to set a new fuel poverty strategy for people for England.

Labour MP Chris Williamson thinks the new wording will be trying to replace that with his own amendment which would toughen up the obligation to end fuel poverty, and sets a target for ensuring no low income household should live in a property with a D energy performance certification in 2020, rising to B in 2030.

He says that by targeting demand for energy rather than price it should protect low income households from fuel price fluctuations, saving them an average £570 on energy bills... and generate 130,000 jobs while cutting carbon emissions.

It will be interesting to see if his own front bench support him.

he main debate on is on rural communities - a subject chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

Anne McIntosh, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will highlight their recent report on the subject and the government's response to it.

And the theme will be followed up in the adjournment debate, led by the Conservative Stephen Barclay - highlighting the way the funding criteria of sporting bodies seem to exclude rural communities because in the cities it is easier to attract more users to sporting facilities.

In Westminster Hall potteries MP Paul Farrelly raises the cumulative electricity tax burden for energy intensive industries (9.30am - 11am).

And in the afternoon, the Conservative Sir Edward Leigh raises the funding of dermatology in the NHS (2.30pm - 4pm ) and then Richard Drax, a strong opponent of any state regulation of the press, leads a debate on the press charter (4pm - 4.30pm).

In the Lords (3.30pm) question time ranges across whether the government will publish the risk register prepared in advance of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 - an issue which provoked considerable angst at the time; then the average spend per pupil in state education for 11 to 18 year-olds and the average spend per pupil in the private sector for the same age group, and the quantity and quality of railway rolling stock in the north of England.

The marathon committee stage on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill moves into Day 6, when the key issues are expected to include ports, seizure controls, the powers of Community Support Officers and extradition. The dinner break debate is on the steps being taken to address female genital mutilation.


The Commons gathers at 9.30am for business, innovation and skills questions, to be followed by the weekly business statement.

But all that is a mere appetiser for the big prime-time event, the annual Autumn Statement from the Chancellor George Osborne.

This will be a high octane political event.

Watch out for the latest projections for economic growth and tax receipts - will they allow any easing of austerity?

That's followed by a highly-topical debate on modern day slavery - a subject chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

The all party group on this issue is under new management, and the members in charge will be the Labour former Home Office minister, Fiona Mactaggart, and Frank Field.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm) MPs will be debating two reports from the Education Select Committee. First their look at the role of school governing bodies, and the government response to it. The committee's main thrust is on recruiting more and better governors, and also on replacing failing governing bodies more swiftly. There were also some recommendations about academy governors and the need to clarify their role and how decisions are made in academies.

Then MPs debate the report on school sport following London 2012: no more political football, and the government response to that.

There, the committee was critical of short-term government thinking on sport in schools and was concerned that the legacy from the Olympics would be lost if action wasn't taken to make it sustainable.

Much of what the committee said was echoed in the recent report from the Lords Olympic committee which got rather more publicity (they have a few more Olympians to lend for interviews...).

Over in the Lords (from 11am) Ministers will field questions on funding for research into the causes of and potential cures for mesothelioma, discussions held with business representatives of following statements by ministers calling for a referendum on UK membership of the EU, and facilitating the submission of tax returns wirelessly.

The rest of the day is devoted to Labour Opposition Day debates: Firstly from Baroness Morgan on the contribution of education to economic growth; and secondly from Lord Harris of Haringey - a former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority on the role and responsibilities of the police service in the light of the report from the IPCC.

In between is a lunch-time question for short debate on the Scottish Government's declaration if the vote is won, that independence day will be on 24 March 2016.

The day's business ends with a debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the reports from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Meanwhile, in the Moses Room there are five short debates - on the world-wide ivory trade and its impact on African elephant and rhinoceros population; on providing the legal right for patients who are terminally ill to decide when, where and how they should die; on plans to modernise copyright exceptions; on the impact of reoffending rates of providing stable accommodation for those leaving prison; and on the case for constructing a further bridge near the current Dartford River crossings.


The Commons has a rest from its recent run of Friday sittings - the next private members bill Friday is January 17th.

But the Lords spring into the breach with debates on three private members bills from peers: the second readings of the Online Safety Bill and the Equality (Titles) Bill, and the committee stage of the Rights of the Sovereign and the Duchy of Cornwall Bill, which would among other things, redirect the revenue of the Duchy of Cornwall, which provides Prince Charles' income, to the people of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.