Week ahead at Westminster
Quite a meaty week in prospect in the Commons, with a couple of interesting ministerial statements already promised, plus what looks likely to be a highly-charged debate on the handling of terrorist suspects from the Northern Ireland troubles.
One thing we won't be getting, though, is a vote to loosen the hunting laws. The appearance of a coy note that the House would be invited to approve "a Statutory Instrument," on Wednesday fuelled speculation that this would be the long-rumoured measure to loosen the restrictions on hunting with hounds. But it has now been confirmed that no such SI will be debated.
A lot of Conservative MPs and some on the Lib Dem benches favour a tweak to the rules on how many dogs may be used to flush out a fox, and while something may appear eventually, it won't be this week, and it is not clear that there is a Commons majority in favour of making a change.
Here's my rundown of the week ahead:
Monday March 24th
The Commons opens (2.30pm) with Education Questions and then, interestingly, we're promised an update on HS2 from the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin (and as always on Monday there may be other statements or Urgent Questions, as well).
Labour veteran Tom Clarke has a Ten Minute Rule Bill to set up a compensation scheme for people suffering from haemophilia, who were infected with serious diseases, including HIV, through contaminated blood products. Mr Clarke also wants a committee set up, to learn the lessons from the scandal and the subsequent treatment of the victims.
The day's main debate is the communities and local government section of the Budget debate, with Labour zeroing in on the problems of cash-strapped councils meeting the increasing demand for social care.
In the Lords, peers have the first of two days of report stage scrutiny of the Defence Reform Bill, which will give the government powers to sub-contract to the private sector a substantial part of the supply of our the UK's equipment. The key vote will be on the independence of the Single Source Regulations Office (for situations where defence procurement is from one supplier and there is no competition).
The Lib Dem, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer has an amendment down to require regular reports on equipment purchased to intercept communications. She is concerned about the monitoring activities in two American bases in the UK. Meanwhile the Conservative peer, Lord Hodgeson, wants to raise the issue of the increasing use of drones and whether the supervision of them is adequately provided for under current legislation.
Tuesday 25th March
The Commons day will start (11.30am) with a brief procedural kerfuffle, as the Conservative Christopher Chope and Labour's Andy Slaughter move to derail the Transport for London Bill, which would change the rules under which TfL's finances are managed, by moving a motion to postpone its second reading by six months - which would prevent it moving to committee stage on the nod, and force a debate.
That is followed by the Commons' monthly bout of Clegg-baiting - Questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, and a mini Question Time for the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.
Watch out for the Conservative John Stevenson's Ten Minute Rule Bill, which raises a very interesting constitutional dilemma. If Scotland votes to leave the UK in September, the earliest date for hoisting the flag of an independent nation is in 2015 - which means that Scots would be able to vote in the 2015 General Election, perhaps helping to decide the Prime Minister who would then negotiate the terms of their independence.
Mr Stevenson - himself a Scot - will argue that in the event of a Yes vote in September, Scottish voters should not be eligible to vote in 2015.
The main event is the conclusion of the Budget debate, focused on work and pensions.
Over in Westminster Hall, the Conservative MP Therese Coffey, leads a debate on NHS funding and an ageing population (9.30-11am).
In the Lords (2.30pm) the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford - Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell - will be introduced.
The main business is the report stage of the Water Bill, and we can expect votes on abstraction reform, companies exit from the market, a national affordability scheme and sustainable development. That is followed by a regret motion against the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2014 from Labour front bencher Baroness Smith of Basildon, because of concerns around minimum alcohol pricing.
Wednesday 26th March
The Commons meets at 11.30 for Welsh Questions, followed by Prime Minister's Question Time, at noon. And David Cameron will remain at the despatch box to deliver a statement on the latest European Council.
That is followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill proposed by Labour's Jim Fitzpatrick; he wants to introduce a fixed penalty charge for people caught smuggling dogs into the country.
MPs will be asked to approve a motion on the Charter for Budget Responsibility and another on appointment of electoral commissioners.
The day's legislating is consideration of Lords amendments to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill. The only outstanding business is the rubber-stamping of an amendment to create powers to extend of the Horserace Betting Levy to offshore remote operators.
MPs will then canter through the remaining stages (report stage and third reading) of the Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Bill which makes some technical changes recommended by the Law Commission to intestacy rules and family provision legislation. It is not impossible that MPs will take an early bath.
There's some interesting stuff in Westminster Hall - Labour's Mark Lazarowicz leads a debate on competition in energy markets (9.30-11am) and the Conservative Tracey Crouch has a debate on stillbirths and infant mortality rates (2.30-4pm). She says Britain has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the EU and she's been struck by some of the comments she's heard from constituents who have lost children.
Later, Jack Straw, with the full authority of a former home secretary and foreign secretary, has a half hour on the impact of US extra-territorial jurisdiction on British foreign and commercial policy.
In the Lords (from 3pm) the report stage of the Defence Reform Bill continues. The main focus is on reserve forces, but expect a vote on the requirement for an annual report on the fighting capability of the Army (in the light of likely personnel shortfalls) and a vote to require a "super-affirmative resolution" on bringing into force the section on Government Owned Defence Procurement.
Thursday March 27th
The Commons meets at 9.30am for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions, followed by a multi-purpose question time for the MPs who speak for the Church Commissioners, the Public Accounts Commission and the Electoral Commission.
The day's main debate is a very serious one - a backbench debate on the background to and implications of the High Court judgment on John Downey. He, you'll remember, was accused of carrying out the IRA bombing in Hyde Park in 1982, which killed four soldiers, he denied the charges but walked free from court because he had received a guarantee that he would not be prosecuted.
This resulted in a statement from the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, but all the sitting Northern Ireland MPs and the Chair of the Northern Ireland Select Committee have called for this debate.
Over in Westminster Hall, the Transport Committee chair, Louise Ellman (who is one of the most regular users of this particular procedure) leads a debate on her committee's reports on Local Authority Parking Enforcement, and on Access to Ports.
In the Lords (11am) peers have their own Budget debate, and there is a short debate on the position of individuals serving indeterminate sentences on public protection grounds who have already passed their tariff - led by the Plaid Cymru peer, Lord Wigley
Friday 28th March
The Commons will not be sitting, but in the Lords (from 10am) it will be déjà vu all over again, as peers debate the latest incarnation of the Steel Bill.
The modest package of House of Lords reform (a retirement mechanism, an expulsion mechanism for peers convicted of serious criminal offences, and a mechanism to allow disqualification for non-attendance) proposed by the former Liberal leader, Lord Steel has now been passed by the Commons, after he had guided a similar bill through the Lords, last year.
Lord Steel will be attempting to whiz this latest version through the House, and is hoping to avoid any amendment, which would then require the changes to be referred back to the Commons - where debating time may not be available.
If no peer proposes any amendments the bill could go from second reading to a third reading and then Royal Assent, in the fairly near future. But there is a snag, in the form of the constitutional scholar Meg Russell of the UCL Constitution Unit.
She argues that the unintended consequence of providing a way for peers to retire (by ancient tradition membership of the Lords is for Life) could turn the upper house into a career staging post for ambitious politicians who actually want to become MPs. Will her vigorous lobbying efforts result in an amendment, and possibly derail the whole bill?