Week ahead

Expect a heavy constitutional week. I've blogged separately on the cornucopia of devolutionary delights awaiting us when Parliament returns - and one of the consequences of the referendum aftershocks seems likely to be the postponement of the MPs Recall Bill which was due for a second reading debate on Tuesday.

But even without the big battles expected over recall, there's plenty of interesting and unusual action - with the Archbishop of Canterbury introducing Church legislation on women bishops in the Lords; and the second reading debate for the reincarnated EU Referendum Bill - with former minister Bob Neill piloting the Conservative-backed private member's bill for a public vote in 2017.

Here's my rundown of the week:


The Commons convenes at 2.30pm, for Home Office questions - which will certainly be followed by the usual post-recess clutch of ministerial statements/urgent questions.

The main scheduled event is a Backbench Business Committee debate on Palestine and Israel, with a main motion from Graham Morris, Crispin Blunt, Sir Bob Russell, Caroline Lucas and Jeremy Corbyn calling for UK recognition of the state of Palestine, alongside Israel. Meanwhile an amendment from (amongst others) Guto Bebb, James Arbuthnot and Phillip Hollobone adds the crucial rider "on conclusion of successful peace negotiations".

Meanwhile I hear rumours that Labour heavyweights are being lined up to pre-empt that amendment, with a rival proposal with more conciliatory and, as one source put it, "less Zionist" wording. Normally only one amendment is called, so much will depend on how many signatures each attracts.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the first of two days of committee stage debate on the Wales Bill (see previous post) day 1 is devoted to issues relating to the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Government and the Welsh rate of income tax.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for questions to the deputy prime minister - and given the highly personal campaign against him by Labour, this could be an even more brutal occasion for Nick Clegg than usual.

Then the new Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, and the new Solicitor General Robert Buckland will make their debuts...

Labour MP Barbara Keeley will present a Ten Minute Rule Bill on "Carers Bedroom Entitlement (Social Housing Sector)" - the aim is to exempt carers and those needing overnight care from the so-called bedroom tax/spare room subsidy, which, she says, puts an additional burden on carers and fails to take into account why the health and care needs of the person cared for may result in the need for an additional bedroom.

It seems clear the Recall Bill will be pulled in favour of a big set-piece debate on Scotland post-referendum, informed by a Command Paper to be published on Monday. William Hague seems likely to lead for the government (although I wouldn't rule out the Lib Dems pushing to make a separate statement of their own, as they did on the Leveson Report) and the vibrations between the SNP and Labour will be especially interesting.

And while there might be other attractive moments, I suspect this debate might provide an ideal occasion for the Commons second coming of Douglas Carswell; the English votes issue looks tailor-made for UKIP, so this might attract his first speech in his new colours.

In Westminster Hall, there are two interesting-looking longer debates, on the legal framework for surrogacy, led by the Conservative Jessica Lee (9.30am - 11am) and on foetal alcohol syndrome, led by Labour's Bill Esterson (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (from 2.30pm), the main business is the report stage of the Serious Crime Bill - there are plenty of government amendments from the Conservative peer and Home Office minister, Lord Bates, and the crossbench peer Lady Meacher has an amendment creating a new criminal offence of offence of encouraging or assisting the promotion of female genital mutilation, which would be punishable by up to seven years in prison. The Labour peer Lord Harris has an amendment on protection of children from sexual communications. No votes are expected

At about 8.30pm, peers will vote on the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure, which gives effect to the Church of England Synod vote to allow women bishops. There is a special procedure for approving Church legislation. First it has to go through Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee which happened on 22 July - their report is here and you can see a video of their discussion here.

They could not amend the measure, only decide whether or not they considered it expedient. And similarly, when the measure is presented to peers by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, they can only accept or reject it. A similar debate also has to be held in the Commons.

It's hard to imagine there will be much opposition, but if the Church wants to fast track women onto the bishops' bench of the Lords, it will need a change to the law - so watch out for attempts to secure a commitment for the government to amend the 1878 Bishoprics Act, which requires that appointments are based on strict seniority.

And then watch out for a legislative/ecclesiastical domino effect, because any such legislation could also provide an opportunity to reduce (or at any rate question) the number of bishops sitting in the Lords.....


The Commons day begins (at 11.30am) with Scottish questions, followed by PMQs, at noon. I wonder if Mr Speaker will call UKIP's Douglas Carswell (the old convention that MPs can't take part in parliamentary proceedings until they've made their maiden speech has pretty much died - and in any case would probably not be applicable in the case of an MP who triggered and then won their own by-election).

That's followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill from the Conservative Sir Paul Beresford, an adept user of this kind of parliamentary procedure. This time he's seeking to amend the 1983 Mental Health Act to ensure police have a clear power to intervene to protect someone from harming themselves, on private property.

The day's main Commons debate will be on an as yet unknown Opposition motion.

In Westminster Hall, my eye was caught by a couple of the longer debates: Labour MP Bridget Phillipson on transport in north-east England (9.30am - 11am) and Julian Sturdy (2.30pm - 4pm) on antibiotic resistance. He's concerned about the misuse of antibiotics in countries like India and Greece, and the need to ensure pharmaceutical companies invest in developing more antibiotics.

In the Lords, it's the second committee stage day on the Wales Bill - where peers will debate the sections on the planned referendum on the income tax provisions, Welsh tax on land transactions, Welsh tax on disposals to landfill, borrowing and budgetary procedures. There will also be a short debate on "The extent of onshore wind farming in Northumberland", led by Labour Peer Baroness Quinn.


The Commons convenes at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport questions and a mini question time on women and equalities. The Leader of the House, William Hague, will then set out what MPs will be debating in the coming week (which may be a substantial re-jig of the previous plans) and then the House moves on the Backbench Business Committee debates.

The first is on progress on All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's Report Get Britain Cycling - calling on the government to commit to publishing an annual cycling plan and to provide extra funding,

The second debate is on the National Pollinator Strategy - this focuses on the Environmental Audit Committee's reports on the need to protect pollinating insects, and will almost certainly revisit the row over neo-nicitinoid pesticides which the EU has banned but which the UK government did not want to ban.

Unusually, the most interesting event of the day (if it too is not folded into Tuesday's Scotland debate) will be the adjournment debate on the UK government's relationship with Scotland - where the political resurrection of Gordon Brown will continue. This debate was announced as part of the package when the former prime minister took over the No campaign in the Scottish Independence referendum, and is billed as a way of holding the government's feet to the fire and ensuring the delivery of the promised extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. If the two previous debates are relatively short, there will be plenty of time available for a much more wide-ranging debate than is normally seen in the adjournment slot, and there should be plenty of Conservative MPs on hand to take part, because they are being kept in Westminster for the EU Referendum Bill on Friday.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm) there's a chance to debate the findings of the Public Administration Committee report - Caught red-handed: Why we can't count on police recorded crime statistics - which suggested the figures were being cooked.

Committee Chair Bernard Jenkin is not pleased by the government response.

He says: "One of the reasons all this has happened is that no one appears ready to accept responsibility for the quality of Police Recorded Crime statistics.

"In the end it is ministers who must take ultimate responsibility. I am pleased to see that the government's response to our report has recommended that various agencies take action but that does not absolve ministers. If there is not a measurable improvement PASC will hold ministers to account."

In the Lords (from 11am) there are debates on the role of Russia and the former Soviet states in upholding international law and democratic principles, on the government's Social Justice strategy and on the prospects for developing and manufacturing autonomous vehicles as part of the UK car industry


It's EU Referendum time again, as debates on private members' bills resume in the Commons (from 9.30am).

Bob Neill, the genial former minister who found himself the highest-placed Conservative in this year's ballot, will bring in the same bill his colleague James Wharton introduced last year. On that occasion Labour abstained on the main votes and the bill ran out of time in the Lords.

If this second incarnation clears the Commons un-amended, it can be forced into law via the Parliament Act, if the Lords fail to pass it, or amend it in a way unacceptable to the Conservatives. So opponents will seek to amend the bill in the Commons - and any amendment, on the date of a referendum, the wording of the question, whether 17-year-olds can vote, or any other issue will render the bill un-parliament-act-able, and once again open up the possibility of a delaying action in the Lords.

So while Conservative MPs will doubtless be on a three line whip to attend the second reading, the real action will commence when the bill returns from its committee stage.

Incidentally this would provide an obvious moment and issue for that Douglas Carswell maiden speech.

I doubt the bills further down the batting order will get much of an airing - the next in the list is Lib Dem John Hemming's Transparency and Accountability Bill. But I expect the remainder will be humanely killed at 2.30pm when the list of undebated bills is read out, and a whip intones the word "object".

Their lordships are not sitting.