Week ahead

These are strange days in Westminster.

This week's Budget was pretty much the last significant event of the Parliament and the place has emptied out since it was unveiled.

Those who remain seem, mostly, to be MPs who're not coming back (voluntarily or otherwise) who drift through the corridors with an abstracted air of premature nostalgia, along with a retinue of parliamentary staffers who'll be uncertain of their future, too.

A few MPs will be seeking a final hit of parliamentary publicity before their rendezvous with the voters - and I would be surprised if business managers on all sides didn't try to eke out some final opportunities for point-scoring before the curtain comes down on the Parliament of 2010, with urgent questions, ministerial statements and any other device they can come up with.

Barring some last minute hiccup, the end will come somewhere between 3pm and 5pm on Thursday afternoon, once all the remaining legislative loose ends have been ravelled.

And the proclamation dissolving this Parliament should name the day for the meeting of its successor.

Incidentally, in the rush to the hustings, the publication of a series of valuable end of term reports by select committees has been rather lost. But watch out for the Defence Committee's three final reports on Re-thinking Defence to Meet new Threats (Tuesday) - expected to be an overview of the shortfalls in what the Armed Services by 2020, on the next Defence and Security Review (due to be published on Wednesday) and on Decision Making in Defence Policy (Thursday). They could turn out to have particular resonance.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead.


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Home Office questions - after which the prime minister will make a statement on the outcome of the latest European Council. Any further statements or urgent question will be taken when he is done.

Then the Lib Dem former health minister, Paul Burstow, will launch a ten minute rule bill on Tobacco Manufacturers Producer Responsibility.

A consultation on a tobacco levy was announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in the 2014 Autumn Statement, and this is part of a cross-party campaign to direct the money - perhaps as much as £500m - to pay for a programme of tobacco control measures including Stop Smoking Services currently funded by local councils. The bill's supporters view it as an important way of boosting funding for preventive health measures.

MPs will move on to the final stage of the Budget debate - where the chosen theme is jobs, pensions and savings - which suggests the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, will be facing Labour's Rachel Reeves. And the day will end with an adjournment debate on the centenary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide - led by Labour MP Stephen Pound.

In Westminster Hall (4.30pm - 7.30pm) there will be a debate on an e-petition relating to proposed increase in fees for nurses and midwives - led by Labour's David Anderson.

Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) peers will rattle through a series of legislative chores, setting the pattern for much of their work in this final week. First up is the third reading of the House of Commons Commission Bill - the measure which enacts the shake-up of the Commons internal admin. It may well be simply nodded through.

Next come nine important Counter-Terrorism Statutory Instruments that derive from the fast-track bill passed earlier this year.

For the record, these are the Draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Amendment and Guidance) Regulations 2015, the Draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015; the Draft Retention of Communications Data (Code of Practice) Order 2015, the Draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Authority to Carry Scheme) Regulations 2015; the Draft Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015; the Draft Passenger, Crew and Service Information (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015; the Draft Aviation Security Act 1982 (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015; the Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2015; Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Code of Practice for Officers exercising functions under Schedule 1) Regulations 2015; Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2015.

(I moaned about the difficulty of finding out exactly what SIs like this actually do in my post last week - and I'm told the continuing revamp of the parliamentary website includes attempts to make this information move easily available. Good.)

And then the Labour peer Lord Collins will move a regret motion on the Gaming Machine regulations - which cover Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.


The Commons opens at 11.30am with Nick Clegg's last stand - his final question time as deputy prime minister, unless he returns to that office in some future coalition. There's also a mini question time for the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright.

Tudor historian turned Conservative MP Chris Skidmore has a ten minute rule bill on Schools (Opportunity to Study for Qualifications).

Then it's on to more stubbing out of legislative fag-ends - with Consideration of Lords amendments to the Recall of MPs Bill and the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill - in both cases these seem to be technical tidying-up, rather than huge unresolved conflicts.

MPs will rattle through a motion relating to Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 and a Statutory Instrument relating to counter-terrorism - and the day ends with an adjournment debate on lesser-taught languages led by the Conservative, Nick de Bois.

Somewhere amidst all this will come a little bit of parliamentary theatre, as a posse of eight Conservatives, led by Education Committee Chair Graham Stuart, will present petitions with the slightly antiseptic title of "eligibility of members to vote on certain issues in the House of Commons".

"The Clerks wouldn't let us call it 'English votes for English laws'," grumbles one of those involved. This is one of those pre-election political markers - on an issue that has clearly not gone away, and will be certain to resurface in the next parliament.

In Westminster Hall there's the usual series of adjournment debates and my eye was caught by the one led by Labour's Russell Brown (2.30pm - 4pm) on reform of the Vaccine Damage Payment Act.

In the Lords (2.30pm) the main events are short debates on various issues: the first is on the EU Committee's report on the EU and Russia, before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine. This is followed by two 90-minute mini debates on the impact of oil palm plantations on world-wide climate and on indigenous species; and on the social and economic value of sports volunteering.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Cabinet Office questions - a farewell appearance by Francis Maude, the most important minister you've never heard of, who has overseen sweeping "engine room" reforms to Whitehall.

At noon it's the final PMQs of this Parliament - who'll be at which dispatch boxes for the next one?

Labour MP Fiona O'Donnell has a ten minute rule bill on Tax Transparency and International Development - a theme investigated by the International Development Committee, of which she is a member.

MPs will then dispose of the Finance Bill, which enacts the changes announced in the Budget, in a single gulp - rattling through all its Commons stages. This is only possible with the cooperation of the Opposition, so the bill will be a fairly uncontroversial holding measure - and it's highly likely that another Budget will follow after the election.

And, ho-hum, there will be the possibility of more debates on Lords' amendments and possibly more motions to approve Statutory Instruments, before the adjournment debate on social care and military compensation - led by Labour MP Gordon Marsden.

In Westminster Hall, Labour MP Mark Tami leads the first big debate, on the economic infrastructure of North Wales (9.30am - 11am) and Conservative former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, the arch opponent of the controversial High Speed 2 rail line, has a parting shot at it (2.30pm-4pm).

In the Lords (from 3pm) the main legislative event will be ping-pong with Commons on the Modern Slavery Bill - the key issue will be defending the narrow vote in the Lords vote to allow migrant workers to change their employer. Peers (who are, by convention, not allowed to mangle money bills) will debate the Budget.

And the last business is likely to be a regret motion on the Public Contract Regulations 2015. Labour's Lord Hunt will accuse the government of introducing confusing processes for procurement by NHS commissioners.

Peers will also rattle through the third readings of two private members' bills from the Commons - the Local Government (Religious Observances) Bill and the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill.


And so to the last rites. What should be the final sitting day for the 2010 House of Commons opens at 9.30am with Business, Innovation and Skills questions.

Any last minute tidying up of Lords amendments will be dealt with and then there will be what is delicately described as "an opportunity for retiring members to make short valedictory speeches."

I'm told around 30 retiring MPs may decide to bid farewell....

In the Lords (from 11am) peers will rubber stamp the Finance Bill, and there will be further business announced (expect an SI).

Their Lordships final debate will be on the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK.

This is an authoritative investigation by a high-powered panel of MPs and peers, chaired by departing Lib Dem and former minister Sarah Teather (she's off to work for the Jesuit Refugee Service).

They recommended a 28-day cap on the time people can be held in immigration detention, after hearing some harrowing evidence about the impact on detainees of being held for years, with no end in sight. Panel member and former law Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick will lead proceedings and will doubtless signal an intention to press for major reforms in the next Parliament.

The House will then adjourn until both Houses are ready for prorogation.

This is expected at some point between 3pm and 5pm, but we won't know until the day itself. I hope to be in the commentary box awarding marks for artistic impression and technical merit as the Parliament finally ends in an archaic orgy of cocked hat doffing.