Week ahead

Workman on roof of Parliament Image copyright Getty Images

Brace yourself for a couple of big Parliamentary events that won't be in the chambers of the Commons or Lords.

On Wednesday we'll have the result of the elections for the (contested) select committee chairs, and on Thursday there will be a report published on the options for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster - which will provide an early indication of whether MPs and peers may have to move out for several years, while the many problems with their main building are fixed.

Let's take the select committees first. The electioneering has been intense.

"Now I know what it felt like to be a voter," one over-canvassed backbencher commented to me.

But, interestingly, 12 of the 27 committee chairs were elected unopposed: Clive Betts (Lab) in Communities and Local Government; Angus McNeil (SNP) Energy and Climate Change; Neil Parish (Con) Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Laurence Robertson (Con) Northern Ireland; Charles Walker (Con) Procedure; Bernard Jenkin (Con) Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs; Pete Wishart (SNP) Scottish Affairs; Kevin Barron (Lab) Standards; Louise Ellman (Lab) Transport; Andrew Tyrie (Con) Treasury and David TC Davies (Con) Welsh Affairs.

We'll know the rest of the chairs at some point on Wednesday. There are some intriguing contests and some interesting candidates, and a fair number of secretaries of state will be watching anxiously.

On Restoration and Renewal some ugly choices await MPs.

The state of the main parliamentary building, Pugin and Barry's great Victorian-gothic masterpiece is now critical.

There's damp, rot, crumbling stonework, Neolithic wiring and lurking asbestos.

It is much cheaper to fix the problems without MPs and peers milling around the building, so a very expensive project becomes a tad cheaper, if the parliamentarians move out for a while.

This report will look at possible options; could part of the building be closed while the rest remained in operation? Might the taxpayer be better served by turning the whole place over to the builders for as much as five years?

Or could the can be kicked further down the road - with make do and mend, rather than having to commit spending billions in public money in the age of austerity. Or might that mean the whole place, as one MP put it to me, sliding into the Thames?

This report will help provide the basis for a decision which will be taken towards the middle of this Parliament, (more reports may be spawned first) and probably implemented sometime after 2020.

Back in the main chambers, the Commons is heading for a week of detailed legislating with three days of Committee of the Whole House scrutiny - two for the EU Referendum Bill and one for the Scotland Bill, with three further days planned in subsequent weeks.

It's worth noting that the government is continuing to schedule substantive voteable business on Thursdays, partly as a signal to its backbenchers that the pace will not slacken, and partly so that opposition parties, and in particular the SNP don't disappear on a Wednesday.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Education Questions - after which any Ministerial Statements or Urgent Questions will be dealt with.

The main business is the first of four planned committee stage days devoted to the detail of the Scotland Bill. Predictably there is a fair number of amendments - the SNP have one stating that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament can only be repealed if approved by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish population through a referendum. And there are also amendments to give statutory force to the Sewell Convention under which Westminster needs consent for legislation on devolved matters. The big one is a promised SNP amendment on "Full Fiscal Autonomy," giving the Scottish Parliament control over taxes raised in Scotland. The proposal is to remove the "reservation" in the existing devolution settlement which puts taxation under Westminster control. The thinking is that the Scottish Parliament could then work out the pace and extent of any transfer of taxation.

Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to minister include one from Labour's Lord Foulkes on calculating the block grant to Scotland in light of the new powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The main event is a Government debate on the support for trade and investment led by new peer and Trade Minister, Francis Maude. This is likely to finish by around 6pm will be followed by a short debate led by Labour Peer Roy Kennedy on election law - will it cover what many parliamentarians regard as the increasingly unsustainable distinction between national and local campaigning.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Treasury Questions - and then it's on to the first committee stage day on the detail of the European Union Referendum Bill - again there's a big SNP amendment that the referendum can declare that a majority wish the United Kingdom to leave the European Union only if (a) a majority of total votes cast in the referendum are against the United Kingdom remaining a member and (b) a majority of the votes cast in the referendum in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are against remaining in the EU. This is the so-called "quadruple lock".

Labour's Acting Leader Harriet Harman has amendments requiring an independent report by the Office for Budget Responsibility on the implications for the public finances of leaving, plus reports from each cabinet minister on the implications for their area of responsibility, and from the Bank of England on the economic consequences. All of these would have to be published at least 10 weeks before the referendum.

A group of Conservative Eurosceptics led by Maastricht veteran Bill Cash have amendments down on the conduct of the referendum campaign - they want the official campaign period to start 16 weeks before the referendum vote, which will have implications for spending by the In and Out campaigns, and for broadcasters. The amendment would require the Electoral Commission to ensure that during the referendum campaign, the total spend on either side of the referendum would be broadly equal and would take into account spending by business, government, the European Commission and the campaigns themselves. And there's another to ensure that no funds or support are provided directly or indirectly by European Union bodies which could affect the outcome.

The day's Adjournment Debate is on the refugee situation in the Mediterranean, led by Labour's Keith Vaz.

There are some chunky debates in Westminster Hall starting with Conservative Guto Bebb on Iran and the proposed nuclear agreement (9.30 - 11am) he's a member of Conservative Friends of Israel and sceptical of the proposed deal with Iran. Then, Lib Dem Greg Mulholland (2.30 - 4pm) leads a discussion of access to drugs for ultra-rare diseases - his constituents had had difficulties accessing drugs for diseases like Morquio Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. Finally there's a debate on Negotiation and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (4.30 - 5.30pm) led by Patrick Grady, the SNP's newly anointed international development spokesman.

In the Lords (2.30pm) questions to ministers include one on legal and emotional support for women who have suffered domestic violence and abuse - from Labour's Baroness Gale.

The day's main legislating is the Second Reading of the Childcare Bill, where the key issues are funding of free early education for 3 and 4 year olds, local authority capacity to implement the increased childcare hours and the shortage of trained nursery staff in the private and voluntary sector. After that there's a short debate led by Labour's Lord McConnell, on the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by the UN in September.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Welsh Questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time. There will be two Labour Opposition Day debates - one will be on productivity, and the subject of the second will be announced.

In Westminster Hall, the most eye-catching debates are Labour newcomer Rachael Maskell's on safety in prisons (9.30 - 11am) and Ann Coffey's debate on Deprivation of liberty safeguards assessments - which are designed to protect vulnerable adults such as those with dementia who are unable to make decisions about their own care. The system has recently come under pressure from large numbers of people challenging decisions (4 - 4.30pm).

In the Lords (3pm) questions include one from the Countess of Mar on a moratorium on use of neonictinoid pesticides for agricultural crops and one from Baroness Meacher on the reclassification of cannabis from class 2 to class 3 to enable use for medicinal purposes.

Then there's a government debate on transport connectivity and infrastructure in the North of England, followed by an important-looking short debate on the Defence Budget and the UK's long-term foreign policy.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions; then Caroline Spelman, newly appointed as the Second Church Estates Commissioner makes her debut taking questions in that role. There's also questions to the MPs who speak for the Public Accounts Commission and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. The weekly Business Statement from the Leader of the House, setting out the following week's Commons agenda is next - new Leader Chris Grayling seems to be making more of the dual with Labour's Angela Eagle, and enjoying it more, than some of his predecessors.

After that it's back to the detail of the European Union Referendum Bill - with the second day of Committee stage debate.

In the Lords (11am) the main business is debates on subjects chosen by Conservative peers: Pension reform and the Contribution of the creative industries to the UK economy.


The Lords provide the first Friday sitting of the new Parliament with Second Reading debates on three private members bills - Ulster Unionist Lord Empey has the Airports Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill, the Easter Trading Bill from Labour's Baroness Turner of Camden, and finally the Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock has his Regulation of Political Opinion Polling Bill - watch out for opposition from Conservative peer and eminent pollster, Lord Cooper of Windrush.