Week ahead

Mark D'Arcy
Parliamentary correspondent


The conferences are over and MPs and peers return to Parliament on Monday, with the new political landscape still taking shape.

New shadow ministers will bat for Labour, and aspiring party leaders (of which there are a startlingly large number on both sides of the Commons) will be seeking to make an impression on parliamentary colleagues and the wider public.

Let's start my rundown of the business for next week with a massive health warning: the detail below is on the parliamentary business as scheduled before Parliament rose for the conference break, and may be re-ordered.

Image caption,
David Cameron at the despatch box during the debate on Syria in August 2013

There may be several ministerial statements or urgent questions strung across a couple of days, probably including a report-back from David Cameron on the September EU summit meeting. It's even possible there may be a large-scale rescheduling, (in that event, look out for a special business statement by the Leader of the House, on Monday) if the government wants to do something urgently, like authorise airstrikes in Syria.


The Commons resumes (2.30pm) with Home Office questions, where Andy Burnham will face Theresa May. And then (from 3.30pm) expect the usual post-break clutch of ministerial statements and urgent questions.

MPs then move on to two debates on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee; first is a motion complaining about "variations in the effectiveness of roll-out of fixed and mobile superfast broadband", and calling for a "not-spot summit" to consider how the issue should be tackled. That's followed by a debate on the political situation in Stormont, and the unfolding crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The adjournment debate on protection of civilians in Syria could become a preliminary skirmish for any vote for the UK to intervene.

In Westminster Hall (at 4.30pm) there's a debate on an e-petition calling for the legalisation of the production and sale of cannabis.

In the Lords (2.30pm) proceedings open with the introduction of former Leader of the Commons Sir George Young as a peer - the bicycling baronet and former transport secretary can be expected to prove a natural in the Upper House.

After questions to ministers, the main event is the second reading debate on the Enterprise Bill - where the issues include: a Small Business Commissioner, whose main task will be to help businesses suffering because of late payment from big clients, promoting and protecting apprenticeships in public sector bodies, the Primary Authority Scheme, late payment of insurance claims to businesses, business rates, a cap on 'exit payments' for public sector workers, and changes to government financial support to industry.

There's some thought that the much-touted new Sunday trading laws could be introduced into the bill at some point - although other rumours suggest that the Cities Bill (see the Commons on Wednesday, below) could be the chosen vehicle of a change. But any such amendment would not arrive during a second reading debate - so watch out for something at report stage.


MPs meet at 11.30am for Health questions - where new shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander will make her debut. Expect further ministerial statements and urgent questions, and then the Conservative Richard Bacon presents a ten minute rule bill to introduce "No-Fault" divorce, allowing marriages and civil partnerships to be dissolved when each party declares that it has irretrievably broken down, with no need to cite adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, in court. Bacon's proposal would allow such factors to be raised where they might influence the settlement.

The main legislative event is the second reading debate on the government's Immigration Bill which implements Conservative party manifesto promises to tackle illegal working, enhance the enforcement of labour market rules, deny illegal migrants access to services including housing and banking, provide new powers for immigration officers, as well as other measures to improve the security and operation of the immigration system.

The purpose of the bill is to tackle illegal immigration by making it harder to live and work illegally in the United Kingdom. The intention is that without access to work, illegal migrants will depart voluntarily, but where they do not, the bill contains other measures to support enforced removals. Labour are likely to put down a "reasoned amendment" on the bill but there is pressure within the PLP to back its main provisions. It will be an interesting test for former leadership front-runner Andy Burnham in his new brief.

In Westminster Hall there are some interesting debates: on the use of children as suicide bombers - led by the SNP's Roger Mullin (9.30am - 11am); Labour's Gavin Shuker discusses trends in prosecutions for prostitution (11am - 11.30am) and Welsh Conservative Guto Bebb examines media plurality in Wales (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords, peers make an early start at 11am, to accommodate the considerable numbers, who want to speak on the second reading of the European Union Referendum Bill - the debate will be paused to allow questions to ministers at the normal time of 2.30pm, and then the debate will resume at 3pm.

By convention, peers don't attempt to kill a bill that was included in the manifesto of a winning party at a general election, so the real action around this measure will probably come when it undergoes detailed scrutiny at committee and, more particularly, report stage consideration. There will be all kinds of fun to be had on issues already rehearsed in the Commons: votes at 16, votes for EU nationals resident in the UK, the timing of the referendum, the wording of the question, impartiality rules for the government machine and for broadcasters, reporting of campaign spending and whether there should or should not be a second referendum.


Business opens at 11.30am with Northern Ireland questions, which will be a more than usually charged occasion, given the new Labour leadership's record on Irish issues. The spotlight will be on shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker.

He's respected by unionist MPs, but given his leader's very different views, they openly question his claim that he, not Jeremy Corbyn, is making policy in this area. There's talk of perhaps as many as three bills in the pipeline to tweak the Northern Ireland devolution settlement, so expect some markers to go down on those as well.

At noon, it's Prime Minister's Question Time - where there will doubtless be considerable interest in how Jeremy Corby handles his second appearance and how David Cameron responds.

Next, the Conservative Rehman Chishti presents a ten minute rule bill on perinatal mental illness - and then the main legislative event arrives, in the form of the second reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.

DCLG Secretary Greg Clark has been masterminding the government's devolution agenda, in various ministerial guises and in various government departments, since 2010. This measure facilitates the creation of "Metro Mayors" for combined big city authorities, which cover several local council areas; the government is insisting that powers will only be devolved to these areas - as in Manchester - if they are handed to an elected mayor.

It seems that second reading is not expected to drag on too long, because it's followed by a meaty looking debate on George's Osborne's fiscal charter.

Labour's John McDonnell announced plans to back it during the conference season but it will be interesting to see how hard the SNP go to define themselves as the real opposition to "austerity".

The adjournment debate led by the SNP's Dr Lisa Cameron, an NHS clinical psychologist before her election, is on mental health provision for armed forces veterans.

In Westminster Hall, the debate on the effect of changes to welfare benefits (2.30pm - 4pm), led by Labour's Carolyn Harris, caught my eye. It could provide an opportunity to air the disquiet of some on the Conservative benches on the impending cuts in tax credits - the statutory instrument to authorise these has already been passed by the Commons and is currently lurking in the Lords Committee system; but peers would not normally impede a major financial measure.

And the next debate on the creation of a House Business Committee (4pm - 4.30pm) will see Labour constitution guru Graham Allen complaining about the quiet ditching of what was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the "Wright Reforms" to the internal working of the Commons.

The committee was supposed to allow ordinary MPs to exert more traction on the Commons' debating timetable, tackling issues like a lack of detailed debate on bills at the crucial report stage, for example. Actually the key point about it was that it would have led to MPs voting each week on the proposed timetable for the following week, and even offering amendments....which would have loosened the grip of the government on the working of Parliament. Neither of the two main parties now seems that keen to follow through on what was once regarded as a key mechanism for making the Commons more effective.

In the Lords, (from 3pm) the former Home Secretary David Blunkett will be introduced as a peer - but the day's main event is a series of report stage clashes over the detail of the Childcare Bill, some of which may be pushed to votes.

In particular there's an amendment from Lib Dems Baroness Tyler of Enfield and Baroness Pinnock for "sunrise clause" preventing the key sections of the bill from coming into force until there has been an independent review of the free childcare entitlement funding system, including a large-scale analysis of the cost of delivering funded places - and until ministers have established a funding solution, which takes into account the complete findings of that review.

Other amendments would subject all regulations in the bill to the affirmative procedure, meaning peers would have to approve changes (as opposed to regulations that come into force unless someone opposes them). There have been opposition complaints that the government has failed to provide peers with enough information.

The dinner break business is the Labour peer Lord Beecham's regret motion on Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015, which is expected to lead to a late vote. This is the regulation which has prompted some magistrates to resign in protest.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for questions to the Attorney General and to Nicky Morgan in her role as minister for women and equalities. There will be more than usual interest in the weekly statement on forthcoming Commons business - will it give a date for a vote on intervention in Syria, and what other new legislation might be announced?

Unusually for a Commons Thursday, there's the launch of a (sort of) new bill - the Armed Forces Bill. Since the 1950s, an Armed Forces Act has been required every five years to renew the legislation authorising the armed forces to be recruited and maintained. This bill makes a number of tweaks which covers such issues as service discipline and drug testing for service personnel, and Ministry of Defence firefighters.

And the day ends with an adjournment debate on alcohol harm and older people - led by the Conservative, Fiona Bruce.

In Westminster Hall MPs debate two reports from the Justice Select Committee from before the last election - on Prisons: Planning and Policies which warns of growing overcrowding, which, in turn, undermines efforts to rehabilitate criminals.

Then they turn to the report on the Impact of changes to Civil Legal Aid under part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which concludes that although restrictions to legal aid introduced in the Act have delivered significant savings, the had also harmed access to justice.

In the Lords (from 11am) more new peers are introduced; then after question time, there will be a series of debates on subjects raised by backbench peers....first is the availability and quality of apprenticeships , then the former Sports Minister Lord Moynihan on the government consultation paper on a new strategy for sport and then a debate on shared spaces and their impact on visually impaired people.


It's private members' bill day in the Commons (from 9.30am) and MPs open with what will probably prove the most controversial - Chris Heaton-Harris's Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill - which critics regard as a warmed over version of the Conservative peer Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill, from the last parliament.

The Saatchi Bill was intended to give doctors more leeway to try innovative treatments, but was denounced by opponents as "a quack's charter". Most of the day's debating time may be taken up by opponents spinning out the debate to prevent the bill getting to a second reading vote.

Next up is Labour MP Karen Buck's Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill, followed by the Conservative James Cleverly's Health and Safety Executive (Powers) Bill.

Further bills are listed on the Order Paper, but it seems unlikely there will be time to give them more than a perfunctory debate.