Week ahead

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Sugar and trade unions provide the main points of interest in the forthcoming week in Westminster....

In the Lords, a move to set up a special select committee on party funding may tee-up an amendment to the government's Trade Union Bill, which could result in defeat for ministers in a few weeks' time; in the Commons, Thursday's backbench debate on childhood obesity will continue the push for a tax on sugary drinks, as part of a wider anti-obesity strategy, by the wily health committee chair, Sarah Wollaston.

And speaking of backbench debates, last week the Backbench Business Committee did not manage to fill its Thursday slots in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall until Tuesday afternoon - which left MPs and ministers scrabbling to prepare.

Maybe this is some kind of hangover from the Christmas holidays, but if MPs are not clamouring for debating time for their pet issues, a few sharp-elbowed operators may start to monopolise prime time slots in the Commons Chamber.

Perhaps next week demand will pick up again....

Here's my rundown of next week's main parliamentary action:

Monday 18 January

The Commons opens (2.30pm) with Defence questions - which may well be followed by the usual Monday crop of ministerial statements and urgent questions.

The day's main legislating is the second reading debate on the Energy Bill, which implements the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to end any new public subsidy for onshore windfarms and give local people the final say on windfarm applications - and it establishes a new independent regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA).

The bill has already been through the Lords, so Labour MPs will support it at second reading, but will almost certainly push for amendments later.

(Incidentally, outside the chamber, the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the PLP, will bear watching. A motion to prevent the Leader's parliamentary aide from sitting on Labour's ruling National Executive has been accepted for debate - no mere technical cleaning up exercise, this; it's a direct swipe at Jeremy Corbyn's PPS, Steve Rotheram.)

The eyes of the world, or at least of the United States, may be on Westminster Hall (4.30pm - 7.30pm) where the Petitions Committee has scheduled a debate on two e-petitions relating to the exclusion of Donald Trump from the UK - one saying he should be banned from entering Britain; one saying he should not be banned .

There's an automatic process that petitions are considered for debate once they attract more than 100,000 signatures, but because these are Westminster Hall debates, no votes will be held. There's a formal motion that the House has considered the petitions, but it will not require any action from the government. So whatever happens, The Donald can breathe again; he will not be banned from these shores, at least not as a result of these petitions.

In the Lords (from 2.30 pm) after the usual half hour of questions to ministers, Labour will be proposing a motion to regret the Draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016 - questioning whether the regulations can deliver the expected benefits to employees. It's not expected to be pushed to a vote.

Then peers move on to the first day of committee stage consideration on the Immigration Bill - expect probing amendments on labour market enforcement, reform of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority role and landlords' responsibilities - but again it's unlikely anything will be pushed to a vote.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester's Accessible Sports Grounds Bill will have its third reading - this will probably be a formal rubber-stamping; but given that Lords private members' bills have no priority for debate in the Commons it's unlikely to make it to the statute book.

The day ends with a short debate on the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, Access Denied.

This is the product of their follow-up inquiry into access to treatment for HIV and AIDS in low and medium-income countries and warns that a vast improvement in access to first line treatment in those countries, 1.5 million people still died from AIDS-related causes in 2013.

The Lib Dem Baroness Barker leads the debate with the International Development Minister, Baroness Verma, responding for the government.

Tuesday 19 January

The Commons meets at 11.30am for Treasury questions.

Then the Lib Dem Tom Brake presents a ten minute rule bill on Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) - it seeks to strengthen FOI to ensure the scrutiny of FOI applies to the private sector, charities, Parliament and the Royal Household.

As usual Labour have split an afternoon allocated for opposition debates into two; their first debate is on Student Maintenance Grants and will include a motion to annul the regulations that introduced the new system of student finance. Then there will be a debate on the cost of public transport.

In Westminster Hall (9.30am - 11am), Labour's Stephen Kinnock raises the issue access to justice for vulnerable people - he will warn that far fewer people now have access to legal aid, with law centres closing and fees increasing, and that this means the legal safety net is being pulled away. In particular, domestic abuse victims, children, those with learning difficulties and those in debt are, he believes, losing out, both in the family courts as well as in criminal cases.

There's also an intriguing looking debate on the annual release of Cabinet papers to the National Archives, led by Labour's Richard Burgon (11am).

At 2.30pm, the subject is the removal of drugs from Cancer Drugs Fund list. The Conservative Pauline Latham points to the decision in September 2015 to remove 43 drugs from being supplied via the Cancer Drugs Fund, to reduce costs which had spiralled since 2013.

This meant that from November 2015 these drugs were no longer available to doctors to prescribe to patients. A new operating system for the Cancer Drug Fund will come into place in April 2016 meaning that whilst those patients who were already using drugs that were delisted in September can continue to do so, the list of drugs available to new patients will be different. This means that a practitioner will be unable to offer drugs that have shown to be effective previously.

The next debate (4.30pm - 5.30pm ) is on increasing diversity in STEM careers - Conservative Ben Howlett will point out that disabled people and minority groups are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics-related employment - he will be calling on the government to draw up a strategy to tackle what he calls a huge imbalance.

In the Lords (2.30pm), the first business is the introduction of a new Crossbench, or independent Peer, Lord Mair - Robert Mair - a geotechnical engineer and Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Questions to ministers include an intriguing one on the threat of a drone being flown into a commercial jet or being used to launch a terrorist attack from the Conservative, Lord Naseby.

Then peers polish off the third readings of two private members' bills - the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill and the Regulation of Political Opinion Polling Bill. Both are expected to be formal rubber-stampings, and as with the Accessible Sports Grounds Bill, they have little chance of being discussed, let alone passed, by MPs.

These are followed by the third reading of the Bank of England and Financial Services Bill - key issues are only government tidying amendments so the debate will be brief. And the committee stage of the Scotland Bill plods on, but there won't be much action around it until the publication of the long-awaited fiscal framework for further devolution.

There will also be a short debate on education standards in UK prisons - led by the non-affiliated peer, Lord Hanningfield.

Wednesday 20 January

In the Commons (11.30am) MPs open with Northern Ireland Questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.

The day's ten minute rule bill, from the SNP's Owen Thompson, is on the Transport of Nuclear Weapons. While he supports removing them entirely, the aim of his bill is to seek greater transparency over the movement of nuclear weapons, and to at enhance the controls around their movements.

After that, MPs move on to the report stage and third reading debates on the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which would make it an offence punishable by up to seven years in jail, to produce, supply, import or export psychoactive substances (defined as any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect).

Look out for an amendment from the former Health Minister Daniel Poulter and former Cabinet minister Peter Lilley, which would re-schedule cannabis from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug for the purposes of promoting research into its medical use.

The Conservative Cheryl Gillan wants to exempt a list of substances from the bill on the grounds that they are commonly used to improve individuals' cognitive performance and have been found to have positive effects in a number of academic studies, while Labour proposes to exempt alkyl nitrites - "poppers" - from the bill, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee.

There's also an amendment signed by an array of Conservative backbenchers (including Kit Malthouse, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Tom Tugendhat and Dr Tania Mathias) which would make it an aggravating factor in the offence of supplying psychoactive substances, if committed within 100 metres of a children's home.

In Westminster Hall, two debates caught my eye: - Judith Cummins' debate on safety in youth custody (2.30pm - 4pm) and Siobhain McDonagh's on the welfare of women undergoing IVF treatment (4pm- 4.30pm).

In the Lords (from 3pm) the week's biggest single moment in the Lords may well turn out to be the motion from the Labour Leader, Baroness Smith of Basildon, on the appointment of a select committee to consider the impact of clauses 10 and 11 of the Trade Union Bill - the section on political funding by trade unions.

This picks up a proposal floated last week by the Lib Dem Lord Tyler, but not pushed to a vote. The interesting point is that what's more or less the same proposal, but rebadged as Labour might be more effective in maximising the Opposition vote in the chamber, especially as the debate and then vote would take place in prime time, starting just after questions, at about 3.30pm.

But there's an undercurrent of Lib-Lab rivalry here, with the Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron taking to the press to blast Labour for refusing to back Lib Dem moves against assorted government measures - and two Lib Dem peers, Baronesss Featherstone and Baroness Hamwee have put down fatal motions against government measures on feed in tariffs and on immigration. They won't be debated this week, and may simply lie there as a rebuke to Labour.

There are more interesting undercurrents too; will Labour be able to persuade their troops to turn up, after a couple of no-shows in important votes, and second, what will it reveal about the mood of the House, after the government floated plans to limit peers ability to block secondary legislation? Will the Leader, Baroness Stowell, face a backlash? Either way, this is a an important manoeuvre - the proposed special committee would have to report by the end of February - and its findings could feed into an attempt to re-write the political funding proposals.

After that, the committee stage consideration of the Immigration Bill continues - the issues to be examined include powers to carry out searches relating to driving licences, and an offence of driving when unlawfully in the UK.

There will also be a short debate on the cancer survival rate - led by the Lib Dem Baroness Walmsley, who will highlight the differences between UK survival rates and those in other similar countries and argue that solutions are to be found in earlier diagnosis, more research, and more transparency so that true patient choice can exist.

Thursday 21 January

The Commons convenes at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport questions; and the regular in-house questions to the House of Commons Commission and the Leader of the House. He stays on to deliver the weekly Business statement.

The day's main event is a Backbench Business Debate on a motion on the childhood obesity strategy. The member in charge is the chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston. Her committee's first report of the new Parliament was on this issue - and you can expect much of the discussion to revolve around its most eye-catching recommendation, for a tax on sugary drinks, where the government's initial opposition may be fading.

Dr Wollaston regards this as a key indicator that the government is prepared to take serious action to tackle obesity and diabetes, which have become an increasingly serious issue for the NHS. But she will emphasise that a much wider strategy is required.

I expect the Public Health Minister Jane Ellison will answer for the government - she has been active in promoting public health measures, for example on plain packaging for cigarettes, even in the teeth of objections from Conservative colleagues, so her response will be watched closely from both sides of the argument.

A second Backbench Business debate will be announced next week.

In the Lords (from 11am), the main debates are led by the Conservative backbench peers. The ex-cabinet minister Lord Fowler leads on on proposals for prison reform - and Baroness Wheatcroft on the contribution of women to business, the economy and the future of economic growth in the UK. Look out for maiden speeches from business high flyers Lady Rock and Lady McGregor-Smith.

There are two short debates: first, on the security and human rights challenges on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's recent nuclear test - led by Lord Alton of Liverpool, then on the strategy to defeat so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, in Syria - led by Lord Truscott.

Friday 22 January

Private members bills return to the Commons (from 9.30am) - starting with the report stage consideration of the NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill - Wendy Morton's bill to reassign the royalties from JM Barrie's Peter Pan to the new Great Ormond St Hospital Trust.

Next on the agenda, at the moment, is the second reading of the Conservative Tom Pursglove's self-explanatory Local Area Referendum (Disposal of School Playing Fields) Bill, followed by the Green MP Dr Caroline Lucas's Railways Bill, and Christopher Chope's Working Time Directive (Limitation) Bill.

But these may be bumped further down the batting order, should any other private members bills emerge from committee stage.