Week ahead

It's a week of fairly humdrum legislating for MPs and peers, but there are at least three major legislative events lurking in the background, and we might get some hints about their timing.

If the forthcoming EU summit goes according to David Cameron's plans, there may well be a vote to set the date of the EU membership referendum (three statutory instruments setting out the timing and ground rules for the campaign are expected to arrive pretty soon).

Judging by the heavy hints being dropped at the despatch box, a vote to renew the Trident nuclear submarines cannot be far away...and the biggest bill of this parliament - what promises to be a 500-clause behemoth on Investigatory Powers - is also coming soon. A joint committee of MPs and peers under Labour former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Murphy is due to report on a draft version of the bill soon, and Theresa May is expected to launch it at second reading early in March.

This week's crop of private members' bills could see the final demise of Lord Saatchi's attempt to create a more permissive climate for innovative medical treatments, which has surfaced in both Houses in various incarnations in recent years. And watch out for Lord Wills' Hillsborough-inspired Public Advocate Bill - which launches an important idea for the handling of future inquiries into major disasters.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Education questions - and there will be an extra member of the Labour team facing the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. In her new, cross-cutting role as shadow cabinet minister for mental health, Luciana Berger will be there to put a question from the frontbench. And the following week she will pop up at Work and Pensions questions to quiz Iain Duncan Smith. This is a minor Commons innovation - I can't think of a previous instance of a floating shadow minister….

As usual, there's a good chance that post-weekend urgent questions or ministerial statements will follow.

Then MPs will turn to the detailed report stage consideration of the Childcare Bill - the bill to increase in the entitlement to free childcare from 15 to 30 hours a week (for 38 weeks of the year) for working parents of three and four-year-old children in England. There are several amendments requiring regular reports on child health and other issues. Labour backbencher Jess Phillips wants to add a requirement that victims of domestic violence, who have left paid employment to escape it, should continue to be eligible for 30 hours of free childcare per week.

In Westminster Hall, the Petitions Committee has scheduled a debate on an e-petition calling for the government to "scrap plans forcing self-employed and small business to do four tax returns".

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the main event is the first day of report stage debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill - where much of the debate may focus on reporting measures. My eye was caught by an amendment from disability campaigners Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and Lord Low of Dalston requiring an annual report to Parliament on progress towards halving the disability employment gap, and by the amendment from the Bishop of Durham, Labour's Baroness Sherlock and the Crossbencher Lord Listowel, requiring an annual report on child poverty. The Crossbencher Lord Ramsbotham has another on maternal nutrition and poverty - and one of more of these amendments could be pushed to a vote. Issue on life chances, the benefit cap and benefit freeze will also be debated.

And there is also likely to be a vote on a Regret Motion from Labour's Lord Stevenson on the Education (Student support) Regulations - which Labour had tried to strike down in the Commons.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Justice questions, to be followed by a ten minute rule bill on Profit-sharing and Company Governance (Employees Participation) from Labour's Gareth Thomas.

MPs will then polish off the Legislation Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, which provides stronger protection for charities in England and Wales from people who are unfit to be charity trustees; equips the Charity Commission with new or strengthened powers to tackle abuse of and gives charities a new power to make social investments.

In Westminster Hall, the debates are on the potential role of UK manufacturing in development of onshore oil and gas (9.30am- 11am); child poverty (11am -11.30am); further education colleges in the North East (2.30pm-4pm): Congolese refugee camps in East Africa (4pm-4.30 pm) and the funding of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (4.30pm-5.30pm).

In the Lords (from 2.30 pm) the first business is the introduction of the Lord Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, who will be the second female bishop to enter the Lords under the terms of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015. The first female bishop was introduced in October - Rachel Treweek of Gloucester - to spontaneous applause in the chamber.

After the usual half hour of questions, peers will deal with Commons amendments to the Psychoactive Substances Bill - no votes are expected because the government have conceded on the issue on which they were defeated at report stage: making supplying legal highs in prison an aggravated offence.

The day's major event will be second reading of the Housing and Planning Bill, where the sky will be dark with markers going down for cross-party attempts to amend the bill later in its consideration. Key figures may be Crossbenchers Lord Best (a former Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation) and Lord Kerslake (the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government). The big issues in the bill include starter homes, self-built homes, rogue landlords, abandoned premises, right to buy from housing associations, high value housing association property, high income social tenants, neighbourhood and local planning, registers of land, planning permission, nationally significant development projects and compulsory purchase.


The Commons opens at 11.30 am with half an hour of Cabinet Office questions, followed at noon Prime Minister's Question Time.

The main debate is on a Labour motion on the threat to specialist accommodation for the most vulnerable from housing benefit cuts contained in the small-print of the Chancellor's autumn statement.

Labour's shadow housing minister John Healey and the shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith are seeking to put pressure on the government over what they describe as a "catastrophic" cuts and they're calling for the Chancellor, George Osborne, to abandon them, publish a full impact assessment and consult with housing providers.

In Westminster Hall the subjects for debate are changes to funding of support for disabled people (9.30pm - 11am); cash retentions in business transactions (11am - 11.30am); resettlement of Syrian refugees (2.30pm - 4pm); late payments to small businesses (4pm - 4.30 pm) and finally, and Richard Benyon's debate (4.30pm - 5.30pm) on the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

In the Lords (from 3pm) it's the report stage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, where the main issues in play are exemptions from the two child limit, ESA, workplace conditionality, Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, and possibly support for mortgage interest and social housing rents exemption.

Watch out for the one-hour mini debate on the House of Lords Press Office. Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts will suggest that the House needs to set up a rapid rebuttal unit to combat inaccurate stories about it (the recent coverage of the Lord Speaker's expenses and last year's story that peers wanted their catering service to provide better champagne that was on offer in the Commons, are two examples pointed at).


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Transport questions, followed by the weekly Business statement from the Leader of the House.

The day's main debate, chosen by the Backbench Business Committee is another interesting backbench excursion into high-level health policy, following on from the previous week's on child obesity. This time a trio of health policy heavyweights, former coalition ministers Norman Lamb (Lib Dem) and Dan Poulter (Conservative), together with Labour's Liz Kendall, will push for a commission on the NHS and social care, to examine ways of tearing down the institutional walls between two services which need to work closely together. Mr Lamb produced a Ten Minute Rule Bill on this issue, and was startled at the warmth of his reception.

In the Lords (from 11am), the main debates are on subjects chosen by backbench Lib Dem peers. First is local democracy in the United Kingdom, led by Lord Shipley, one of the legion of senior Lib Dem councillors now in the Lords.

Then Baroness Uddin (now a non-affiliated peer) leads a debate on the topical subject of promoting English language classes for women to address isolation and extremism - and the Lib Dem Baroness Sharp of Guildford raises the role of adult education and lifelong learning in developing the skills needed to strengthen the United Kingdom economy.

Peers will also be asked to approve two Church of England measures. First, the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure, which strengthens the powers of bishops and others to suspend and discipline people holding positions in the church on safeguarding grounds - the Church believes it needs to improve its arrangements to prevent the abuse of children and vulnerable adults within the church community, and to deal effectively with those in authority them.

There's also the Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure - which makes some technical changes to the investment rules for Church funds. The verdict of Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee, which considered both measures expedient recently, can be found here.


Its private members' bill day in both Houses - the Commons kicks off (9.30am) with the report stage of Chris Heaton-Harris's Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill.

This aims to create a database of innovative medical treatments, to help NHS practitioners see what has been tried and what has worked. But it also included the "Saatchi Bill" proposals to protect doctors from negligence claims if they tried innovative treatments for serious illnesses - critics called this the "quacks' charter").

It looks as if the Saatchi Bill element will be dropped, but there will also be an important addition in the shape of amendments to facilitate the licensing of off-patent drugs to treat illnesses other than the one they were originally licenced for. New uses are often found for well-established drugs, but if their patent has expired, it's often not worth the manufacturer going through an expensive licensing process - a Labour MP Nick Thomas Symonds saw his bill to create a new licensing mechanism for this purpose talked out in the Commons in November.

But that raised such a stink that ministers now seem keen to revisit the issue - so look out for some amendments to this bill, and more particularly for policy announcements that the minister is expected to give at the despatch box.

Then, if there's much time left, we are into second reading debates on an assortment of bills which are well down the list and have little priority for debate, and, this late in the Parliamentary year, have little chance of becoming law: Peter Bone's Child Victims of Human Trafficking (Central Government Responsibility) Bill reflects his years of campaigning on human trafficking issues. Labour's Kerry McCarthy has her Food Waste (Reduction) Bill, and central London MP Karen Buck has bills on Basement Excavation and Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation). I doubt we'll make it to the former minister Tim Loughton's Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill - which aims to allow heterosexual couples to formalise their relationships in civil partnerships.

Over in the Lords (from 10am) the first business is detailed consideration of Lord Empey's Airports Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill - but what really caught my eye was the Labour former Justice Minister Lord Wills' Public Advocate Bill. This has an interesting backstory. Lord Wills was the minister who devised the mechanism which allowed a new look at the evidence on the Hillsborough disaster and his bill would create a public advocate who could represent the families of people killed in a disaster, in any subsequent inquiry.

There's also the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Alcohol Limits) (Amendment) Bill from Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill from Lord Dholakia.