Week ahead

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There won't be many weeks between now and the likely date of the EU Referendum (23 June), when someone doesn't contrive to have some kind of Commons debate on some aspect of the EU.

Next week it's the DUP's turn. They're picking up the complaint made by the three first ministers, that that a referendum campaign culminating in a vote on that date, will impinge on the elections to the devolved parliaments.

Next on the Richter scale of political angst will be the annual debate on funding for local councils and police authorities in England - which will doubtless feature predictions of a collapse in key services. And after that there's an eclectic cocktail of railways, floods, rogue landlords and circus animals....

Meanwhile watch out for the election for the chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, where four Labour MPs are vying for the post vacated by Huw Irranca-Davies: Mary Creagh, Geraint Davies, Chris Evans and Barry Gardiner.

Over in the Lords, it's a rare week without the prospect of a government defeat, or indeed a vote of any kind...but fear not. Peers are merely gathering their powers for running battles over the detail of the Trade Union Bill and the Housing and Planning Bill, a bit later on.

One thing you won't find on this week's Lords agenda is the Scotland Bill, which has had its final day of committee stage debate kicked back beyond the half term, to allow time for more negotiation over the "fiscal framework" for devolution; this is the deal over the money the Scottish government will have to spend - it's not a part of the bill, but it is pretty hard to understand the implication s of the bill without it.

The framework is essentially an intergovernmental treaty between London and Edinburgh, and will set out how funding will be allocated between the nations of the UK. For example, will Scotland end up with a smaller share of the cake if the population of England increases faster?

Given the framework, the expectation is that the bill would be rushed into report stage, without waiting the normal couple of weeks - and be signed into law in good time for the Scottish Parliament elections in May.


The Commons opens (2.30pm) with Communities and Local Government questions - and, as ever, the end of question time (3.30pm) is the likely moment for taking any ministerial statements or urgent questions.

The main business is the vote on the annual up-rating of Social Security Benefits and the State Pension - which is both very big, and completely routine.

After that MPs move on to a backbench debate on the future of the routes of the Great Western Railway - the Conservative Kevin Foster will lead a debate looking at the need for electrification and resilience measures, as well as other improvements on the rail services covering the South West and South Wales.

The day's adjournment debate is on flood insurance for businesses - Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker will be raising the plight of businesses hit by floods in 2012, which were then unable to afford the flood element of their insurance. Having been flooded again this winter, several have now folded. Mr Whittaker will press for some pool insurance system to be set up to provide protection for them.

In the Lords (2.30pm), peers put the final touches to the Education and Adoption Bill - with the normally pretty perfunctory third reading debate, and then move on to the first of four scheduled days of detailed committee stage consideration of the Trade Union Bill.

They are supposed to deal with the clauses on ballot thresholds for industrial action, e-balloting and other balloting methods, information requirements relating to industrial action, the timing and duration of industrial action, and the impact of the bill on devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There had been some talk that we could be into the kind of delaying tactics not seen in the Lords since the early days of the Coalition, when Labour fought the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill to a standstill.

But, while there are an awful lot of amendments down, I'm told the Opposition is not now likely to force any amendments to a vote; having pushed through the establishment of a special select committee to consider the party funding aspects of the bill, they are content to let the debates play out as normal, and wait for the committee to report before making their moves.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Health questions, followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill from the Lib Dem education spokesman John Pugh, which would give schools a right to challenge critical judgements by the standards watchdog, Ofsted. He will argue that the consequences of critical report from Ofsted are so serious for schools and their staff that there has got to be some redress and appeal against an unfair, clumsily managed or politically skewed report.

And he wants appeals against Ofsted judgements to be heard by independent regional panels with nominees from the professional associations. Appeals could not only be about the content of inspection but also about the procedure and timing of inspections where that may give an unrepresentative picture of school performance.

They day's main debates are on motions from two of the smaller opposition parties, first the DUP, then the Lib Dems.

The DUP motion is pretty sharp-edged. It:

"regrets that the government appears set to rush to a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union in June 2016; believes that no case has been made for doing so, and that further, any such needlessly premature date risks contaminating the result; believes that a subject as fundamental as EU membership should be decisively settled after a full and comprehensive debate; notes the recommendations of the Electoral Commission as to best practice for referendums; further notes that there are elections happening in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, London and some local authorities in May 2016 and that the First Ministers of each of the devolved administrations have all expressed opposition to a June referendum date; and resolves that the Government should set the date for the Referendum having respect to the May elections as distinct electoral choices."

This will provide a chance for MPs to vote on the complaint - made repeatedly this week - that a 23 June referendum would mean the EU question overshadowed the elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. So expect the issue to be pushed to a vote.

The Liberal Democrats are being cagey about the content of their debate - when their Leader Tim Farron will speak on housing. The text of their motion will not surface until Monday.

The day ends with an adjournment debate on jobs and growth in the Humber Energy Estuary led by the Conservative, Martin Vickers. He will be asking for a progress report on the off-shore renewables sector.

In Westminster Hall, the day's debates range across: closer working between the emergency services (9.30am -11am); multi-sports clubs and HMRC changes to community amateur sports club status (11am-11.30am); work capability assessments (2.30pm -4pm); communications infrastructure and flooding in the North West (4pm- 4.30pm) and the social mobility index (4.30pm- 5.30pm).

In the Lords (2.30pm) peers have the third reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill - where the remaining issue outstanding is the Guardian's Allowance. It's not expected to be forced to a vote.

Then they launch into committee stage scrutiny of the Housing and Planning Bill - with the first of an expected seven days of debate. On the first day the House is supposed to debate the clauses dealing with rogue landlords and property agents in England; Banning Orders; the database of rogue landlords and property agents; rent payment orders and recovering abandoned premises in England. This is another highly contentious measure where Opposition peers will be pushing for changes, and there are already an impressive number down for debate.


The Commons warms up (11.30am) with Scottish questions, followed, at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time

Then Conservative MP Will Quince has a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition) - this picks up a cause which led to a spectacular backbench debate in the last Parliament, where the government backed off from whipping opposition against a ban - and MPs voted through a motion calling for one. But nothing happened.

MPs will then go through what has become an increasingly touchy annual ritual; the motions to approve the Police Grant and Local Government Finance reports for England. Expect a chorus of appeals for more money for particular localities - with the new element of rising concern about the finances of the police.

MPs will also be asked to approve new rules on the notification of Parliament of arrest of members. By ancient tradition, the arrest of an MP for any reason is noted in the business documents sent out to MPs every sitting day; this dates back to the time when such arrests were a tactic used by the Crown against the Commons.

After a number of recent cases the Commons Procedure Committee is seeking to change the rules so that arrests are only reported where they could be interpreted as an interference with Parliament.

In Westminster Hall the debates cover contracts let by the Home Office for asylum support (9.30am -11am); migration into the EU (2.30pm - 4pm); mobile infrastructure project (4pm - 4.30pm) and the UK government's policy on refugees (4.30pm-5.30pm).

But the 11am-11.30am Westminster Hall debate is one for the parliamentary nerds; it's on the implementation of the recommendations of the Digital Democracy Commission. This was an initiative by the Speaker, which reported in January 2015.

One of the Commission members, Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who now chairs the Public Accounts Committee, wants to keep up the pressure for electronic voting to be used in the Commons.

She would still like the voting to take place in the lobbies on either side of the chamber, arguing that the crush of all MPs there provides an invaluable opportunity for backbenchers to grab a quick word with ministers. But she would like a system that generates a result more rapidly and accurately. And she will be pressing the Leader of the House to launch a pilot scheme in this Parliament.

In the Lords (3pm) it's day two of the Trade Union Bill committee stage, where peers should be onto the sections dealing with picketing and the application of funds for political objects (clauses 9-11) - keep an eye on their progress.

And during the dinner break, there will be a short debate on the action being taken to promote cycling as a safe means of transport lead by the former Transport Secretary, Lord Young of Cookham, the artist formerly known as Sir George Young, aka: the bicycling baronet.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Energy and Climate Change questions, which will be followed by the weekly Business Statement from the Leader of the House, setting out what MPs will be considering when they return from their half-term break.

The day's main debates, chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, are on justice for Equitable Life policy-holders, where the motion notes that most people who lost out from the scandal have not been fully compensated, as recommended by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Next comes a debate on conservation of sea bass and the effect of related EU measures on the UK fishing industry - the Conservative MP Scott Mann believes that the latest regulations forbids anglers from catching sea bass with fishing lines, while still allowing them to be netted commercially.

And the day ends with an adjournment debate on the police handling of the Poppi Worthington case, the 13-months-old child who died in December 2012, led by the local MP, John Woodcock. He will be pressing for immediate official release of the leaked IPCC report, which criticises the now-acting chief constable and calling for an independent inquiry

In Westminster Hall (at 1.30pm) there's a Backbench Business Committee debate on the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan, led by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh. She is concerned about the rising hate speech in Pakistan against religious minorities, leading to a spate of murders and blasphemy prosecutions.

In the Lords (from 11am), the day's main legislating is on the second reading of the Armed Forces Bill. This is partly a constitutional measure, renewing the parliamentary approval required for the Army, Navy and Air Force to exist.

But it also includes measures to modernise and strengthen the service justice system, including powers for post-accident testing for alcohol and drugs, and a requirement for serious offences to be referred for prosecution rather than dealt with by a Commanding Officer, plus issues on battlefield legal immunity and human rights, and reservists. Will the question of war-crime allegations against British troops surface?

The final business is a motion to approve the Recall of MPs Act 2015 (Recall Petition) Regulations 2015 - the detailed workings of the new system that will allow voters to throw out errant MPs in certain very limited circumstances. There's a regret motion down from Labour's Baroness Hayter, but given that this is the last business on the last day before the Parliamentary half-term, it would be surprising if it was forced to a vote.