Week ahead

Peers in the House of Lords
Image caption Will peers cause problems for the government in the final week of the Westminster year?

With little legislating left, but for the loose ends of three bills, this week's parliamentary agenda has a distinct "make it up as we go along" feel to it - and the possibility that, once those loose ends are tied up, the last rites of prorogation could bring the Westminster year to an abrupt halt.

But a series of issues remain to be fought out, with factious alliances of Opposition and crossbench peers working out how far they can push amendments opposed in the Commons, as bills bounce between the Commons and Lords through the fabled process of parliamentary ping-pong.

Have the humiliations heaped upon them by peers finally exhausted the patience of the government? Conservative ministers are pretty angry about the handling of the Housing and Planning Bill, which delivers some of their key election promises from last May, which they see as a challenge to the "Salisbury Convention" rule under which unelected peers don't wreck manifesto commitments.

Will they strike back with a bill in the forthcoming Queen's Speech, designed to clip their lordships' wings? Peers will learn their answer to that question - in their own chamber - when Her Majesty opens the next session of Parliament on 18 May.

Also, note a couple of interesting sessions in the Treasury Committee's inquiry into Brexit, or as they put it, "the economic and financial costs and benefits of UK's EU membership" - first, with Matthew Elliott of Vote Leave, on Monday; then with the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on Wednesday.

Here's my rundown of the parliamentary week ahead:


The Commons meets (2.30pm) for Work and Pensions questions. And, as usual, any post-weekend urgent questions or ministerial statements will be taken at 3.30pm.

The main debate is on the proposal to close the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills offices in Sheffield - and on the wider issue of government departments outside London. A key speaker will be the Sheffield Labour MP Paul Blomfield, who has fought an effective guerrilla campaign against the plan. The debate was chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

Then MPs will deal with Lords amendments to those three outstanding bills....

First, the Energy Bill where the remaining issue in play is whether the government should fund a small number (four, apparently) of onshore wind power schemes which had been given outline planning permission, before the government turned off the funding tap, last year.

Then comes the Housing and Planning Bill - peers have batted back Commons objections to five amendments to the bill. First, is the issue of how the proposed new breed of starter homes fit into the planning system. The government wants 20% of the units in new developments to be starter homes - but critics, led by the formidable figure of Lord Kerslake, the crossbench peer and former top civil servant at the Department of Communities and Local Government, fear that this is "a one size fits all" approach, centred round an untested model for home ownership, which could crowd out rented social housing from those developments. The amendments sought to give local authorities more flexibility over the social and low-cost housing component of new developments.

The second issue is the replacement of high value council homes, which councils will be required to sell off as they become vacant, to help fund the drive for starter homes. The amendments demand a like-for-like replacement of such properties.

And there are three big planning issues: the Lords want neighbourhood planning forums to have a right to appeal against local council planning decisions, which cut across the neighbourhood plans the forums have drawn up - this would be quite a big rebalancing of the planning system. Then there's sustainable drainage; peers continue to support an amendment calling for new developments to be better able to handle floods. And third, there is the call by peers for rules which encourage carbon-neutral homes.

All of these were rejected by MPs, by big majorities. The Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, has declared the shop to be closed for further concessions - but on the Lords side they suspect further concessions may be on offer, so they will be studying the minister's speech in this debate very closely.

Barely pausing for breath, MPs then turn to Lords amendments on the Immigration Bill. Pressure from the Lords and rising disquiet on the Conservative benches have pushed ministers into a compromise over admitting an unspecified number of refugee children from Europe - once the Northern Ireland DUP had decided not to back ministers, it was clear that they might lose a Commons vote if they attempted to throw out the Lords amendment - the "Dubs Amendment" - on that issue.

But there are still unresolved disagreements on two other Lords amendments: on the detention of pregnant women and on imposing a 28 day cap on the time someone could be held in immigration detention. Again there are some Conservative MPs who're uncomfortable about some of these issues - keep an eye on the Conservative, David Burrowes, who was a leading player in the highly effective all-party inquiry into immigration detention, held in the last Parliament.

The adjournment debate - led by Eurosceptic usual suspect Christopher Chope - is on UK membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. Is this the start of the "punch the bruise" strategy promised by the pro-Brexit camp, to continually raise uncomfortable Euro-issues on the floor of the Commons?

Meanwhile, over in Westminster Hall (4.30pm- 7.30pm) there's a debate on an E-petition on the government's EU referendum leaflet This has attracted 218,489 signatures, and the government has responded that "the EU Referendum Act 2015 commits the government to provide information to the public on EU membership ahead of the vote, and that is what we will do".

The Conservative Paul Scully ringmasters events on behalf of the Commons Petitions Committee.

In the Lords (2.30pm) the usual half hour of questions to ministers is followed by a couple of debates on in-house organisational issues - which could turn into an unofficial hustings for the candidates to succeed Lady D'Souza as the Lord Speaker.

There's a report from the Lords' Procedure Committee on the ballot for oral question slots during recesses, on tabling questions and on the introduction of private members' bills, and there's the report of the Leader's Group on Governance which focuses on various internal issues around the control of in-house services.


The Commons opens early (9.30am) in what appears to be an attempt to provide enough room for manoeuvre to allow MPs another bout of ping-pong with the Lords, if required.

The day opens with Health questions, then the Conservative Craig Mackinlay presents a ten minute rule bill - the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment) Bill. This would change the law to allow councils to ban the live animal exports from ports that they own. He's reacting to events at the Thanet District Council-owned port of Ramsgate, in September 2012, where several sheep, which were due to be exported for slaughter, drowned and many others had to be destroyed.

Thanet District Council then attempted to ban the use of the port for live animal exports, which led to a protracted High Court action in which it was found in breach of the Harbours Act (1847) which allows free use to all of port facilities, and required to pay millions of pounds in compensation. There's an as yet unspecified Backbench Business Committee debate.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm-3pm) the Conservative Keith Simpson will lead a debate on the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission - which he says is the "unsung hero" of the World War I commemoration. Along with his fellow commissioner, Labour's Kevan Jones, they will point to the work to commemorate the battles of Jutland and the Somme, as well as to the work of staff who maintain war cemeteries, at home and abroad. The other debates are on housing in Newcastle (3pm-3.30pm) and on tenant farming (3.30pm- 4.30pm).

In the Lords (2.30pm) space has been left for peers to respond to the latest round of ping-pong in the Commons. Will they be prepared to go another round with MPs? Or will their normal inhibitions about pushing their luck against the elected House kick in? There may be some appetite to try again on the Affordable Homes and High Value Properties issues. But if everything is agreed, that could signal the end of the parliamentary year....


The Commons are due to meet (unless Parliament has already been prorogued) at 11.30am, when the first order of business is Scottish questions. At noon it's Prime Minister's question time.

The agenda allows for more Consideration of Lords amendments, if needed - including what are expected to be uncontroversial Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. And there's another as yet unspecified Backbench Business Committee debate. There's also the promise of an update from ministers on Syria.

There's also a full slate of Westminster Hall debates on: government support for domestic violence refuges (9.30am- 11am); powers of local government to charge for organised sporting events (11am -11.30am); the future of the UK steel industry (2.30pm-4pm); control and monitoring of building regulations (4pm-4.30pm) and the Northern Ireland economy (4.30-5.30pm).

In the Lords there are questions to ministers scheduled at 3pm - and then the agenda is clear.


The only action today may be the ceremony to prorogue Parliament until next week's State Opening.....in which case the timing will depend on the convenience of the senior peers who form a Royal Commission to act on behalf of the Sovereign. So expect a little doffing of cocked hats and a few incantations in Norman French from the clerks, and little more...

If there is any actual legislating it will be a sure sign that one of the remaining bills is in deep, deep trouble.

The schedule has the Commons meeting at 9.30am for Energy and Climate Change questions, and the Business Statement from the Leader of the House, Chris Grayling. And the Lords has its usual question time at 11am.