The week ahead in Parliament

Mark D'Arcy
Parliamentary correspondent

Published

Half of Parliament returns to action after the Christmas break, and half does not.

With the rules permitting a full virtual House, the Lords plough on with a decent week's legislation, while MPs extend their recess for a week.

One side-effect may be that peers enjoy the unusual privilege of hearing ministerial responses to any urgent developments, so expect a more generous ration of Private Notice Questions - the Lords' equivalent of the Commons' urgent question process.

With the government's Future Relationship Agreement with the EU now safely on the statute book, the published agenda suggests a staid start to 2021, but events, dear boy, events...

Tuesday 5 January

Despite extending its rules to allow virtual participation in all proceedings, the Commons has postponed its return for a week.

So there is no main chamber business - although a smattering of select committee hearings will take place.

First off, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (10:00) takes evidence on the future of UK music festivals from a series of music industry figures.

In the Lords (12:00) there's a full day's programme, starting with questions to ministers on their discussions with P&O Ferries about proposals to discontinue the Hull-Zeebrugge passenger service, the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity on the future of obesity services, and on plans to implement the Law Commission's recommendations to reform leasehold home ownership.

The main event is the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill - as I write, 72 peers are down to speak. The bill introduces a new definition of domestic abuse, extra protection for victims and witnesses in court, and removes the so-called "rough sex" defence - so that consent to offences involving violent or abusive behaviour is not a defence.

The bill received cross-party support in the Commons, but there are some issues outstanding, around the status of carers, the duty on councils to support victims and the position of domestic abuse survivors who have no recourse to public funds.

Wednesday 6 January

The Commons chamber may be empty but there's plenty of action on the Committee Corridor, where the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union (formerly the Brexit Committee) takes expert evidence on the government's Future Relationship Agreement (09:30).

Work and Pensions (09:30) looks back at the coalition-era pension reforms and protecting pension savers from scams.

image copyrightHS2
image captionMPs look at the likely impact of HS2

Transport (09:30) has the second of the its six-monthly oral evidence sessions on the progress of the High Speed Two (HS2), with Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson, top executives from HS2 Ltd, the government and other witnesses.

They will look at the impact of the pandemic on the strategic and economic case for HS2, as well as whether the project will be delivered on time and on budget. There will also be questions on improving engagement and treatment of communities, and plans for future works and schemes for rail improvements in the Midlands and the North.

Treasury (14:30) has a session on the latest Bank of England Financial Stability Report with the governor, Andrew Bailey, and senior colleagues.

In the Lords (12:00) question time ranges across improving the capacity of family courts and support for divorce litigants, the effectiveness of the Green Homes Grant scheme and financial support for UK religious groups during the pandemic

Then peers continue report stage consideration of the Trade Bill, where the focus will be on the system for ratifying trade arrangements.

There's a cross-party amendment, fronted by Labour former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain, to require the government to declare that its new Future Relationship Agreement is compatible with the promises made in the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement.

There's another new cross-party clause, led by Labour's Lord Grantchester, to maintain UK standards on labour laws, human rights, food safety and the environment, and ensure animal welfare cannot be undercut by imports produced to lower standards.

The Green Party's Baroness Jones has a similar proposal. And Labour's Lord Stevenson revisits earlier battles during the passage of the UK Internal Market Bill, over the role of devolved governments, with an amendment requiring ministers to seek their consent.

Thursday 7 January

There's some high-powered constitutional discussion as the special Joint Committee reviewing the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (11:10) hears from Baroness Hale of Richmond, who presided when the Supreme Court quashed the 2019 attempt to prorogue Parliament, and another former Supreme Court Justice, Lord Sumption.

In the Lords (12:00) ministers field questions on appointing a cabinet-level minister for the welfare of children, supporting leaseholders who cannot sell or mortgage their properties because of issues with cladding and the cost to taxpayers of problem gambling.

Then, peers have a chance to consider regulations, brought in in England on 14 December, which reduced the Covid self-isolation period from 14 days to 10.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe UK's airspace is set for an overhaul

After that, they turn to the detail of the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. The UK has some the busiest and most complex airspace in the world and the system for managing it has not seen significant change since the 1950s.

The bill also brings in new regulations for drones, including police powers to investigate the identity of those piloting them.

Friday 8 January

This was supposed to be a private members' bill day in the Commons, but those debates have, once again, been postponed, with the bills on the Order Paper rescheduled for 15 January.

The timing is beginning to look tight for all but the top few bills to clear the Commons and the Lords, before the end of what is already quite a long parliamentary session.

The end date has not been set - but one possibility is a prorogation in advance of the May elections, followed by a State Opening later in the month - so any private members' bills not passed by both Houses before the music stops will be lost.

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