What's happening in Parliament this week?

Mark D'Arcy
Parliamentary correspondent

  • Published
The Houses of ParliamentImage source, Reuters

It's going to be a testing week for the government and the prime minister - with Boris Johnson facing a statement to MPs on his string of international summits, and what promises to be an awkward PMQs.

And there's his appearance on Wednesday before the Liaison Committee, the super-committee of select committee chairs, with the focus on the impact of the war in Ukraine on the UK, the government's response to the rising cost of living, integrity in politics and the rule of law.

There will also be some new faces in the government, after the post-by-election departure of Conservative party co-chair Oliver Dowden and the abrupt resignation of Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher.

Kelly Tolhurst is the new deputy chief whip - a vital cog in any government's parliamentary machine, marshalling the troops and heading off rebellions - and that role is critical given the visible disaffection of many Tory MPs and the number of difficult votes to come.

Image source, PA Media

Mr Pincher was a highly effective operator in the whips' office - and Ms Tolhurst will need to be too.

In that context, the pre-summer parliamentary calendar is beginning to look a little congested. In the next few weeks the Commons will polish off the details of the Northern Ireland Legacy and Reconciliation Bill (with its controversial proposals for immunity from prosecution for those who co-operate in revealing the truth of historical violence). And later the whole House yomps through three committee stage days and a day of report on the even more contentious Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

This could get interesting because there might just be a majority for a well-designed non-government amendment - but ministers clearly want the bill through the Commons before the summer recess begins on 21 July.

Meanwhile their lordships have the far from uncontroversial Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill. And lurking in the background is the prospect of spending legislation to keep government in Northern Ireland ticking over in the continuing absence of the devolved institutions.

On top of that there's fast-track legislation due to implement the government's windfall tax on energy companies. Nerd point: this will be introduced via a "ways and means resolution", to be voted on, on Tuesday, paving the way for the actual bill to be considered on Monday 8 July.

Image source, PACEMAKER

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:

On Monday expect the usual post-weekend batch of government statements and urgent questions, quite possibly including the PM reporting back on his travels. The main business is detailed scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Troubles Legacy and Reconciliation Bill.

There's an intriguing adjournment debate led by Conservative Alexander Stafford, who will argue for more teaching of English medieval history in schools - he says pupils are more likely to learn about Martin Luther King than Alfred the Great.

Assisted dying

In Westminster Hall, there's what may prove to be a significant Petitions Committee debate, on e-petition 604383, which urges the government to bring forward legislation to allow assisted dying for adults who are terminally ill and have mental capacity. Supporters will be hoping to show that the balance of opinion in Parliament has tilted their way since the defeat of Rob Marris's private member's bill in 2015 - and pushing for a route to take the issue forward, perhaps via a health select committee inquiry.

The main debates on Tuesday and Wednesday are on Estimates Day motions to approve government spending. In theory this is how the Commons keeps control of the public purse strings; in practice MPs debate a series of select committee reports chosen by the Liaison Committee, and the actual votes to approve spending are pretty much a ritual rubber stamping of the government's plans.

Tuesday's subjects are the Department for Work and Pensions' spending on cost of living measures, supporting the Welsh economy, and the spending of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on climate change and decarbonisation.

Wednesday's debates will be on Department for Education spending (Education Committee Chair Robert Halfon will raise concerns about the 100,000 "ghost children" who've disappeared from schools in England since the start of the pandemic) and on Foreign Office spending on international development.

Online safety

Thursday opens with Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions - listen carefully for the tone of questions about the government's landmark attempt to regulate the internet, the Online Safety Bill. It's facing a difficult report stage, caught between MPs who regard the bill as unworkable and inimical to free speech, and others who think it does not go far enough. Day one of that report stage is pencilled in for Tuesday 12 July.

The main debates will be on Backbench Business Committee motions on resources for enforcement of the Economic Crime Act and a general debate on alcohol taxation, feeding into a current government review.

Committee highlights include the Housing Minister Eddie Hughes before the Levelling Up Committee (Monday) in its inquiry into exempt accommodation (accommodation for homeless people, abuse victims, prison leavers and recovering addicts). There are concerns about standards of accommodation, and with the senior Conservative on the committee Bob Blackman promising a private member's bill to regulate the sector, the evidence will doubtless feed into his his proposed new law.

Defence (Tuesday) questions Secretary of State Ben Wallace on the recommendations of its report, We're going to need a bigger Navy.

Public Accounts (Wednesday) has recalled civil servants from the Levelling Up department to talk about a range of housing issues from cladding to house-building targets. These recalls normally betray some unhappiness with earlier answers.

Lords hours

In the Lords, peers have their share of the current spate of Northern Ireland legislation, with report stage consideration of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill on Wednesday. Fresh from forcing a substantial rewrite of the Schools Bill, to stop a "power grab" over the running of academies, peers may be in assertive mood.

There's also a debate on whether to change their lordships' sitting hours so that they sit at 13:00 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, normally rising by 20:30. At the moment they open at 14:30 on Tuesdays and 15:00 on Wednesdays - a relic of the days when the Law Lords delivered their judgements in the chamber on a Wednesday afternoon.

The vote won't be whipped and it looks hard to call, with most Conservatives apparently against, most Lib Dems for, and a spectrum of views across the Labour and crossbench groups.

The continuing parliamentary interest around river pollution resurfaces with a debate on the impacts of sewage disposal rates in UK rivers and the responsibility of water companies to alleviate these impacts, led by Lib Dem Lord Oates.

And the Upper House private member's bill season opens (Friday) with second reading debates on five bills proposed by individual peers - Green Party peer Baroness Jones's Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill; Conservative Lord Farmer's Front-loaded Child Benefit Bill (an interesting proposal to enable parents to receive a higher rate during a child's early years and a reduced rate later on); the Bishop of Durham's Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill; Lib Dem Baroness Ludford's Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill; and independent peer Lord Mann's Local Authority (Housing Allocation) Bill, which would scrap nationally set targets for house-building in each council area.