Week ahead in Parliament
Parliament enjoys a sort of semi half-term next week, with MPs away; but their lordships are still in session and grappling with the detail of several important bills. The week after, peers take a break and MPs return. Some cynics have suggested that the timing has something to do with conditions at certain skiing resorts. I couldn't possibly comment.
But whatever the reasoning behind this bizarre timetabling, a swift glance at the business below will reveal plenty of important work to be done in the gilded splendours of the Upper House.
Monday begins with the normal question time where the subjects to be raised include care for people who have suffered strokes, and elections in Zimbabwe. Then it's on to the first of several big battles this week - day two of the Health and Social Care Bill report stage.
Expect at least two votes - on the crossbencher Lord Patel's amendment on health education, and on the crossbencher Lady Massam's amendment imposing a "duty of candour", making the health secretary responsible for ensuring openness to next of kin if a patient dies of suffers some harm as a consequence of their treatment.
There's also a short debate on the policy for prosecutors in cases of assisted suicide. There are moves in the Commons to debate whether Parliament should change the law, rather than simply have a relaxation of the law in some circumstances made by a policy change by the director of public prosecutions.
There are also hearings from three of the Lords EU scrutiny committees - covering freshwater policy, the unified patents court and the proposed financial transactions tax.
Tuesday's business (from 2.30pm) opens with questions on "honour-related" violence in the UK and citizenship education. Then it's on to "ping-pong" - the consideration of MPs' response to the considerable number of amendments made to the Welfare Reform Bill in the Lords.
MPs, you'll remember, flatly rejected them on the basis that they contained public spending commitments which were the territory of the Commons, not the Lords. There are (count them) seven potential flashpoints…on disabled children, on housing benefit where a home is under-occupied, on Employment Support Allowance for cancer patients, on time-limiting ESA, on youth conditions, on benefit capping, and on child maintenance. How many of these are forced to a vote will depend on behind-the-scenes negotiations between dissident peers and ministers. I imagine the phone lines will be humming over the weekend. But it may well be that a new set of amendments are sent back across Westminster for MPs to ponder.
Then it's on to the committee stage of the Scotland Bill, which gives extra taxation powers to the Scottish parliament. Also at issue: the evolution of powers over speed limits and blood alcohol levels in drivers.
Meanwhile, an EU scrutiny committee has a hearing on the EU financial framework for 2014.
The hits keep on coming on Wednesday (from 3pm). Question time ranges over the government's projections for the budget deficit and policy towards economic growth… and then it's onto the detail of the Protection of Freedoms Bill with the third and final day of report stage. Then, barely pausing for breath, they move on to conclude committee stage consideration of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Both these debates are extra time added on, as the Lords debating programme edges towards overload.
And Labour's Baroness Taylor of Bolton leads a short debate on the health risk of PPD in hair dyes and cosmetics.
Things quieten down on Thursday (from 11am) when, after questions on fuel poverty, the legal status of gypsies and the number of investigations into female genital mutilation, peers move on to debate "recent developments in the European Union". I suspect they will find plenty to talk about.
And after that they're off till Monday 27 February.