- 30 November 2012
- From the section UK Politics
It's an action-packed week in Parliament, next week, with two big set-piece events in the Commons, and plenty of significant activity in the Lords and on the committee corridor.
On Monday the Commons convenes at 2.30pm for Education questions, where it's possible, indeed probable, that the subsequent debate on the Leveson Report may encroach, because the education secretary has emerged as the major cabinet critic of Lord Leveson.
And the Leveson debate could well see the emergence of a Commons majority in favour of a brisk move to legislation on press standards, with an unusual - indeed extraordinary - display of heavy petting between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Thursday's Commons statements on the Leveson report saw an unprecedented outbreak of cordiality towards Nick Clegg from Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman - the full day's debate could see even more. Especially if any hints are dropped about pushing through a bill in the teeth of resistance from David Cameron. Finding a mechanism to do this may be tricky - they might have to wait for a private member's bill in the next parliamentary year, starting in May 2013 - but it will be worth studying the exact language used by the top Lib Dems very closely.
The day ends with an adjournment debate on the prosecution of offences of sexual abuse - Conservative Gary Streeter wants to raise the way historic abuse allegations were handled by the Crown Prosecution Service. The Solicitor-General, Oliver Heald will reply.
On the committee corridor, the big event of the day is the Parliamentary Banking Commission's session with another senior City figure, the former boss of HBOS and the Financial Services Authority, Sir James Crosby at (3.30pm) and Andrew Hornby (at 5.30pm). Elsewhere, the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) looks at the expansion of the Academies Programme, based on this NAO report which looks at the financial implications of the rapid expansion of academies under the coalition. The witnesses include Rachel Wolf, the director of the New Schools Network and Chris Wormald, the permanent secretary of the Department for Education.
The Transport Committee (at 4.05pm) looks at Air Passenger Duty, potential new runways and other aviation strategy concerns, with a series of industry witnesses and campaigners against airport expansion. And the Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.10pm) continues its inquiry into the new role of the local authorities in health issues, with senior councillors.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) question time ranges across the impact on public protection of the reduction in police numbers, whether a pre-emptive military strike on Iran would violate international law and government priorities for the December meeting of the European Council.
Then, peers will be asked to give final approval to a series of bills designed to give local councils in Canterbury, Leeds, Nottingham and Reading new powers to block illegal street trading by pedlars. These are a very big deal in the areas concerned - this was Canterbury MP Julian Brazier commenting on why the bill mattered to his constituents objectives:
Then, watch out for a spat over the Draft Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) Order 2012. The rather lumbering title of this debate should not disguise what promises to be a pretty sharp passage of arms - Labour's Lord Bach has taken the unusual step of putting down a Motion to "decline to approve".
His objection is that he does not believe the proposals measure up to assurances given during debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill about access to legal advice (not full representation) for people challenging rulings about their benefit entitlement. He's particularly worried about the position of disabled people making their initial appeal against a decision. We're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing. Much of the detail about the working of the benefits system, the operation of the NHS and - in due course - the new safeguards to the banking system will be filled out through regulations of this kind. And it may be the system for processing them will buckle under the strain.
There are also two short debates - first, on the UN Resolution on the status of Palestine and on the efficacy of the regulation of the legal profession.
On Tuesday, (from 11.30am) MPs begin with questions to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and then there's a Ten Minute Rule Bill from Conservative backbencher Richard Bacon, best known for his interrogations at Public Accounts Committee hearings, calling for the repeal of the Human Rights Act, which requires the UK courts to take the European Convention on Human Rights into account.
Mr Bacon argues this has resulted in laws, not just administration, being measured against the ECHR - which he says is a transfer of power to unelected judges "at the expense of the elected House of Commons, and of common sense". He wants the Act repealed and the UK to derogate from the Strasbourg court, while relations are rethought" and the European court judges are put back in their box". This should be a pretty robust speech.
Then MPs turn to the Public Service Pensions Bill - where they will deal with both the report stage and third reading. The bill aims to reduce public service pension costs by around half, with public sector workers moved from final salary schemes to career average pension schemes, with pensionable aged linked to their state pension age, except for the Armed Forces, police officers and firefighters.
That is followed by a motion to appoint new members to the board of IPSA, the MPs' standards watchdog. This follows the decision of several board members not to go through a re-appointment process, and allegations that the Speaker is attempting to take control, because MPs are chafing under IPSA's gentle ministrations.
Over in Westminster Hall (from 2.30pm - 4pm) there's a debate on gangs and youth violence: lessons from the August 2011 riots, led by Labour's Karen Buck.
Topping the bill on the committee corridor is the ebullient Energy Minister John Hayes, who appears before the Energy and Climate Change Committee at 4pm. They will be keen to discover if, as a trenchant critic of onshore wind power, he backs his own department's new bill incentivising wind farms and new nuclear? Energy policy is also the focus at the Environmental Audit Committee (at 4.40pm) which will quiz Business Minister Michael Fallon about whether energy intensive industries should be given a generous new compensation scheme to cope with their higher energy bills, especially while domestic consumers are left to squirm.
The Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15am) deals with another facet of climate change as it hears from scientists and academics about the government's approach to the effects of global warming in the oceans (for example, temperature changes and acidification). Meanwhile the Justice Committee ventures further afield, to the senate chamber at Stormont Castle, to hear from Northern Ireland agencies about youth justice and the number of young people in custody (at 2.15pm). Margaret Mountford, who once starred on The Apprentice, is a witness at the Business Innovation and Skills Committee (at 9.30am) as they continue their investigation into women and the workplace. She's joined by Marie O'Riorden, the UK editor of Marie Claire, and Heather Rabbatts of the FA.
In the Lords, (from 2.30pm) questions cover the prevention of illegal abortion operations and the operation and turnout of the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. Peers will then take their final look at the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill - which gives prisons powers to block mobile phone signals within their walls, thus preventing inmates from unauthorised communications with the outside world. The bill is being piloted through the Upper House by the convenor of the crossbench or independent peers, Lord Laming.
But the day's main event will be the second day of report stage debate on Crime and Courts Bill. The government has already been defeated on this bill, and, ominously for their whips, the crossbench peer Lord Pannick has fired off another fusillade of amendments. Some, like the proposal to abolish the ancient offence of scandalising the judiciary, have government support. But he also wants to impose a new duty to promote diversity in judicial appointments on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.
And Lord Ramsbotham, the former Inspector of Prisons, has another amendment down requiring support for young prisoners. Both will bear watching - and anything involving Lord Pannick seems to attract sufficient cross-party support to defeat the government, unless he is placated with suitable concessions. His phone may be busy this weekend.
The day's short debate is on the Future Homes Commission report Building the Homes and Communities Britain Needs. This looks at the need to build enough homes to meet cater for a growing and ageing population. From 2009 to 2010, only 115,000 new-builds were completed in England - fewer than any year in peace time since the 1920s and nearly a quarter of a million homes in England have stood empty for more than six months. The debate is led by Labour's Baroness Whitaker.
For once PMQs is not the main event on a Commons Wednesday. MPs convene at 11.30am for Northern Ireland questions, and PMQs follows at noon. But it will be a mere appetizer - because after a brief interlude for a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Internships (Advertising and Regulation) from Labour ex-minister, Hazel Blears, the Chancellor George Osborne presents his Autumn Statement - complete with projections for economic growth, public borrowing and the level of austerity the nation can expect in coming years. This will be a huge set-piece occasion and Labour can be expected to launch a major offensive against the government's economic strategy.
The ensuing battles will take up much of the day, but MPs will also be asked to rush a short bill, the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill, through all its stages of Commons consideration, in what remains of the day, and send it forth to the Lords. The bill is intended to beef up the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to conduct its new inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. It will deal with the double jeopardy issues involved in re-investigating something the predecessor body, the Police Complaints Authority, has already looked at. And it will also give the IPCC powers to compel serving police officers to attend.
There's a fair amount of action on the committee corridor too. Is acidification of the oceans, caused by excessive carbon dioxide emissions, as big a problem as climate change? The Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15am) hears from marine scientists and academics. The Public Administration Committee (at 9.30am) continues its inquiry into strategic thinking in government, with evidence from the former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine, who recently published a report on strategy for economic growth.
The Health Committee (at 9.30am) has a pre-appointment hearing with David Prior, preferred candidate for chair of the frequently-monstered watchdog body, the Care Quality Commission and the Education Committee (at 10.15am) quizzes the Education Secretary Michael Gove on Key Stage 4 exams. The super-committee on the National Security Strategy (at 10.30am) continues its inquiry into what the strategy actually is. Answering that basic question is Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Later in the afternoon the head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the General Staff, is before the Defence Committee (at 2.30pm) to talk about its future under the Future Army 2020 policy.
And finally, the Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon will share his thoughts on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (at 3pm).
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions cover the national adult autism strategy and rural employment in the UK - and then peers move on to the final stage of consideration of the Financial Services Bill. Here, the key thing to watch for is the government's response to this week's amendment on curbing excessive interest charges on payday loans. Labour peer Parry Mitchell withdrew his amendment on the issue on a promise of government action and there will be great interest in what the Treasury Minister, Lord Sassoon, has to say. And later peers will debate the report of their European Union Committee on EU Freshwater Policy. The report warns that urgent action is required to safeguard water quality and availability in the UK. And that will mean the cost of water will have to increase, where other measures to tackle water scarcity, like metering, have failed. This could be the emergence of an issue which will cause much parliamentary angst, as it begins to bite.
There's a slightly morning-after-the-night-before flavour to Thursday. A bleary-eyed Commons meets at 9.30am for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, and shorter question time sessions with the MPs who speak for the Church Commissioners, the Public Accounts Commission and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. Watch out for questions to Tony Baldry, who represents the Church Commissioners, to keep up parliamentary pressure over women bishops.
Then the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, delivers his weekly statement on forthcoming Commons business. After that, the Backbench Business Committee takes over. The rescheduled debate on the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin is the first backbench debate (there will be a parallel debate in the Lords) and that's followed by one on defence personnel - a subject continued in the adjournment debate on the psychological welfare of ex-service personnel - an issue raised by Labour's Jim Sheridan.
Meanwhile in Westminster Hall (from 1.30pm - 4.30pm) the subject for debate is fisheries. The fisheries debate used to be one of the annual set-piece Commons debates, but is now scheduled on merit by the Backbench Business Committee, rather than being an automatic part of the Commons calendar.
Committee business is, as usual on a Thursday, fairly light. The Public Accounts Committee (at 9.45am), fresh from duffing up big multinational companies over tax avoidance, turns its attention to tackling marketed avoidance schemes - based on this National Audit Office report which calls for more effective action against the most aggressive tax avoidance schemes. The witnesses include Lin Homer, the Permanent Secretary of HM Revenue and Customs - who can expect some tough criticism of her annual accounts in a report the PAC is due to publish on Monday.
At 10am, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has what may be the platonic ideal of a select committee hearing. To aid it in pondering the "impact and effectiveness of ministerial reshuffles" it has summoned Lord Turnbull, the former Cabinet Secretary and former minister, reshuffle victim and diarist Chris Mullin.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (at 11am) will have its second graduate of reality TV before it this week, when it hears from Dragons Den panellist Hilary Devey and Civil Service Commissioner Sir David Normington about women in the workplace. Appropriately enough, they're meeting in the Thatcher Room.
In the Lords, peers gather at 11am for question time. Ministers will be asked about the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council and the Department of Health's unspent budget for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 financial years, and on reconfiguration of NHS hospital services.
Then there are three short debates led by backbench peers - on the UK's global role, emerging powers and new markets; the contribution made by the Ugandan Asian community in the UK, and on Lord Heseltine's recent report No Stone Unturned In Pursuit of Growth, led by the man himself.
On Friday - neither House is sitting.