- 20 January 2013
- From the section UK Politics
Next week sees some high-temperature business in the Commons, with the spotlight firmly on the second reading debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill, which will end the priority given to male heirs to the throne, so that a younger son will no longer inherit ahead of an older daughter.
It will also abolish the provisions, dating back to the 17th Century, which removed from the line of succession anyone who marries a Roman Catholic. And it will also end the requirement for most members of the Royal Family to obtain the permission of the Queen before they marry.
All three objectives seemed pretty uncontroversial acts of modernisation when they were first proposed, but there are now concerns about the implications of allowing potential future heads of the Church of England to marry a Catholic...and there are gripes that the bill has been brought in with too little discussion and that too little time has been allowed for debate.
Labour awkward squaddie Paul Flynn has put down an amendment calling for a referendum on the future of the monarchy to be held "on the next demise of the Crown". And he's followed that up with a proposal that, should a future monarch join a civil partnership, any child of that partnership, whether by adoption or artificial insemination, should be the heir to the throne. The Conservative, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has a series of amendments which would allow a Roman Catholic to become King or Queen, but would then transfer the role of Head of the Church to a Regent, under the terms of the 1937 Regency Act.
Since the second reading and the ensuing committee of the whole house are to take place on Tuesday, this could be a pretty interesting occasion, from a number of points of view. But the government, in the form of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is likely to resist any substantive amendments, because the terms of the bill have had to be worked out in close collaboration with the other Commonwealth countries who have the Queen as their head of state.
Here's the rundown of the rest of the week's Commons and Lords business:
On Monday, MPs convene at 2.30pm for an hour of Education questions, and, assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions - and an update on the Algerian hostage crisis must be likely - they then turn to the committee of the whole house and third reading of the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill. This is the measure which will limit the increase in most working-age benefits to 1% per year, as part of the government's deficit reduction strategy. It does not cover the state pension. The debate on this bill at second reading was pretty bitter, and the committee stage could provide a re-run...
There are amendments down from Labour to strike out the 1% limit, link any changes to a job guarantee for those unemployed for more than two years, and to the top rate of income tax. Interestingly there's also an amendment from a group of 10 Lib Dem backbenchers, including the former party leader, Charles Kennedy to replace the 1% with the formula "the percentage by which the general level of earnings is greater at the end of the period under review in that tax year under section 150(2) of the Social Security Administration Bill 1992, than it was at the beginning of that period" - in other words an earnings link, so benefits don't rise faster than general earnings. This could be quite a major convulsion for the Lib Dems...
In the Lords, peers canter through a couple of bills related to EU treaties and then move onto the Public Service Pensions Bill. Debate on this measure, which makes some sweeping changes to public sector pensions arrangements, has been almost startlingly low-key. And there's also a short debate led by the independent peer Lord Alton, on the humanitarian situation in Korea.
On Tuesday the Commons meets at 11.30am for Foreign Office questions, and before MPs move on to the Succession Bill (see above) there's a Ten Minute Rule Bill from the Conservative Gareth Johnson, who wants prosecutors to be able to appeal against sentences believed to be too lenient, in a greater range of cases. The present rules don't allow such appeals in some sexual offences, and some serious assaults. Burglary or dangerous driving cannot currently be subject to a prosecution appeal, even where a prosecutor believes that the sentence was too lenient. The government response will be worth watching.
Over in Westminster Hall there will be a series of backbench debates...my eye was caught by one led by the indefatigable Conservative backbencher Robert Halfon. Fresh from his triumphs on keeping fuel duty down, Mr Halfon is pushing the case for the reintroduction of the 10p income tax rate for earnings under £12,000. He argues that this will be cheaper to implement that the current Coalition policy of raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, and would not have to be paid for by increasing taxes elsewhere.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) peers launch into the first of five committee stage days devoted to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Labour have attacked this a "a hotchpotch of planning measures" and have pointed to the fact that the Coalition lead in the debate is Communities Minister Lady Hanham, not the newly-ennobled Lord Deighton, who was brought into the Treasury as Infrastructure Minister.
Expect a lot of criticism of the bill's provisions which weaken local authorities' ability to extract "planning gains" from developers, under what are known as Section 106 Agreements. And expect an attempt to remove the provisions allowing employees to trade in employment rights for shares.
On Wednesday (at 11.30am) business begins with Northern Ireland questions - a much more charged occasion in recent months. And then it's the weekly face-off between David Cameron and Ed Miliband at prime minister's questions. After that, the Labour backbencher Alan Whitehead has a Ten Minute Rule Bill, to allow residents in bedsitland - houses is multiple occupation - to benefit from the Energy Act's schemes to increase energy efficiency. A total of 105 MPs from across the parties have signed Early Day Motion 841, which supports this idea.
The main business is Opposition Day debates on subjects to be announced - and at the end of proceedings, the Labour former Cabinet minister Hazel Blears has an adjournment debate on "Access to postgraduate study and Oxford University".
In the Lords (from 3pm) peers bid a less than fond farewell to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill - the measure which had Conservative and Lib Dem ministers voting in opposing lobbies for the first time, last week. Will the Conservatives attempt a last minute ambush to reverse the stinging defeat they suffered in the vote to postpone the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries? This will be their last chance in the Lords, but given the size of the majority against them last week, it may not be worth the bother...
Thursday's opening Commons business (at 9.30am) is Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, where the central issue will be just how many horse-related puns can be crowbarred into a 45 minute question time. That's followed by short sessions with questions to the MPs who speak in the House on behalf of the Electoral Commission, the Public Accounts Commission and Church Commissioners. Watch out for more sparring about that parliamentary boundaries issue, women bishops, gay marriage and tax avoidance.
After the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, has laid out what MPs will be doing next week, they'll turn to two debates on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee. First up is a debate led by the Lib Dem backbencher Stephen Williams on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16...this is a cause Mr Williams has pursued for some years - he put a bill to the House in November 2005 - and with the Scottish government pressing for 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the forthcoming independence referendum, Mr Williams and his cross party supporters clearly scent an opportunity.
Then there's a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day, as near as had been possible to 27 January, the date on which the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated from the Nazis. Twenty-two MPs spoke at the debate last year, and it is likely more will want to speak, given concerns about increasing anti-semitism.
In the Lords, (from 11am) peers will also be concentration on subjects chosen by backbenchers: the role of communities, the arts and creative industries in delivering the Olympic legacy; the prospects for multilateral nuclear disarmament and a European Union Committee report on the European Banking Union.
The Lords will not be sitting on Friday, but MPs will be in action to debate quite a list of private members' bills. First on the agenda is the Conservative Matthew Hancock's Offshore Gambling Bill, which aims to deal with what he sees as the unfair advantage Internet bookies have over competitors based in the UK. The bill will bring about a new 'point of consumption' approach to gambling licensing. Nineteen of the 20 largest bookmakers currently operate their online businesses from offshore, avoiding up to £300m per year in tax, UK consumer protections laws and tens of millions in levy contributions, contributing significantly to a steep decline in racing's funding.
The complication is that Mr Hancock, whose constituency includes the Newmarket race course, was made a Treasury minister last autumn, and there is some debate about whether another MP can take the bill forward....his colleague Anne Macintosh has volunteered.
If that bill makes it to the finishing post, it will be followed by several others presented by MPs who made the supreme sacrifice of spending a night in the public bill office to be first in the queue for the right to present legislation (behind the winners of the annual Commons ballot, that is).
Green MP Caroline Lucas has a bill on energy contracts for micro-businesses, Lib Dem Julian Huppert has his Local Services (Planning) Bill, and, lurking down the batting order is the House of Lords (Cessation of Membership) Bill, the Commons incarnation of the Steel Bill, the measure to allow peers convicted of serious offences to be expelled from the Upper House, or to retire. Nick Clegg's against what he sees as a micro-reform, but the Conservative, Eleanor Laing, an accomplished Clegg-baiter, has picked the bill up, and will try very hard to get some kind of debate, or maybe inveigle the whips into allowing it a formal second reading. Watch carefully at 2.30pm to see if they intone the ritual incantation of "object" to kill its prospects, or whether they unaccountably forget to do so...