Week ahead at Westminster

It's a quiet legislating week in the Commons (you never know what will come up in statements or urgent questions... "events, dear boy...") and many MPs may only turn up in Westminster on Tuesday and Wednesday, dodging the light-ish business on Monday and Thursday, altogether.

Even 18 months out from an election, many are already keen to spend more time in their constituencies, and at the moment there's not much to lure them into the chamber.

It's rather different over in the Lords, where peers have already celebrated the New Year by defeating the government by a majority of 128 on the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

The amendment, proposed by former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Lord Dear, voted to maintain the existing definition of anti-social behaviour and prevent it being widened to conduct that is "capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person".

In effect this toughened-up the criteria for issuing the new Ipna injunctions which are intended to replace the Labour Government's Asbos, arguing that the government's version could undermine freedom of speech.

With a strong crossbench turnout against the government (89 votes) plus 25 Tory rebels adding to the massed ranks of Labour peers, it could be a sign of things to come, as the House continues the report stage of that bill and embarks on report for the even more controversial Transparency of Lobbying (etc) Bill.

Here's my rundown of the week in detail:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for work and pensions questions.

Then (assuming no statements or urgent questions - which there often are on a Monday) MPs will deal with the second reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill.

Despite the toxic initials "EU" in the title, this measure is pretty small beer - approving EU Council decisions on the archiving of documents from EU agencies and the revamp of the "Europe for Citizens" programme which aims to improve the way citizens can participate in and contribute to EU matters, by "strengthening remembrance and common values, and encouraging a broader engagement and debate."

After that, it's on to a backbench motion calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the impact of the government's welfare reforms on poverty, with Labour's Michael Meacher and the Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley leading the discussion.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across payment protection insurance repayments, the impact of changes to business rates on high street traders, changes to the operation of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal system, and progress in EU free trade agreements.

After that peers move on to the first of two report-stage days on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Faced with strong opposition to the Bill's provisions to curb campaigning by non-party organisations like pressure groups, charities and unions, during election periods, the government, in the shape of the Lib Dem deputy leader of the House, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is in concession mode.

What most of the critics want is for charities to be exempted from this whole section of the bill, on the argument that the Charities Commission is already supposed to stop them engaging in direct political campaigning - which would defuse much of the opposition.

There is much chuntering that this would leave the League Against Cruel Sports (a charity) free to press the case against hunting, while the Countryside Alliance (a non-charity) would still be fettered, and, I'm told its concerns along these lines that have persuaded Downing Street not to exclude them from the bill.

The government's latest proposals go some way to meeting the concerns of the charities - Oxfam's verdict on the latest amendments was: "We're pleased ministers have stepped back from the brink and promised to significantly reduce the bill's chilling effect on democracy.

"But while today's changes address many of our fears, unworkable limits on constituency spending and the requirement to account for staff costs will still unduly restrict the ability of charities and others to speak out on issues of legitimate concern."

A cross-party alliance of peers may now seek to amend the bill further, in the teeth of ministerial objections.

Watch this space.

Finally, there will be a short-ish second reading debate on the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill - a technical measure changing the rules for bodies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act on the recommendation of the Law Commission.


The Commons sits at 11.30am for health questions, which will be followed by a ten minute rule bill on the registration of stillbirths - from the former Children's minister Tim Loughton - an area he has regularly raised in Commons questions, because of concerns that warning signs are being missed and that official figures are inadequate.

After that MPs turn to their only serious legislating this week - the report stage and third reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill.

Some contentious issues will be aired: a group of Labour (and some Lib Dem) MPs have new clauses down.

First there's one on Probation Service reform, requiring parliamentary approval for further changes -

I'm a bit confused by this because I thought this has been passed at report stage in the Lords on an amendment by Lord Ramsbotham.

There's another new clause on the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel requiring the Justice Secretary to consult on measures to improve rehabilitation services for ex-service personnel who have been convicted of a criminal offence, and yet another to establish a pilot scheme enabling courts to include a veterans' rehabilitation requirement in a community order.

A double act of Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd and Labour backbencher John McDonnell have a series of new clauses covering a ban on further competitive tendering for probation services until a review of the prison services' ability to implement the Transforming Rehabilitation Strategy has been conducted, domestic violence programmes, and the annual reporting of reconviction rates.

Finally, the Labour MP Graham Stringer will use the day's adjournment debate to raise the case of Beth Schlesinger, who is engaged in a custody battle in Austria with her ex-husband, over their two children.

Over in Westminster Hall (from 9.30am) there's a Backbench Business Committee debate on economic effects of the High Speed 2 rail scheme, led by the Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, and my eye was also caught by the 4pm - 4.30pm debate on options for the new Lower Thames Crossing - led by Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price .

In the Lords (2.30pm) ministers will face questions on persuading fast food chains to sign up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal pledge, the new computer system at National Savings and Investments and access to essential services in NHS England.

The main legislating is the second Report Stage day devoted to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Labour baronesses Gale and Donaghy have a new clause down on dog control notices: "Where an authorised officer has reasonable cause to believe that a dog is not under sufficient control and requires greater control in any place, as a preventative measure to protect the public, the dog itself, or another protected animal, he or she may serve on the owner, and if different, person for the time being in charge of the dog a written control notice."

Baroness Smith of Basildon and Lord Rosser are moving an amendment on firearms licencing, which would require chief police officers to ensure that a range of background checks are performed.

Any "substantial violent conduct, domestic violence, or drug or alcohol abuse" would mean a refusal of the licence application.

A similar amendment was tabled but rejected in the Commons.

And the super-lawyers are also weighing in: Lord Pannick and Baronesses Kennedy and O'Loan have an interesting amendment on compensation for miscarriages of justice.

When considering what is deemed to be a miscarriage of justice, the phrase "beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence" would be replaced by "conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it."

The dinner break short debate will be on EU efforts to reach a wider Middle East peace settlement led by Labour's Lord Soley.


In the Commons (from 11.30am) it's Northern Ireland questions followed, at noon, by prime minister's question time.

Will normal, shouty, service be resumed?

Or will last week's more subdued exchanges continue?

Conservative backbencher Andrew Rosindell has a ten minute rule bill to set up a national register of place names, so that localities will have the right to a coat of arms and other symbols of local identity.

The day's main debate is on a Labour motion (which has not been published at the time of writing) on banking.

And proceedings end with an adjournment debate on the staffing of acute hospital wards - led by the Lib Dem Andrew George.

In Westminster Hall there are the usual mini-debates on subjects chosen by backbenchers: UK relations with the Kurdistan region of Iraq - Jason McCartney (9.30 - 11am): farmland bird populations (11 - 11.30am) - Sir John Randall; future government funding for Transport for London and station staffing levels (2.30 - 4pm) - John McDonnell; Police and Crime Commissioners and the Association of Chief Police Officers (4.30 - 5pm) - Mark Reckless.

I liked the look of the debate on manorial rights (England and Wales) led by Labour's Albert Owen (4 - 4.30pm).

Manorial Rights are historical claims on land rights (ranging from hunting and fishing through to mineral excavation) based on ancient land titles.

These titles belong to institutions, like the Crown and the Church, but also individuals as is the case in Mr Owen's constituency of Ynys Môn (Anglesey).

These rights had to be registered with the Land Registry by October 2013 - and in Anglesey, it turns out, thousands of properties were affected often caused significant anxiety to people who had no idea they existed and who have been told that they may have to seek (and pay for) legal advice.

In the Lords (from 3pm) there are questions about passenger safety on ships, the number of people in full-time employment and the plan to extend the freeze in fuel duty beyond 2014.

After that peers continue with the report stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (see above).


Bleary-eyed MPs gather in the Commons at 9.30am for energy and climate change questions, which will be followed by the weekly business statement from the Leader of the House.

The day's main debates are on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

The first is on child neglect and the criminal law.

A cross party group of MPs including Conservative Robert Buckland, Labour's Meg Munn and Lib Dem Mark Williams (who tried to bring in a private members bill on this issue) - and also supported by the late Paul Goggins - want to get the 80 year old legislation on child neglect updated, removing, for example, confusing wording about "wilful ill-treatment" which often leads police and prosecutors to believe they have to prove some level of intent in court.

They also want new legislation to reflect modern thinking about emotional abuse and neglect.

That's followed by a debate on nuisance calls led by Lib Dem Mike Crockart (who attempted to bring in a private members bill to combat them) and the Conservative Alun Cairns, who both have a long record of campaigning on this.

In Westminster Hall MPs will have a chance to discuss a couple of Justice Committee reports - on the Crown Dependencies and on the treatment of Women Offenders, after the Corston Report - the report commissioned by the last government, by the Labour Peer Jean Corston.

In the Lords (from 11am) business begins as usual with questions to ministers - and first up there's a particularly interesting inquiry from Labour's Lord Dubs, who wants to see the release of the full transcript of the Stephen Ward trial - he was the man who committed suicide after being convicted of living off immoral earnings in the backwash of the Profumo case.

Lord Dubs believes he was scapegoated and vilified, and had he lived, he would ultimately have been pardoned after a criminal case review.

What he's particularly puzzled by is why, fifty years on, the papers for this case - and the commission of inquiry led by Lord Denning - continue to be kept secret, especially when even the most sensitive miners' strike papers are being released.

Lord Denning actually recommended that the documents from his inquiry should be destroyed, and a decision to preserve them has only just been taken.

The subject may attract an intervention from the Crossbencher and historian, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, who has spent much of his career mining the National Archives.

He believes the Denning papers have languished for decades in the Cabinet Office's "too hot to handle" vault.

The day's other questions range across allowing civil servants to join and save with a credit union using payroll deduction, and public support for an open access scheme to independent schools.

As normal on a Lords Thursday, the main debates are chosen by backbench peers and Lord Hennessy will be back in the spotlight to lead a discussion on the future of the Civil Service.

He notes that it is now 48 years since the last full-dress investigation, the Fulton Commission, was launched and 46 years since it reported.

He will argue that the world is a very different place now, and new structures and rules are needed to ensure the capabilities of the state are maintained.

He supports the calls in the Commons for a Parliamentary Commission, along the lines of the one on banking, to consider the future of the Civil Service and report before the next election - and it will be interesting to see how many of the 26 peer listed to speak - including several ex-senior civil servants and ex-cabinet ministers - will agree, and how much bashing of the minister in charge of civil service reform, Francis Maude, will follow.

There will also be debates on the 25th anniversary of the world wide web and its effects on society (led by Lady Lane-Fox of Soho) and on China's introduction of an Air Defence Identification Zone over the East China Sea, and the tensions in the Pacific Rim - led by the Conservative, Lord Moynihan.


Their Lordships are not sitting and in the Commons (from 9.30am) the day is devoted to private members' bills.

At the top of the agenda are two widely-supported measures which have reached report stage; the Conservative Jonathan Lord's Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill, which deals with applications for naturalisation as a British citizen by members or former members of the armed forces, and Bill Cash's Gender Equality (International Development) Bill - which creates a duty for UK aid spending to be used to promote women's equality.

If any time remains after those have been dealt with, there's a whole phalanx of bills presented by Tory awkward squaddie Chris Chope - they include the Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill, the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill, the Collection of Nationality Data Bill, the Control of Offshore Wind Turbines Bill and many, many more.

All are down for second reading; all have no chance of becoming law.