Week ahead at Westminster

Next week in the Commons is dominated by estimates debates - which don't do what it says on the tin.

Formally, MPs will be invited to approve the government's spending plans; in practice their debates are centred around reports from select committees, chosen by the super-committee of Select Committee chairs, the Liaison Committee.

These produce some interesting and topical talking points, but they're there to give some form to what would otherwise be rather amorphous debates, leading to votes which are very rarely contested by the opposition.

The formal agenda laid out for the week is pretty low key; any drama will have to come through either question times, particularly PMQs, or through ministerial statements and urgent questions.

Monday 3rd March

In the Commons (2.30pm) the first business is communities and local government questions.

As usual on a Monday, there's a good chance of a ministerial statement or urgent question to deal with some matter that has cropped up over the weekend.

And then the main business is estimates day debates.

The first is on managing flood risk - based on this Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report.

The key points it made include that funding has not kept pace with an increased risk of flooding and the relatively modest funding to be provided up to 2020 will not be sufficient to plug the funding gap.

The Treasury, it says, needs to be convinced that flood management capital funding must rise year on year by £20m over the next 25 years to keep pace with the increasing threat.

The second debate is also pretty topical - on government levies on energy bills.

In the Lords (2.30pm) the first business is the introduction of the new Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler who has already made speeches about the need for the Church to take act against "the scourge" of poverty, economic, social and spiritual.

Then peers will turn to the detail of the Immigration Bill - there are two days of committee stage debate scheduled this week - and they're expected to focus on clauses 1-14, the sections of the bill dealing with issues like the powers to remove people who're unlawfully in the UK, biometric information on immigration documents, protection for children and rights of appeal against deportation.

The most sensitive issue may be the section dealing with the use of the right to a family life in the European Convention on Human Rights, to prevent deportation.

This was the issue which entangled the government during report stage in the Commons - and I doubt we've heard the last of it.

Already crossbench super-lawyer Lord Pannick has amendments down which seem to gut this clause of the bill.

(Incidentally, later on in the Committee Stage, he has given notice he wants to completely remove the proposed new powers to deprive people of UK citizenship for "conduct seriously prejudicial to the interests of the UK.")

I focus on his amendments because Lord Pannick is probably the single most influential backbench peer, and when he weighs in, he can swing opinion decisively against the Government.

There will also be a short debate on steps to be taken to improve relations with the Sikh community after the publication of government documents regarding British involvement in planning the attack on the Golden Temple.

Tuesday 4th March

In the Commons (11.30am) the day begins with Foreign Office questions, followed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events), from Labour MP Nick Smith.

There's a new All-Party Group on this issue, calling for a clampdown on the activities of ticket touts - particularly those operating online - on the argument that they price people out of events by bidding up the cost of tickets far beyond their face value.

Then it's two more estimates day debates.

The first is on defence and cyber-security - based on this Defence Select Committee report.

The second subject is the private rented sector, based on a Communities and Local Government Committee report.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the main legislating has suddenly become topical.

It's the third reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which makes a series of changes to the devolved political system.

No votes are expected but it's a fair bet there will be some comment on the amnesty for terror suspects issue.

Two or three votes are expected on the report stage of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill.

Key issues include the protection of children through an advertising watershed; cheating in gambling; and the horse racing betting levy.

The last business is a regret motion on the abolition of the National Consumer Council.

Wednesday 5th March

The Commons day begins (11.30am) with international development questions, followed at 12pm by prime minister's question time.

MPs then whiz through the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill - this provides parliamentary authority for funds requested by the government - what used to be called a Consolidated Fund Bill.

There's no debate and the bill will normally go through on the nod.

Hot on the heels of the decision to close down the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, MPs have a chance to give their view on that decision, with a debate on the Francis Report, which examined the failures of care which led to what is estimated to be hundreds of extra deaths in the area.

Local MPs in the area are clearly concerned at the implications of the decision - and the knock-on effects for neighbouring hospitals beyond Mid-Staffs.

In the Lords (from 3.00pm) it's the third reading of the Pensions Bill - where the Minister, Lord Freud, has endured a torrid time including a defeat during report stage on allowing people with two or more low-paid jobs to aggregate their income for National Insurance purposes - allowing them to contribute to a state pension entitlement.

That is followed by more committee stage discussion of the Immigration Bill, where the issues under scrutiny include access to the NHS, the new duty on landlords to check their tenants' immigration status, and balancing the ECHR Article 8 on the right to family life against deportation.

And during the dinner break there's a short debate on whether the government is satisfied with the Director of Public Prosecutions' guidelines on prosecution for assisted suicide, led by the former Labour Leader of the House, Baroness Jay.

Thursday 6th March

In the Commons (from 9.30am) its Business, Innovation and Skills Questions, followed (at 10.30am) by the weekly Business Statement from the leader of the House. Then it's backbench business: first a statement on latest report from the Defence Committee, on Future Army 2020, from the chair, James Arbuthnot.

The afternoon's two debates are on issues selected by the Backbench Business Committee - first on a motion on the security situation of women in Afghanistan (an appropriate topic as International Women's Day approaches) and, then, a general debate on Welsh affairs.

This used to be a fixture in the Commons calendar, but the Backbench Business Committee has set its face against ritual debates on wide subjects, and has, increasingly, insisted that they should have a distinct topical hook.

In this case one important hook is the publication of the latest tranche of devolution proposals from the Silk Commission, which is expected to give the Welsh national Assembly powers over policing, and kick off a longer term move to devolve justice as well.

The debate will be led by Labour's Albert Owen, Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llywd (working round an awkward clash with his party's annual conference), the Lib Dem Roger Williams, and the Conservative, Glyn Davies.

In the Lords (from 11.00am) the main debate is on the contribution of women to the economy of the UK, to mark International Women's Day.

Neither House sits on Friday 7th.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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