Week ahead

There is a certain Marie Celeste quality about Westminster at the moment.

Even when MPs are present in body - and many are staying in their constituencies on Monday and returning to them on Thursday, or even Wednesday afternoon - you get the impression that their mind it still focused on their local campaigning.

But for all the "Zombie Parliament" complaints about the thin legislative agenda before them, there's still some significant action coming up, in both houses.

To be sure, there is a pre-electoral flavour to much of this week's action, notably the SNP-Plaid debate on Trident and an increasing focus of ten minute rule bills and presentation bills on hot button campaigning issues, like fuel prices or wind turbines or fracking.

But the most obvious fag-endedness is on the committee corridor, where there are few new inquiries and much wrapping up of final reports.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm, for education questions. And if there are any statements from ministers or urgent questions, they will be taken from 3.30pm.

Then MPs will zoom through all the Commons stages of consideration of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill - which would allow women bishops to be fast-tracked into the House of Lords. For that to happen the 1878 Bishoprics Act, which required bishops to be admitted to the Lords according to a strict order of seniority, has to be amended.

It's not a controversial measure - but it's always possible some MPs will oppose it.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) the main business after the usual half hour of questions to ministers, is the second day of committee stage scrutiny of the Recall of MPs Bill - key issues include the practicalities of the bill and will include issues such as the petitioning process, campaign spending and privacy concerning the marked register of signatures.

There are amendments down suggesting there should be counter petitions people can sign to keep rather than sack their MP, and on prejudicial comment in the media.

And there will also be a short debate on the support given to individual artists, including visual artists, writers and composers led by the crossbencher (and artist) Earl of Clancarty


The Commons opens at 11.30am with Foreign Office questions, and that's followed by a ten minute rule bill on Road Fuel Pricing (Equalisation) - Tory Treasury Committee member Mark Garnier wants to ensure that big fuel retailers (mostly supermarkets) don't squeeze motorists in rural areas by charging more in places where there is less competition - he says they shouldn't be forced to pay a rural premium on their petrol.

The day's main debate is on a Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party motion on Trident Renewal - a key policy demand of the SNP in a hung parliament would be to abandon it.

The big debates in Westminster Hall are on Holocaust Memorial Day (9.30am - 11am) and on North Sea oil and gas industry employment (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers include one on reviewing the governance of the House of Lords in the light of the report of the House of Commons Governance Committee - and another on the causes of the £3.1bn increase in the NHS's potential liabilities for clinical negligence from Lib Dem Lord Sharkey.

Then peers begin committee stage consideration of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill - where the big issues are on the seizure of passports (Labour has an amendment to require Parliament to vote to renew the power after two years), Temporary Exclusion Orders (ominously for the government, the influential crossbencher, Lord Pannick, has signed a Labour amendment setting out the criteria for TEOs and adding a new clause requiring prior permission from the courts for an exclusion order to be issued), and on communications data.

The dinner break debate is on including boys in the national vaccination programme for human papilloma virus.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Welsh questions (keep an eye out for splits in various parties over the issue of devolving further power to the Welsh National Assembly). At noon it's prime minister's question time, and then the Conservative Nigel Adams presents his Onshore Wind Turbine Subsidies (Abolition) Bill as a ten minute rule bill.

The day's main debate will be on a Labour motion to be announced - and there will also be a motion to approve a statutory instrument on terrorism.

In Westminster Hall, the big debates are on the implications of the independent review of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) (9.30am - 11am) - and on government support for homeless young people (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (from 3pm), peers are expected to canter rapidly through the third reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, before completing a (qualified) victory lap in the Criminal Justice Bill, where the government offered a compromise which has been accepted by the peers behind successful amendments on Judicial Review and on secure colleges.

Peers refused to back down when the Commons initially rejected the changes they had made, which pushed the government into watering down some elements of the bill.

And that's followed by a very timely debate on the Communication Committee's report on the party leaders' General Election debates. Among other things the report noted that the debates "helped to energise and engage the public in the electoral process, with the most striking impact on the young and relatively disengaged".

And it added that "this fixture now has the status of an established, even inevitable landmark in the electoral calendar. Evidence which we consider in this Report shows that a majority of the general public positively expect that broadcast general election debates should happen again..."


The Commons meets at 9.30am for transport questions, followed by the monthly festival of in-house gripes which is questions to the House of Commons Commission and the Leader of the House.

Then there's the Leader's weekly Business Statement - expect renewed pressure from Labour for more time to debate last-minute amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, on mobile phone and broadband coverage.

The main event is a debate on the report of the House Governance Committee which recommends some major changes in the way the Commons is administered, after the kerfuffle over the attempted appointment of a successor to Sir Robert Rogers, (see below) as Clerk of the House.

The recommendations include hiving off the administrative part of the Clerk's responsibilities to a new Director General, and launching an immediate process to fill both posts. It also recommends electing the MPs who sit on the House of Commons Commission, which oversees the running of the Commons and its services to MPs.

It will be interesting to see if anyone presses amendments to set up a specific inquest into the fiasco around the previous appointment process, or to clip Mr Speaker's wings by suggesting that the Commission should be chaired by someone else.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm), there's a chance for MPs to debate the Energy and Climate Change Committee's report on the Green Deal and the Justice Committee's report on Crime Reduction Policies.

In the Lords, the first business (11am) is the arrival of Lord Lisvane - the artist previously known as Sir Robert Rogers, the former Clerk of the Commons (or as they'd make a point of saying in the Lords, Under-Clerk of the Parliaments).

A fair number of MPs may be at the bar of the House to cheer him on. I wonder if Mr Speaker, who, as a Privy Councillor has a right to sit on the steps of the Throne, will pop in as well? And will Lord Lisvane then pop across to the Peers' Gallery in the Commons to watch MPs debate the future of his former office?

The day's main events are two Labour Opposition Day debates, on investing in infrastructure, led by Andrew Adonis, and on the future of local government with Lord Beecham, former chair of the Local Government Association, leading.

During the lunch break there will be a short debate on access to the criminal justice system and victim support for people with autism spectrum disorders. There is a slot left vacant for "other business in yet to be scheduled," which might be the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill - not least because the day will end with debates on three Church of England and ecclesiastical orders.


In the Commons (from 9.30am) there will be more debates on private members' bills - at the moment, indefatigable Tory awkward squaddie Chris Chope is top of the batting order with his HS2 Funding Referendum Bill, but that may be knocked off the top spot if other bills have emerged from committee stage, because their report and third reading stages will take precedence.

In the Lords (10am) there will be second readings of two bills sent across from the Commons: the Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Bill; and the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill.

And they will be followed by the third reading of Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill - like Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, this has no real chance of becoming law before the next General Election, but will emerge from its extensive scrutiny in this Parliament, honed and ready to be debated again, if it is picked up by the government or an individual MP.