Week ahead

Not much zombieness here. Both MPs and peers have some big issues to deal with in a busy parliamentary week, which ranges across the eternal tension between civil liberties and security, and the astonishing possibilities raised by scientific advance.

In between, there's lots of detailed legislating (and doubtless pre-electoral posturing) in both houses, so rumours of the demise of the 2010 Parliament look a little exaggerated this week.

Here's my rundown:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for communities and local government questions. The usual drill is to take any ministerial statements or urgent questions at the end of question time, at around 3.30pm.

The day's main legislation is the second reading of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill - which has already been considered in the Lords. It's a relatively uncontroversial measure to transform the existing Service Complaints Commissioner into a new Service Complaints Ombudsman.

MPs will then deal with the amendments made in the Lords to the much-derided Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill. I'm not sure there will be a big clash of the Houses over this measure, since many peers seem to agree with the withering verdict of the Crossbench super-lawyer, Lord Pannick that "Its contents are not objectionable; they are simply pointless. Such a bill is not worthy of provoking a fundamental conflict between the two Houses of Parliament."

There are a couple of drafting amendment accepted by the government. One changes the word "generally" to "predominantly", in clause 3 of the bill to make clear that a body or individual who takes a slapdash approach to safety on a particular occasion cannot escape liability merely by pointing to a previously unblemished health and safety record. Another clarifies the definition of heroic action. Expect these changes to be rubber-stamped within minutes.

MPs will also vote on a motion on transfer of functions from Westminster to Scottish ministers - I think this is the one to enable them to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the next Scottish parliament elections, in 2016.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions to ministers are followed by the first of two report stage days on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill - the day's main issue will be another attempt to include Communications Data in the bill.

The big news amendments (see earlier blog) are 11A-11T on data retention - but there are other amendments on the proposed travel restriction and passport confiscation powers. The latest marshalled list of amendments is here.

And during their dinner break, peers will hold a short debate on mental health services for deaf people using British sign language - led by Labour's Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.


MPs open at 11.30am with justice questions, followed by a ten minute rule bill from Labour MP Heidi Alexander requiring companies to report every year on the number of their staff paid below the living wage.

After that the Commons will canter through a series of legislative chores. First is the fast tracking of the Insurance Bill, which enacts a series of technical changes recommended by the Law Commission. It covers such issues as disclosure; warranties and the treatment of fraudulent claims. The bill requires insurers to act with 'good faith'; limits the use of warranties in contracts and provides for the expansion of the groups of individuals or companies which can be affected by the existing third party rights against insurers provisions. All the fun of the fair, in short.

Next is the National Insurance Contributions Bill, where MPs will consider the money resolution and then Lords amendments - which may be dealt with in the blink of an eye.

The next motion, to approve a statutory instrument relating to mitochondrial donation, will certainly not be waved through - this is the measure which would allow "three parent babies," by allowing mitochondrial DNA to be added to eggs, to prevent a series of inherited ailments, including muscular dystrophy....

The Church of England and the Catholic Church have both expressed disquiet about this being "an ethical watershed" and there may be some attempt to stop the order going through. The Wellcome Trust, which supports the order, is organising a drop-in MP briefing session before the vote. This could turn into one of those classic conscience votes - keep an eye on Conservative MPs like Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Church Commissioners in the House, and likely strong opponents like Fiona Bruce and Edward Leigh.

Whatever time remains will be taken up by the Backbench Business Committee debate on rural phone and broadband connectivity - a hot-button local campaigning issue. The Conservative Jesse Norman leads the discussion.

In Westminster Hall, Labour former cabinet minister John Denham leads a debate (9.30am - 11am) on compensation for victims of badly installed cavity wall installation and in the afternoon the Conservative Steve McPartland leads a debate on respiratory health (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords from 2.30pm, the day's main legislation is the report stage of the Deregulation Bill - expect votes on a series of issues: health and safety for the self-employed, and Employment Tribunals for instance/


The Commons opens at 11.30am with half an hour of international development questions followed by PMQs, at noon. Cerebral Lib Dem John Pugh has a ten minute rule bill on Public Sector Efficiency (Employee Participation) - he wants to encourage public sector agencies to report on how they handle suggestions by their staff on how to make their services more efficient or effective; he says the Coalition talked about enlisting staff in their efficiency drive in 2010, but soon defaulted back to top-down initiatives and reorganisations. Requiring them to say what suggestions have been received and how they were handled in their annual report might encourage more participation.

And then MPs turn to two Labour Opposition day debates, on 18-25 apprenticeships and then on electoral registration.

The adjournment debate - on Scottish representation in the Union - might just be the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's last Commons hurrah. Perhaps not, if there's a big set-piece debate on a draft devolution bill, at some point before the end of the Parliament. But it should be an interesting occasion because Mr Brown is a key figure in the Unionist side of the debate on Scotland's future and because SNP and Conservative MPs always enjoy turning up for a bit of parliamentary bull-baiting. Will any of them get gored?

In fact, this looks as if it is an attempt to repeat in Westminster some of the points about a new devolutionary settlement which he is due to make in a joint appearance with the Scottish Labour Leader, Jim Murphy, in Edinburgh.

In Westminster Hall, the morning's big debate (9.30am - 11am) is on the dairy industry - led by Conservative Nigel Evans. With the continuing financial squeeze on dairy farmers, he will argue that the government should find a mechanism to set a guaranteed price floor for milk. Otherwise, he warns, the continued squeeze by supermarkets will destroy what is left of the dairy sector. DEFRA Minister George Eustice is expected to respond. In the afternoon Labour's Lisa Nandy leads a debate on the effects of government policy on UK poverty (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (3pm) the report stage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill rolls into its second day. The key issues include the Prevent strategy in relation to higher education. Among other things, the Lib Dems Lord Macdonald of River Glaven and Lord Pannick have an amendment down saying higher education institutions anti-extremism policies "shall also have due regard to the maintenance of academic freedom and freedom of expression within the law".

During the dinner break there will be a short debate on the results of the review into the setting of Universal Credit conditionality when children are in distress - led by Lib Dem Lord German.


The Commons opens for business at 9.30am where MPs start with energy and climate change questions, before hearing the weekly Business Statement, from the Leader of the House, William Hague.

The day's main debates are on two subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee - the first is on building sustainable GP services. A motion from Labour MP Derek Twigg and Green Caroline Lucas (fast becoming a fixture in Thursday afternoon backbench debates) expresses concerns about the strains on GPs and calls for the health secretary to secure the financial future of GP practices. The second is on improving cancer outcomes .

The adjournment debate, on beer duty, is opened by the Conservative Andrew Griffiths, the chair of the all-party beer group. He called for a further cut in beer duty in December, so don't be surprised if he does so again.

In Westminster Hall (1.30pm - 4.30pm), the recent practice of debating select committee reports and the formal response to them from ministers continues. The first is the Political And Constitutional Reform Committee's report on voter engagement in the UK and then MPs turn to the Work And Pensions Committee's report on Employment And Support Allowance And Work Capability Assessments.

In the Lords (from 11am) business begins with the introduction of the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines. Unusually for a Thursday - which is normally devoted to debates on subjects chosen by backbench peers - there is actual front-line legislating to do, in the shape of the third reading of the Pension Schemes Bill, where the main outstanding issue will be the impact of pension freedoms and flexibilities on eligibility for means tested care support and income related benefits. A vote is possible.

Then peers continue with the report stage of the Deregulation Bill - likely votes include the decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC licence fee and on the government's imposition of an economic growth duty on the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A vote is also possible on the inspection and regulation of the outsourcing of social work services by Ofsted; and on the general economic duty. And during the lunch break business, there will be a short debate led by Labour's Lord Harrison, on the steps being taken to improve maternity care and to ensure staff are trained and developed.


The Lords sits at 10am to debate private members' bills and first in the batting order is the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill in a committee of the whole House - Lord Purvis of Tweed has picked up the bill from the former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, to require the UK to spend a minimum percentage of its national income on international aid. There's some talk that opponents of the bill might be about to mount an ambush to block it - and supporters are being urged to attend to ward off any such attempt.

Less contentious are the second readings Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill - the Conservative Lord Ribeiro is picking up the bill from the Conservative Jeremy Lefroy to promote higher standards in the NHS - it's the result of his experiences as a Staffordshire MP dealing with the Mid Staffs NHS Trust scandal; and the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill.

This is the bill taken through the Commons by the Conservative Richard Bacon as a step towards encouraging more people to have homes built to their own design - it's not the preserve of the rich in other countries, where self build, often by co-operatives, is much more common, and families supporting elderly parents, or children with special needs are getting together to build whole communities tailored to their requirements.