Week ahead

There's a certain amount of fag-end legislating, next week, as MPs and Peers put the finishing touches to several bills.

The most interesting action may be the debates on some important policy issues highlighted by select committees. I'm particularly interested in the debate on the Health Committee's report on children's and adolescents' mental health, which argues for a major re-balancing of the way the NHS mental health budget is spent.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Education questions (incidentally, with dissolution of Parliament due by March 31, most departmental question times will be the last before the election.)

Any ministerial statements or urgent questions will be taken, as usual, from 3.30pm. And the main business is two "Estimates Day" debates, both on select committee reports which turn out to be on very apposite subjects - the first is on the Communities and Local Government Committee report on Devolution in England: the case for local government.

This has suddenly become extremely interesting after the emergence of proposals to devolve NHS spending to local government in Greater Manchester, an area blazing the trail for devolution of power in England...

The second is even more salient after reports that the Chancellor has now conceded that Britain's defence spending will slip below the Nato target - it focuses on the Defence Committee report Towards next Defence and Security Review: part two - NATO.

In Westminster Hall, from 4.30pm - 7.30pm there's a debate on an e-petition relating to Harvey's Law by Derek Twigg.

Poodle Harvey went missing in November 2013, when owners Jude Devine and Shaun Robertson were visiting friends. But they only discovered in February 2014 that he had been killed by a vehicle less than an hour after his disappearance. Since then, "Harvey's Army" have campaigned for a change in the law, to require the Highways Agency to scan all dead pets and log the incidents with the police and dog wardens.

In the Lords from 2.30pm, constitutional nerds should watch out for former minister Jeff Rooker's opaque-looking question on the effectiveness of the Conventions between the two Houses of Parliament - he wants to ask what the manifestos of the main parties on Lords Reform say and, in particular, to go beyond the normal issue of 'composition' and look at their thinking on the powers and functions and relations between the two Houses (the reason the Clegg Bill fell).

Anoraks will be worn.

Peers will then consider making a few final tweaks to the Recall of MPs Bill in its third reading debate.

This is the measure to give voters a means of sacking an MP for expenses abuse and other serious misconduct. In a concession from the government, the minister in charge, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has an amendment to reduce the period in which a recall petition is available for signing from eight weeks to six, and requiring a report on the process to be published, and that is now being supported by Labour.

And the Labour peer and former MP, Lord Campbell-Savours, has an amendment to increase the length of suspension from the Commons, which would trigger the recall process, from 10 days to 15.

Then the Serious Crime Bill bounces back from the Commons to allow peers to consider amendments made by MPs: creating a duty to notify police of female genital mutilation, making it an offence to throw articles or substances into prisons, the government assessing the issue of the evidence of termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the foetus (Fiona's Bruce's amendment to ban sex-selective abortions was defeated), and requiring the permission of a judge before police could use investigatory powers to find journalistic sources. None of these issues are likely to be pushed to a vote.


MPs open (at 11.30am) with Foreign Office questions, to be followed by a ten minute rule bill from the Conservative, Nick de Bois. His Housing Ombudsman (Power to Settle Disputes Between Neighbours and Tenants) Bill creates a new mechanism to deal with anti-social tenants of Housing Management Organisations - HMOs.

Two more Estimates Day debates follow - the first is on the Work and Pensions Committee report on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system and the second is the Health Committee's report on children's and adolescents' mental health - this will raise a set of really important issues, from the detention of mentally-ill children, as highlighted by the case of a teenage girl who spent 36 hours in a police cell, to the overall share of the mental health budget spent on children, which the committee regards as being far too low; to the lack of up to date "prevalence data" showing the extent of mental health problems; to the impact of cyber-bulling.

Committee Chair Sarah Wollaston regards this as an important opportunity to press for a re-balancing of funding.

In the Lords (2.30pm) the main legislating is on the report stage of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill - - key issues deal with companies abusing relationships with suppliers over delivered goods and services; and on late payments, plus access to finance and public sector procurement.

Labour's Baroness Thornton has an amendment requiring the Business Secretary to make regulations requiring companies to publish information showing whether there are differences in the pay of male and female employees. The Lib Dem Lord Wills calls for a review and report on the operation of the UK whistleblowing framework and Lords Watson and Philips (Lib Dems) want the Business Secretary to report annually on how government is keeping the PCS (People with Significant Control) register up to date.

There will also be a short debate on access to treatment for patients with rare diseases.


The Commons opens at 11.30am with Wales Questions, followed, at noon by prime minister's questions.

That's followed by a bit of legislative rubber-stamping, with proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill, and the final states of the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill - this is the bill which allows Northern Ireland to set its own corporation tax rate from April 2017.

This devolution of powers was part of the recent Stormont House Agreement. Labour will not oppose it so it should go through with no trouble - but it sets a precedent that the SNP, in particular, will be keen to apply elsewhere.

The main debate will be on a Labour motion - subject to be announced.

In the Lords (3pm), two more bills are due for their third readings. First up is the Modern Slavery Bill - the government suffered a defeat at report stage on 25 February, when peers passed an amendment from the Crossbencher, Lord Hylton, with the support of the Bishop of Carlisle, which gives greater protection to overseas domestic workers.

Then peers move on to the third reading of the Deregulation Bill - key issues will include health and safety with likely votes, as government's proposals are unlikely to go far enough.

The minister in charge, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has a huge wodge of amendments on licensed conveyancing, and Labour's Lord Hunt of Kings Heath has an amendment excluding the Professional Standards Authority, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and people with regulatory functions in health and care services from the general power for ministers to issue guidance about how regulators perform their functions.

Final business in the chamber is a regret motion from the Crossbench superlawyer, Lord Pannick, on an Statutory Instrument on Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings fees. No vote is expected.


MPs meet at 9.30am for Transport questions, after which the Leader of the House and the MP who speaks for the House of Commons Commission, the administrative arm of the House, take questions on in-House issues.

There may be some reaction to the BBC's fly on the wall documentary, Inside the Commons.

That is followed by the weekly Business Statement from the Leader of the House, which has turned into a kind of stand-up comedy competition between Shadow Leader Angela Eagle and William Hague.

The afternoon's backbench business is two debates which used to be annual fixtures, but which now have to be argued for on their own merits - first on International Women's Day, and then on Welsh affairs.

In Westminster Hall from 1.30pm - 4.30pm, the Conservative Geoffrey Clifton-Brown leads a debate on planning and the National Policy Planning Framework.

In the Lords (from 11am) question time has an International Women's Day theme: they cover gender equality and education of young women and in developing nations, prevention of sexual violence and publication of What is Consent toolkit by the Crown Prosecution Service, and measures to encourage women to participate in sports on a professional basis .

And the main debate is on women's economic empowerment both nationally and internationally. Final business is a short debate on technologies to reduce the number of collisions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists.

There are five more short debates in the Moses Room, (the noble equivalent of MPs' Westminster Hall) hourly from 1pm: on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine; the participation of women in the sport of rowing; the effect of youth unemployment on any increase in the employment levels of older people; the steps being taken to meet the continuing challenge of HIV and AIDS; and - from Oona King - on the role that women's refuge centres play in protecting victims of domestic and mental abuse.


The Commons sits at 9.30am, to debate private members' bills - I think this is the last Friday sitting of this Parliament.

A recent addition to the very long list of private members' bills for debate today is Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill, which would give greater leeway for doctors to use experimental treatment on terminally ill patients.... it is so far down the batting order that it has zero chance of actually being debated, and it also has sufficient critics to guarantee that someone will shout "object" to prevent it from being nodded through into committee stage.

So its presence on the Order Paper seems to be a kind of holding manoeuvre, while some debating time is found for it elsewhere in the increasingly threadbare Commons agenda. It says something about Lord Saatchi's commitment and persistence that this measure is still alive and that, even at this late stage in the Parliament, Commons business managers are under pressure to keep his bill moving.

Top of the day's batting order is the report stage of the Conservative Jonathan Evans Mutuals' Redeemable and Deferred Shares Bill - this would enable mutual insurance companies, which are amongst the oldest continuous companies in the country, to raise capital in new ways.

The credit crunch exposed the need for financial institutions to have greater reserves, but this has proved difficult for mutuals which cannot issue new shares.

After that, the agenda is dominated by Conservative awkward squaddie Peter Bone, who was one of the cabal of MPs willing to spend the night in the Public Bill Office to bag the top place in the queue for the right to bring in bills (behind the 20 MPs who won priority in the annual ballot).

His personal Queen's Speech includes the Free Movement of Persons into the United Kingdom (Derogation) Bill, the British Bill of Rights and Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights Bill, the Wind Farm Subsidies (Abolition) Bill, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Abolition) Bill and several more. Essentially he'll get a chance to make speeches on some of these, but almost certainly won't then press them to a vote... and with only a few weeks left in the life of this Parliament, they would have zero chance of becoming law, in any event.

Come 2.30pm a list of undebated bills of which there will be around 40, will be read out, and they will be ritually pole-axed when a whip (or another MP) shouts out "object".

They include, notably, Zac Goldsmith's Recall of Elected Representatives Bill, of which, I suspect, more will be heard in the next Parliament.