Week ahead

It's a week of farewells, loose ends and guerrilla warfare.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The week's debate on defence spending could provide a flashpoint on Thursday in the Commons

We will see the (likely) final Commons speeches of Gordon Brown and Jack Straw, the completion (or maybe defeat) of a myriad of private members' bills - plus a series of tussles between ministers and backbenchers over plain packaging of cigarettes, EU issues and defence spending.

And some of the lower-key debates, on digital democracy or on the relationship between the police and children, for instance, could prompt some interesting policy changes.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Work and Pensions questions. If there are any urgent questions or ministerial statements, they will be taken after that.

It's one of those days when MPs rattle through a series of fairly brief legislative chores....first, they will debate detailed amendments to the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill - particularly around the role of the Services Complaints Ombudsman. And the bill will then move onto its third reading.

Next comes the Consumer Rights Bill - where MPs will deal with Lords' amendments, which should nail down a compromise between MPs and peers requiring secondary ticketing operators to provide the name of the seller, the face value of the ticket, any age restrictions on the ticket, and details of the seat location.

And that will be followed by a motion to approve a European document on the EU Commission Work Programme 2015. Unusually there's a cross party amendment signed by members of the European Scrutiny Committee which, in effect, attempts to switch the European Business. It calls for the government to encourage the Commission to develop policies on the Free Movement of Peoples - an even more controversial issue.

This is the latest manifestation of a festering complaint that the government has been far too slow to schedule debates on EU business referred to the Commons by the European Scrutiny Committee.

Finally, the House will move to a Backbench Business Committee debate on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference - a debate requested by an eclectic group of MPs, including the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, the former defence minister, Sir Nick Harvey, Conservative defence expert Dr Julian Lewis, and Labour awkward squaddies Jeremy Corbyn and Paul Flynn.

What may prove to be the main Commons event may take place outside the main chamber. The statutory instrument to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes, which is highly controversial among Conservative MPs, is due to be considered by a committee. Expect protests that it is not being considered on the floor of the Commons, and even moves to force it there.

In the Lords (2.30pm) it looks as if the filibuster is over and the third reading of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will now go fairly smoothly - no amendments are down, so there's no obvious way opponents can now stop it.

The day's main legislative business is the second report stage day on the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, where the key issues are pubs, and transparency of mergers and takeovers.

During the dinner break there will be a short debate led by Labour's Lady Drake, on Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) awareness in the NHS among GPs and throughout the NHS. This is an autoimmune disease which can cause dangerous blood clots.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for the final Treasury questions of the parliament - although George Osborne still has a budget to deliver, the following week.

Labour's Mike Kane has a Ten Minute Rule Bill seeking to amend the law on Mesothelioma.

After that MPs Consideration Lords amendments to the Deregulation Bill - where the biggest issue looks to be on retaliatory evictions.

The House will then rattle through a motion to approve statutory instruments relating to counter-terrorism and a motion to approve a European document relating to the subsidiarity and proportionality and the Commission's relations with national parliaments: that motion, from, the Europe Minister David Lidington, "deplores" the failure of the outgoing EU Justice Commissioner to respond to the concerns of national parliaments about the creation of a European Public Prosecutor.

And that's followed by a Backbench Business Committee debate on one of the hardy perennial issues of the Commons, the schools funding formula.

There will be more than the usual interest in the adjournment debate on proposed reforms to trading relationships with Europe - which may be the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's final speech in the Commons.

In Westminster Hall from 9.30am to 11am the debate is on digital democracy and opening up Parliament - Meg Hillier the Labour ex-minister, who was a member of the Speaker's Commission on this issue, will lead the debate on taking its recommendations forward.

In the Lords there are debates on the report of the select committee on Soft Power and the UK's influence on persuasion and power in the modern world and on the report of the select committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Northern Ireland questions, followed at noon by Prime Minister's Question Time.

Labour MP Keith Vaz has a Presentation Bill to allow for Standardised Testing for Diabetes for people aged 40 or more... this is presented to the House without a speech or debate. And then there's a ten minute rule bill from the Conservative Greg Barker on the live export of Horses and Ponies to improve the arrangements for their export and regulation.

The day's main debate will be on an Opposition Day motion (or maybe two motions) from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party - this is their last chance to step into the Commons spotlight before the next election, and whatever motion they chose will be designed to allow a bit of Blind Date-style flirtation with the big parties over possible deals in a post-election hung parliament.

In one sense the substantive motion will be less interesting than the relative amorousness of the big parties. One possibility is that they will debate the terms on which the party leaders should debate each other during the General Election.

And the adjournment debate may be another farewell moment from a big beast of the New Labour years, as former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw raises the effect of the Ark Pensions Scheme on a constituent.

In Westminster Hall awkward squaddie Christopher Chope (wittily made a member of the Council of Europe by the party whips) has a debate on Russian membership of the Council (9.30am - 11am).

And in the afternoon Labour's Pamela Nash raises access to HIV treatment in low and middle-income countries (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (from 3pm) the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill looks set to get an unopposed third reading and peers will also knock off the third reading of the anti-fraud measure, the Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Bill.

The main detailed legislating will be on the third day of report stage on the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, where the key issues include insolvency (a government concession is expected), equal pay, internships, and workers' compensation for short-notice cancelled hours in a zero-hours contract. Then there will be a short debate on the EU balance of competencies review.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, followed by mini-question times for the MPs representing the Church Commissioners, the Public Accounts Commission and the Speakers' Committee on the Electoral Commission.

The Leader of the House will deliver his weekly Business Statement, and then MPs move onto two more Backbench Business Committee debates - with the first, on defence spending likely to attract considerable attention.

A motion calling for the UK to commit to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence has attracted 36 signatures (and counting) including some heavyweight figures like the current and former Defence Committee chairs, Rory Stewart and James Arbuthnot, plus the former defence ministers, Peter Luff and Gerald Howarth. Perennial and influential dissenter John Baron will be another notable name to watch on the issue.

With rising concern about cuts to the defence budget, this could provide an uncomfortable test for the whips. The second debate - led by Sir Edward Leigh, Robert Flello and Martin Vickers - calls on the schools watchdog, Ofsted, to respect the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs.

Over in Westminster Hall, the former children's minister Tim Laughton leads a debate (1.30pm - 4.30pm) on the relationship between police and children - this follows on from a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children, which raised issues about a lack of trust and about the treatment of children by police.

There have been meetings with police representatives since it was published and the Home Secretary has already promised to end the detention of 17 year-olds in adult cells - so there will be developments to discuss. The second debate, on violence against women and girls is led by Mary Macleod, Pauline Latham and Katy Clark.

In the Lords (from 11am) the first debate is on a review of the activities of the Lords' select committees and on proposals for new committee activity - the Lords sets up committees to look at specific issues rather than to monitor government departments, as in the Commons - so we may see what they might focus on next.

Peers will polish off the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill, the measure to fast-track women bishops into the Upper House. Its third reading is likely to be formal.

Then they turn to another in-house measure - the second reading of the House of Commons Commission Bill. It's normally bad form for peers to meddle in a bill concerned with the Commons, but this could provide an opportunity for the former Clerk of the Commons, Lord Lisvane (the artist formerly known as Sir Robert Rogers) to give his thoughts on the running of his former House.

Otherwise the main topics for debate will probably be issues which concern both Houses - the restoration and renewal programme, which could cost several billion pounds, and see Parliament having to move out of its home, and the prospect of sharing services between the Lords and Commons, in order to cut costs.

That will be followed by committee stage debates on the Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill - and the Control of Horses Bill.

Then there are three short debates listed - on the independent review of the Money Advice Service; on young care-leavers not able to 'stay put' in foster care and the transition to independence; and on the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.


The Commons are not sitting.

But in the Lords, peers will be considering private members' bills: the committee stages of the Local Government (Religious etc Observances) Bill and the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill.

Following, is the Health Service Commissioner for England (Complaints Handling) Bill at second reading; with final business being the report stage of Baroness Deetch's Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill.