Week ahead in Parliament

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Half of Parliament is sitting for a little over half the post-Easter week - and the most significant action will probably come in the form of ministerial statements or urgent questions. With the end of the parliamentary year looming, the government is focused on shepherding through the remainder of its legislation and tying up remaining business before the music stops, probably in early May.


Tuesday 18 April

The Commons returns at 1430 BST for Treasury questions - watch out for Brexiteer pressure on Chancellor Philip Hammond, who is seen as the leading cabinet supporter of a "soft Brexit".

After a fortnight away, a series of ministerial statements or urgent questions seem highly likely, and this is the normal slot for them, so it might be a while before the Conservative Mims Davies gets to present her Ten Minute Rule Bill on Parish Council Governance (Principles of Public Life).

The day's main legislation is the Finance Bill - which implements the changes made by the Budget. As they did with the 2015 Finance Bill, the SNP have put down a motion refusing it a Second Reading, arguing that "it derives from the 2017 Budget which confirmed the continuation of austerity, it fails to provide the necessary stimulus to compensate for the economic impact of Brexit, it fails to address the inequity of VAT being charged on the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, it fails to provide concrete measures to support the oil and gas industry, it increases Insurance Premium Tax above the level of inflation, it increases duty on Scotch whisky, and it is a wholly inadequate response to the economic challenges being faced by Scotland and the UK."

In Westminster Hall at 1130 BST, there will be a debate on the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), led by the SNP's Marion Fellows. She argues that it is failing parents and children by not ensuring that people are paid their maintenance in full and on time. About £4bn of child maintenance arrears are now owed, and the collection rate is actually dropping. She is also against collection fees charged by the CMS.

At 1300 BST, the SNP's Kirsten Oswald has a debate on the relationship between the Serious Fraud Office and other agencies. She has argued for clarity about the demarcation lines between the SFO, the Financial Conduct Authority the City of London police and other agencies in dealing with criminal investigations.

From 1630 BST Labour's Jeff Smith raises the "Future Accommodation Model" - the new Ministry of Defence scheme to provide armed forces personnel with more choice of housing and meet their aspirations for home ownership. The current system forces some service personnel to opt out of subsidised accommodation and others to compromise on family life - parents in a long-term relationship are not able to live together as a family in MOD-provided accommodation unless they are married or in a civil partnership. On the other hand, service families are concerned that replacing the current married quarters system with a rent allowance could deprive them of support networks and leave them with less security of tenure.

That is followed, from 1800 BST, by a debate on the role of employers in improving work outcomes for people with long-term health problems, led by the Conservative, Craig Tracey , and another - from 1830 BST - on the regulatory role of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Law of Property Act receiverships. Labour MP Jo Stevens has raised concerns about a constituency case in which a practitioner valued the property involved in an insolvency case and was later appointed as the receiver - producing what she said was a clear conflict of interest.

There are no select committee meetings, but keep an eye on the detailed scrutiny of the Prisons and Courts Bill in Public Bill Committee at 1630 BST. The early hearings will focus on the clauses dealing with courts and tribunals. Labour say they "broadly welcome" the increasing use of virtual courts and online pleas, but their front bench Justice spokesman, Nick Thomas Symonds, says the party will push for proper safeguards to be built in. Labour also has amendments down on keeping justice local, and keeping the perspectives of both employers and employees in 3-member employment tribunals. And Mr Thomas Symonds also promises to "challenge the gross inequity of Employment Tribunal fees."

While there are a series of new clauses proposed, dealing with important issues, including the one from the former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, which would ensure that no evidence could be presented or questions may be asked in cross-examination about the sexual behaviour of someone who has made an accusation of rape, these will not be taken until the final stages of the Committee process.


Wednesday 19 April

The Commons meets (11.30am) for Scottish questions - an increasingly charged occasion as the Scottish Government presses for a new independence referendum. That is followed, at noon, by Prime Minister's Question Time.

Then, the influential Conservative backbencher, David Burrowes has a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Child Maintenance (Assessment of Parents' Income). He wants to equalise the assessment and enforcement of child maintenance arrangements of children of self-employed parents with that of children of other employed parents

After that, MPs will rattle through a series of fairly short debates. First they will decide their response to Lords amendments to the Technical and Further Education Bill, where the Government failed to prevent amendments requiring Ofsted to take careers advice in inspections of further education colleges, and requiring the Secretary of State to make under-20s in apprenticeships eligible for child benefits.

Labour will have a 90-minute debate on their attempt to block the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations 2016, which set limits on the maximum fees that publicly-funded higher education institutions can charge students.

Next comes a bit of a curiosity - a debate on approving the government's report to the EU Commission on the UK's economic and budgetary position as required by Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. This could be a little ritualistic, given the UK's impending departure, but will probably provide an opportunity for MPs to revisit their arguments on the economics of Brexit.

Then the Liberal Democrats will attempt to revoke the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2017 - which are intended of counter High Court rulings which broadened the scope of people entitled to personal independence payments - a benefit for people with disabilities and health problems. Around 160,000 people with conditions including dementia are thought to be affected.

The adjournment debate is on the case of the Ballydugan Four - the DUP MP Jim Shannon will contrast the case of four UDR men killed at Ballydugan, when the IRA detonated a 1,000lb landmine bomb, with what he calls the "multi-million pound investigation" into allegations against British service personnel over killings during the troubles.

In Westminster Hall (0930 BST - 1100 BST), Conservative MP Neil Parish, who chairs the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee, will lead a debate on a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme.

Arch-Brexiteer Philip Hollobone has a debate on the UK's total net financial contribution to the EEC, EC and EU since 1 January 1973 (1100 BST - 1130BST).

Labour's Catherine McKinnell has a debate (1430 BST - 1600BST) on the roll-out of Universal Credit - she has denounced the introduction of the new super-benefit as "a total shambles," and has accused the Department of Work and Pensions of "deliberately preventing MPs from helping their constituents." This is a re-staging of a debate which was curtailed as a result of the terror attack on Parliament on 22 March.

Another debate which caught my eye was North Cornwall Conservative Scott Mann's 1630BST - 1730BST) on the use of regional flags on driving licences and number plates - presumably including Saint Piran's Flag, the white cross on a black background, which is the flag of Cornwall.

My committee pick is the Public Accounts hearing (1430BST) on civil service capability and the "revolving door" based on this report from the National Audit Office, highlighting gaps in the capabilities of the civil service in the face of the challenge of Brexit. The star witness is Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service.


Thursday 20 April

The Commons opens (0930BST) with Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions, followed by mini-question times for the MPs who speak on behalf of the Church Commissioners, the House of Commons Commission, the Public Accounts Commission and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission.

At 1030BST (assuming no ministerial statements or urgent questions are added to the agenda) the Leader of the House will deliver his weekly business statement - watch out for announcements of the date for the next Queen's Speech, the unveiling of Theresa May's first programme of legislation, which will provide an interesting insight into her government's priorities in handling Brexit. And there may even be a date for the often promised, but never yet scheduled debate on whether MPs should move out of their Victorian gothic home, to make way for a multi-billion pound renovation project.

The rest of the day is devoted to debates scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee - starting with a statement from Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on their latest report, on Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum.

Then Justice Committee Chairman Bob Neill delivers a statement on their new report on Prison Reform: governor empowerment and prison performance.

The first full backbench debate is on a motion complaining about "the detrimental effect that the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Regulations 2017 will have on the lives of many expatriate UK citizens living overseas with frozen pensions; and insists that the government take the necessary steps to withdraw those regulations."

And then comes a general debate on research and development on tackling infectious diseases.

In Westminster Hall (from 1330BST) MPs discuss the Transport Committee's report on the Volkswagen emissions scandal and vehicle type approval, which found that VW "acted with a cynical disregard for emissions limits which exist solely to protect human health". It also noted that the company had ruled out compensating owners of affected vehicles in Europe but is providing payments to US customers.

From 1500BST the subject is the European Arrest Warrant.