Week ahead

Gay marriage is back in the Lords, for two days of detailed debate next week - which could mean guerrilla war between supporters and diehard opponents.

Lords committee stage debates always have an element of shadow boxing about them, as probing amendments are debated, in order to extract a response from ministers, but are not usually put to a vote.

The whole exercise is more about positioning for the subsequent report stage, when the real battles are fought out, if ministers have failed to win over their critics. Given the passions over this issue, it is entirely possible that some kind of ambush might be attempted, to vote through some amendment while the bill's supporters are looking the other way - if that happens, bear in mind that such amendments can be reversed or de-fanged at report stage.

I suspect the government will be very keen to avoid having to use the Commons to reverse some unwanted addition to the bill, because that would only re-open Tory wounds from the bitter debates there, earlier this year.

In the Commons, meanwhile, there will be skirmishing over welfare spending and over the EU, but some of the most interesting-looking debates are on the sidelines, in backbench business and even adjournment debates. And, really, this is the calm before the storm, as the government prepares to announce the outcome of its Comprehensive Spending Review on 26 June - which promises to be a pretty grim exercise.

Here's my rundown of the week:


In the Commons, (from 2.30pm) the first event is Defence questions and then - assuming there are no statements or urgent questions - MPs move on to the second reading of the Pensions Bill, which reforms the state pension system and bereavement benefits, and speeds up the timetable for increasing pensionable age to 67.

Expect much government sniping at Labour over Ed Balls' suggestion of a cap on welfare spending...regarded by many Conservatives as a serious policy blunder to be exploited at any opportunity.

The adjournment debate has a flavour of science fiction about it, as Labour's Nia Griffith raises the question of UK policy on "lethal autonomous robotics" - which turns out to be an emotionally neutral phrase for the emerging military technology which she calls "killer robots".

She's concerned the UK had not signed up for international talks towards an agreement on weapons that could make a decision to kill without human intervention. And she hopes that, just as blinding lasers were banned by international law in the 1990s, and a similar international ban could be introduced before a huge vested interest in their manufacture is entrenched....

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) questions range across the ability of the Royal Navy's escort vessels to meet the UK's maritime commitments, to the time taken to process an overseas visitor's application for a visa.

And then peers return to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which led to such an epic clash a couple of weeks ago. The bill now faces debate in a Committee of the Whole House and, predictably, there are plenty of amendments focusing on protection of conscientious objectors, for example among registrars or teachers at faith schools.

And there are also amendments designed to ensure that people who express disapproval of same-sex marriages are not committing any kind of offence. Lord Dear, who led attempts to stop the bill at second reading, offered this:

There's also a set of amendments designed to introduce a new terminology to distinguish same sex from heterosexual marriage. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, wants heterosexual marriage to be called "traditional marriage".

Look out, too, for an amendment from the former defence minister, Lord Trefgarne, extending the existing powers of masters of ships at sea to conduct marriages, so that they can conduct same sex marriages as well.

And finally, during the dinner break, a regret motion from the Lib Dem veteran Lord Avebury, on the Town and Country Planning Regulations 2013 focusing on the impact on vulnerable traveller families.


The Commons opens at 11.30am with Foreign Office questions - expect continuing pressure for assurances that MPs will be consulted before any UK intervention in the civil war in Syria.

MPs will then be asked to approve three EU documents, covering reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Enhanced Co-operation and a Financial Transaction Tax, and next European Parliament Elections. And then there's a short debate on the government's role in supporting peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan led by the SDLP's Mark Durkan and the Conservative Stephen Mosley.

Over in Westminster Hall there is the usual series of backbench debates, starting at 9.30am with one on unpaid internship, led by the Labour former Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears, who is one of the architects of the successful (and paid) parliamentary internship scheme.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) ministers field questions on the proposed badger cull and on the ratio of children to staff allowable for childminders and nurseries - a pot Labour are trying to keep bubbling after recent intra-Coalition squabbles on this issue, and ahead of the Children and Families Bill which has its second reading in early July.

Then it's on to the second reading of the Energy Bill - where peers will doubtless refight some of the issues on pricing, public subsidy, renewables, nuclear power and carbon targets which were fought out in the Commons. So far 30 peers are down to speak, including climate change sceptic Lord Lawson, Lord Sugar, Lord Oxburgh, the former Chief Scientific Advisor at the MoD, and former Defence Secretary Lord Hutton.


The Commons meets at 11.30am for Cabinet Office questions, followed by PMQs, at noon.

And then David Cameron is expected to deliver a statement reporting back on the latest summit of the G8 - the world's eight largest economies.

That is followed by the ritual presentation of the latest crop of private members' bills which will allow MPs their first glimpse of the measure to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU. T

here will also be bills on House of Lords reform (a version of the same bill the former Liberal Leader Lord Steel has attempted to put through parliament on several occasions), disclosing the identity of people who request information under the Freedom of Information Act, Child Maltreatment, and Property Blight Compensation. That last one comes from former cabinet minister Caroline Spelman, and may not be unconnected to the HS2 project. And expect a few more bills, besides.

The main business will be an Opposition Day debate. Labour came in for a bit of criticism for last minute announcements of the subject for their debates. I understand this week's chosen topic is flood insurance. The long-standing deal between the insurance industry and successive governments, to minimise premiums for homes at risk of flooding, in return for a certain level of spending on flood defences has unravelled, and unless a replacement can be agreed, homes at risk could soon face huge increases in insurance premiums.

If large numbers of homes become uninsurable, that would have a knock on effect on the balance sheets of banks which hold the mortgages on those properties, which would have to treat them as riskier assets....so the issue could cause a bit of a financial chain reaction.

And the day ends with an adjournment debate on the future of the National Media Museum in Bradford - led by the Respect MP, George Galloway.

Meanwhile, in Westminster Hall there are more backbench debates; the Conservative Robert Buckland (9.30am - 11am) focuses on the education of children and young people with speech, language and communication needs - he is particularly concerned about the alarming rate of SLC difficulties among those in youth custody, and he is aiming to air the issues and get some thoughts from ministers before the Children and Families Bill goes through the Lords.

And Ealing Southall Labour MP Virendra Sharma (2.30pm - 4pm) leads a debate on the effects of the new family migration rules.

In the Lords (from 3pm) there are questions to ministers on protecting children from online pornography and on the future of the Army Reserves especially the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry. And then peers move on to day two of committee stage debates on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. This time the key issues will include deathbed marriages, the situation in Wales, and the rules for conversion of civil partnership to marriage.

The dinner break debate is almost the platonic idea of a House of Lords discussion, as peers ponder the review by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel entitled When Laws Become Too Complex.


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport questions - and for Women and Equalities questions. There will be the usual Business Statement to let MPs know what they will be discussing next week and that is followed by two debates on subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee....

First there's a debate on carers - led by Lib Dem former minister, Paul Burstow, who recently chaired a committee scrutinising the draft Care Bill, and Labour's Barbara Keeley.

That's followed by a debate on the East Coast Main Line franchise led by Labour MPs Sheila Gilmore and Pat Glass. Both, given their seats, probably use the line a fair amount. The debate looks rather like an attempt to re-run the 1990s debates on rail privatisation.

The East Coast Line is currently being run directly by the Department for Transport, following the collapse of the private sector franchising and some on the Labour side want to argue against a rush to return it to the private sector, arguing that it allows for an interesting comparison between state-run and privatised railways.

The adjournment debate, on the purchase of residential property in the UK by foreign owners, is led by senior Lib Dem, Simon Hughes.

The backbench debate in Westminster Hall is on the UK's contribution to the Non-Proliferation Treaty - led by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

In the Lords (from 11am) ministers field questions on violence against women and the political situation in Turkey.

That is followed by a series of debates on subjects chosen by backbench peers. Lib Dem Lady Brinton raises the level of education support and mental health provision for children who are severely bullied at school.

Super-lawyer Lord Lester of Herne Hill debates a report on a British Bill of Rights and Labour's Lord Kennedy raises the question of alternatives to the payday lending industry - Labour complains the government has not done more on this issue since it accepted an amendment to the Financial Services Bill last year, which allowed interest payments to be capped and tougher controls on lenders.

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