Week ahead

This week's really huge parliamentary event is the announcement, on Wednesday, of the outcome of the CSR - the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Expect the normal interest in who has "won" and "lost" in the latest Cabinet spending battles, but this is no mere autumn statement; it sets out long term spending plans well beyond the next election, and promises to be an unremittingly bleak document, with a further 7.6% cut in spending by government departments pencilled in for 2016-7.

Amongst other things the plans suggest a million fewer people will work for the government in 2018, compared to pre-crisis levels...

What is not yet clear is how extensively this important announcement and the strategy underlying it will be debated. The Chancellor, George Osborne, will deliver a statement to the House - and the ensuing questioning will doubtless go on for some hours. But even the dampest squib non-event of a budget is debated for several days and the CSR deserves at least the same treatment. And at the moment the Commons agenda for coming weeks doesn't allow much time for discussing it.

To be sure, the implications will get piecemeal debate in the select committees, department by department, but the global picture will be dealt with in a pretty perfunctory way. It's the parliamentary equivalent of shutting your eyes tightly, jamming fingers in each ear and shouting la-la-la very loudly. It reminds me of the last election when the extent of the economic crisis was barely discussed, as all sides defaulted to their comfort zone of blame games and sloganizing.

Here's the detailed rundown of the week:


The Commons meets at 2.30pm for Education Questions - and assuming there are no ministerial statements or urgent questions, as there often are on a Monday, MPs then move on to the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill - which makes a series of tweaks to the devolved system there - giving the Northern Ireland Secretary power to make transparent the declaration of donations and non-commercial loans to political parties in Northern Ireland from September 2014; it stops Assembly Members sitting in the Commons and disqualifies members of the Republic's Parliament, the Dail, from standing for the Assembly.

With accumulating complaints about the activities of the new look of Police and Crime Commissioners, now in charge of every force in England and Wales, Home Affairs Committee chair Keith Vaz has a rather well-timed adjournment debate on their accountability. The ministerial response (I assume from Police Minister Damian Green) should merit close study.

In the Lords, (from 2.30pm) questions cover instability in Central Asia, the impact of the cut in the top rate of income tax from 50 to 40% and the guidelines about public statements by NHS executives.

The main business is the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - where committee stage debates have moved at a snail's pace, but where the bill remains on track as the third and final committee day arrives. Key issues include deathbed marriages, the application of the bill in Wales, and the conversion of civil partnerships to marriage. Unless opponents of the bill stage an ambush, there are unlikely to be any votes - and the next major clashes will be at report stage, or even third reading.

There is a dinner break "regret motion" on the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Carers Allowance) Regulations 2013, from the independent peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool, but it probably won't be pressed to a vote.


The Commons begins (at 11.30am) with Treasury Questions, to be followed by Opposition Day debates on lobbying and on the armed forces. (Or that's the plan at the moment - the motions were changed last week to respond to events, and the lobbying debate which was scheduled for last week was dropped because too much time would have been taken up by ministerial statements... so don't be astonished if things change).

Over in Westminster Hall the debate on the performance of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (9.30am - 11am) could prove pretty sparky. It's been called by Essex MP Priti Patel who has already called on five board members of the Trust to resign - she (and Conservative colleague Therese Coffey) accuse them of having failed to address problems with ambulance response times and the debate will doubtless be used to increase the pressure for them to go.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm) there are questions to ministers on lowering the exchange rate for sterling, increasing funding for small and medium-sized enterprises and the impact on insurance companies' balance sheets of paying mesothelioma sufferers 100% of compensation.

Then, peers move on to the report stage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, where the big bone of contention is the move to privatise the probation service - the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham has a number of amendments down - but the key ones look to be the two he's proposing jointly with Labour front-bencher Lord Beecham, 20 and 21.

These call for a further vote of Parliament before the structure of the service is changed, and for a three year pilot scheme before any national system of paying private companies, charities, etc, doing probation work by results can be introduced.

Either, or both of those, may be forced to a vote, but the result will depend on whether Lord Ramsbotham can marshal enough of his colleagues on the crossbenches to vote against the government, and maybe on whether Lib Dem peers are prepared to turn out in force to support the government.

One factor is that some peers are clearly grumpy that a promised impact assessment has not been published....and grumpier still at suggestions that some individuals have managed to have a peep at it....

There's also a short debate on the civil and military use of drones.

Wednesday sees the week's major event in both houses - the announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, spelling out where the impact of the next round of deficit-reducing spending cuts will fall. George Osborne will make the announcement in the Commons, and his statement will be repeated in the Lords, presumably by the Treasury Minister Lord Deighton, who'll doubtless have to field questions from an intimidating collection of former chancellors and treasury ministers. I've whined about the inadequacy of all this, above.

Before that we have half an hour of Scottish Questions (from 11.30am) followed by prime minister's question time - and after Mr Osborne has fielded questions for a couple of hours, MPs move on to the second reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill. This authorises new spending on preparations for the HS2 line including some compulsory purchase of land, but it is not the big "Hybrid Bill" (ie dealing with private as well as public interests) which will specify the final route - that comes later in the session and will probably be passported into the next parliament.

And then there's a rather fearsome looking motion on the handling of environmental statements within Hybrid Bill procedure....

Over in the Lords (from 3pm) Labour peers keep up several of their party's sustained campaigns at question time, where they ask ministers about payday lending, legal aid reform and affordable home insurance for homes at risk of flooding.

After peers have heard the CSR statement there are backbench debates on select committee reports: the economic implications for the UK of Scottish independence, small and medium-sized enterprises, and EU enlargement.


In the Commons it's a 9.30am start for MPs as they gather for Transport Questions and questions to Leader of the House; and to the House of Commons Commission - which administers the Commons.

Then Andrew Lansley delivers his weekly Business Statement, setting out the agenda for the coming week. The main debates are on two subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, on legal aid reform - a subject proposed by former ministers David Lammy and Sarah Teather - and on multinational companies and UK corporation tax, led by Paul Farrelly and Jim Sheridan. The adjournment debate on terms of employment for reserve service personnel, is led by the Conservative Nadine Dorries.

Meanwhile, over in Westminster Hall, MPs have a chance to debate the Northern Ireland Committee's report on an air transport strategy for Northern Ireland and the government response to it.

In the Lords (from 11am) there are questions on arming the opposition in Syria and development prospects in Africa, followed by a series of debates led by backbench peers.

These are on the importance of sustainable jobs, the challenges faced by women particularly in the developing world and the citizenship programme in schools.

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