Week ahead

It's the last week of term for MPs, but not for peers - and there's a considerable amount of important legislating to be done...

My pick of the action is the Commons debate on EU justice and home affairs on Monday, but there are a number of issues which mainline into MPs' constituency concerns; watch out for the much-trailed announcement of planning guidelines for windfarms and solar-farms, promised before the recess, and a series of debates on fracking and shale gas extraction.

Monday in the Commons (from 2.30pm) is Theresa May day... the home secretary warms up with an hour of questions, and then remains in her seat for a debate on her decision on which EU justice and home affairs powers she plans to opt Britain into - and she'll face a hostile amendment from three senior select committee chairs, complaining at a lack of consultation with the Justice, Home Affairs and EU Scrutiny Committees.

Their amendment "regrets that the government did not fulfil the commitment which it made to consult relevant select committees on the arrangements for a vote on the matter; further regrets that the government did not provide its assessment of the legal and policy implications of opting out of each of the measures concerned, and of its reasons for seeking to opt back in to those on which it will be holding negotiations with the Commission, Council and other Member States, by mid-February 2013, as it had informed select committees it would..."

In contrast to the hero's welcome she was given over the Abu Qatada deportation, Theresa May had quite a rough reception from Conservative MPs when she announced her decision in a statement, this week, although she had the unaccustomed pleasure of being congratulated by Lib Dems....so this may be quite a test of her parliamentary skills.

The adjournment debate - led by Labour front bencher Helen Goodman - is on new media and personal data: she's worried about mobile phone companies selling on data about which websites people visit and their location - it's supposed to be anonymous, but she fears it could be made traceable if combined with other information. She believes phone users have not given proper consent and there's also an EU dimension, because she believes the UK government is resisting an attempt by the European Commission to clamp down on this kind of information dealing.

Over in the Lords (from 2.30pm) business begins with the introduction of former BT CEO Ian Livingston, who will take his seat in the House as a Conservative peer, and become trade and investment minister, replacing Lord Green.

This is always quite a difficult gig, because the new arrival has both to learn the ropes in the House and perform at the dispatch box as a minister. Labour took to referring to Lord Green as the Scarlet Pimpernel because they thought he didn't take enough questions and make enough speeches.

The day's questions to ministers range across the impact of medical litigation on medical innovation, passenger numbers in the UK's main airports and training adults to use digital services.

Then peers canter through a series of debate on bills. I think the main event will be the third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (which is second in the batting order) - where I suspect the opposition has rather petered out, although a last minute ambush is always possible.

Before that peers deal with the Finance Bill, second reading, committee stage, report and third reading in a single gulp - they're not supposed to tinker with finance bills - and the whole thing should not take very long.

On Tuesday, the Commons meets at 11.30am for Health questions - expect more on the decision to postpone any more towards requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging.

The Democratic Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson presents a ten minute rule bill on Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland. Then MPs move on to the second reading of the Defence Reform Bill - this is intended to improve procurement and support of defence equipment and to strengthen the reserve forces - it's controversial because it involves contracting out of some procurement work.

There's a technical motion to approve a Money Resolution relating on the European Union (Referendum) Bill - which might, I suppose allow another skirmish with opponents of the bill.

In Westminster Hall, Labour eurosceptic Gisela Stuart leads a debate on national parliaments and the EU. As one of the MPs who represented Britain in the European Constitutional Convention which produced the abortive EU Constitutional Treaty, she's likely to have interesting things to say about how the governance of the EU can be reshaped (watch from 9.30am - 11am). Then the Northern Ireland Alliance Party's sole MP, Naomi Long, has a debate on a bill of rights for Northern Ireland (11am - 11.30am) and the Conservative Mark Menzies raises the issue of community interests in shale gas developments in Lancashire - what kind of financial payoff should communities receive when there's "fracking" in their area? (That's from 2.30pm - 4pm.)

In the Lords, 2.30pm questions to ministers include one on the rents charged by private landlords and their impact on housing benefits - then peers turn to their sixth day of detailed committee stage debate on the Care Bill. The dinner break debate is on the Conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Commons opens at 11.30am with International Development questions, followed at noon by the last prime minister's question time until September. There's a ten minute rule bill from Labour's Siobhain McDonagh on the Electoral Register (Access to Public Services). Then MPs debate a coalition fault-line issue: the review of alternatives to the Trident nuclear missile system, followed by an opposition motion, as yet unannounced. And the adjournment debate - led by Labour's Kate Green - is on government policy on selection and allocation of organs for transplant.

Over in Westminster Hall, former minister Nick Herbert leads a debate on localism in planning (9.30am - 11am) and Labour's Rushanara Ali has a debate on money-transfer accounts services by banks to ethnic minority communities (2.30pm - 4pm).

In the Lords (from 3pm) ministers face questions on the prospect of British troops remaining in Afghanistan, and the future of Territorial Army Centres. Peers then move on to the report stages of two short-ish bills - the Mesothelioma Bill and the Local Audit and Accountability Bill.

And that's followed by what has become a regular feature of Lords life - a Motion to Regret an order to implement the government's reshaping of legal aid; on this occasion the Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 will be the subject of the latest joust between the Labour peer Lord Bach and the Lib Dem Justice Minister, Lord McNally.

Thursday is the Commons' last day of term and MPs start at 9.30am, with Business, Innovation and Skills questions. The Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley will give MPs at least a glimpse of the subjects they will debate when they reconvene in September - and then it's on to four subjects selected by the Backbench Business Committee.

The first is a statement by the chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, the Labour MP Clive Betts, on their new report on the Private Rented Sector, which is published next week.

Next up is a debate on the state of the Commons' internal reform process, which was kicked off in the last Parliament by the Wright Committee's report Rebuilding the House. This is led by the chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, and looks like a chance for uber-reformers to bemoan the lack of progress towards giving MPs more control over their own agenda. It now looks unlikely there will be much more serious reform before the next election.

Members of the new All Party Group on the projected EU-US Trade agreement have a debate to ponder the economic implications for the UK if a deal is ever agreed and, finally, MPs have their normal end of term debate in which they have the chance to raise any subject they choose.

The Backbench Business Committee has reorganised this into a much more useful occasion, by grouping speakers according to the subject they want to talk about and arranging for a suitable minister to offer some substantive response - and the final act of the term is an adjournment debate on "the Prosecution of Henry Thorley by HM Revenue and Customs and his acquittal" led by the Conservative veteran, Bill Cash.

Over in Westminster Hall they're talking about shale gas again, with a debate led by the Green MP Caroline Lucas (1.30pm - 4.30pm). Given the number of seats where there may be potential for shale gas exploitation and the dire warnings of the possible environmental damage, there's a great deal of interest in the whole issue among MPs - so this debate and, in particular the response from the government will be closely watched.

It's not the end of term in the Lords, who're continuing for two more weeks. They meet at 11am, when questions will cover the commemoration of the 304 British soldiers who were executed by the government in World War I, and the release of the records and files from the 1963 Profumo inquiry.

The day's debates are on subjects chosen by backbench peers - the role of government in generating economic prosperity and employment, the future of civil society and the health inequalities highlighted by the "confidential inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities".

As MPs begin their holidays, peers are back on Friday (from 10am) to debate private members' bills.

Conservative Lord Marlesford has his Littering from Vehicles Bill, and the Lib Dem Lord Sharkey has a bill to Pardon Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, who was convicted of homosexual offences in 1952, sentenced to chemical castration and who later committed suicide. Turing's early computers made a vital contribution to the war effort, cracking the German enigma code, and giving the allies a crucial advantage.

Finally there's the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment (Amendment) Bill, from the Conservative, Lord Selsdon.

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