Week ahead at Westminster

MPs in particular are beginning to complain about the lack of red legislative meat being set before them; but this week they will have something to sink their teeth into - the long-awaited return of the Immigration Bill.

The snag is that it's on a Thursday, at a time when many would be heading for their constituencies (I assume), but that's showbusiness!

And their Lordships can look forward to a second day of committee stage debate on the EU Referendum Bill on Friday, where the passage of further amendments could leave the bill dead in the water.

And there may be some more of the ill-tempered moments that pockmarked the first day of committee...

When peers are cross with one another they deliver their venom with exquisite artistry, so connoisseurs of the parliamentary arts should tune in…

Here's my rundown of the week's action:


The Commons sits at 2.30pm for Home Office questions - after which (with the usual health warning about possible ministerial statements or urgent questions) MPs will polish off the European Union (Approvals) Bill.

There was a minor rebellion on this fantastically anodyne measure (it deals with the archiving of EU documents and a citizenship programme - which is the bit which attracted criticism), last week, and it wouldn't surprise me if a few Conservative MPs plus maybe a few DUP MPs and maybe a couple from Labour voted against this measure again.

That will be followed by a debate on the law on dangerous driving, scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee.

It will be led by the Conservative Chris Skidmore who has been active on this issue since a tragedy in his Bristol constituency, when Ross and Clare Simons were knocked from their tandem bike and the man responsible, Nicky Lovell, who had 11 previous convictions for driving while disqualified, received an eight year sentence, which was the maximum possible.

Mr Skidmore and others are expected to press for tougher sentencing to be possible in these cases.

In the Lords (from 2.30pm), questions to ministers range across the axing of the annual survey of mental health spending, the current situation in Georgia, jobs created in the private sector compared to jobs lost in the public sector and assistance to the people of Gaza over the last three months.

The day's main legislating is the third reading of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - where, after a number of government defeats, on the definitions for anti-social behaviour and for miscarriage of justice, and major concessions on forced marriage and victims who lack the capacity to consent to marriage, and closure of premises used for child sexual exploitation, the opposition won't press its luck and no votes are expected.

Then peers move on to the second reading of the Water Bill, which covers topical issues like regulation of the water environment and flood insurance for households.


The Commons begins (2.30pm) with Treasury questions, and then moves on to a ten minute rule bill from Labour MP Diana Johnson on the regulation of sex establishments.

Her aim is to update the rules around lap-dancing clubs and give stronger powers to local people to stop them, if they choose.

The main business is the second reading of the Consumer Rights Bill - this aims to "make consumers better informed and better protected when they're buying."

It also covers protection of consumer interests, investigatory powers for regulating traders, private actions under competition law.

Watch out for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on ticketing abuse putting down some markers on ticket touting, which they want to be included in the legislation.

Over in Westminster Hall there is the usual series of debates led by backbench MPs, starting with Labour's Kate Green on education funding for 18 year olds (9.30 - 11am) and Political and Constitutional Reform Committee chair, Graham Allen, continues his guerrilla campaign for constitutional change with a debate on a UK Bill of Rights (11 - 11.30am).

In the Lords (from 2 .30pm) the subjects at question time are the costs of implementing the under-occupancy charge, payment to local councils of money devolved from the social fund, the latest quarterly survey and economic outlook published by the British Chambers of Commerce and ensuring that minors are not exposed to the dangers of online media... a subject which crops up again, later in the day...

Peers will deal with the Commons response to the amendments they have made to the Transparency of Lobbying Bill.

This is the famous parliamentary ping pong and the two key issues likely to be forced to votes are the inclusion of staffing costs in campaign spending limits for campaigning organisations, and constituency spending limits for campaigning organisations.

Then, peers continue with the marathon report stage of the Children and Families Bill.

This is the fourth of five days set aside for it.

There is an amendment from a group of peers (Baronesses Howe, Hughes and Benjamin and Lord Cormack) which would impose a duty on internet service providers to provide a service which "protects children."

Users would have to actively "opt-in" to subscribe to a service that includes adult content and it would be Ofcom's role to oversee it.

This is a popular idea that has been mooted a lot recently.

There may also be amendments on sex and relationship education.

Baronesses Lister and Pitkeathley have an amendment down to review new types of leave arrangements for employees, in addition to those that currently exist, with a view to helping families combine care for a disabled child or adult with work.

The third reading debate, incidentally, is set for 5 February.


The Commons day begins (11.30am) with Cabinet Office questions - this is the engine room of government and ministers Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude deal with matters like public sector pensions and government procurement.

PMQs then follow.

The day's main debates are on opposition motions on the UNHCR Syrian Refugee Programme (a motion signed by Ed Miliband and also by the SNP's Angus Robertson, Green MP Caroline Lucas, the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell, and Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd) and a second motion on teacher qualifications.

Over in Westminster Hall there are more backbencher-led debates.

My eye was particularly caught by the Labour MP Andy McDonald's debate (2.30pm) on the government decision to apply sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to mesothelioma cases - this is about a relaxation of the fees rules for compensation actions by mesothelioma victims, exempting them from paying legal fees out of their settlement.

The government is looking at whether to continue this arrangement and Mr McDonald wants to explore their thinking.

In the Lords, question time ranges across the eligibility of Scottish MPs to stand for election in 2015 following the independence referendum, the reported increase in number of children contacting Childline complaining of racist and Islamophobic bullying and the effect of the under-occupancy charge on tenants.

After that, it's the final report stage day on the Children and Families Bill.

The key issues include the right to paid leave and flexible working, smoking in cars where children are present, and exempting families with children from the so-called "bedroom tax".

This will be followed by a regret motion from Lord Pannick on the Criminal Legal Aid Regulations (no vote expected).


The Commons meets at 9.30am for Culture, Media and Sport questions, followed by the weekly statement on forthcoming business by the Leader of the House.

Then, finally, there will be the long awaited re-appearance of the Immigration Bill.

Despite the government whips' best efforts, Tory MP Nigel Mills has not withdrawn his amendment on reintroducing transitional controls for Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, but has revised it instead.

He wants a new version of the transitional controls (which were lifted on 1 January) to be reintroduced until 2018 on the grounds that Romania and Bulgaria had failed to implement a series of commitments agreed under the terms of their EU accession treaties.

This does, however, directly contravene EU law - and he's therefore tweaked the amendment to dis-apply the 1972 European Communities Act, so that Parliament can vote to ignore it in this instance.

Meanwhile a rival, government-backed amendment is being circulated that would require the home secretary to lay a report in the implications for UK immigration of any new countries gaining EU membership, in future.

The response from backers of the Mills amendment is flatly contemptuous, pointing out that there are no large countries likely to join in the foreseeable future - the prospects for Ukraine or Turkey look increasingly distant, prompting disobliging remarks about stable doors slamming shut...

The Mills amendment had the support of 72 MPs and it will be interesting to see what the total is, come Thursday.

Will the whips manage to peel many of those supporters away?

It will be well worth checking for the emergence of new amendments and tracking the names attached to them...

In the Lords (from 11am) the question time subjects include action to promote the safety of cyclists, the performance of NHS Property Services in disposing of surplus properties and the roll-out of broadband and mobile coverage across the UK

As usual the subjects for debate on a Thursday are chosen by backbenchers - on this occasion Lord Lang of Monkton will lead a debate on the implications for the UK of the Scottish independence referendum - an impressive five hours has been set aside for this.

Then, Lord Berkeley will discuss improving access to finance to small and medium-sized enterprises


The Commons is not sitting, but the Lords are expected to continue their debates on the EU Referendum Bill (10am).

I'll blog more about this next week.