Week ahead in Parliament

Commons Image copyright Getty Images

There's a bad moon rising over Westminster....for some MPs the recent spate of sexual harassment scandals has brought back memories of the expenses scandal, a decade ago, with the deadly threat of a mid-afternoon call from some news outlet, followed by career ruination.

There's clearly a lot going on behind the scenes, with the parties clearing the decks and brushing up on their procedures, to cope with further allegations, and the parliamentary authorities contemplating what institutional steps might be taken to provide better protection for staff in these cases.

The prime minister is meeting the main party leaders on Monday evening, and some new ideas might emerge from those talks.

All of which rather eclipses the two days of un-whipped Commons business before the half term break begins on Wednesday.

Indeed, so light is the Chamber business, that some MPs set off for an extended holiday on Thursday, secure in the knowledge that there are no more votes until Monday 13 November.

And, incidentally, the new Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, will have plenty of time to read into his new role, because his first Commons question time is not until Monday 27th November (unless of course he has to make a statement or face an urgent question before that; I bet Labour have a go...)

The new team of whips formed in the backwash of Mr Williamson's departure will be preparing for the stern test posed by the EU Withdrawal Bill - the mission-critical piece of Brexit legislation due to be debated in detail, starting the week after half-term - where they face a series of possible defeats on hostile amendments from assorted cross party alliances.

In this context, look out for a report from the Commons Procedure Committee on the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The buzz is that they will propose a mechanism to sift the vast quantities of secondary legislation needed to reprocess 40 years of EU law into British law. Some government MPs fear any such mechanism would be outside government control and would amount to "a bazooka aimed at Brexit".

But the committee might offer a compromise which would blunt one of the main attacks on the bill - the report should be out on Monday.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:

Monday

The Commons opens (2.30pm) with Education questions, which will be followed, after an hour, by an urgent question from the shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on the Paradise papers,

That's followed by a statement from the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid about the Grenfell recovery taskforce, set up to support Kensington and Chelsea council.

The main debates, chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, are both on sensitive subjects.

First uber-Remainer Stephen Kinnock has a motion on British membership of the European Economic Area saying the House believes that for the UK to withdraw from the European Economic Area (EEA) it will have to trigger Article 127 of the EEA Agreement, and, interestingly, calling on the government to provide time for a debate and decision on a substantive motion on the UK's continued membership of the EEA.

For all the technical language, this zeros in on a key question about the nature of the UK's post Brexit relationship with the EU.

The second debate is on transport in the North - led by Labour's Diana Johnson. Essentially this is a look at the state of play on the Northern Powerhouse.

Image copyright HoC
Image caption There won't be any votes of importance until Monday 13 November, when the Commons returns

And Diana Johnson remains in place to lead the adjournment debate, marking the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967.

The day's Westminster Hall debate (4.30pm) is on e-petition 176555 calling for mental health education to be part of the UK curriculum.

The petition, which attracted 103,554 signatures, noted that mental health issues are not part of the curriculum, despite consistently high rates of child and adolescent mental health issues. "By educating young people about mental health in schools, we can increase awareness and hope to encourage open and honest discussion among young people," it says.

My committee pick is the Public Accounts Committee evidence session (3.30pm) on Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' performance in 2016-17 - effective tax collection remains a sensitive political issue. The chair of the committee, Labour MP Meg Hillier has said that tax officials HMRC will be questioned about the revelations in the Paradise Papers.

In the Lords from 2.30pm, questions cover European Commission proposals for the future of the EU, protecting rural communities from pesticides (from the Green Party's Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) and the future of farm support post-Brexit.

There will be some significant action around the continuing committee stage of the Data Protection Bill (this is just day two of seven) where there are some proposals about what amounts to an age of consent for the use of social media data, and a rather interesting idea from Labour's Lord Stevenson to use a copyright mechanism to make social media companies pay into a fund for digital education.

Tuesday

In the Commons (11.30 am) MPs open with Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions - followed by two Backbench Business Committee debates.

First Labour's Siobhain McDonagh leads a debate on temporary accommodation and then there's a general debate on matters to be considered before the forthcoming adjournment - a rather formless affair in which any MP can raise any subject that takes their fancy. It could all be over fairly early.

....but watch out for the adjournment debate, in which Margaret Hodge continues her crusade against tax avoidance, raising the subject of "Isle of Man taxation rules and tax avoidance and evasion".

A couple of weeks ago she had a debate on the enigmatically titled "Azerbaijan Laundromat" and there is no sign that the campaign she launched when chair of the PAC is abating.

Meanwhile in Westminster Hall, there are debates on funding for community policing (9.30 - 11am); devolution of the Wales and Borders franchise (11am-11.30am); and the Ukrainian Holodomor (2.30pm- 4pm). This is the suggestion of genocide in the continuing conflict in Ukraine - Conservative backbencher Pauline Latham wants a response from the Foreign Office.

Then comes a debate on property management company fees (4pm-4.30 pm) and finally Labour's Rupa Huq has a debate (4.30pm-5.30 pm) on public order legislation relating to family planning clinics, raising an issue in her constituency where pro and anti-abortion demonstrations are being held around a local clinic.

In the Lords (11am) questions to ministers cover Japanese knotweed, digital resilience for young, and neurotoxicity caused by prescribed prophylactic drugs.

The main debate is on the Lords Communications Committee report Growing up with the internet, which recommends a tougher approach to privacy and that PSHE be mandatory in all schools and should cover issues, including compulsive internet use, data gathering, and body image.

After that Honourable Members and Noble Lords disappear until Monday 13 November.

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