Week ahead in Parliament

MPs in the House of Commons Image copyright AFP
Image caption Expect another packed chamber for the third vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal

It's here!

The long-anticipated blizzard of Brexit secondary legislation hits Parliament this week, with MPs due to consider 12 orders and regulations and peers a whopping 32 - and that's just the ones in the main chambers.

My favourite so far is the Zoonotic Disease Eradication and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, closely followed by the Draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

The constitutional think-tank, the Hansard Society, believes this is the most ever to have been put before Parliament in a single week.

Expect the debate on most of them to be pretty ritualistic - and remember that they are easily rescheduled, should the urge come upon the government to hold another Meaningful Vote on the Brexit Deal.

So stay alert for a new business statement from the Leader of the House, announcing something has been added to the agenda.

But while MPs go through the motions of considering them, they do maintain a constant Brexit vibe which will underlie the real business of the week, which will be the plotting and manoeuvring, whipping and strategizing for the next moves in the Brexit process.

The government Chief Whip, Julian Smith, will doubtless spend the weekend devising a battle plan for the promised third attempt to get the prime minister's Brexit deal approved.

The choice - particularly for unenthusiastic Conservatives - will be framed as one between the PM's deal (plus a short postponement of Brexit Day, to allow the legislation to go through) or rejecting the deal and accepting a longer extension of British membership of the EU.

Brexiteer strategists believe they can both vote down the PM's deal and block any postponement of the departure day, currently enshrined in law as 29 March.

That, they believe, would give them a "clean Brexit", which would among other things avoid the need to become a "rule taker" and keep paying billions to the EU.

And the strong vote against the prime minister's motion to allow for a postponement - 188 Conservatives, including a long list of ministers and whips trooped through the no lobbies - suggests that the process of changing the date may not, to put it gently, be straightforward.

Those figures were produced by a free vote, and whipping might reduce the level of opposition.

They may also reflect the Conservatives' internal fury at the breakdown in Cabinet collective responsibility on Wednesday, when four cabinet ministers abstained in a key vote, when Conservative MPs were being whipped to vote No. That backlash is hardly a good sign for the government's cohesion.

And then there was the vote for Independent Group member Dr Sarah Wollaston's amendment, which won the backing of the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and, most interestingly 25 Labour MPs, defying a strong party whip (I'm told a cordon of Labour whips stood across the Aye lobby, to deter potential rebels).

Its size reflects a bit of a schism in the second referendum camp, where the People's Vote campaign thought it was premature and bad tactics, to force a vote at this stage.

Those in The Independent Group retort they're tired of "waiting for Jeremy" and for Labour to swing behind a referendum with real force and enthusiasm, and they wanted to put down a marker.

The People's Vote high command believes that a new referendum will only become a serious option after another cycle of deadlock. So they are likely to make their move when Meaningful Vote 3 is proclaimed.

To be sure, it can be argued that MPs have now voted the idea down, but that doesn't, these days, seem to be a barrier to bringing back the same proposition again and again.

Other themes to watch out for next week include the Lib Dem leadership race, probably featuring former minister Jo Swinson, former Energy Secretary Sir Ed Davey, and possibly the Lib Dem answer to Beto O'Rourke, Layla Moran.

Expect the contenders to find opportunities to flourish their plumage on suitable Commons occasions.

And watch out for a Commons debate and vote on whether to defenestrate Independent Group MPs from select committees to which they were elected as Labour MPs.

The rules on select committee membership don't really cover the possibility of mid-term switches in party allegiance - and the prospect of asserting party ownership of select committee seats, complete with a right to turf out MPs who leave a party, could have long-term implications for the non-partisan way they are supposed to operate.

Here's my rundown of the week ahead:

Monday 18 March

The Commons opens with an hour of Work and Pensions Questions followed, no doubt, by the usual crop of post weekend ministerial statements and Urgent Questions

Then the statutory instruments begin: Amendments relating to the:

  • Provision of Integrated Care Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Organic Production (Control of Imports) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • Draft Organic Production and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

In Westminster Hall, MPs debate a e-petition calling for a "ban on all ISIS members from returning to the UK, remove their citizenship and passports".

The petition attracted 579,626 signatures, and the government response is that British citizenship can be removed if it does not render the individual stateless. Any risk posed by those who return from Syria will be managed and they may be investigated for criminal offences.

In the Lords, it's another day dealing with Brexit-related statutory instruments, setting the tone for a busy week of SI-approving. These include:

  • The Draft Merchant Shipping (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Merchant Shipping (Passengers' Rights) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Licensing of Operators and International Road Haulage (Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Immigration (European Economic Area Nationals) (EU Exit) Order 2019
  • The Draft Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account: Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Services of Lawyers and Lawyer's Practice (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Jurisdiction and Judgments (Family) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

Tuesday 19 March

The first business in the Commons is Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions.

The day's Ten Minute Rule Bill is the Fracking (Seismic Activity) Bill, from the Conservative Lee Rowley, who represents North East Derbyshire, where there is exploration for shale gas extraction.

He says 50 earthquakes have been caused by fracking - the controversial process of extracting shale gas and oil from rock, by forcing pressurised water through it, and he believes the industry is seeking to overturn rules they agreed to, which aim to minimise the danger of seismic disturbances.

His Bill would lock in the existing rules, with the aim of protecting communities around fracking sites - although he remains opposed to any fracking at all.

Then it's back to the statutory instruments.

  • The Draft Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Genetically Modified Food and Feed (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Novel Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Animal Feed (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Then comes the motion on Select Committee Appointments (see above)

In Westminster Hall, debates include: the effect of leaving the European Union on the UK's health and social care sector, flooding in Cumbria, gambling-related harm and the civil service compensation scheme.

My committee corridor pick is the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport session on immersive and addictive technologies, with officials from Snapchat, one of the most popular social media platforms and an app that is predominantly used by young people.

Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS Committee, says his committee is interested in "assessing the impact of the features of the service on users, as well, amongst other things, the company's policy on advertising".

He also wants to press home for the need for Snapchat and other social media companies to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to protect their users.

And the Education Committee's big inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities continues with evidence from young people talking about their experience of the system.

In the Lords, questions to ministers include one on the decline in the insect population. Peers will consider the detail of "Finn's Law" - the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill - the measure to impose tougher sentences on those who attack service animals like police dogs and horses.

Then they will polish off two bills - the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill will have its Third reading - with some technical government amendments expected to enact concessions offered by ministers.

The Bill has been renamed the Healthcare (EEA and Switzerland) Bill, marking the fact that peers have declined to allow the government to have general powers to make new international health care arrangements, and have limited this bill to replacing existing EU healthcare arrangements.

Expect a bit of Labour gloating, but this should be brief.

Next comes the third reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill - the outstanding issue being the use of "trusted couriers" to deliver bladed items.

Finally, peers will zip through the detail of the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill - legislation needed in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive.

Wednesday 20 March

MPs warm up with half an hour of International Development Questions, before what promises to be a tense Prime Minister's Question Time

The day's Ten Minute Rule Bill is from the SNP's Kirsty Blackman extending eligibility for the destitution domestic violence concession - the right to claim benefits while applying to settle in the UK because of domestic violence - to European Economic Area nationals.

Then it's back to Sis, starting with the Draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019, which makes relationships education and relationships and sex education compulsory in all schools. Expect some objections.

That is followed by motions to approve:

  • The Draft Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) and (Levy Account: Basis of Distribution) Regulations 2019
  • The Flags (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

In Westminster Hall, there are debates on SEN support in schools, the reduced insect population, wildlife crime, tourism in the East of England and the legal duties on ministers reduce health inequalities.

On the Committee Corridor, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove is before the Environmental Audit Committee to talk about the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill - the legislation to set up a post-Brexit system of environmental protection

In the Lords, the much-amended Trade Bill totters to its Third Reading - but expect a couple of amendments on the impact of trade agreement on animal welfare and human rights; and another relating to trade scrutiny co-operation.

Then peers process more statutory instruments, including:

  • The Draft Common Agricultural Policy and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Common Agricultural Policy (Financing, Management and Monitoring Supplementary Provisions) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Common Agricultural Policy (Financing, Management and Monitoring) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Agriculture (Legislative Functions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; the State Aid (Agriculture and Fisheries) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Food and Drink, Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Zoonotic Disease Eradication and Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Thursday 21 March

The Commons day opens with Transport Questions, followed by what will be a closely-scrutinised Business Statement from the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom.

With Brexit Day coming up fast, the scheduling of Brexit business, including a possible motion to postpone it, could become critical.

Then MPs move on to the first of two Backbench Business Committee debates, on services for people with autism, in advance of World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April.

The influential All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, chaired by former cabinet minister, Dame Cheryl Gillan want to highlight the lack of public understanding of autism, lengthy waits for diagnosis, the autism employment gap and the situation faced by autistic people who have been stuck in inappropriate assessment and treatment units.

Next comes a general debate on NICE's Appraisal Processes for Treatments for Rare Diseases - a debate pushed for by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on PKU, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and on rare diseases.

They believe there is a common issue around how the drugs watchdog appraises the efficacy and availability of drugs. And they want the government to respond and re-examine the system.

In Westminster Hall, MPs have a chance to debate the Science and Technology Committee's report on evidence-based early years intervention.

This recommends developing interventions to address adverse childhood experiences like sexual abuse, parental substance misuse or parental incarceration and crime, for which no effective intervention has been demonstrated.

It is a subject attracting increasing Commons interest, not least because of the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill. The Lib Dem former Health Minister Norman Lamb will lead proceedings.

In the Lords (11 am) after the normal half hour of questions to ministers, peers have ten statutory instruments to chew on:

  • The Draft Railway (Licensing of Railway Undertakings) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Train Driving Licences and Certificates (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Common Rules for Access to the International Market for Coach and Bus Services (Amendment etc) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Financial Services (Miscellaneous) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Electronic Commerce and Solvency 2 (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Nutrition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Health Services (Cross-Border Health Care and Miscellaneous Amendments) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft National Health Service (Cross-Border Healthcare and Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Social Security Coordination (Reciprocal Healthcare) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
  • The Draft Chemicals (Health and Safety) and Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Friday 22 March

Its private members bill day in the Commons, again, with a long list of bills on the agenda - but unlikely to be reached.

First up is the Overseas Electors Bill, which has emerged from Committee Stage consideration.

The Conservative Glyn Davies wants to extend the right to vote in elections to more British citizens living abroad, arguing that only 1.4 million of the estimated 4.9 million British expats are currently eligible to vote because they have lived overseas for more than 15 years.

He wants to remove that cut-off point.

There are a number of Report Stage amendments already down for consideration - and an attempt to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds could well be made.

There is a long list of further Bills scheduled for a Second Reading - Sir Christopher Chope's Free Trade (Education and Reporting) Bill, Paul Scully's Pedicabs (London) Bill, Layla Moran's Palestinian Statehood (Recognition) Bill, and Sir Ed Davey's Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill are next on the agenda, but because this is the last day listed where private members bills take priority on the Commons agenda, the most they can hope for is a short debate. But many may surface again, in the next parliamentary year.

The Lords IS not sitting.

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