Week Ahead in Westminster

The Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament

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Following the drama of ping pong over the Brexit Bill, a drastic U-turn on National Insurance hikes, and Nicola Sturgeon's demand for a second independence referendum, this week promises to somewhat uneventful.

However, the Government is still faced with a brewing rebellion over plans for a shake-up of the schools funding formula, with a consultation on proposed changes due to close on Wednesday.

All being well, Friday could see the third reading of Kevin Hollinrake's Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill, which would remove certain legal barriers to enable the families of missing people to look after their finances.

Inspired by the case of missing York resident Claudia Lawrence, the Bill is understood to have widespread cross-party support and the backing of Government.

Monday March 20

The week kicks off at 2.30pm with departmental questions to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening. Given the anger among Tory backbenches whose constituencies are set to lose out under new school funding proposals, this promises to make for an uncomfortable 45 minutes for Ms Greening.

The main business for the day is the second reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill. This will give prison governors greater control over budgets for education, employment and health, while also introducing measures to crack down on the illegal smuggling of mobile phones into jails, and to include so-called legal highs on the list of substances subject to compulsory drug-testing powers.

Over in Westminster Hall, MPs will debate a petition calling for a £1200 cap on car insurance fees for 18-25-year-olds. In an earlier response to the petition, the Government said it was "aware" the cost of insurance for new drivers "can be high", but it expects companies will pass on savings to customers from recent changes designed to tackle costly whiplash injury claims.

And in select committees, members of the Transport committee will grill rail minister Paul Maynard and industry bodies on rail compensation, including progress with the roll out of the new Delay Repay 15 scheme.

Tuesday March 21

MPs gather at 11.30am for departmental questions to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. This is likely to see MPs raise concerns about the Government's pledge on mental health spending, following last week's publication of a letter from finance chief Paul Baumann claiming that a £880m fund set aside to improve services will now be used to offset hospital overspends.

This will be followed by the introduction of a private members bill by the Labour MP Karen Buck, which is aimed at updating the law to account for the rapid growth of the ‘short-let’ sector facilitated companies like AirBnb. It is understood that Ms Buck's Bill would require anyone letting a property short-term to notify their local authority, thereby making it easier to enforce rules relating to issues like noise, rubbish and anti-social behaviour.

The Commons will then have a debate on fuel poverty, which is a problem that affects many rural communities as well as deprived inner-city areas. The combination of high energy prices and poor insulation is also blamed for the UK's high winter mortality rates.

Meanwhile over in Westminster Hall MPs will be discussing the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, as celebrations prepare to get underway in the EU. Theresa May has made it clear that she will not take part in the commemorations, but it seems she has at least respected calls from some European officials to postpone the triggering of Article 50 until after the anniversary.

Wednesday March 22

Business begins at 11.30am with departmental questions to the Minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer.

This will be followed by PMQs where many Labour MPs will be hoping for a stronger performance by Jeremy Corbyn following last week's failure to take the Government to task over it's NICs U-turn.

Afterwards, the fiercely pro-European leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, will table a private members bill calling for a second referendum on the proposed terms for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. This promises to stir up a feisty debate between fellow Remain supporters and hardline Brexiteers who see it as yet another attempt to frustrate the process of leaving the EU.

Outside the main chamber, DEFRA Select committee chairman Neil Parish will lead a Westminster Hall debate on mobile coverage in rural areas. Meanwhile the Women and Equalities Select Committee will be taking evidence on the challenges facing fathers in the workplace.

And over in the Lords, peers will debate the Government's Digital Economies Bill, including an amendment which aims to crack down on online ticket touts.

Thursday March 23

The day begins at 9.30am for departmental questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, followed by questions to the Women and Equalities Secretary Justine Greening and the Leader of the House David Lidington. This is likely to see a final push for a debate on the restoration of Westminster Palace (and possibly relocation of Parliament) before the end of the Parliamentary session.

The main business in the chamber for the afternoon will be backbench debates on compensation for Equitable Life policyholders, and the Social Mobility Commission's State of the Nation report. Published at the end of last year, the Commission's key findings include the fact that certain professions - such as medicine, law and journalism - still only employ a very low proportion of people from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds (between 4-11 percent), and that difficulties getting on the housing ladder is "accentuating" the country's wealth divide.

The debate is being led by a cross-party alliance of the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, the former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the former Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell, who will call for a renewed approach to education, skills and housing in order to improve social mobility.

Friday March 24

MPs gather at 9.30am to consider the final tranch of private members bills for the 2016-17 Parliamentary session. It is unlikely many will actually be debated, due to time limitations and the tendency of certain backbenchers to filibuster.

However, Kevin Hollinrake's Bill, which would allow the families of missing persons to apply for temporary control of their loved one's finances, is only third on the list so stands a greater chance for securing its crucial third reading. It is also understood to have ministerial support (as it delivers on an as-yet unfulfilled government pledge) so even if it falls at this final hurdle, the reforms could still find their way into legislation of one form or another.

The Bill has been dubbed "Claudia's Law" after the missing York resident Claudia Lawrence. Ms Lawrence's father Peter has been a key campaigner on this issue, and told the Yorkshire Post earlier this year that the legislation would make a "huge difference" to the lives of families faced with the tragedy of a missing loved one.

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