Week ahead in Parliament

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06 September 2019 12:40

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This week should see the last rites performed over the tumultuous 2017-19 parliamentary session - with its knife-edge votes, collapse in party discipline and endless Brexit battles.

Perhaps as early as Monday night, a commission of Privy Councillors will don their ceremonial robes and hats for the Python-esque ritual which prorogues - or suspends - Parliament.

The Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, assured the House that it would not adjourn until Royal Assent has been granted to those bills that need it, including, critically, the Hilary Benn Brexit delay bill.

The exact timing of prorogation will depend on the tying-up of the last legislative loose ends, which may, just conceivably, delay things a little.

But then, amidst a doffing of cocked hats, a splurge of cod-medieval English, and a smattering of incantations in Norman French, Parliament will be off until the State Opening on 14 October.

The big event - in the one day of confirmed parliamentary business we have - will be another attempt by the government to secure an early election, with a motion under the 2011 Fixed Terms Parliament Act.

As I write, both Labour and the SNP have set their faces against this, ensuring the government will not secure the required two-thirds majority.

At the last attempt, when most of the opposition parties abstained on the vote, the government did not manage to muster support from even half the house - just 298 MPs.

So this debate may turn into an exercise in taunting the opposition.

Next in the hot seat

There are a couple of interesting sub-plots under way too.

The race is on to find a new chair for one of the most important select committees - the Treasury Committee - after the previous chair, Nicky Morgan, was restored to the cabinet.

Labour's John Mann is acting chair, but in the longer term, the right to chair this committee is reserved for a Conservative MP.

One potential candidate, the former minister Stephen Hammond, lost the Tory whip after rebelling this week, and cannot now stand for the job - which leaves another former minister, Harriet Baldwin, and the chair of the all-party group on Fair Business Banking, Kevin Hollinrake.

But others could still be nominated by the end of Monday.

Meanwhile in committee-land, expect a deluge of reports over the weekend and on Monday.

This is because the committees can't agree them during prorogation or after a dissolution, so any draft reports not approved and released into the wild now could end up disappearing into limbo, or being overtaken by events.

Normally the committees try to time the publication of reports so that they don't drown each other out. But in the current circumstances, they just want to get them out there before their work is wasted.

At least 16 reports are already listed for publication, covering everything from the Northern Ireland renewable heat incentive scheme, trade with India, and Japanese knotweed, through to immigration detention and children whose mothers are in prison.

And more may emerge.

Here's my rundown of the business announced for the day...

Monday 9 September

The Commons opens at 14:30 BST with Education Questions, starring the new Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson.

Then MPs turn to a series of debates mandated by backbench amendments to the Northern Ireland Act, in which they will consider issues of historical institutional abuse, victims' payment, gambling and human trafficking

This could be interrupted for consideration of Lords amendments to legislation - including to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill.

Then comes the motion calling for an early general election, which would require a two-thirds majority to take effect.

In Westminster Hall, the Petitions Committee has cancelled its previous plans to allow for debates on e-petitions 269157 and 237487 with opposing views on proroguing parliament.

The first of these says: "Do not prorogue Parliament - Parliament must not be prorogued or dissolved unless and until the Article 50 period has been sufficiently extended or the UK's intention to withdraw from the EU has been cancelled."

It attracted more than 1.7 million signatures.

The second of the petitions, which was tabled in January, reads: "The prime minister should advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament, suspending the current parliamentary session until 2 April 2019 to prevent any attempts by parliamentarians to thwart Brexit on 29 March 2019. Preparations for no-deal/WTO will continue."

This attracted 100,718 signatures

Committee action

There's a lot of important action on the committee corridor.

At 12.30, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has a session on the work of the Cabinet Secretary, with the man himself, Sir Mark Sedwill. This is followed by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at 15:00, asking Secretary of State Theresa Villiers if her department is ready for Brexit.

At 16.00, the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee has a session on the long-term delivery of social and affordable rented housing, with academics and the campaign group, Shelter.

And the Lords European Union Committee, at 16:10, will quiz Michael Gove - the minister in charge of no-deal preparations - about the scrutiny of Brexit negotiations.

Finally, the Treasury Committee, at 16:15, takes expert evidence on the chancellor's latest spending proposals, announced on Wednesday.

In the Lords at 14:30, questions to ministers range across the commercial exploitation of peat lands, the human rights of intersex citizens, the income charities would have received since 17 July had a plastic bag charge on small and medium-sized enterprises been introduced and the impact of a warming climate on the operational risks of nuclear power stations.

Peers then have a series of Northern Ireland debates echoing those in the Commons.

And that will probably be followed by the prorogation ceremony.

Normally the ceremony involves the leaders of the party groups and the convener of the crossbenchers - but given the controversial nature of this particular prorogation, it looks as if the opposition parties won't take part.

It doesn't have to be them, but their absence will inject a sour note into an event that is normally a bit of a giggle

In Grand Committee at 15:30, the Marquess of Lothian, formerly the Conservative shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram leads a debate on the recent work of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.

Then Parliament goes into hibernation until 14 October and a new Queen's Speech.

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