Huffpost UK Politics uk
Chris Wimpress Headshot

Political Week Ahead Monday 16 April 2012

Posted: Updated:
POLITICAL LOOK AHEAD
The New Term At Westminster Will Probably Involve Some Late Nights | PA

MPs get very upset when you accuse them of being "on holiday" during recess - they splutter that they're catching up on essential constituency work. And to be fair to them, many will have spent the past fortnight campaigning for the looming council elections taking place in a couple of weeks.

But this week on their return to the Commons they'll be like spring chickens coming home to roost. It's time to take a forensic look at the Budget and it's also showdown time with the Lords over the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, a piece of legislation which hasn't been so much amended as spatchcocked by the upper house over the past few weeks.

Ken Clarke's Bill to reform to the legal aid system in England and Wales isn't just the most defeated of the coalition so far, it's the most defeated Bill in recent political history - nearly a dozen major amendments which water down plans which ministers say would curb a compensation culture that's grown up, ably assisted by ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Most of the changes the Lords have made surround who can access legal aid and when. Ministers wanted to place a time limit of a year between a domestic violence attack and the victim's right to claim legal aid. The Lords booted that out of the Bill.

An impassioned speech by former children's TV presenter Floella Benjamin helped to get an amendment through rejecting restrictions on legal aid access for asylum seekers. There are many others, the details of which can be found in this story from last month.

The government is expected to declare "financial privilege" on many of the amendments - their new-fangled trick of blocking Lords amendments, last seen during the Welfare Reform Bill. But unlike that Bill, the Legal Aid reforms have come in for stiff opposition from some very senior Tory peers.

They're not alone. Many female Tory MPs worry the last thing their party needs is more reasons for women voters to dislike it. Some level of Parliamentary ping-pong seems inevitable, but with the Lords still in recess we won't know the extent of it until next week.

There will probably be some late nights later this week in the Commons, when MPs begin to go through the Budget at committee stage. Budgets are always done in Committee of the Whole House, and it's a time when Labour traditionally make mischief by trying to wear the government down, forcing votes on every line of the Bill and making everyone stay late. This has occasionally in the past caused MPs to get drunk and misbehave. And the evenings are getting lighter.

There probably won't be anything like the "night of shame" seen two years ago, when late night Budget votes caused some MPs to make drunken spectacles of themselves in Parliament, but it will keep everyone in the building, and that encourages gossip and plotting. Many coalition MPs are clearly opposed to the Charity Tax - they might use that time to discover just how deep the resenment goes.

For ministers the continuing pressure to U-turn over the Charity tax will only grow now everyone is back at Westminster. Of all the unpopular Budget measures this seems the one most likely to go. But Ed Balls has vowed to keep up the pressure on the pasty and granny taxes, too.

Registration to vote in the London elections closes on Wednesday, a day before a Sky News Mayoral hustings. All the candidates have their manifesto out in the open, now, so expect a week of bickering between Ken and Boris - last week failed to see any elevation in the tone of the debate, and so what are the chances of this week being any better?

The London Mayoral candidates are unlikely to get so much support from their parties this week, though. The council elections campaign kicks off properly and PMQs will be an opportunity for David Cameron and Ed Miliband to set out what makes each man distinctive from his opponent.

Nick Clegg won't get that sort of airtime for his party, sadly. But he will get to appear before an exciting committee of MPs on Thursday morning to discuss the government's proposed Bill to allow for misbehaving MPs to be recalled by voters. A lot of people think the Bill is literally unworkable, because the scenarios which might precipitate such a recall could never happen. Will be interesting to see what the DPM has to say for himself.