- 13 July 2012
- From the section UK Politics
Summer beckons, with MPs due to depart at the close of business on Tuesday, and return on 3 September.
But a fair amount of heavy-duty business will be done before they go, both in the chamber and on committee corridor, where there are several hearings on sensitive issues, including the banking crisis, social care and the growing worries about security for the Olympics.
Their lordships keep their noble noses to the grindstone into next week...
On Monday, the Commons opens for business with defence questions, which will almost certainly see more cross questioning of Philip Hammond about Olympic security - and then (unless delayed by ministerial statements or urgent questions) there will be two Labour-led debates, on health and on adult social care.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Committee (at 4pm) takes further evidence on the penalties imposed against Barclays in the UK and the US following the rate-fixing investigation. A high-powered series of witnesses face the committee, starting with Jerry del Missier, Barclays' former chief operating officer, followed by (at 4.45pm) by Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority and a supporting cast of top FSA officials.
The Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) takes evidence on off-payroll public sector pay arrangements - public employees minimising their tax bill by various contracting arrangements. Witnesses come from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, local government and the BBC.
At 4.15pm, the Communities and Local Government Committee questions firefighters and Fire Minister Bob Neill about cuts to funding for fire and rescue services. And, in the final evidence session of its inquiry into youth unemployment and the government's Youth Contract, the Work and Pensions Committee hears from the Work and Pensions Minister, Chris Grayling, and the Further Education Minister, John Hayes.
The Scottish Affairs Committee continues its look at the implications "separation" for Scotland by focusing on what would happen to the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine fleet. Current SNP policy suggests they would have to be removed from an independent Scotland.
Over in the Lords, business begins with question time, with peers ranging across the possibility of an Olympic truce in Syria and Spanish incursions into the territorial waters of Gibraltar.
Then peers move to detailed report stage scrutiny of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. This unpromising-sounding measure is supposed to prevent farmers being squeezed by market abuse by big buyers - and is particularly topical given recent cuts made to the price paid for milk by the big dairy companies. Report stage is where attempts to change legislation are most likely to be pressed to a vote - so watch out for attempts to give the proposed watchdog more teeth, particularly regarding the power to fine. Half a day's debate is allocated for this - and then peers move on to polish off the Finance Bill.
Tuesday (at 11.30am) marks the end of term in the Commons, when MPs are allowed to bring in board games - er, sorry, raise any subject they fancy in the pre-recess adjournment debate. Before that, they have health questions. Labour's Ann Clwyd has a ten minute rule bill to set minimum standards for cosmetic surgery (including non-surgical procedures).
Then it's time for a couple of debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. First up, a slightly unsatisfactory hour-long outing for the Public Administration Committee's recommendation that the prime minister's advisor on ministerial interests should be empowered to launch his own investigations. This proposal, which became very topical in the event of the criticism of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's handling of the BskyB takeover bid, was due to be debated last week, but was shifted to allow for an urgent debate on the interest-rate fixing scandal. It is being debated before the summer break - but far more briefly, I'm sure, than its backers, including the formidable chair of the Public Administration Committee, Bernard Jenkin, would wish.
Then we have the pre-recess adjournment debate - which has been taken in hand by the Backbench Business Committee. As I write, 39 MPs are listed to speak, and they have been grouped into loose subject headings, with a suitable minister there to reply at the end of each section of debate. These debates used to be rather shapeless affairs, wound up by a single minister who could do little more than promise to refer whatever had been said on a given subject to one of their colleagues. Now MPs can hope for some kind of worthwhile reply to whatever issue they have raised.
In particular, MPs affected by the recent review of children's heart surgery - the Leicester MPs Liz Kendall and Jon Ashworth, and Leeds' Fabian Hamilton, Greg Mulholland and Stuart Andrew, Jason McCartney from Colne Valley and Hammersmith's Andy Slaughter - plan to talk about the implications on their patches.
And the last rites of this Commons term come from Lib Dem Greg Mulholland, with an adjournment debate on bail conditions for those charged with dangerous or careless driving.
While all this is going on in the chamber, business is unusually brisk on the committee corridor. The Home Affairs Committee has pounced on the problems with security at the Olympics, by summoning Nick Buckles, chief executive of G4S, to explain why the Army has had to be called in, because his company has not been able to recruit sufficient personnel. Chair Keith Vaz says they are "very concerned about this situation". Mr Buckles will appear at noon.
Before that, there will be the first witnesses in its new inquiry into the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will cover its independence, its powers and responsibilities and the effectiveness of its investigations.
Witnesses include the Police Action Lawyers Group; Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the murder victim Stephen Lawrence and then Dame Anne Owers, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. She will be asked how she intends to restore public confidence in the IPCC and how she will hold the police to account.
The Treasury Committee (at 10am) takes evidence on the Bank of England's latest Financial Stability Report, with its top officials, led by the Governor, Sir Mervyn King.
The Culture Media and Sport Committee (at 10.30am) continues its follow-up on its football governance inquiry report, with the Football Supporters Federation, and Supporters Direct; Football League and the National Game Board; and the Football Association. Business Secretary Vince Cable appears before the BIS Committee to give evidence on bank lending and business growth (at 11.30am). And farmers and milk processors give evidence on milk prices to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee at 2.30pm.
The Energy and Climate Change Committee quiz Energy Secretary Edward Davey, and his Permanent Secretary, Moira Wallace, on DECC's departmental priorities.
Given its powerful interventions on the Health and Social Care Bill, the Health Committee hearing on social care at 1.15pm with Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and Shaun Gallagher, acting director general of Social Care, could have important ramifications. The session, timed partly to coincide with the appearance of the government's Social Care White Paper, will round off a follow up inquiry looking at the prospects for a grand political bargain on the biggest social policy issue now confronting this country.
Following the publication of the July 2011 Dilnot report, the key finding was that older people were being let down by fragmented care and that there was a need for more joined-up services, with the pulling together of NHS and social care funding at the local level. The committee recommended that the government should place a duty on the new NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and on local authorities to create a single commissioning process, with a single accounting officer, and a single outcomes framework for older people's health, care and housing services in their area.
In the Lords, business begins at 2.30pm with the usual half hour of questions - they range across primary care trusts inappropriately restricting access to patient treatments , the NHS's handling of mental illness and the funding of adult social care. Then peers move on to the third of four committee stage days on the Justice and Security Bill - which covers the oversight of the security services, and prevents courts demanding access to some sensitive information.
There's also a "motion to regret" the Education (Exemption from School Inspection) (England) Regulations 2012 - from Labour ex-minister Baroness (Bev) Hughes of Stretford. The regulations exempt schools which have received top marks in their inspections from further inspections. Lady Hughes argues that is unnecessary and counterproductive and would undermine the principle of all public services being inspected on a regular basis. She warns it would run the risk of damaging children in cases where schools that have not been inspected then go into decline.
MPs will have departed come Wednesday, but peers remain in action - they start at 3pm with question time, which will cover ensuring affordable flood insurance is available for householders in at-risk areas, promoting growth in the UK economy and providing places for children in care at boarding schools. That is followed by another committee stage day of detailed scrutiny on the Financial Services Bill.
There's also a meeting of the Lords Constitution Committee on the accountability of civil servants. Lord Butler, former Cabinet Secretary; Sir Jeremy Heywood, former Cabinet Secretary; Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, and Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office make up the august witnesses.
Thursday sees peers convene at 11am. Question time covers mutineers in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the roles of health workers in the NHS to improve access and quality, and reduce costs and the development of credit unions. Then it's on to a series of backbench debates. The first, led by the Liberal Democrat Baroness Randerson, is on the Silk Commission proposals to extend devolution in Wales. Then peers turn to the role and performance of the UK Border Agency with Lib Dem veteran Lord Avebury opening proceedings, and finally there is a debate on an EU committee report on the EU drugs strategy opened by the former diplomat, the crossbencher, Lord Hannay of Chiswick.
Watch out, too, for the Commons Health Committee's report on the government's alcohol strategy, which is due for publication on Thursday.
Peers plan to sit for another three days, the following week.