- 16 November 2012
- From the section UK Politics
A rather workaday week in both chambers, next week - but a lot of important action will take place in the select committees.
In particular, it's a huge week for the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, with big-name witnesses including the Chancellor, George Osborne, Adair Turner of the FSA and the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, giving evidence....
On Monday, the Commons kicks off with Home Office questions - and then, assuming there are no ministerial statements or urgent questions, MPs move on to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill - the measure to regulate large supermarkets' dealings with their suppliers, including farmers. The bill has already been through the Lords...
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (at 4.30pm) has the first of three big evidence sessions this week - with Lord Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. More big names follow later in the week.
On the committee corridor, Public Accounts (at 3.15pm) reviews the performance of Atos, the firm contracted to conduct medial assessments on people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, etc, following this report from the National Audit Office - witnesses include Disability Rights UK, and the Citizens Advice Bureaux; followed by Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions. And the Transport Committee (at 4.05pm) hears from airline representatives including Michael O'Leary of Ryanair about aviation strategy; while the Work and Pensions Committee (at 4.30pm) looks at governance and best practice in workplace pension provision.
In the Lords (at 2.30pm) questions to ministers range across the teaching of the arts in secondary schools, plans to make employment rights exchangeable for shares, and polio eradication. Then it's on to the report stage of the Justice and Security Bill.
On Tuesday the Commons convenes at 11.30am - when the target at question time is the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, relatively fresh from an effective performance standing in for David Cameron at PMQs. As usual, he will have to fend off dyspeptic Tory backbenchers and sardonic Labour hard-men. There are also questions to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve - expect probing on the Human Rights Act, of which he is a rare Conservative supporter.
Labour's John McDonnell is scheduled to present a Ten Minute Rule Bill to allow MPs to job-share. And then the House will move on to the second reading of the HGV Road User Levy Bill - which will introduce the kind of levy which British operators pay abroad, but which foreign freight firms don't pay in Britain; it has cross party support. Then MPs will process Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill.
Those two items may not take too long to deal with - and that's certainly the hope of the promoters of the next business: a Backbench Business Committee debate on autism. This is a multi-purpose debate, marking 50 years of campaigning by the Autism Society, and putting down markers for the forthcoming Children and Families Bill. The Conservative, Robert Buckland, who's leading the debate, wants to highlight the importance of special education for people with autism and related conditions, the need for long-term social care, not just in childhood and old age, and the need for the NHS to play a role in early identification of people with autism. So the newly-minted Children's Minister, Edward Timpson, can expect to face some searching cross-examination from concerned MPs.
It's a bumper day of select committee action - with the appearance by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, topping the bill. He's theoretically there to talk about "investment in energy infrastructure and the Energy Bill". That topic will allow them to ask about pretty well anything, and discussion is bound to zero in on allegations of market fixing, and on Mr Davey's visible policy disagreements with his Conservative junior minister, John Hayes. Committee members may also use the occasion to announce their own investigation into the gas market-rigging allegations, probably starting with a summons to Ofgem to talk about their monitoring of the wholesale gas market.
Watch out, too, for the Home Affairs Committee's latest evidence session on localised child grooming (at 2.45pm). The main witnesses listed is Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, head of ACPO child sexual exploitation task force, but the committee also wants to hear from key council officials from Rochdale, and is becoming increasingly irate about their reluctance to attend. Will they send the Serjeant at Arms up to Rochdale to fetch them? And later in the afternoon (at 3.45pm) they turn to e-crime, with evidence from Deputy Chief Constable Peter Goodman, regional e-crime lead for East Midlands.
The Public Administration Committee (at 9.30am) is clearly fascinated by the increasing sophistication of online methods of engaging the public in, for example, budget setting. There's a YouGov system which allows people to look at the policy consequences of making savings across government departments - what would have to be done, for example, to trim £X billion out of the social security budget. Local councils are looking to employ the same principle...they'll be talking to expert witnesses.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (at 9.30am) has a session on women in the workplace, with witnesses from a cross section of the economy - including Heather McGregor (recruitment consultant, aka Mrs Moneypenny, columnist on the Financial Times), Mike Buchanan (author of Feminism: the Ugly Truth and The Glass Ceiling Delusion: the Real Reason More Women Don't Reach Senior Positions). And International Development Secretary Justine Greening is before her departmental committee at 11am to talk about the post-2015 development goals.
The Defence Committee (at 2.30pm) hears evidence on securing the future of Afghanistan. The witnesses are senior diplomats and military officers, including Lt Gen Richard Barrons, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff.
In the Lords (from 2.30pm) question time covers commemorations for the centenary of World War I and the legal and diplomatic implications of the use of drones across national boundaries, before peers move on to the third report stage day on the Financial Services Bill. There will also be a short debate on improving neurological services and epilepsy services in the UK.
Wednesday in the Commons begins (at 11.30am) with Scottish questions, followed, at noon, by prime minister's questions. Next the Conservative MP Alun Cairns has a Ten Minute Rule Bill which would require the BBC to publish all invoices for more than £500 every quarter (something increasingly done by local councils), and to be open to scrutiny by the National Audit Office. The rest of the day will be devoted to motions chosen by the Democratic Unionists; one on the security situation in Northern Ireland; the other on the military covenant and related issues.
Meanwhile, in Westminster Hall there are a series of backbench debates. The first, at 9.30am, is on constituent parts of the UK and EU membership led by Labour's Ann McKechin - which looks very like a continuation of the arguments over the EU membership, or otherwise, of an independent Scotland. And at 4pm the Conservative Rebecca Harris leads a debate on provision for dyslexia in prisons.
Wednesday's big committee event is the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards session (at 9.30am) with the Chancellor George Osborne, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Clark. The session will doubtless be watched closely for any sign that the commission takes a tougher line on banking standards and regulation than the government.
Elsewhere, the Education Committee (at 9.30am) takes evidence on careers guidance for young people, the Work and Pensions Committee (at 9.30am) quizzes the Employment Minister Mark Hoban about the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). And the Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.10pm) probes the new extended role of local authorities in health issues.
There's a double session of the Environmental Audit Committee (first at 9.40am, then at 3.05pm) on the subject of insects and insecticides: are neo-nicotinoid pesticides responsible for the fall in bee populations? Witnesses include Nick Mole, policy officer of Pesticide Action Network UK and Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, Chris Hartfield of the National Farmers Union and Peter Melchett of the Soil Association - and the second session will continue the inquiry with more academics.
And at 3.15pm the Public Accounts Committee returns to one of its perennial subjects, with a session with MoD officials on managing the defence inventory - based on this National Audit Office report.
In the Lords, peers gather at 3pm for question time, where the subjects to be raised include Amnesty International's report: Rwanda: Shrouded in Secrecy; and ensuring mental health is treated on a par with other NHS services. Then it's on to day 2 of report stage consideration of the Justice and Security Bill. And the day ends with another Regret Motion directed against another set of regulations being brought in by the government - this time it's the Care Quality Commission (Healthwatch England Committee) Regulations 2012 which Labour's Lord Collins of Highbury has put down. He'll be seeking assurances that there will be proper resources and robustly independent patients' representatives on Healthwatch.
And so to Thursday, when the Commons opens at 9.30am with Culture, Media and Sport questions. I wonder what MPs will raise in the section reserved for topical questions? Then there's a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
That's followed by three items scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee. First, the launch of a report by the Work and Pensions Committee on the implementation of universal credit - there will be a short statement by the committee chair, Dame Anne Begg and a few questions. These short 20-minute slots are designed to give the select committees a chance to air their reports in prime-time, and, after a slow-ish start, the committees are beginning to use the procedure more often. Then there are two debates - on life-saving skills in schools, led by the Conservative Anne-Marie Morris, and on industrial policy and UK manufacturing industries, led by Labour's Jonathan Reynolds and the Conservative Chris White.
Unusually for a Thursday, there's a very big select committee hearing - and again it's the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (at 9.30am) taking evidence from the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, and a supporting cast of officials. And the Public Accounts Committee (at 9.45am) has a follow up session on off-payroll public sector pay arrangements. In July, they gave BBC executives a torrid time over claims that the corporation was seeking to minimise its tax liabilities by pushing presenters and other "talent" to set themselves up as companies, rather than be directly employed. Will they be placated this time?
In the Lords (at 11am) questions to ministers cover protecting children against physical and sexual abuse, support provided to men seeking to control their violent or abusive behaviour and helping small and medium-sized enterprises access finance. Then peers debate a report by their Procedure Committee on whether it is a good use of their time to have answers to House of Commons urgent questions repeated in their chamber. That's followed by backbench debates on the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals, on multilateral nuclear disarmament with China, and on the role of religion in society.
Neither House sits on Friday. But, even so, there will be plenty of action in the chamber as the UK Youth Parliament moves in - they debate which issue should be their campaigning priority for the coming year. The subjects in contention are: public transport, getting ready for work, marriage for all, an equal minimum wage and the curriculum for life. Mr Speaker Bercow will preside over the debates - and there are usually a few MPs around to observe as well.