Week ahead in committees
- 9 February 2013
- From the section UK Politics
This is pretty hardcore....the committee of MPs doing the line-by-line scrutiny of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill starts work next week, by the dawn's early light, at 8am on Tuesday morning.
It's pretty rare for MPs to hit the coalface quite so early - and will be quite a turnaround for those who will have been debating this year's council finance settlement till 10pm the night before. The Public Bill Committee will convene under the chairmanship of the Conservative Gary Streeter, and includes some of the prominent combatants from last Tuesday's second reading debate, David Burrows the Conservative backbencher who organised the vote against on the Tory benches, and former minister turned awkward squaddie Tim Loughton will be ranged against prominent supporters of the bill, like Labour's Chris Bryant.
There's an intensive programme of evidence taking, starting with witnesses from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (I think this is because the minister responsible is Culture Secretary Maria Miller) followed by the Church of England, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Church in Wales.
In the afternoon, they hear from Stonewall, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, and Gender Identity Research and Education Society followed by Liberal Judaism, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Then the two rival campaigns for and against single sex marriage give their thoughts - first, Out For Marriage then the Coalition for Marriage.
Having digested all that, the committee sits again on Thursday (at 11.30am) to hear from the Religious Society of Friends, and the Unitarian Free Church, followed by Liberty. In the afternoon the witnesses come from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Co-op (I've no idea why they're giving evidence) the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed followed by Schools OUT, and PHSE Association.
David Burrowes is keen that the committee also hears from professional groups who might be affected by the bill: registrars, teachers and so on, and his side of the argument are planning a drive to make radical amendments to the Bill when it returns to the Commons for report stage, so they will be attempting to put down markers on the key issues.
Here's the rundown of the rest:
In a star-studded hearing of the Transport Committee on Monday (at 4.05pm), Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, will be quizzed about the various alternatives for expanding London's airport capacity...beware of low-flying arguments. And the Communities and Local Government Committee (at 5pm) quizzes Sir Adrian Montague, leader of the Review of the Barriers to Institutional Investment in Private Rented Homes, in the first hearing of its inquiry into the private rented sector. The inquiry covers the quality of housing in the sector, rent levels and the regulation of landlords, letting agents and houses in multiple occupation.
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (at 4.30pm) has more City titans before it - and this could be a particularly interesting encounter. The witnesses are the chairman and chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS), Sir Philip Hampton and Stephen Hester. They will discuss the future of RBS and whether it should be re-privatised, broken up or have its state shares distributed to the public. The session will also cover the FSA's action against RBS over interest rate fixing - which could result in penalties falling, in effect, on the taxpayer.
On Tuesday, the Health Committee (at 9.30am) follows up the report of the public inquiry into death rates at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, with evidence from the inquiry chairman, Robert Francis QC. At least one committee member thinks the report itself is too concerned with management process rather than individual responsibility, and too keen to avoid creating scapegoats, so this may not be a totally uncritical exercise in fact-gathering. Robert Francis has made nearly 300 recommendations, including that the Health Committee should monitor the way his other recommendations are put into effect.
There's a blast from the past at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (at 9.30am) when former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine gives evidence on his report, No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth. The committee will probe his ideas on localism, economic growth, industrial strategy, Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund - building blocks for a Plan B?
With a full-scale Commons debate on violence against women due on Thursday, the International Development Committee (at 9.30am) takes evidence on Violence against Women and Girls, from NGOs, international campaigners and detectives from Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command.
At 2.30pm, the Foreign Affairs Committee looks into the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. David Wootton, former Lord Mayor of the City of London, and consultant David Lloyd are giving evidence.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (at 2.45pm) looks into the vaccination of badgers and cattle against bovine TB, with witnesses from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and Food and Environment Research Agency. First, they will focus on the effectiveness vaccinating badgers and then on the development of a cattle vaccine, its likely effectiveness and cost, and the timescale for availability.
After this week's fascinating session on undercover policing, the Home Affairs Committee (at 3.15pm) hears from Alex Marshall, of the College of Policing about leadership and standards in the police service. And the two high priests of Parliament, Sir Robert Rogers, the Clerk of the Commons, and his Lords opposite number, David Beamish, Clerk of the Parliaments, stage a joint appearance before the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. Anoraks will be worn.
It's a busy morning on Wednesday on the committee corridor, with the Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15am) holding a follow-up session on forensic science follow-up, with witnesses from the Crown Prosecution Service, the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society. The Work and Pensions Committee (at 9.30am) is looking at different groups of users experience of the Work Programme - the government's drive to get people off benefits and into jobs. This is a follow up to the committee's report in 2011, with particular attention to people considered harder to help into sustained employment. And the Education Committee (at 9.30am) has a session on the 2012 Ofsted Annual Report, with Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector,.
With parliamentary pressure building over the cost and availability of flood insurance, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee's session on flood funding (at 3pm) will be watched closely by an awful lot of MPs. The witness is Lord Smith of Finsbury, (former Culture Secretary Chris Smith), the chairman of the Environment Agency.
Don't be fooled by the dryly technical title of the Public Accounts Committee's session (at 3.15pm): "Treasury Minutes follow-up." Treasury Minutes are the official responses by government departments to reports by the PAC - and the committee can erupt in spectacular style if it thinks that its recommendations, particularly ones which arise out of some awful fiasco, are just being batted away in Sir Humphrey-esque style by mandarins.
So watch out witnesses Mark Sedwill, permanent secretary, Home Office; Rob Whiteman, chief executive, UK Border Agency and Stephen Rimmer, director general Crime and Policing, UK Border Agency; Sir Nicholas MacPherson KCB, permanent secretary, HM Treasury and Sharon White, director general public services , HM Treasury.
Over in the Lords, two Cabinet grandees, Home Secretary Theresa May, and the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, are before the special Lords EU Committee examining the UK's possible opt-out from police and criminal justice measures, at 2pm. Issues likely to come up include: the government's concerns about the extension of the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction to cover EU police and criminal justice matters, their response to the concerns of senior police officers about the possible negative consequences of opting out, including the possibility of the UK becoming a "safe haven" for criminals and whether it will be difficult for the UK to rejoin particular police and criminal justice measures.
Finally, on Thursday, a much quieter day. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have a session (at 9.30am) on the Kay Review of UK Equity Markets and Long-Term Decision Making, with the former City Minister Lord Myners. And the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, (at 9.45am) maintain their awesome work-rate by taking evidence from Eric Daniels, former chief executive, Lloyds Banking Group. The subject matter includes general standards issues and cross-selling and mis-selling.