Week ahead in committees

 

A couple of major visitations by key quangocrats provide the week's big events on the committee corridor - Sir Mervyn King, of the Bank of England, and (English) NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson's appearances will both attract considerable attention.

But there's a vast amount of interesting, if less high profile, activity elsewhere. In particular the All-party Parliamentary Group on cycling's impressive inquiry (see below) demonstrates how a group of MPs can push a cause and, apparently, enlist the support of ministers.

Can they use the good will they seem to have attracted to drive real changes in policy?

Here's my rundown of the week's activity:

Monday

The Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) returns to one of its favourite subjects: potential savings from the government's ICT, drawing on this report from the National Audit Office. The witnesses are the relevant civil servants from various government departments.

The Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.10pm) continues its look at the fastest-growing sector of the housing market, private rented housing. The witnesses include the Office of Fair Trading, lettings agent, the Property Ombudsman and Which?

And the Work and Pensions Committee (at 4.30pm) continues its scrutiny of the Draft Pensions Bill with witnesses from the pensions industry, the CBI and the Institute of Directors.

Plus there's the final evidence taking session (at 2pm) of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, the All-party Parliamentary Group on cycling…

Transport ministers Norman Baker and Stephen Hammond top the list of witnesses, which also includes Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, and the Mayor of London's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan. The APPG aims to produce a report on how to get us all on our bikes, in April.

Tuesday

The undoubted headline committee today is the Health Committee hearing (at 9.30am) to quiz Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS in England on the report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry. With 20 Conservative MPs calling for his resignation over the scandal, how much blame does he accept? Also giving evidence are Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director and Liz Redfern, director of nursing, NHS South of England

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (at 3pm) has a long and elaborate evidence-taking session on the contamination of beef products - following up its initial report on the issue. There will be three panels of witnesses: the first, with environmental health and trading standards officers, focuses on funding and food testing regimes; the second, with meat processors, focuses on the food chain and on the detection of contamination; the third, with Peter Kendall, the president of the NFU, deals with the regulation and compliance regimes and the role of British meat producers.

Business, Innovation and Skills have what may look like a dry and technical session on the Kay Review of UK Equity Markets and Long-Term Decision Making (at 9.30am) but the question they're dealing with - directing money into long term investment, rather than short-term speculation - is central to economic recovery. This time, the committee's taking evidence from what might be seen as the City establishment - Aviva Investors, Invesco Perpetual and RailPen; and the CBI and the Investment Management Association, who're expected to defend the way the markets are structured.

Probation chiefs, prison Governors and HM Inspector of Probation are the latest witnesses in the Justice Committee's probe into the way the system deals with women offenders (at 9.30am) and the Foreign Affairs Committee continues its look at the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (at 2.30pm) with Sir Tom Phillips, the former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, experts on foreign policy and from the defence and aerospace and industries.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (at 3pm) looks at whether consumers will buy into the Green Deal - the government's flagship energy-saving initiative, given the interest rates set for borrowing under the scheme - energy policy experts, industry voices and Which? give their views.

It's also worth keeping an eye on the Public Bill Committee dealing with the detailed scrutiny of the Children and Families Bill Committee (at 8.55am and 2pm and also on Thursday).

Not only does this deal with a host of important issues around such issues as special education needs and adoption, but quite a number of backbench MPs have ideas they want to add in. Conservative Andrea Leadsom, for example, has a proposal that births should be registered at children's centres, so that families, particularly those with problems, are automatically put in touch with support services. She regards this as a "zero cost opportunity to give all families access to support and information, and for professionals to promote the importance of secure early relationships".

Wednesday

Sir Mervyn King, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, makes a farewell appearance before the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (at 9.45am) - and there are hopes that his impending departure may allow him to be less guarded that usual. What does he really think about the state of the UK's financial services industry? What does he think of the current proposals to prevent another financial crisis? With him will be deputy governor designate, and CEO designate of the new Prudential Regulation Authority, Andrew Bailey.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson and government policy guru Oliver Letwin are before the Environmental Audit Committee (at 1.30pm) to talk about hwo sustainable development can be built into everything government does, and parliamentarians from across the spectrum of Commons opinion on the EU give the European Scrutiny Committee (at 2.15pm) their thoughts on the effectiveness or otherwise of the European scrutiny system in the House of Commons.

The Education Committee (at 2.15pm) ups sticks to Corby, in Northamptonshire, to take evidence on Sure Start, the scheme to boost educational achievement in the early years. And the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) looks at fraud and error in the payment of tax credits with evidence from HMRC Chief Executive Lin Homer, and witnesses from advice services. The session is based around this National Audit Office report.

Thursday

And it's déjà vu, as both the Public Accounts Committee and Lin Homer are re-united at 9.45am, this time for a session on the Serious Fraud Office. The committee will be looking at the qualification of the SFO's accounts and at the whole issue of tax avoidance. Other witnesses include the SFO's former director, Richard Alderman and William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission. Given the increasingly irritable view the PAC has taken of tax avoidance they can expect a rough ride.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (at 10am) to talk about the Draft Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which seeks to tidy up the devolution settlement there - it would stop members of the Assembly also serving as MPs and makes other operating changes.

And the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (at 10am) hears from constitutional experts in its continuing look at the role and powers of the prime minister

 
Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

Week ahead at Westminster

There's still time for a soupcon of high-powered politics as MPs and peers prepare to decamp for their Easter break.

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