Week ahead in committees

There's both high policy and low politics on display on the committee corridor this week, with an appearance by the prime minister (combining both of the above, no doubt), scrutiny of big issues like pensions and violence against women - and then what may turn out to be a down-and-dirty clash between the Education Secretary and at least some members of his departmental select committee.

Here's my weekly rundown:


The Transport Committee (at 4.10pm) starts hearing witnesses in its inquiry looking at whether legislation is good enough to break down barriers the disabled face when using transport networks.

The star witness looks likely to be a well-known female equestrian paralympian.....kids charity Whizzkids will be giving evidence alongside and Paralympian Sophie Christiansen.

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, says the aim, in the wake of the London Paralympics, is to explore the challenges faced by travellers with disabilities and hear suggestions for better, more accessible transport.

The Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) may be a little less astringent than usual when it looks at a report on how jobcentres have responded to extra demand for their services - since they appear to be performing pretty effectively, according to this National Audit Office report.

The Work and Pensions Committee (at 4.30pm) hears from Pensions Minister Steve Webb in the final evidence session for its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft bill establishing a single-tier state pension. An issue raised in previous sessions has been the 80,000 women born between 6 April and 5 July, 1953 who will reach retirement age before the new single tier pension is introduced, whilst men of the same age will reach retirement under the proposed system... will the government deal with that anomaly?


The Liaison Committee - the super-committee of the select committee chairs - has its once-a-term 90-minute session with David Cameron at 4pm. The questioning will focus on protecting the public: the government's role and accountability - which seems to mean the Food Standards Agency (but not the Mid-Staffs Hospitals, because the Health Committee's inquiring into them) - and then developments in Syria, and North and West Africa.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway, is up in front of International Development Committee inquiry (at 9.30am) on violence against women and girls (VAWG). The idea of this session is to explore how, in emergencies and conflicts, women and girls are at high risk of physical, sexual and emotional violence - from armed groups, strangers, neighbours and family members, and how donors such as DfID can better protect and assist women and girls suffering violence.

First, the committee hears from International Rescue Committee UK, Gender Action for Peace and Security, Plan UK. And then (at about 10.30am) Dr Brundtland, who's a health and international development guru and a member of the "Elders" network of global leaders, gives her evidence. She will talk about child marriage, the subject of a recent campaign by The Elders. Follow on Twitter using #VAWG.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (at 9.30am) embarks on an inquiry into Energy Prices, Profits and Poverty; which will be asking whether the government needs to intervene more to protect customers from rising energy bills. The first set of witnesses are from consumer groups and fuel poverty campaigners.

And the Health Committee at 9.30am will hold its second oral evidence on post-legislative scrutiny of the Mental Health Act 2007 with witnesses from the Department of Health, including: Dr Hugh Griffiths, National Clinical Director for Mental Health, Bruce Calderwood, Director of Mental Health, Disability and Equality and Anne McDonald, Deputy Director of Mental Health and Disability.


The Education Committee (from 9.30am) continues the hunting of the Gove this week - pursuing the various allegations around the activities on Dominic Cummings, one of his special advisors. The committee has failed in its efforts to get Mr Cummings before it - and will have to make do with the Education Secretary and his top civil servant, Chris Wormald. Senior committee members are a bit world-weary about the chances of any serious revelations emerging...

And it would be a pity if that session eclipsed the next business - a one-off session on asbestos in English schools. First, they'll hear from interest groups, experts and individuals with direct experience of the problem, and then from the Schools Minister David Laws, and David Ashton, director of field operations for the Health and Safety Executive, on relevant government policies.

The idea is to establish the extent of the problem, with a view to launching a longer investigation if it's justified.

The Culture, Media And Sport Committee (at 10.30am) takes evidence from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and BSkyB on their role in supporting the creative economy in the UK, what more they and government could do, and what role the Olympic legacy plays for the creative industries.

Andrew Bailey, the managing director of the Prudential Business Unit at the Financial Services Authority, appears before the Treasury Committee (at 2.15pm) for his pre-appointment hearing for the post of Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, responsible for prudential regulation.

He'll head the part of the bank that will inspect banks and decide if they're too risky - a particularly sensitive appointment, in the wake of the financial crisis. The committee sent him a detailed questionnaire on policy issues, and much of the interrogation will, doubtless, revolve around his answers. But as a respected figure and well-known quantity, he's unlikely to get a rough ride.

The Public Accounts Committee have one of the wider looks at policy in which they sometimes indulge - taking evidence on the issue of cyber security in the wake of this National Audit Office report, which warned of a persistent and continually evolving threat to government, business and the UK infrastructure, which is already costing billions every year. Ken McCallum, head of cyber security at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is the star witness. This could be fascinating - and frightening.


There's only one committee scheduled today - as the Political And Constitutional Reform Committee (10pm) starts its new inquiry into the reforms of the select committee system made in the wake of the Wright commission, which reported at the end of the last Parliament.

How much difference had been made by having the committee chairs elected by MPs, and the members elected within parties? The witnesses are constitutional experts.

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