Week ahead in committees

 

With the spotlight now firmly on events in the state-owned banks, my pick for the week's most interesting action on the committee corridor is the Treasury Committee's session on the failed attempt to sell-off a chunk of the state-owned Lloyds Banking Group....

The inside story of why the sale of 632 branches to the Co-Op bank fell through could well prove pretty revealing about the state of the banking sector - and the prospects for re-privatising the massive banks nationalised during the credit crunch.

And watch the Health Committee session on how the NHS manages people with chronic health problems - amidst fears that the system may not be able to cope with their growing numbers.

Elsewhere, quite a few committees are pondering the implications of Scottish independence, with the Business Innovation and Skills Committee on the road for hearings in Glasgow and Edinburgh; the Defence Committee taking expert evidence on the military implications and the Scottish Affairs Committee hearing from the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

Celeb witness of the week is Dr Ben Goldacre, medical researcher, campaigner, columnist and academic - who'll be a rather out of the ordinary kind of witness for the Public Accounts Committee.

Here's my rundown of this week's committee corridor action:

Monday

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (10am) convenes in the Senate Room at Glasgow University to hear from Business for Scotland, CBI Scotland, the Federation of Small Businesses, NUS Scotland, Universities Scotland and University and College Union Scotland; plus Consumer Futures, the Communication Workers Union and the Royal Mail about the implications of Independence on business; higher education & research; and postal services

Back in Westminster Dr Ben Goldacre is the star witness at the Public Accounts Committee (at 3.15pm) as it looks at the evidence about the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from clinical trials - Tamiflu was the drug stockpiled by the Government in 2006, in preparation for a flu pandemic...

The session is based on this NAO report which concluded:

"Stockpiling of antiviral medicines in anticipation of an influenza pandemic is in line with WHO guidance and is likely to be justified even with more cautious assessments of their efficacy. The Department's business case indicated that a stockpile providing 50% population coverage would not provide significant additional benefits to a stockpile providing 25% coverage, but this was based on the optimistic assumption that it would be possible to prioritise the use of the smaller stockpile on those most at risk. In reality this might not be possible. As the nature of a future pandemic virus is unknown, it is not possible to determine the ideal level of population coverage within the 25 to 50% range but all stockpiles in this range are cost‑effective. The Department also factored in the desire to maintain public confidence in the pandemic response by being able to make antivirals available to all those who might become ill in a pandemic and that the stockpile comprised both Tamiflu as the primary antiviral and Relenza as the contingency."

Other witnesses include Una O'Brien, the top civil servant at the Department of Health, Sir Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of NICE, and DoH officials.

The Transport Committee (at 4.05pm) looks at ways to prevent the rising number of insurance claims for whiplash injuries (many of them fraudulent) driving up car insurance premiums. The witnesses come from the insurance industry and the legal profession. The Communities and Local Government Committee continues its look at London's system of government by taking evidence from the chair of the London Assembly, the Green, Darren Johnson, on whether it has proved to be an effective scrutiny body capable of holding the Mayor to account.

Start Quote

This divestment should be an important opportunity to boost competition in the UK retail banking market. It could have significant benefits for consumers. We will want to know how The Co-operative Bank's bid was allowed to progress to such an advanced stage, why it collapsed and what will now happen to these branches and their customers”

End Quote Andrew Tyrie Chairman, Treasury Committee

And then at 5pm they have a one-off evidence session with the planning minister, Nick Boles, focusing on the government's new permitted development rules, which allow some householders and businesses to extend or change the use of their premises without planning permission. The committee invited questions on Twitter via #AskBoles.

The Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, one of the least known but most important members of the government, the man in charge of all kinds of important changes in the engine room of Whitehall, gives evidence to the Science and Technology Committee (at 4.15pm) about the "Digital by Default" initiative, by which ministers hope to have most people dealing with the government online, rather than through the post or in person - there are huge efficiency gains and cost savings in prospect if this can be achieved, but will it work?

Tuesday

As highlighted above, the Treasury Committee (at 10am) looks into the required divestment of 632 branches of Lloyds Banking Group, otherwise known as 'Project Verde', and the collapse of The Co-operative Bank's bid for these branches. Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Tyrie MP, said: "This divestment should be an important opportunity to boost competition in the UK retail banking market. It could have significant benefits for consumers. We will want to know how The Co-operative Bank's bid was allowed to progress to such an advanced stage, why it collapsed and what will now happen to these branches and their customers."

The witnesses are António Horta-Osório, Group Chief Executive, Lloyds Banking Group and Sir Winfried Bischoff, Chairman, Lloyds Banking Group.

The Health Committee (at 9.30am) kicks off its major inquiry into fears that chronic long term conditions like diabetes, asthma and obesity might bust the NHS.

Dr Karen Lowton from the Institute of Gerontology at King's College London, Professor Alan Maynard, Professor of Health Economics at the University of York, Dr Sue Roberts CBE, Chair of the NHS Year of Care Partnerships, and Dr Judith Smith, Director of Policy at the Nuffield Trust give their views.

The Welsh Affairs Committee (at 9.30am) continues its long running campaign to cut tolls at the Severn Crossings, with a follow up session with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond

The Culture Media and Sport Committee (at 10am) holds what will probably be its final session on the Leveson proposals on press regulation, with Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, and Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent.

There's more on Scottish independence. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (at 10am), now in Edinburgh, hears from the Institute of Directors Scotland and David Bell, Professor of Economics at the University of Stirling, while back in Westminster, the Defence Committee (at 2.30pm) hear from Professor Trevor Taylor of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Police Minister Damian Green gives the concluding evidence to the Home Affairs inquiry into police leadership and standards (2.45pm). He can expect questions on everything from the handling of the Woolwich murder to "pleb-gate".

Two ministers share their thoughts on the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain at the Foreign Affairs Committee (at 2.30pm). International Security Strategy Minister, Dr Andrew Murrison, and Alistair Burt, from the Foreign Office, discuss the FCO Gulf Initiative, launched in 2010 "to re-establish the United Kingdom as a strategic partner and expand our cooperation with the Gulf States".

The Public Bill Committee - doing line-by-line scrutiny of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (at 8.55am) - is taking evidence from a series of witnesses before getting down to the fine detail. They'll hear from the Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, and Police Federation of England and Wales.... with more witnesses to follow on Thursday.

Wednesday

There's a session on how the media reports climate change at the Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15am) with Dr Catherine Happe and Professor Greg Philo of Glasgow University Media Group, and Tom Sheldon, the Senior Press Officer at the Science Media Centre.

The scrutiny committee on the draft bill to resolve the toxic issue of prisoner voting starts work (at 9.45am) under the chairmanship of the former minister Nick Gibb - this is a joint committee, so the membership includes both MPs and Lords, including constitutional savant Lord Norton of Louth. The witnesses include Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust and Rachel Halford, Acting Director, of Women in Prison.

The Public Accounts Committee (at 2.15pm) looks at the handling of the Thameslink project, which created a new underground rail link across London. The session follows this NAO report where the main issue of concern was a delay in awarding contracts for the trains. Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, appears, alongside David Higgins, the Chief Executive of Network Rail and Michael Hurn, Director of Rail Projects at the Department for Transport.

The Scottish Affairs Committee looks at the economic implications of separation from the UK with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Economic Secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid at 2.30pm.

It's tautology time at the Procedure Committee (3.05pm) where they'll be considering whether public bill committees are good enough at conducting the, er, committee stage of bills. One big issue is whether the way the committees are put together and the way individual members are chosen should be reformed - and maybe they should be elected in the same way select committee members are....

Former MP Tony Wright, the architect of the select committee reforms, and constitutional savant Dr Meg Russell give their thoughts.

Thursday

The role and powers of the prime minister and the workings of fixed term parliaments will be analysed at the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (at 10am); Peter Riddell of the Institute for Government, and Minister Chloe Smith give their thoughts.

The Public Bill Committee on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill has two more evidence-taking sessions (at 11.30am and 2pm). In the morning they hear from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and chief police officers plus Karma Nirvana, the national charity supporting victims and survivors of forced marriages and honour based violence.

When they resume in the afternoon the witnesses include Baroness Newlove, the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, and Victim Support, followed by Fair Trials International, the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust, and finally representatives from the Home Office.

 
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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