Week ahead in committees
- 1 November 2013
- From the section UK Politics
There's some very significant Committee action this week - with the Home Affairs Committee due to deliver its verdict on "plebgate" - officially a report on "Leadership and Standards of the Police" on Sunday, and the Public Accounts Committee is due pronounce on the mega-reform of the benefit system, Universal Credit, on Thursday.
Both could reverberate around Westminster.
Probably the most high profile hearing next week will be the payday loans hearing of the Business Committee on Tuesday.
But the slow gathering of evidence by the Treasury Committee on Project Verde, which is entangled with the subsequent implosion of the Co-op Bank, is my tip as the most interesting slow burn inquiry.
Here's my rundown of the week's main events on the committee corridor:
Monday 4 November
As rail regulators urge the closure of the 500 most dangerous level crossings, the Transport Committee (4.05pm) concludes its short inquiry into safety at level crossings.
Last week they heard from the families of victims of accidents at level crossings; this time they hear witnesses from the Heritage Railway Association, the Rail Safety and Standards Board, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Network Rail and, finally, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond.
"All MPs should go to Sellafield, so they can see what a policy cock-up looks like," one member of the Public Accounts Committee once told me.
They believe there's a long legacy of bad decisions and botched implementation there, which any politician should find sobering.
The PAC follows up their evidence session on the nuclear processing centre, a few months ago, by quizzing officials from the Office for Nuclear Development in the Department for Energy and Climate Change. (3.15pm).
The hearing follows up this National Audit Office report on the savings being made there.
The Commons annual Arms Exports Inquiry opens for business with a session (3.45pm) with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and export control officials.
The committee is particularly interested in the recent claims that chemical weapons precursor materials were sold to the Assad regime in Syria and will be keen to discover which companies were granted licenses to trade them. NGOs Saferworld, Amnesty International and Oxfam will give evidence, followed by the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence, and others.
The Science and Technology Committee (4.10pm) continues its look at the progress of women pursuing science, technology, engineering and maths careers.
Various research councils and higher education funding councils give evidence.
The Science and Technology Committee (4.10pm) continues its look at the progress of female students and academics pursuing science, technology, engineering and maths careers.
Various research councils and higher education funding councils give evidence.
And the Communities and Local Government Committee (4.15pm) holds the second session of its inquiry into local government procurement, focusing on the opportunities to save money if there is more bulk purchasing by groups of councils.
Tuesday 5 November
Online payday lender Wonga, Martin Lewis from moneysavingexpert.com, the Financial Conduct Authority and Business Minister Jo Swinson headline at the Business Innovation and Skills Committee (9.15am), which is holding a one-off evidence session on payday loan companies.
The session will follow up on issues raised in the committee's 2012 report on debt management which called for tighter controls on payday lending.
With growing criticism of green levies on energy bills and of policies designed to decarbonise the UK's energy system, climate change guru, Lord Stern, the author of an influential review for Gordon Brown, appears before the Energy and Climate Change Committee (9.30am).
He can expect some robust questioning on whether current policies really make economic sense.
Watch out for ex Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley, who has emerged as a strong critic of conventional green wisdom.
A new front opens in the parliamentary battle over HS2, when the Treasury Committee weighs in.
They will quiz academics, the Institute for Economic Affairs, and Lewis Atter, a partner at KPMG, on the economics of HS2 (9.30am).
Meanwhile the financial squeeze on the NHS comes under scrutiny at the Health Committee (2pm) when chief executive David Nicholson and chief financial officer for NHS England, Paul Baumann, face questions on current public expenditure on health and social care.
The Foreign Affairs Committee (2pm) look at FCO's performance and finances in 2012-13.
The committee will have a chance to form a view on how successfully the FCO and its two main sponsored bodies - the BBC World Service and the British Council - are providing services in a climate of financial austerity.
The Northern Ireland Committee gets an update from Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers about the economic and security situation (2.30pm).
And the Home Affairs Committee (3pm) takes evidence on Tobacco Smuggling.
The Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond and the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, will give evidence on Future Army 2020 to the Defence Committee (3.30pm).
Expect the questioning to follow up on recent concern that the plan to recruit more reservists to compensate for reductions in the regular forces is not working,
Wednesday 6 November
In the wake of Rochdale and similar scandals, will the government's reform proposals for residential children's homes prevent systematic abuse of children in care, in the future?
The Education Committee (9.30am) questions the Office of the Children's Rights Director, the British Association of Social Workers, the NSPCC, the Local Government Association, and others.
The Treasury Committee (2.15pm) continues its inquiry into Project Verde, The Co-Op Bank's abortive scheme to buy up hundreds of branches from Lloyds - taking evidence from Reverend Paul Flowers, former Chair of the Co-operative Bank and former Deputy Chair of the Co-operative Group.
Earlier sessions in this inquiry have seen sparks fly, and committee members are clearly concerned about the contradictory evidence they have received from different Co-Op insiders, and the regulators.
There are concerns about whether the Co-Op/mutual model can really survive in modern banking, and about whether the Co-Op bank and Lloyds were under political pressure to agree a deal, because a Co-Op takeover of part of Lloyds had considerable political attractions.
How is the government's drive for an export-led recovery working out?
The Public Accounts Committee (2.15pm) takes evidence on supporting UK business exports.
The National Audit Office has underlined the need for more effective efforts to be made by the Foreign Office and UK Trade and Investment if the Government's target for increasing the value of UK exports to an annual £1 trillion is to be reached.
Officials from the Foreign Office and UKTI will face questions.
The Work and Pensions Committee (9.30am) holds the first evidence session of its inquiry into support for housing costs in the reformed welfare state - an umbrella term covering changes to local housing allowance, the benefit cap and the "bedroom tax".
And Sir Mark Walport, government chief scientific adviser, gives the Science and Technology Committee his view on public understanding of climate science (10.15am).
The joint committee of MPs and peers attempting to find a politically acceptable way forward on the Prisoner Voting Bill hears (9.15am) from some of the European institutions insisting that at least some UK inmates should have the right to vote: Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general and Christos Giakoumopoulis, director of human rights, in the General Directorate of Human Rights and Rule of Law, at the Council of Europe.
And they are followed by the government's top legal advisor, the Attorney-General, (and human rights law supporter) Dominic Grieve (at 10.30am).
Thursday 7 November
There's a little bit of history made today when the Intelligence and Security Committee* (2pm) holds its first-ever open evidence session with the three heads of the UK Intelligence Agencies: Sir Iain Lobban of GCHQ; Andrew Parker, the director general of the Security Service (aka MI5) and Sir John Sawers, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
This will be the first time the three have appeared in public together to talk about their work.
The Committee will question the agency heads on the work of the agencies, their current priorities and the threats to the UK.
Among other things it will cover the terrorist threat, regional instability and weapons proliferation, cyber security and espionage.
However, since this is a public session, it will not cover details of intelligence capabilities or techniques, ongoing operations or sub-judice matters.
The committee questions the agencies about these details in their closed sessions.
*Extra nerd points are scored for knowing that this is a committee of parliamentarians, not a parliamentary select committee.
That is to say it its chair (currently the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and its members are appointed by the prime minister and report to him, rather than to parliament.
Elsewhere, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am) will cross-examine the Electoral Commission on its recently-published assessment of progress towards Individual electoral registration.
Will requiring each adult to register themselves on the electoral role result in many voters disappearing from the list?
Witnesses from the Cabinet Office will also be questioned.