Week ahead in committees

There's an intriguing week in prospect on the Committee Corridor with at least three hearings likely to produce big headlines.

Image caption Mark Thompson and Lord Patten now disagree over who knew what about BBC pay-offs

The fireworks are pretty much guaranteed at the Public Accounts Committee's (PAC) recall session on BBC severance payments recall (Monday from 15:15 BST) where the cast list includes former BBC director general Mark Thompson, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, and Lucy Adams, the BBC's departing HR director.

When the PAC follow up a subject, they tend to be even more acerbic than usual...

On Wednesday both the PAC and the Work and Pensions Committee have sessions devoted to the government's flagship social security reform, the Universal Credit (UC).

The PAC session (14:15) follows up on the highly critical National Audit Office report on the implementation of the UC. The government line is that the criticisms focus on issues that ministers have already intervened to address, but since the UC programme is such a vast and far-reaching exercise, the political stakes are very high and the committee will take some convincing.

Meanwhile the Work and Pensions Committee, which has been keeping a close eye on the implementation of the UC, will focus on the new proactive role of the Jobcentre Plus network in the new system. Again the government will be keen to avoid being panned.

The other big occasion is the Prime Minister's latest appearance before the Liaison Committee, the super-committee of all the Select Committee Chairs. These are big occasions because the PM is there, rather than because they have a track record of producing wild excitement or startling results.

This time the subjects for discussion are civil service reform and press regulation. On the first of those, the committee is supporting calls for a parliamentary commission to be set up to recommend reforms to the civil service, so expect the driving force behind that proposal, Public Admin Committee Chair, Bernard Jenkin, to try and extract a pledge of support. I wonder if anyone will manage to mention Syria?

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the PAC's report on HS2. The managers of the controversial high speed rail project took a real pasting when the committee probed their costings and financial projections before the summer break, and the members were clearly unimpressed. Their verdict, due to be published on Monday, looks likely to deal another blow to the scheme.

It's also worth noting that a number of committees are going walkabout to a variety of destinations away from Westminster.

Here's my rundown of the week:


There's that PAC hearing on BBC payoff (see above) and the Communities and Local Government Committee (16:15) continues its look at the Knight Review of Fire and Rescue Services - which suggested vast savings could be achieved if the highest cost authorities could bring their spending levels down to the national average.

The witnesses include a series of fire chiefs. The Science and Technology Committee (16:30) continues taking evidence from journalists about the public understanding and policy implications of climate change. They have a further session with scientists and officials on Wednesday.


The Home Affairs Committee hearing (14:45) looks a little less interesting for the cancellation of an appearance from Commander Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police, who was due to give follow-up evidence on their inquiry into private investigators.

I'm not clear why he has dropped out, but the committee did threaten to publish a list of companies using rogue private investigators from the Serious Organised Crime Agency if they didn't release it themselves.

The committee wanted the information made public by midday on Monday, and will decide how to respond if that deadline is not met. In the meantime they will still be hearing from legal experts about the proposed UK opt-out from some EU justice and home affairs powers.

The Transport Committee (09:50) sets sail for the National Maritime Museum, in Greenwich, for a session on Maritime strategy with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and Sir Alan Massey, the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (10:30) returns to the subject of nuisance telephone calls with witnesses from the Information Commissioner's Office and Ofcom, followed by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey .

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (10:00) has a pre-appointment hearing with David Gray, the Government's preferred candidate for chair of the energy regulator, Ofgem. And there's that Liaison Committee hearing with the prime minister, at 16:00.


I like the look of the Justice Committee's hearing (09:30) on "Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach?". Committee members were bowled over by the new approach to crime reduction being taken in Texas - with a focus on reducing the prison population and rehabilitating offenders; their enthusiasm suggests that they may well call for radical change in the way various law enforcement budgets are spent.

The witnesses are led by a former committee member Alun Michael, now the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, plus Katy Bourne, Commissioner for Sussex and Sue Mountstevens, Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, plus people from the NHS and local government.

Elsewhere, the Education Committee (09:30) has a follow-up hearing on "Great Teachers," culminating in evidence from the Schools Minister, David Laws, and the Northern Ireland Committee (14:30) has a hearing on the banking structure in Northern Ireland - and the UK's involvement in banking bailouts of institutions operating across the border with Ireland.

And there are those Work and Pensions and Public Accounts hearings on the Universal Credit/Jobcentre Plus.


The Treasury Committee (10:00) is back in business after being slightly becalmed while its chair and several leading members were enmeshed in the Parliamentary Banking Commission.

I gather they're planning a bit of a yomp in coming weeks with three hearings a week, quite often. This session is their regular look at the latest quarterly inflation report - with new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and a supporting cast of his officials.

Meanwhile the Environmental Audit (10:00) will be sitting in the premises of the newly-created Green Investment Bank, in Edinburgh, for a hearing on Green Finance with its top officials.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee are off to The Guildhall, Gloucester (10:15) to talk to the local retailers as part of their inquiry into the state of the UK retail sector.

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