Week ahead in committees

They're packing a lot of action into the available three days (Parliament is sitting Tuesday to Thursday) on the committee corridor, next week - with many of the most senior figures in the cabinet giving evidence to assorted committees, and there's even a double visitation by Lord Justice Leveson to look forward to.


Tuesday's highlight is probably the Home Affairs Committee (2.45pm) which has its usual multi-themed afternoon.

First they hear from the director-general of the UK Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, (the first of two select committee hearings on their work, this week) and then they continue their look at private investigators, with Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, with the focus very much on his investigation into clients of rogue private detectives.

Committee chair Keith Vaz has already been talking about the need for a rapid investigation, and the commissioner has been keen to persuade the committee not to publish further details of the rogue investigators' client list.

Elsewhere the Public Administration Committee (9.30am) looks at statistics and open data, with a series of academic experts - this is the information on which public services run and are judged, and which guides policy decisions - but most of it is not in the public domain. How much of it should be?

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (9.30am) conducts pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Consumer Rights Bill, with evidence from the CBI, the Law Commission, and Which? and then, at 10.45, the British Retail Consortium, Citizens Advice, and the Federation of Small Businesses, while the Justice Committee (9.30am) has a pre-appointment hearing with Paul McDowell, the preferred candidate to be HM Chief Inspector of Probation,

The Defence Committee (2pm) has a session on Future Army 2020 - the restructuring review which will reduce the size of the Army by a fifth as part of wider defence cuts.

By 2020 the regular army will have 82,000 soldiers, compared to its 2010 strength of 102,000 - with 3,000 soldiers facing redundancy next January.

A series of military experts including the author and journalist Allan Mallinson, will give their views.

This evidence will probably feed into its hearing with the Defence Secretary, on Wednesday.

The Health Committee (4.30pm) has an accountability hearing for 2013 with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

And the Foreign Affairs Committee (2.30pm) continues its look at extremism and political instability in North and West Africa with evidence from International Development minister, Lynne Featherstone.

At the Lords end of the committee corridor, their EU Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee (10.45am) ponders "Genuine Economic and Monetary Union and its Implications for the UK," and the special committee reviewing the Mental Capacity Act 2005 will hear from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the College of Social Work (10.40am).

The Communications Committee (3.30pm) will be discussing media plurality and the Economic Affairs Committee will take evidence on the Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil.


The pace picks up on Wednesday 9th, when the likely highlight is the session with the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, will be before his departmental committee (2.30pm).

After some awkward moments at his party conference and in the wake of his own warning about the impact of further cuts to defence spending, he will be talking about the next defence and security review and Britain's military posture in the age of austerity.

Committee members will doubtless probe then impact of the force reductions on morale, and, in the light of disappointing recruitment so far, Mr Hammond's plans to boost the size of the reserve forces.

At the same time, the Business Secretary Vince Cable will talk about the privatisation of the Royal Mail at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (2.30pm).

And the International Development Secretary Justine Greening will be talking about the future of UK development co-operation at her departmental committee at 9.30am.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (10.15am) has a one-off evidence session on the work of the Committee on Climate Change, with evidence from its chair, Lord Deben (aka former Environment Secretary John Gummer) and its chief executive, David Kennedy.

And the Environmental Audit Committee (2.15pm) begins a new inquiry into the Government consultation on the Housing Standards Review, which proposes "to wind down the role" of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The UK Border Force top brass are back on the committee corridor again, this time at the Public Accounts Committee (2.15pm) where they will be joined by Mark Sedwill, the permanent secretary at the Home Office.

Value for money will be the big issue in a hearing based on this National Audit Office report which found that: "The Department [the Home Office] has placed greater demands on the Border Force, which has successfully implemented full passenger checks and reduced queuing times. It has achieved this progress by focusing on a subset of its full range of responsibilities.

"The Border Force now needs to show it can apply the lessons learned from its successes to date across its full range of activities to ensure the security of the border.

"The Department needs to fund it to do so."

The Treasury Committee is holding an appointment hearing with Professor Stephen Nickell as a member of the Budget Responsibility Committee - the ruling body of the new economic figures watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (2.15pm).

This hearing is the result of a major coup by committee chair Andrew Tyrie, at the start of this parliament, when he succeeded in enshrining the principle that the committee had to consent to top OBR appointments written into legislation.

Prof Nickell is up for re-appointment, but the Committee will doubtless want to show it is performing its new responsibilities in vetting OBR bosses with suitable vigour.

The Scottish Affairs Committee (2.30pm) continues its look at the impact of the so-called "bedroom tax" and other changes to housing benefit in Scotland, with Martin Armstrong, the group chief executive of the Glasgow Housing Association.

The big Lords Committee event will be the appearance of Lord Justice Leveson before the special committee reviewing the workings of the 2005 Inquiries Act (10.30am).

This could be a pretty topical occasion - or a process-focused canter around the technical issues involved in public inquiries.

Lord Justice Leveson is supposed to be giving a chairman's-eye-view of the inquiry system, covering such issues as whether evidence taken at inquiries be used to determine civil or criminal liability, whether witnesses need lawyers to represent them, whether ministers should retain the power to set up non-statutory inquiries which can't compel witnesses to provide documents or give evidence, and, crucially, in his case whether the chairman of an inquiry should have a continuing role, after delivering their report, in ensuring its recommendations are implemented.

On the day after the Privy Council is due to consider setting up a royal charter-based system of press regulation, in response to Lord Leveson's report, he might do just that, and maybe venture an opinion about the way politicians have reacted to his proposals.

This was always going to be an attention-grabbing occasion, but with the Miliband-Mail affair still rumbling, it is now hyper-topical.

The Lords EU Sub-Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs (10.30am) is looking at EU plans for Genuine Economic and Monetary Union (GEMU) and will hear from the chairman of the British Bankers Association Sir Nigel Wicks, and Professor Luis Garicano, from the London School of Economics.

The UK is keeping its distance from the scheme and the committee is asking whether the plans are is realistic and beneficial, and looking into how much this country should be involved.

And the special committee dealing with the political hot potato that is the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill hears from two academics from All Souls College, Oxford: Jeremy Waldron, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory and Nicola Lacey, Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory (9.30am).


Things are normally rather quiet in committee land on a Thursday, but not this week.

An exalted double-act of Theresa May, the Home Secretary and Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary give their views about the UK's 2014 opt-out from EU Justice and Policing powers at the European Scrutiny Committee (10am).

Spare a thought for the committee chair, Bill Cash, still nursing his contusions after jousting with Nigel Farage at a Tory Conference fringe meeting; he waits ages for a cabinet minister to deign to attend their committee, then two come along at once -but then he finds he's competing with another committee the press will probably find more interesting.

Because, fresh from his Lords Committee hearing on Wednesday, Lord Justice Leveson returns to the committee corridor to give his thoughts on the latest developments following his report on the regulation of the press to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at 10.30am.

The learned Judge may also eclipse the appearance of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and his deputy, Chloe Smith, before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am) to talk about the coalition's programme of political and constitutional reform - what's left of it after the rejection of AV and the collapse of Lords reform.

Will Mr Clegg endorse the private member's bill to make modest tidying-up changes to the workings of the Lords? What will he have to say about party funding?

The Public Accounts Committee (9.45am) has a follow-up session on civil service severance payments.

Are top mandarins who fall from ministerial favour being given vast payoffs, just to go quietly?

After recent revelations of the size of the bill to taxpayers, the committee will hear from Sharon White, director-general (public spending) at the Treasury, Jon Thompson, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Jonathan Stephens, the permanent secretary at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the Home Civil Service and other top civil servants.

And the Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee will be quizzing witnesses about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.