Week ahead in committees

Across the week, on Tuesday and Thursday there are several sittings of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Wales Bill.

This is the measure to enact the proposals of the Silk Commission which proposed that the Welsh Assembly should be given significant new taxing and borrowing powers.

The evidence starts with constitutional experts - but I wonder if the Scottish independence referendum might result in a devolutionary domino effect which may overtake Silk.


With criticism of the performance of a couple of the new breed of Free Schools set up by Education Secretary Michael Gove, the Public Accounts Committee (3.15pm) hears from the top official at the Department for Education, Chris Wormald, and the Chief Executive of the Education Funding Agency Peter Lauener.

The session is based on this National Audit Office report which said that it was still early days but that the Department for Education has managed to open 174 schools, many at relatively low cost.

It added that lessons had to be learned from problems that have arisen in a few early wave schools, especially those involving failures in governance and control.


The big committee event is the Home Affairs Committee hearing (2.45pm) which now includes a rapidly arranged session with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Metropolitan Police, on the death of Mark Duggan.

The questions will focus on Police communications and lessons learned, not the inquest verdict.

That's followed, after about half an hour by expert evidence on counter-terrorism from assorted savants and from Cerie Bullivant, who was cleared of absconding from a counter-terrorism control order last year - after the High Court ruled that there was no evidence that he posed a security risk.

Another interesting visitor will be the Israeli Ambassador, Daniel Taub, who will give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (2.30pm) on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This is the latest in a series of one-off sessions on the Middle East and may not result in a formal report.

Also giving evidence will be Professor Manuel Hassassian, head of the Palestinian Mission in London, and foreign policy experts.

And at 4pm the prime minister has one of his regular appearances before the Commons Liaison Committee, the super-committee of all the select committee chairs.

David Cameron will face questions on violence against women and girls and then on energy policy and environmental priorities.

Doubtless, the phrase "green crap" will surface.

Watch out too for the Public Bill Committee processing Conservative backbencher Dan Byles' private members bill to provide the merest smidgeon of Lords reform (9am).

His bill is the latest incarnation of the Steel Bill - the former Liberal Leader David Steel's measure to provide a retirement mechanism, a way of expelling peers convicted of serious criminal offences and a way of removing peers who have not attended for a prolonged period.

The Lords have already passed three versions of this measure, and if this one can escape from the Commons unscathed, it has an excellent chance of being endorsed there, and sent on to the statute book.

But first compromise has to be reached on a number of detailed issues, not least whether and how the Lords should take account of serious convictions in foreign courts.

I'm told Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees Mogg is concerned that the Bill as drafted could allow foreign courts a measure of control over a sovereign parliament, while the government remains concerned about ruffling foreign feathers by implying that their courts are rubbish.

Over at the Lords end of the committee corridor, three ministers will give evidence (10.40am) to the Lords committee investigating the potential wealth to be generated from waste.

Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon, Energy Minister Greg Barker and Defra Minister Dan Rogerson will all attend the final evidence session of this six month inquiry, which identified important opportunities from new technologies which enable valuable products to be created from waste - simultaneously delivering economic and environmental benefits.

Ministers will be asked what steps government can take to make sure the potential of this growing area is realised.

They will be asked how departments work together to deliver a long term strategy and to support investment in new, value from waste technologies.


One of the most powerful people in Britain, the Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, appears before the Treasury Committee (2.15pm) to discuss the Bank of England's November 2013 Financial Stability Report.

I daresay members will probe him on George Osborne's announcement that a further £25bn in public spending cuts will be needed after the next election to stabilise the public finances.

And keep an eye on the European Scrutiny Committee (2.45pm), which, in the wake of its warning about the creeping influence of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK, hears more evidence in the wake of recent court rulings.

Witnesses include David Anderson QC, and other experts.

Finally, the Public Accounts Committee (3.15pm) takes evidence on confiscation orders, which are used to take the proceeds of crime from criminals. The National Audit Office reports that only about 26p in every £100 of criminal proceeds was actually confiscated in 2012-13, concluding simply that "the use of confiscation orders to deny criminals the proceeds of their crimes is not proving to be value for money."

Witnesses include Peter Handcock, chief executive, HM Court and Tribunal Service, with Keith Bristow, head of National Crime Agency (Economic Crime Command), Mark Sedwill, permanent secretary, Home Office; and Alison Saunders Director of Public Prosecutions.

Note: I'm finding it very difficult to research dozens of committee hearings to the point where I have something useful to say about them, so I've opted for a new approach of identifying a few highlights.