Week ahead in committees

With little action in the main chambers, the committee corridor will be the main source of parliamentary action in the next few weeks - and my pick of the forthcoming crop is Wednesday's session with the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, now at the centre of a row with the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Formally this is a session about his latest annual report, but that should give Committee members plenty of scope to dig into the rights and wrongs.

Here's my rundown of next week's highlights:


A couple of select committees are venturing beyond Westminster to take evidence in their inquiries.

The Scottish Affairs Committee will be in Falkirk and Livingston to discuss the housing benefit changes various described as the end of the spare room subsidy, and the bedroom tax, while the Communities and Local Government Committee visits Manchester as part of its inquiry into devolving tax-raising powers to the big cities - with evidence from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which is a joint organisation made up of the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.

Back at Westminster the ever-sparky Public Accounts Committee (3.15pm) may have to cope with some praise of a government department when it turns its attention to the prison estates.

The session will be based on this National Audit Office report which commented that the strategy for the prison estate is the most coherent and comprehensive for many years, has quickly cut operating costs, and is a significant improvement in value for money.

But it also warned that there is an urgent need to improve new prisons and look at ways to close fewer high-performing ones in future.

The committee will quiz Dame Ursula Brennan, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Michael Spurr, the chief executive, of the National Offender Management Service, and Mandie Campbell, director-general for Immigration and Enforcement at the Home Office.

The Transport Committee (4:05pm) beings its follow up inquiry into cycling safety, with evidence from Olympian Chris Boardman, who is a policy advisor to British Cycling.

The inquiry will examine whether cycling is safe, particularly in towns and cities, and what central and local government could do to improve it.

They will be exploring ideas like better training and advice for drivers and cyclists, better enforcement of the law, and better vehicle and road infrastructure - including whether it would be desirable and feasible to segregate cyclists from other road users, including, perhaps banning HGVs from city centres at peak hours.

Other witnesses come from the AA, the Local Government Association, Brighton and Hove City Council, and the DVLA.


Energy and Climate Change Committee (9.30am) looks at the latest scientific thinking on global warming, with a session on the International Panel on Climate Change's 5th Assessment Review.

Its verdict is that global warming is happening and it is both a result of nature but also of humans and greenhouse gases.

The IPCC says ocean and global surface temperatures have been rising and are expected to rise even more by the end of the 21st century.

The sea level is rising and will continue to rise in the future.

Ice sheets and glaciers have been reduced in Greenland and the Arctic.

Less snow and ice is expected for the Northern Hemisphere.

The Royal Society and the Royal Meteorological Society will give their view, followed by the think-tank Policy Exchange, and James Painter from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism will discuss how climate change is reported in the media.

A new inquiry into adult literacy and numeracy gets under way at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (9.30am) looking at what can be done to help adults improve their basic skills.

The OECD reported recently that 5.8m adults living in England and Northern Ireland score at the lowest levels of literacy.

And England is the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's survey where people have lower literacy than their grandparents.

Amongst the witnesses are the National Institute of Adults Continuing Education; and Jez Langhorn, senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald's.

The Treasury Committee (10am) will take yet more evidence on the collapse of Project Verde, the scheme to sell off hundreds of Lloyds Bank branches to the Co-Op Bank, to create a big new player in high street banking.

The inquiry has already exposed huge weaknesses at the top of the Co-Op bank - and this week it hears from Andrew Bailey, deputy governor for prudential regulation and chief executive of the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Former director-generals of the BBC, John Birt and Greg Dyke are among the witnesses as the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (10.30am) ponders the future of the BBC - and Peter Horrocks, director, BBC Global News gives evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (3.45pm) on the future of the BBC World Service.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is also looking at UK policy towards Iran (2.45pm)

The Home Affairs Committee (2.45pm) has one of its multi-subject sessions - starting with evidence on counter-terrorism, from Dr Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment; followed by (at 3.30pm) Sir David Omand, the former head of the communications monitoring agency, GCHQ; and then (4.15pm) by Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

At 5pm the Committee follows up its earlier inquiry into Private Investigators by questioning the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

Committee Chair Keith Vaz has said he's extremely concerned about recent claims of a "blue chip" hacking scandal in which major companies are accused of breaking data protection laws. Mr Graham will be quizzed about the latest developments.

Over in the Lords their EU sub-committee on Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment (3.10pm) continues its look at EU action to tackle youth unemployment with evidence from the former deputy prime Minister, Lord Heseltine, and the sub-committee on Economic and Financial Affairs (9.40am) hears from the former prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti about the continuing euro-area crisis.


The Education Committee (9.30am) has a one-off evidence session with HM Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw (See above). Bring popcorn.

The search for an acceptable term for "Bedroom Tax"/Spare Room Subsidy continues at the Work and Pensions Committee (9.30am) where an inquiry entitled "support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system," hears from Lord Freud, the Minister of Welfare Reform at the DWP and from the Minister for Housing, Kris Hopkins.

Given the ill-tempered session with the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, last week, this could be a politically charged encounter.

The Public Accounts Committee (2.15pm) has a session on the management of NHS waiting lists, based on this National Audit Office report which highlighted the increasing challenge of sustaining the 18-week waiting standards, against a background of an increasing number of patients, the financial pressure on the NHS and the need to make efficiency savings.

The report identified "significant errors and inconsistencies in how trusts record waiting time, masking a good deal of variation between trusts in actual waiting times."

The witness list is headed by Una O'Brien, the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, and Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of NHS England.

With a huge proportion of private land in Scotland owned by a tiny number of people, the Scottish Affairs Committee (2.30pm) has a session on Land Reform with evidence from a series of expert witnesses.

Over in the Lords, the influential Constitution Committee (10.30am) looks at what would happen if Scotland votes "yes" to independence in September.

What would happen next? Lord Hope of Craighead, the former deputy president of the Supreme Court, and Professor Iain McLean, professor of politics at Oxford give their thoughts.

And, in the afternoon the Lords Communications Committee (3.30pm) begins an inquiry into broadcast general election debates - how they operate and how they might look in the future.

Ric Bailey, the BBC's chief political adviser, Michael Jeremy, director of news, current affairs and sport for ITV, and BSkyB's John Ryley give evidence.


Fag end or dignified conclusion?

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am) continues its look at the final year of the fixed-term of this parliament.