Week ahead in committees

One job of select committees is to zero in on the lessons to be learned from crisis and disaster - so it is not surprising to see the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which last year published a prophetic report about managing flood risk, holding an evidence session on the winter floods, or the Transport Committee calling in the secretary of state to discuss the disruption which resulted from them.

But both hearings should provide compelling viewing for flooded out residents and farmers, and frustrated commuters, and a misplaced word could fuel the political blame-game already under way at Westminster.

Meanwhile the appearance of Lib Dem Schools Minister David Laws before the Education Committee may result in a further bout of intra-Coalition sniping. It wouldn't take a vast leap of logic to take him from the official subject of the session, under-achievement by white working class children, to the subject of his clash with his boss, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, the sacking of the Chair of the school standards watchdog, Ofsted.

Here's my look at the week's highlights on the Committee Corridor:


Unusually the Public Accounts Committee only has one public hearing this week - its members are going to be devoting some time to working out their programme up to the next election. Today's session (3.15pm) is on the Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan and Major Projects Report 2013 based on this report from the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office.

The NAO found that, with the exception of the programme to build new aircraft carriers, the MoD's largest projects have not shown significant increases in costs and have suffered only small in-year delays.

However, it remains concerned about the legacy of large complex projects that have already suffered significant cost increases and delays.

Giving evidence will be the MoD's Permanent Secretary, Jon Thompson, and Air Marshall Stephen Hillier, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff.

The subject of flood disruption will probably crop up at the Transport Committee hearing on the strategic road network (4.30pm) where the witnesses are Highways Agency chief executive, Graham Dalton and Transport Minister Robert Goodwill.


Is the money flowing?

The Treasury Committee (10am) takes evidence on whether or not the banks are now lending to small and medium sized enterprises.

In the first of two sessions on this issue, the committee heard from Professor Russell Griggs, Independent External Reviewer of the Banking Taskforce Appeals Process, Priyen Patel of the Federation of Small Businesses, and Matthew Fell of the CBI.

With the BBC's royal charter due for renewal in 2016, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (10.30am) continues its inquiry into the future of the BBC with witnesses from RadioCentre, Bauer Radio, and Global Radio, followed by (at 11.30) KM Group, The Newspaper Society, and The Society of Editors.

What went wrong with care.data, the scheme for a giant NHS database of medical records showing how individuals have been cared for across the GP and hospital sectors?

The idea was to create a research tool that could help develop new treatments and assess the performance of NHS services, but all that has now been put on hold for six months, while concerns about patient confidentiality are addressed.

The Health Committee (2.30pm) holds a special one-off evidence session to find out with evidence heard from medConfidential, followed by Health Minister Dr Daniel Poulter and NHS officials.

The Home Affairs Committee (3pm) takes evidence on counter-terrorism, from Richard Barrett of the Qatar International Academy for Security Studies and The Soufan Group, which provides strategic security intelligence services to governments and multinational organizations.

Then at 3.30pm the switch to their inquiry into the performance to date of the new elected Police and Crime Commissioners, with evidence from Ann Barnes, the Police and Crime Commissioner in Kent , and her Chief Constable Alan Pughsley.

Then (4pm) they hear from the Police Minister Damian Green - usually the last act in a select committee inquiry.

Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin tops the bill at the Transport Committee (3.30pm) as they look at transport's winter resilience, and especially rail flooding, in the light of the serious disruption suffered in the South-West of England.

First the committee will hear from Chris Pomfret of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Councillor Tudor Evans, leader, of Plymouth City Council, and Mark Carne, chief executive, and Patrick Hallgate, route managing director of Network Rail, and Mark Hopwood of First Great Western.

Mr McLoughlin should start his evidence at about 5pm.

Should there be some kind of independent Commission to oversee future TV debates between the party leaders at a General Election?

The Lords Communications Committee (3.30pm) will take evidence from the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates and experts on leaders' debates around the world, in the second evidence session of its inquiry into broadcast General Election debates.

The witnesses - via video link - will include Janet Brown, Executive Director for the Commission on Presidential Debates, Professor William Wheatley Jr, of the Columbia University School of Journalism, a former Executive Vice President of NBC News and Professor Alan Schroeder, an expert in televised leaders debates around the world.


The Education Committee's fascinating inquiry into underachievement by white working class children continues (9.45am) with evidence from the Schools Minister, David Laws. (see above)

And the Scottish Affairs Committee (2.30pm) takes further evidence on the Scottish independence referendum on from Owen Kelly, chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, followed by Mark Neale, Chief Executive, FSCS, Andrew Bailey, chief executive, Prudential Regulation Authority, and Sean Martin, general counsel, FCA.

Last year the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee produced a report on managing flood risk, which warned that, even after the increases announced in the 2013 spending round, investment remained insufficient to meet the growing risk, and which, prophetically, called for more effective dredging and maintenance of watercourses.

Today, the Committee (3pm) follows up with session on the winter floods, with evidence from the Association of Drainage Authorities, the Blueprint for Water Coalition and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.


The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am) launches its new inquiry into voter engagement in the UK with evidence from Glenn Gottfried, a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Sarah Birch, Professor of comparative politics, University of Glasgow and Professor Patrick Dunleavy, the co-director of Democratic Audit.

Meanwhile the special committee of MPs and Peers looking at the Draft Modern Slavery Bill continues its herculean work-rate, with five sittings this week, across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with evidence from, among others, the Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit, the Crown Prosecution Service, the former Lord Chief justice, Lord Judge, and Luis deBaca, the United States Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The committee aims to have a reworked version of the draft bill ready for second reading in March.