Week ahead on committee corridor

 

The committee corridor is where the parliamentary action is, this week, with a series of major evidence sessions looming.

Two committees, in particular, will bear watching: through the week the Treasury Committee will be scrutinising the Autumn Statement in a series of hearings, building up to an appearance by the Chancellor, George Osborne, on Thursday. They start on Tuesday (at 9.30am) with Robert Chote, Steve Nickell and Graham Parker, from the Office of Budget Responsibility. Then, on Wednesday (at 2.15pm) they hear from a series of City economists and Paul Johnson and Carl Emmerson, from the prestigious tax and spend think-tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Finally (drum-roll) it's Mr Osborne's turn, at 10am on Thursday. The committee chair, Andrew Tyrie, regards the Autumn Statement as more or less a full-scale Budget and, he says, the committee is treating it accordingly.

It's also a very big week for the Public Accounts Committee. They kick off on Monday (at 3.15pm) with a session on the franchising of NHS trusts based on this. The committee has had to put its collective foot down and insist on the appearance on one recently-resigned chief executive.

On Wednesday (at 3.15pm), the PAC considers the lessons to be learned from the Olympics - which should produce rather an unusual session, because the delivery of London 2012 is now being held up as a kind of platonic ideal of how mega-projects should be handled, so the witnesses from LOCOG and the Department of Culture Media and Sport, far from receiving the usual monstering, will be treated more like gurus than prisoners in the dock. The NAO's report on the Games gives more.

But on Thursday (at 9.45am), normal PAC service will be resumed, with a session on the West Coast main line franchising debacle with Philip Rutnam, the top civil servant at the Department for Transport and a senior colleague, Clare Moriarty, in the firing line. A key question will be whether the mishandling of the franchise process was the fault of civil servants or of politicians.

Monday's other committee highlights include the publication of the the Home Affairs Committee's report on Drugs: Breaking the Cycle. Several of the MPs on the committee seemed to be moving in the direction of some kind of decriminalisation policy in evidence sessions - so this report could suggest some kind of break with existing policy. Expect it to feature prominently in Monday's morning news.

Elsewhere, the Transport Committee (at 4pm) continues its inquiry into the government's aviation strategy. Does the UK have enough air space to expand airport capacity in the south east and how does all the argument about Heathrow vs "Boris Island" look from outside the South-East?

Lord Heseltine seems to have become almost omnipresent in Parliament - and he's before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on Tuesday (at 9.30am) to talk about his report, No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth. Expect much talk of industrial policy, Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Regional Growth Fund, and localism. Culture Media and Sport (at 10.30am) holds the first session looking into the Leveson report and what effect it will have, with the Conservative former Cabinet Minister, Lord Hunt, who now chairs the Press Complaints Commission.

And there will be a set-piece joust between shale gas companies and green groups at the Energy and Climate Change Committee (at 9.30am). Is the controversial "fracking" technology to extract shale gas from rocks the solution to our energy needs, or a way of wrecking the environment? And what might cheap and plentiful shale gas (if it's there) mean for the Coalition's commitment to cut carbon emissions?

The Justice Committee (at 9.30am) concludes its examination of youth justice with evidence from the Youth Justice Board and minister for prisons and rehabilitation.

The Public Administration Committee takes evidence in its inquiry into how this government communicates and publishes national statistics, with minister Nick Hurd. And the Home Affairs Committee (at 2.15pm) continues its inquiry into localised child grooming, with half an hour of evidence from Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner. Then they move onto e-crime with witnesses from the police and forensics experts.

Another big committee report emerges on Wednesday when the Joint Committee on Human Rights gives its verdict on the Defamation Bill, just before the Lords start their detailed committee stage consideration.

The Work and Pensions Committee (at 9.30am) holds its third evidence session on workplace pensions. And the Environmental Audit Committee asks if Defra should be moving more quickly to protect bees and other pollinating insects from pesticides. Several studies have concluded that neonicotinoids could be causing bee colony collapse, but the department is demanding "unequivocal" evidence before taking action. Defra Minister Lord DeMaulay is in the firing line. Meanwhile the EFRA Committee (at 4pm) continues its inquiry into rural communities with a lively session on rural housing and energy infrastructure issues.

David Jones, the new Welsh Secretary, makes his debut at the Welsh Affairs Committee (at 3pm) - pretty much any of his responsibilities could come up, but one subject, the enhanced devolution powers recommended by the Silk Commission is bound to be raised.

And just down the corridor his cabinet colleague, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and his ministerial team, appear before the Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.10pm). With huge issues on planning, housing and local government finance in play, this could be pretty entertaining.

The pace slackens on Thursday - but look out for the Justice Committee's verdict on the Children and Families Bill, and the Deputy PM Nick Clegg's appearance before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (9am), to talk about what's left of the coalition government's programme of political and constitutional reform. Then they turn to their inquiry into the real effect of ministerial reshuffles with former ministers Charles Clarke, Lord Heseltine (yet again) and Lord Reid.

* Having ended up, last week, writing a massive 2,800 word screed on what's coming up in Parliament, I've decided to try and break it up into bite-sized chunks, with one post on what's going on in committee-land, and another about the action in the Commons and Lords. Does this work better for you, the readers? Any comments or advice gratefully received.

 
Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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