Week ahead in committees

There's plenty of serious committee business this week - but I suspect the most interesting meetings will be the private report-drafting sessions of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking, where huge issues about the future of the UK financial sector are being fought out.

There have already been leaks suggesting that the commission is divided about the future of some of the big state-owned banks and the Treasury will doubtless be anxious about the commission's verdict.

The key for the chair, Andrew Tyrie, will be to maintain unanimity around their recommendations - something he has always managed to do in his day job chairing the Treasury Committee - because a split verdict is easily dismissed as party political. There are long meetings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday - and the drafting process is bound to take a very long time. But inquiring minds will be watching to see how many more sessions have to be arranged.

Meanwhile, I'm before a committee next week - a new and slightly unnerving experience. I'm planning to blog next week on what it's like to be in the witness box, rather than the press gallery...


A couple of important select committee reports will be published first thing: the Energy and Climate Change Committee gives its verdict on the controversial Severn Barrage scheme proposed by Hafren Power, and in the wake of several harrowing cases the Home Affairs Committee will publish its the long awaited Child Grooming Report.

How easy is it to set up local energy projects - and could the government do more to encourage investment in them? The sub-committee inquiring into local energy continues its inquiry into local windfarms, solar power and micro-generation, with evidence from local co-operatives, local government and industry (from 2pm).

The Public Accounts Committee (at 2.15pm) ventures to the BBC's new centre at Salford. They will examine how the move of TV and radio production from London has worked out. This report from the National Audit Office found that the project was "well-managed and within budget," but criticised a lack of controls on relocation payments. Witnesses include Zarin Patel, the BBC's Chief Financial Officer.

The Transport Committee (at 4.05pm) has the first of two evidence sessions on parking enforcement. The British Parking Association, the Association of Town and City Management, the AA, RAC Foundation, National Motorists Action Group, Living Streets, British Motorcyclists Federation, Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, and the Freight Transport Association give their thoughts on whether the policing of parking is designed to keep traffic moving or make money for local councils.

Are the members of the London Assembly any good at keeping Boris, or before him Ken, in check? The Communities and Local Government Committee (at 4.10pm) continue their inquiry into the state of London's regional government, following the 2007 Greater London Authority Act. GLA grandees and Martin Hoscik, of MayorWatch, give their thoughts.


Another brace of heavyweight reports are published: the Foreign Affairs Committee delivers the verdict of its 18 month inquiry into The Future of the European Union: UK Government Policy. The inquiry was triggered by the prime minister's veto of an EU Treaty change in December 2011 and explores the implications of holding an 'in/out' referendum on EU membership by the 2017. There's also a report from the Education Committee on the 2012 GCSE English results - which might make interesting reading, given the education secretary's plan to replace GCSEs with a new exam.

Meanwhile the Education Committee's live inquiry into the school sports legacy of the London 2012 Olympics will continue at 9.30am. Earlier sessions have pretty much shredded the idea that the games have left Britain with sportier schools and more athletic children - in the dock is Children's Minister Edward Timpson.

The day's most angst-laden session will probably be the Justice Committee's look (9.30am) at the government's controversial Legal Aid reforms - which have been denounced by the legal profession as an attack on access to justice. The witnesses are from the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar and the Legal Services Consumer Panel.

The Public Administration Committee (at 9.30am) continues its look at how public services handle complaints from users - with the complainant's last resort, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, and two major receivers of complaints, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Rural Payments Agency.

Will they declare victory? In the latest move in its long battle with the government over the need to regulate pub companies, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will hold a one-off evidence session (at 9.30am) in response to the new government consultation on a statutory code and independent adjudicator for the pubs sector. After several increasingly ill-tempered attempts, the committee seems to have won the argument for statutory intervention in the troubled relationship between large pub companies and their tenants, but will want to ensure that the proposals have teeth. Among those giving evidence are the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Inn Keeping. .

I'm not sure how much light will be shed by the Health Committee's inquiry (9.30am) into the implementation of the government's controversial reforms to the NHS in England, through the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

When they started asking whether the new system was delivering the promised service integration, the early witnesses all said it was too early to tell. Will today's witnesses from Monitor, the NHS Confederation and the Local Government Association be able to offer anything more? The Culture Committee has Peter Wright, Editor Emeritus of the Daily Mail giving his views on press regulation (10.30am) and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (1.30pm) hears the latest on investigations into the horsemeat scandal from DEFRA minister David Heath.

The Home Affairs Committee (from 2.45pm) has its usual multi-purpose sitting with, first, evidence about asylum from Women for Refugee Women, Asylum Aid, Freedom from Torture and Justice First. Then it moves on to the work of the UK Visas and Immigration with Sarah Rapson, director general, UK Visas and Immigration Section.

And finally, just as new sleaze allegations splat into parliament, the MPs' disciplinary body, the Committee on Standards (10.15am), opens a well-timed inquiry into All Party Parliamentary Groups, with, er, me giving evidence. Bring popcorn.


Today's big committee report is on the Joint Committee on Human Rights' examination of the way the UK treats unaccompanied migrant children. About 2,000 or so unaccompanied children appear at UK ports and airports every year, many fleeing violence and many at grave risk of abuse or exploitation. The committee will look at the extent to which this country is meeting its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child....

Sure Start children's centres have always attracted considerable controversy - do they make enough difference to children's education to justify their cost? The Education Committee (at 9.30am) continues its inquiry into the Foundation years, with evidence from National Day Nurseries, Pre-School Learning Alliance, and the National Children's Bureau

The Science and Technology Committee (at 9.15) boldly goes out to the final frontier for its inquiry into the work of the European and UK Space Agencies. It will be hearing from boffins from Imperial College, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and others.


The International Development Committee publishes its report on Violence Against Women and Girls, covering issues like violence in conflict, early marriage and female genital mutilation (abroad and in the UK). The Department for International Development has made the status and participation of women and girls a key issue for all UK development aid programmes - and the report will look at the effect of that move.

The day's only live committee hearing is the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee's suddenly topical look at the next moves in House of Lords reform. Constitutional savant Lord Norton of Louth, super-historian Lord (Peter) Hennessy, Lord Goodlad and Lord Tyler share their thoughts (from 10am).

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