Week ahead in committees

It's a promising week on the committee corridor, with some stonking-looking evidence sessions on any number of hot topics.

Could more have been done to respond to the Christmas blackouts and the winter floods?

Can we trust Police crime statistics?

Is too much of the cost of infrastructure investment being loaded onto consumers' bills?

How are the new-look localised schemes for Council tax benefits playing out?

Parliamentary Committees often seem focused on rather arcane issues, but this week's list has an almost populist flavour. Here's my selection of the highlights:


The Welsh Affairs Committee journeys to Cardiff Bay and the seat of the National Assembly for Wales, to take evidence on the draft Wales Bill (10.30am).

This would implement the recommendations of the Silk Commission for greater taxation powers for the Welsh Government.

Sources on the committee murmur that they are finding it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for a bill granting powers that seem unlikely to be used.

The witnesses are led by the First Minister Carwyn Jones.

The Public Accounts Committee has the first of two sessions this week on issues that will reach into the pockets of many UK residents.

Today (3.15pm) it takes evidence on how the new localised system for Council Tax Support is working out. The National Audit Office has said that not all local authorities' Council Tax support schemes will protect vulnerable people and improve work incentives, which are the objectives set out for localised schemes by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Seventy-one per cent of local authorities have introduced schemes that require working age claimants to pay at least some council tax regardless of income.

Most local authorities also used new powers to charge more Council Tax on some properties, such as second and short-term empty homes, and 41% of local authorities have introduced minimum payments of Council Tax with no protections for vulnerable groups, other than those mandated for pensioners and war pensioners.

The witnesses include Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary at the DCLG, and Simon Ridley, Director, Local Government Finance.

The Transport Committee (4pm) question Sir Howard Davies on the interim report of his Airports Commission which shortlisted options for new runway capacity in the south included not only expanding Heathrow, but also a further runway at Gatwick.

It also left the door open on building a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

The Transport Committee has concluded that there is no practical alternative to expanding Heathrow, and it rejected the "Boris Island" Thames Estuary option altogether, which suggests Sir Howard will face a considerable cross examination.


Following the Christmas blackouts, the Energy and Climate Change Committee (9.30am) has hauled in the chief executives of the electricity companies involved, to explain the delays in restoring power.

They will be followed by Ofgem's interim chief executive, Andrew Wright.

The Public Administration Committee's riveting inquiry into allegations that the Police fiddle crime statistics continues (9.30am) with an appearance by Sir Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, after this week's very decision to downgrade them to "not reliable."

The committee will also question Home Office Minister Norman Baker.

Another inquiry which has produced real sparks is the Treasury Committee's look at the collapse of "Project Verde," the attempt to sell hundreds of Lloyds Bank branches to the Co-Operative Bank.

The scheme was abandoned when the Co-Op Bank's financial problems emerged - and the committee has already heard some fairly devastating evidence about the way the Rev Paul Flowers was approved as chairman of the bank.

In this hearing they will take evidence from Lord Levene of Portsoken KBE, formerly of NBNK Investments, which was a rival bidder for the Lloyds branches (10am).

Expect some harrowing evidence as the new Joint Committee set up to consider the Draft Modern Slavery Bill opens for business.

The committee (membership MPs Fiona Bruce, Michael Connarty, Mr Frank Field, Fiona Mactaggart, Sir John Randall, Mrs Caroline Spelman and Sir Andrew Stunell, plus peers B Butler-Sloss, Bp Derby, B Doocey, B Hanham, B Kennedy of Cradley, L McColl of Dulwich, and L Warner) kick off with evidence with the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group. (10am)

And with claims of an emerging crisis in emergency medicine, the Health Committee (2.30pm) will question Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director for NHS England responsible for the quality, policy and strategy of clinical medicine, and acute care directors about emergency services, particularly their performance in times of high demand like cold snaps, and in the light of several high profile closures proposed for emergency departments.


Business Secretary Vince Cable and his top officials appear before the Business, Innovation and Skils Committee to answer questions about his department's annual report and accounts 2012-13 - which means he can be asked about pretty much anything. (10.45am)

Are consumers being asked to foot too much of the bill for long-overdue infrastructure investment in electricity, water etc?

The Public Accounts Committee (2.15pm) takes evidence on its impact on consumer bills. The NAO has said that large-scale infrastructure spending by the private sector over ten years or more will increase consumer utility bills but government and regulators do not know by how much, or whether the bills will be affordable.

The witnesses are drawn from Ofgem, Ofwat, Infrastructure UK, and three government departments, the Treasury, Departments for Energy and Climate Change and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Are foreign plants and animals driving out traditional British flora and fauna?

The Environmental Audit Committee takes evidence from the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, Imperial College London, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, CABI UK, and Natural History Museum about new EU rules designed to deal with the problem. (2.30pm).

Competence creep? The European Scrutiny Committee (2.45pm) quizzes the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, on The application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK in the light of recent court rulings.

The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will answer questions suggested by Twitter users (under the hashtag #AskPickles) and from MPs on his departmental Committee (4.15pm).

The committee will also follow up on issues emerging from its inquiry into the performance of the department.

What lessons must be learned from the Christmas floods?

At a one-off evidence session the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (3pm) questions Councillor Mehboob Khan, chair of the Local Government Association's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, the Environment Agency CEO, Paul Leinster, and Defra floods minister Dan Rogerson.


The vogue for scandi-noir drama reaches the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10am), when it looks to Sweden for international comparisons on the relationship between central and local government.

The witness list includes Sören Häggroth, former Swedish State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Interior.

Cable-knit sweaters will be worn.