Black Monday: Lord Patten to face the music over BBC severance pay
Parliamentary select committees have grown in courage with chairs now elected and the power of party whips diminished. Tomorrow is their High Noon
Sunday 08 September 2013
A series of political High Noon-style showdowns is looming in Westminster on Monday, with Chris Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, the Government's flagship High Speed Two (HS2) rail project and dozens of blue-chip companies all in the line of fire.
Some are already writing the political obituary of heavyweight gunslinger Lord Patten, ahead of his appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge, to answer questions about what he did and didn't know about the corporation's severance payment scandal.
He will be grilled over claims by the BBC's former director general Mark Thompson that BBC Trust witnesses had been "fundamentally misleading" to the committee about their knowledge of the payouts, which totalled a staggering £369m to 7,500 departing staff.
Rob Wilson, PPS to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that "anybody who lied to the select committee without good reason should be sacked or resign".
Then, there is the question of who will blink first in the stand-off between the police and the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, over a secret list of firms that were allegedly involved with rogue private investigators convicted of "blagging" – illegally obtaining information such as bank details and phone numbers.
The committee has warned that it will publish the potentially explosive list if the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) fails to do so by tomorrow.
And the Public Accounts Committee may put a bullet into what some regard as a white elephant – the Government's plan to connect London, the West Midlands and the North of England with the HS2 rail link.
The committee's report on HS2 – published on Monday – is expected to be highly critical of a project that David Cameron has said he "passionately" supports.
Mr Cameron himself will face the chairs of all the committees at a meeting on Tuesday.
Mr Vaz said parliamentary committees were once loath to challenge governments partly as members were often hoping to get ministerial posts. But the move to elect their chairmen and the diminished power of party whips under the coalition had emboldened them.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee's decision to force Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch to appear to discuss phone hacking was "one of the defining moment of select committee life", Mr Vaz said. "In the past, turning up to a select committee was like an invitation to a tea party. And people would say: 'Thank you very much, I'm not coming,'" he added.
Committees were also taking up issues of genuine public interest, he said. "It's healthy and good for democracy when we ask questions as if we were members of the public."
‘Rising costs outweigh benefits’
MPs set to savage HS2 in damning report
A powerful committee of MPs will tomorrow launch a damning report into High Speed Two (HS2), the widely criticised proposed railway the budget for which has spiralled to £42.6bn.
The Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge, will argue that the rising costs outweigh the benefits of a project that supporters suggest will create more than 100,000 jobs. The committee's voice will be added to a chorus of critics who have emerged since the budget went up by £10bn earlier this summer, including the Institute of Directors and Alistair Darling.
The report will also blunt the Government's fight-back on HS2, which was launched only last week. On Friday, David Cameron said he "would urge the doubters to think big". George Osborne claimed he was "passionate" about the railway, which would get commuters from London to Birmingham in just 49 minutes, before branching off in a Y-shaped route to cities in the north.
Douglas Oakervee, HS2's veteran chairman, says in an interview with today's IoS that it would be "catastrophic" for Britain if HS2 did not go ahead. Vowing that ministers and civil servants had started to get costs under control, he added: "The most important thing is that HS2 forms the backbone of the UK rail network for the future."
Max Clifford: Defending Cowell
Soca under fire over rogue private investigators
The publicist Max Clifford yesterday called for a secret list of alleged clients of rogue private investigators to be published after a report that Simon Cowell was among those named.
Mr Clifford, who represents Simon Cowell, said it was "highly unlikely" his client had been involved.
The list – said to include blue-chip financial and legal companies – was drawn up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) based on evidence gathered during its investigation into the PIs.
The names were given to the Home Affairs Select Committee in confidence, but the committee has said it will publish the list if Soca fails to do so by Monday.
MPs are concerned at the apparent lack of action against the PIs' clients, as the list is based on evidence obtained as long ago as 2006.
The committee has come under pressure not to publish it, with Soca warning that doing so "might cause individuals to abscond, evidence to be destroyed or impede the right to a fair trial".
Mr Clifford said: "I'm hoping that out of this the reality will emerge and some of these big companies that have seemingly been using these investigators … we'll all get to know about," he said.
The Times reported yesterday that Cowell was on the Soca list. But Mr Clifford said he was "completely unaware of Simon ever using any private investigator".
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