A fierce critic of the government’s record on tackling poverty has been elected to examine its plans to shake up the welfare system and cut spending on benefits by £12bn.
As chair of the Commons work and pensions and select committee, the veteran Labour MP Frank Field will lead scrutiny of moves to replace benefits and tax credits with Universal Credit.
It will also oversee the moves by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to cut the welfare bill, as well as the operation of benefits sanctions and pensions reform.
Mr Field served as a welfare reform minister under Tony Blair and was appointed by David Cameron to draw up plans to combat poverty and inequality.
But he fell out with the Prime Minister whom he accused of ignoring his call for early intervention with children from poorer families to prevent them falling behind youngsters from better-off homes at school.
Mr Field has also condemned the rapid increase in the use of food-banks, has called for more employers to pay staff the living wage and has warned that Universal Credit appeared to be “heading for disaster”.
He defeated his fellow Labour MP, Kate Green, to the post in elections to chair the select committees which hold the Government to account.
The victors could find themselves wielding heavier influence over policy than many of the ministers they summon before them.
Mr Field told the Independent: “The committee will set its own agenda. I hope that we are going to be sensible – we can’t change the whole world at once – and that we will want to be very focussed in our inquiries and regularly go back to those government bodies and say ‘what have you done?’”
He said he intended to hold meetings outside London and to people receiving benefits as witnesses.
The high-profile post of chairing the public accounts select committee went to the Labour MP Meg Hillier following a close contest with Gisela Stuart.
She will succeed Margaret Hodge who won repeated headlines for hearings in which she lambasted executives from Starbucks, Amazon, Google and HSBC and officials from HM Revenue and Customs.
Ms Hillier said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to continue to challenge the Government and public service providers and to press for more efficient and effective services for users.”
The hotly-contested post to lead the culture select committee was won by Jesse Norman, who led a Tory rebellion in the last parliament against reform of the House of Lords. The most pressing item in his committee’s in-tray will be the funding of the BBC.
The independent-minded former justice minister Crispin Blunt defeated his fellow Tory, Nadhim Zahawi, to head the foreign affairs select committee. His election could prove significant as David Cameron attempts to renegotiate Britain’s place in the European Union and hold a membership referendum by the end of 2017.
Mr Blunt said the committee had a duty to the public and MPs to ensure the Foreign Office is “spending wisely and acting in the country’s best interests”.
The Conservative MP Julian Lewis won the chairmanship of the defence select committee, which is now likely to put pressure the Government over meeting Nato’s target for countries to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence.
Keith Vaz, one of the highest profile committee chairs, beat off a challenge from his Labour colleague to continue leading the home affairs select committee. The former GP Sarah Woollaston will also resume as chair of the health select committee.
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