COMMONS

Committees must do more to include a wider range of voices in their work

10 September 2019

Select Committees play a crucial role in holding the Government to account and often show the Commons at its best, but challenges lay ahead in ensuring they maintain their vital scrutiny role, while expanding their reach to include a wider range of voices in their work. The findings come in a report by the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their formation, and examining their effectiveness.

Expanded role

The report calls for the key tasks of select committees to be refreshed to codify their role not only in holding the Government to account but in driving forward investigation on emerging issues in their remit. They should recognise this expanded role by dedicating time at the beginning of each Parliamentary session to consult on their forward strategy, seeking out a broader range of views on the topics that should be investigated and the process for doing so.

A broader range of views

Committees should seek to increase opportunities for a broader range of stakeholders to contribute to their work, and break down existing barriers which may prevent them from doing so. The growth of online platforms has changed the way many people communicate and select committees should react to this. Accepting evidence by video, audio clips and images would be a positive step in this direction. They should also carefully consider the language they use, moving away from using terms such as ‘witness’ and ‘evidence’ that may be confusing and off-putting.

It is vital that select committees also continue to increase the diversity of those who give evidence in formal session. Promoting female representation by adopting a target of 40% for discretionary witnesses has been a positive move. But committees should also consider how they can be more flexible in how meetings are held so it is less daunting for individuals not used to Westminster processes.

Committees should be more proactive in engaging directly with members of the public, both face to face and digitally. It is important that there is greater emphasis on listening to those with lived experience of the issues being investigated, as well as academic and professional opinion.

Scrutiny of EU-UK issues needed

The report also describes how select committees will need to adapt in the short term to provide scrutiny of the developing relationship between the UK and EU. Consideration should be given to the formation of a single integrated European committee to provide oversight of EU-UK matters. Discussions on the appropriate model for this should begin immediately.

Chair's comments

Publishing the report, Chair of the Liaison Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP said:

“Over the past 40 years, Select Committees have done great work in holding the Government, powerful organisations and individuals to account and driving forward vital issues of the day. Select Committees so often show Parliament at its best, with MPs working together across party lines to reach consensus. In our report we explore how we can develop and improve the work of committees on behalf of the public.

“The current practice of witnesses facing a panel of MPs in a formal setting works well for holding power to account, but can be daunting for those unused to the Parliamentary process. We must learn to adapt how we hear from people and the language we use, both in person and digitally, so that more people feel comfortable engaging with our inquiries. Committees should be proactive in this, going out into communities and accepting contributions by video to reflect the changing way we communicate with each other.

“This is a statement of intent. While select committees have performed excellent work in holding the Government to account and investigating the issues that matter to wider society, we need to be adaptable in the way we carry out our roles."

Further information 

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