9 Best committee practice |
110. We publish at Annex B examples of good working
practices used by select committees in this Parliament. They suggest
a willingness to innovate and experiment.
111. Dr Ruth Levitt and William Solesbury, Visiting
Senior Research Fellows, King's College London, told us: "[there
is] a common tendency to examine such contributions to policy
in isolation, possibly prompted by newsworthy developments. But
external sources of evidence and advice increasingly deserve attention
in the more strategic, forward looking scrutiny of department
performance that the earlier Liaison Committee's Second Report
Select committees should see it as their own
responsibility to pursue this more thorough 'evidence trail' (somewhat
like an audit trail for financial accountability)."
112. Dr Emma Crewe, Research Associate, SOAS, University
of London, made a number of helpful suggestions:
a) In communicating the work of committees more
might be made of the cross-party collaboration, not to denigrate
party political workwhich is also essential to democracybut
to point to the variety of working modes and loyalties that MPs
deal with simultaneously.
b) A greater emphasis on the scrutiny of implementation
and practice (rather than just policy) when communicating about
committee work would be consistent with the latest academic thinking
on policy processes and appeal to the public.
c) Committees should find ways of reaching less
visible groupse.g., young and elderly peoplethrough
increasing the number of hearings out of Westminster, and visits
around the country, and commissioning research or consultation.
d) The guide for witnesses could explain that
there are different types of enquiry. More could be done to reassure
'friendly' witnesses that they are not in a court but rather in
a scrutiny committee of parliament that is interested to learn
from their perspective.
e) It would be worth commissioning research that
reviews committees' public engagement to see (a) how different
groups of people (public, journalists, professionals, MPs, academics)
rate their experience of giving evidence to different committees,
(b) how they understand and view select committee work.
f) [In my view], scrutiny of evidence and research
will only be possible if MPs do fewer inquiries, aiming for quality
rather than quantity, and committees are better-resourced. Not
to fund parliament adequately, including its select committees,
would be a tragic wasted opportunity. It would benefit not only
all government departments, but relations between parliament and
the public, to resource select committees more generously.
113. David Walker, editor of Guardian Public, drew
attention to duplication between committees and told us: "Chairs
should collaborate. Perhaps the Liaison Committee could be more
of a vehicle for inter-committee communication; perhaps informal
conversation between chairs is enough
Either way, committees
should liaise more on agendas and themes and witnesses. It's common
to see witnesses from interest group X appearing before one committee
this week and before another the next, repeating their evidence."
114. On the basis of experience
in the 2010-15 Parliament, our advice to new committees set up
in the next Parliament is:
a) Discuss amongst themselves
and with stakeholders the most effective working methods
b) Adopt a communication strategy
from the start of each inquiry
c) Make the best use of additional
funding to improve scrutiny
d) Harness opportunities of
digital technology and new media
e) Maintain quality of investigation,
rigour of questioning, depth of analysis and value of reportsin
i) extend longer-term beneficial
influence on government
ii) sustain reputation with
public understanding of Parliament.
37 Dr Ruth Levitt and William Solesbury, Visiting Senior
Research Fellows, King's College London (SCE 0020) Back
Dr Emma Crewe, Research Associate, SOAS, University of London
(SCE 0022) Back
David Walker, editor of Guardian Public (SCE 0024) Back