Legacy Report - Liaison Contents

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 recommended. … Select committees should see it as their own responsibility to pursue this more thorough 'evidence trail' (somewhat like an audit trail for financial accountability)."[37]

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 work—which is also essential to democracy—but 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 groups—e.g., young and elderly people—through 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.[38]

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."[39]

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 reports—in order to:

i)  extend longer-term beneficial influence on government

ii)  sustain reputation with stakeholders and

iii)  increase public understanding of Parliament.

37   Dr Ruth Levitt and William Solesbury, Visiting Senior Research Fellows, King's College London (SCE 0020) Back

38   Dr Emma Crewe, Research Associate, SOAS, University of London (SCE 0022) Back

39   David Walker, editor of Guardian Public (SCE 0024) Back

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Prepared 24 March 2015