Gender balance on speaking panels has been a much-discussed topic, particularly on social media, over the last few years. Since the landmark study by the organisation Democratic Audit in 2013 the Liaison Committee has monitored the gender diversity of witnesses giving oral evidence to select committees.
This short report sets out the latest statistics for witness gender diversity in the 2017-19 Parliament. We distinguish between individuals that committees invite to come before them (discretionary witnesses) and people who appear because they hold a particular position, namely Ministers and key office holders, for example the heads of public bodies falling within the Committee’s remit (non-discretionary witnesses). We set out our progress in ensuring that discretionary witnesses are more gender-balanced. The Government must make progress in making public appointments more reflective of wider society to address the continued gender imbalance among non-discretionary witnesses. We will continue to monitor this.
We agree a convention that, for Committees represented on the Liaison Committee, other than in circumstances where there are compelling reasons for an all-male panel, a panel of three or more witnesses should normally include at least one woman, when the witnesses involved are not specific office-holders such as Ministers or heads of key public sector organisations falling within the remit of the Department the Committee is scrutinising. Our aim is that, by the end of this Parliament, at least 40% of discretionary witnesses should be female. We will publish witness gender statistics on our website regularly.
There are many types of oral evidence sessions. Some are an opportunity for robust questioning of Ministers or a Chief Executive. But they may also be the first chance for someone to tell their story publicly, or to contribute their direct experiences. Ensuring that those voices are representative of the gender balance and other forms of diversity in society forms an important part of wider work to ensure that select committees conduct effective scrutiny.
It is important to note that the statistics we produce here are only a partial picture of how we engage with the public. Our wider outreach sessions do not necessarily involve oral evidence, and our engagement using web fora and social media is similarly not included. But oral hearings remain one of our key evidence gathering tools. They are an opportunity for people to speak directly to us and have their views recorded as a “proceeding in Parliament”. That’s why ensuring the expertise, experience and diversity of our witnesses is so important.
Published: 7 June 2018