Witness gender diversity Contents


Collection of diversity data since 2013

1.Information on witness gender diversity has been collected and published in various forms since 2013 but was included in the House’s Sessional Returns for the first time in July 2017 (for the 2016-17 Session). Information on the gender of witnesses by Committee and in total was published, categorised by “discretionary” and “non-discretionary” (non-discretionary witnesses being office holders such as Ministers, senior civil servants and chief executives of public bodies within the Committee’s remit).1

2.For that 2016-17 Session (May 2016 to May 2017) 895 of the 3,138 witnesses were women (29%), breaking down to 307 of 1,294 non-discretionary witnesses (24%) and 588 of 1,844 discretionary witnesses (32%). The original study by Democratic Audit in 2013 had found that over a one month period 76% of witnesses were male, and 24% female.2

3.The statistics for 2015-16 and 2016-17 (along with the latest data) are set out in Chapter 2, with Committee by Committee tables in the Annex.

4.Attention has focussed more closely on witness diversity in recent years, drawing parallels with wider social media movements calling out all-male speaking panels. Our work was drawn into sharper focus in 2016 when the Good Parliament Report, written by Professor Sarah Childs, was published. That report asked us, the Liaison Committee, to “require the House Service to provide comprehensive and systematic diversity data in respect of select committee witnesses at the end of each session, and establish annual rolling targets for witness representativeness.”

5.It concluded that “A rule change should be sought whereby any select committee witness panel of three or more must be sex/gender diverse if, by the end of the 2015 Parliament, select committees are not reaching a 40 percent sex/gender threshold amongst witnesses.”3

6.The House service has continued to supply us with that data. The previous Liaison Committee discussed progress made during the 2015-2017 Parliament and we returned to it when we were established after the 2017 general election.

The Speaker’s letter of February 2018

7.Following our first meeting in November 2017, at which both witness and Committee member diversity was discussed, our Chair wrote to the Speaker asking for the membership of select committees to be included as part of a forthcoming gender-sensitive parliament audit which will be conducted in association with the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

8.Mr Speaker replied in February, confirming that this matter is indeed “currently within the draft scope for the audit”, which is expected to take place later this year with the fieldwork and research taking place by the end of the summer recess.4 Mr Speaker’s letter continues, taking up the issue of witness diversity:

May I take this opportunity to raise a further related issue with you in your capacity as Chair of the Liaison Committee? The Reference Group had some early correspondence with your predecessor regarding recommendation 14 and 28 of the report, aimed at monitoring and increasing the diversity of select committee witnesses. Mr Tyrie informed us of the pilot study run by the Committee Office in 2016 and asked the Clerks to make the results available to us.

We subsequently had a good discussion of the issues in March [2017] on the basis of a paper from the Committee Office and agreed to write to the Liaison Committee with our suggestions, but the election was called before we were able to do so. I am therefore delighted now to be in a position to follow this up with you, who I know have set a strong example through your chairmanship of the Health Committee.

Specifically, we would like the Liaison Committee to consider establishing a convention with respect to the diversity of discretionary witnesses. We were, for example, attracted to the idea that a panel of three or more witnesses should normally include representatives from both genders.

We would also strongly support select committees in their efforts to increase the diversity of witnesses in the widest sense and hope that the convention might eventually be extended beyond gender, but consider that gender would be the best place to start. I hope you will have an early opportunity to discuss this with your colleagues on the Liaison Committee and respond with your thoughts.

1 House of Commons Sessional Returns, 2016-17, HC 1, July 2017

2 Democratic Audit, Parliamentary select committees: who gives evidence? Richard Berry & Sean Kippin, 2013

3 The Good Parliament, Professor Sarah Childs, 2016

Published: 7 June 2018