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Parliamentary Committees and Witness Diversity

Issues of diversity in elected bodies have been highlighted in recent years, primarily around the characteristics of elected representatives, but more recently in respect of the treatment of those working in such institutions, particularly women. However, it is also important to consider who parliaments hear from, with one crucial element of that being the work of the committees that scrutinise legislation and the actions of governments.

There are a variety of academic literatures that can be used to support arguments for a greater diversity of witnesses to parliamentary committees, including those around ‘representation’, ‘policy-making and evaluation’, and ‘engagement, participation, and legitimacy’.

During 2017, Hugh Bochel was an academic fellow of the Scottish Parliament, and used analysis of data on witnesses and interviews with MSPs and parliamentary officials to draw up a report for the Parliament highlighting, among other things, the under-representation of women among committee witnesses. An article drawing on the work has also been published in Social Policy and Society. Ongoing research includes considering developments at the Scottish Parliament and also committee witnesses at Westminster.

Hugh is now undertaking work on witnesses to public bill committees in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons Liaison Committee and the Prime Minister

This research explores the Prime Minister’s appearances at the Liaison Committee. Mark Bennister was awarded a parliamentary fellowship in November 2016 to study these sessions, focusing on the functioning and effectiveness of the Liaison Committee sessions with the Prime Minister. These sessions have questioned four Prime Ministers since 2002 and provide a rich source of material relating to the relationship between the Prime Minister and Parliament, aside from appearances on the floor of the House. The research has led to the publication of a co-authored briefing on the Liaison Committee with the House of Commons Library.

In March 2019, written evidence on the Prime Minister’s appearances was published as part of the Liaison Committee’s inquiry into select committee effectiveness.

Mark Bennister was previously awarded £34,000 by the Nuffield Foundation from 2015 to 2016 to research the session. Together with Dr Alix Kelso, University and Dr Phil Larkin, University of Canberra, they published a report, Questioning The Prime Minister: How Effective Is The Liaison Committee? The project draws on academic research, published by the team in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations in 2016.