Parliament is being asked to look at more complex and technical policies. The Bills that are pending in Parliament include data protection and digital information, leveling and regeneration, energy, electronic commerce documents and digital markets, competition and consumers. MPs’ scrutiny work is already under pressure since around a third of legislative responsibility was handed back to the UK in 2020, adding to the mailbag of voter woes, ranging from interruptions unique from a pandemic to the effects of skyrocketing. Living costs. It is time we consider equipping parliamentarians and their offices with the support they really need.
The ability of parliamentarians to penetrate the credibility of proposed policies and objectives is essential for democratic accountability. Between elections, Parliament is our main route to hold government to account. It has the power to convene, question and modify proposed legislation. Parliamentarians test proposals with new evidence and raise new issues so that legislation reflects changing conditions in the country and the lives of the people they represent.
Regardless of a parliamentarian’s ideological stance on an issue, the question to ask is whether the policy or legislation can achieve the intended goal and what trade-offs might be involved. How safe are gas supply calculations? What data is used to calculate future transport needs or the size of the NHS? Is the data correct? They need to be able to find out things like whether automated profiling is a reliable way to assess terrorism risk. To get it right on the 21ststreet century, parliamentarians need to be connected to the investigation and know where new information is likely to emerge.
Voters, however, have their doubts. An Ipsos poll conducted this week reveals that two-thirds of people do not trust parliamentarians are equipped to ask the government the right questions about evidence in critical policy areas such as the use of artificial intelligence, energy policy, healthcare, the economy and climate change. . It’s not unreasonable if they don’t: the research, expertise and evidence required on these issues is mind-boggling, and we’re asking 650 elected members, minus the hundred within government, with very limited budgets for support staff, to examine a body of policy that requires half a million public servants to develop, deliver, and track. The budget available to a deputy for staffing, which must first cover constituent costs, does not begin to compete with the market salaries of data analysts.
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Parliament has world-class research services in the House of Commons Library, Lords Library and the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), but their budgets are scant for the task at hand and they are dedicated a lot of work responding to parliamentarians’ questions and colleagues’ queries, which means that they have asked the right question in the first place. Working together with libraries and POST this week, Evidence in Parliament Week is tackling some of the most pressing and complex issues by bringing researchers from across the UK to Westminster to provide rapid reports to MPs and colleagues.
Evidence Week will also provide training for member staff on data and evidence management. Emerging topics this year include using ChatGPT, the feasibility of proposed net zero solutions, how to spot deepfakes, and getting local economic data relevant to your constituency in real time.
A reminder of how important it is for the public that parliament scrutinize the evidence that informs decisions that affect lives is tonight’s annual live stream of constituents asking their MP about the evidence behind policies, from plastic pollution to pensions. However, this can only scratch the surface of all the issues debated in the chamber, not to mention all those that cross MPs’ desks. But it does point to the urgent need for a national discussion on how to equip our parliament to scrutinize 21st century decision-making.