Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee has been forced to apologise for failing to uphold House of Commons guidelines in its ongoing inquiry into official statistics, after criticism over an all-male line up in recent evidence sessions.
The committee said in a statement that it was “committed” to meeting the guidelines on witness diversity which, based on a Liaison Committee report last year, say 40% of select committee witnesses should be women. However, it added: "We are fully aware that in the case of this inquiry we have failed to do so, and apologise."
It apologised after Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, tweeted that all 10 of the witnesses called before the committee to date have been male.
Shah has so far been among the witnesses to the inquiry, which examines the role and performance of the UK Statistics Authority and public trust in official statistics. Other witnesses to date have included Mike Hughes, former director of policy at the Office for National Statistics; Will Moy, director of the fact-checking service Full Fact; and several academics.
In the committee’s third evidence session next week the MPs will question Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times and Andrew Sentance, former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.
“We extended invitations to several female experts to appear, but recognise we should have done more to find ways to maintain the diversity of our panels when they were unable to,” PACAC’s statement added.
“We hope to improve our witness gender balance as the inquiry continues, and for future inquiries.”
Figures collected by the Liaison Committee show only 33% of witnesses to all select committee inquiries ere women in 2017-18.
PACAC chair Bernard Jenkin said Shah was “right” to point out the lack of diversity among witnesses to the inquiry.
Responding on Twitter, Jenkin said: “I of all people should be sensitive to this. We should be interested in how stats can be less than gender neutral, neglecting some issues and perspectives which women care more about.”
Shah’s tweet, which noted that, pending announcement of any other witnesses, the inquiry will have taken evidence from 10 men and 0 women by 19 March, was part of a thread explaining why a bias towards men in official statistics can be damaging.
In it, Shah linked to an article by the writer and feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, which gave examples of how women are put at risk by policy and products designed using male-oriented data, including crash-test dummies based on the average male body size, and voice-activated phone systems set up to work with men’s voices.
Speaking to CSW, Shah said he had been surprised to see the lineup for next week’s evidence session, given he had already noted an absence of women in the first two sessions last month.
“In 2019, it is shocking that a select committee inquiry about whether the official statistics system is meeting people’s needs should be taking oral evidence from ten men and no women,” he said.
“It is good that PACAC has apologised for its failure. I hope it will now seek to rectify this by calling more female witnesses in its next evidence session. Policy development is impaired without a diversity of inputs.”