Meetup notes and video: The secrets of parliamentary scrutiny

Meetup notes: The secrets of parliamentary scrutiny

In this meetup we heard a wonderful fishbowl conversation between three parliamentary clerks:

  • Fay Bowen – Welsh Senedd – Clerk to the Public Accounts Committee and meetup veteran
  • Matthew Congreve – House of Commons – Second Clerk to the Defence Committee
  • Francisca Gale – Tynwald – Parliament of the Isle of Man – Deputy Head of the Chamber and Information Service, Clerk to Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee

They talked about how they help to make their committees ‘sing’, discussed some of their challenges and shared some tips along the way. Then they answered questions from participants and even went into extra time to answer all the questions they missed.

Don’t worry if you missed it because we’ve put the whole thing on Youtube and it’s well worth a watch!

To give you a flavour, here are some of the questions asked by participants and some of their takeaways at the end.

Questions for the fishes

  • Can you give an example of a time you involved stakeholders in the development of TORs and how it went?
  • How long (in hours/days) does it take to produce a brief for Members?
  • Be interested in getting a copy of the commons pack spreadsheet talked about in relation to recommendations.
  • How do you ensure that the enquiry stays on task without stopping useful areas of enquiry?
  • On the ‘silent policy change’ and measuring impact – how you balance demonstrating success/impact to others without embarrassing policymakers by highlighting their “uturns” and thus disincentivising policy changes?
  • When a recommendation is only part of the evidence to inform a decision – how can scrutiny claim it as an outcome and how do you monitor it
  • how do you address lack of engagement?
  • If your members also had another full time job, how would you engage them with your review?
  • How do you encourage Members to ask effective, challenging, follow up questions?
  • How do you support Members to not take the arguments of Cabinet Members/officers at face value/provide an appropriate level of critical challenge?
  • For Fay- the ‘wash up’ sessions -would you invite the whole Committee or would it be a conversation with the Chair?
  • Supplementary questions, how do you organise these?
  • What does a successful meeting look like?
  • How do you make recommendations SMART?


  • Wash up after briefing
  • My top takeaway is the importance of setting the right remit/terms, and that stakeholders can be involved in informing this at an earlier stage.
  • Could we have notes?
  • Rethinking how to brief the Chair/Vice-Chair and other Committee Members
  • How much of the scrutiny direction is governed by you
  • clear aims, objectives and communication between departments, committees, panels
  • I could brief Members a bit better.
  • Getting a clear sense of current levels of interest and knowledge at the start of the review
  • Getting the balance right between making sure members have the resources to be well informed but making sure they take responsibility for this.
  • Going to try the video briefing!!
  • Wash up meetings with all task group members not just officers/chair
  • The same issues are experienced at all levels of public scrutiny
  • Video briefing on the background to a topic in advance of the meeting – so that the meeting is not taken up with scene setting and members can get stuck in to the issues
  • Definitely interested in the video briefing.

Thanks again to our fishes – you did a brilliant job 💃🕺

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