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Effectiveness of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the Inquiry of Global Britain and India

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Published: 27th Nov 2020

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GLOBAL BRITAIN AND INDIA – COMMITTEE

Introduction - 

The relationship between Britain and India is extremely important in this ever-changing world where India is heading towards being the leader of South Asia, therefore, it demands a change in the perspectives and policies with which existing British institutions like the Parliament and its affiliates like the FCO are engaging with in this global race to partner with a rising India. This introduces the role of House of Commons Select Committees as an unbiased equal partner in the picture. Comparative scholars are dismissive, even treating the House of Commons as if it had no specialist committees at all (Lees and Shaw, 1979; Mattson and Strøm, 1995) which contributes to an impression that committees at Westminster are unusually weak. Contrary to this, committees have considerably developed their role in scrutinising the work of government, become better established, gained resources (Kelso, 2009) and attracted increasing media attention (Barnett and Gaber, 1992; Kubala, 2011).

As described by BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy, “the committees in the 2010 parliament are ‘more powerful and independent-minded than ever before:”. The efficiency of this committee wasn’t still as much as required therefore, the coalition parliament asked Labour MP Tory Wright to lead and introduce recommendations and measure which strengthened the hold of select committees. Measures like elect committee chairs be selected by secret ballot of the Commons using the alternative vote system. In addition, members of select committees would be elected from within their party groups by secret ballot. (Fisher, 2019). Along with this, attendance of 60% was mandatory, if not, members would be barred from the committees; all these recommendations enforced a stronger and effective functioning of the select committees. As Graham Allen MP, the chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform committee in the last Parliament, said: “Our inquiry showed that the election of select committee chairs and members by MPs in a secret ballot...has been one of the most successful reforms recommended by Wright.” (House of Commons Report, 2013)

The problem of not understanding the perspectives and reforming the institutions to adopt an efficient, favourable and an open-minded policy on its foreign policy is where the work of the select committee of Foreign Affairs comes into the picture. It is here the role of this committee personifies its aspirations for Britain’s growth and its future. It is here that this Commons committee can prove its effectiveness by influencing parliamentary policy by the virtue of recommendations and other influences. 

India is one of the few developing countries whose development has been extremely prolific and this generates a significant impact on the UK and around the world. The importance of New Delhi is still underestimated; As Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada expresses it: “we have a tendency to think, ‘What will Washington think about this policy decision? I do not think we are asking yet, ‘What will New Delhi think?’. To progress towards more open-minded thinking towards India, the committee’s recommendation by Former High Commissioner to India Sir James Bevan encourages us to understand that a key step in improving the relationship would be to “listen as well as talk” and do “practical things with the Indians that matter to them”. (Chatham House, 2018).

Select committees are not just interested in pushing for policy change by recommendation, as Brenton and Russell say, the contribution made by the select committee was much greater than the mere take-up of recommendations.” Their job is considerably broader and to assess their efficiency this report will explore the other seven significant ways along with recommendations on how committees are influencing the work of the Parliament. It will comprise of quantitative and qualitative data to assess the report and the government response.

Research Methods - 

This report examines the effectiveness of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the inquiry of Global Britain and India which was concluded in September 2019. The effectiveness of this inquiry is evaluated by the report and the government response published along with other secondary sources. The effectiveness is then put through of test by the ideas and established systems of other existing reports as evidences. The use of the recommendations made by the committee to the Parliament is at the heart of this analysis and report. This report follows the research methods given by Benton and Russell along with Andrew Hindmoor.

I, then further classify these acceptances of recommendations by the degree of policy change (Small Change, Medium Change or Large Change) and present it in a tabular form for the audience. Lastly, I also represent the implementation of these recommendation based on the degree of policy change (Small, Medium or Large Changes). This, therefore, helps us to thoroughly understand and ascertain the effectiveness of the select committees and their recommendation in drafting public policy.

COMMITTEES AND THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS -

After a thorough consideration of a variety of evidences submitted to the committee by members both within the parliament and outside (specialists), the committee suggested a 17 point recommendation which covered a wide scope for the inquiry; this included issues and limitations in the sectors of trade, movement of people, security and defence, and global governance. All of these sectors are significant in establishing a fruitful relationship with India and deliver positively on the UK-India ties.

Of these 17 points of recommendations, this report takes into consideration 11 of these recommendations which are under the titles of ‘special relationship’, ‘trade relationship’, ‘movement of people’, ‘security and defence’ ‘global governance’, ‘Historical ties’ and conclusion. All of them are analysed by grouping them under accepted by the government and implemented by the government by the degree of change they proposed. 

Summary of Findings - 

1) This report analyses 11 recommendations put under 6 titles along with a final conclusion inquiry as per the report.

2) Most inquiries were reactive; of the 11; 5 inquiries were regarded as reviewing government’s progress, 5 showed a failure in government’s scope and 1 was examining new proposals, thereby, reviewing of government proposals amounts to 45%, government failures to 45% and examining proposals to 10%. 

3) Out of the 6 main headings of inquiries, we can note that out of 11 of the total recommendations; 7 of them or 63% were aimed directly at the government, 3 recommendations or 28% require joint cooperation between the government and the FCO and 1 recommendation or 9% aimed directly at the FCO. 

4) Recommendation called for an extensive variety of actions; 7 of the 11 recommendations called for a review in the government policy; 3 called for a disclosure of information and 1 called explicitly for a legislation change. Thus, 63% called for review of policy, 27% called for review of policy and 10% for legislation changes. 

5) Of these recommendations, approximately 70% were considered requiring a larger policy change to suffice on its foreign and trade policy towards India and 30% in smaller policies. 

These figures help me analyse and understand that inquiry and the work of this committee attempts a good deal to revive certain government policies and in turn help in influencing policies of central government by recommending inquiries. This then leads us to whether the government simply accepted the recommendation or implemented them in their policies as well?

Source – Calculated fromGovernment Response to the Committee’s Eighteenth Report of Session 2017-19

What did the committee suggest? (Quantitative Findings)

Acceptance of recommendation 

Although all the 6 recommendations are monumental, 4 require major policy change since they belong to UK’s foreign and trade policy. 

On acquiring a more thorough look on these recommendations which the committee gave as a part of large, medium/small scale change, we can identify that 

The inquiry of ‘special relationship’ this medium policy change regarding altering existing bilateral relations recommendation was accepted, and the committee promised to act further while giving figures of historical growth of high-level visits. As the HoC Report says, “there have been 47 outward visits to India, 44 at cabinet level, 37 Inward visits to the UK, 29 at cabinet level” 

Large change was demanded by the committee in the inquiry of ‘trade relationship’ to build on UK’s missed opportunity of not trading as extensively as other countries did, the government and FCO were asked to prioritise trade talks, increase groundwork for deals with India after Brexit. The committee also accepted the change, while quoting bilateral trade figures and talking about Joint initiatives like UK-India Joint Economic and Trade Committee. It said, “We agree on the importance of prioritising trade talks with India and of making progress on laying the groundwork for a potential deal; this work is well underway. 

We are already making progress—total bilateral trade was up 14% to £20.5bn in 2018.”

In the inquiry of ‘movement of people’ we see the committee proposed a very detailed recommendation to the government to push for a relaxed immigration system for students, tourists and skilled labour. There was a large change in the policies not just of the government but also the FCO and shift from the attitude of ‘immigration in just tens of thousands’ to increase rates. The government accepted parts of this which included the inquiry of the 2-year post-study work visas for Indian students which is a significant policy change requiring a mass mobilisation. The government quoted its acceptance by saying, “We are committed to sustaining this positive migration trend. As already announced, under the new skills-based immigration system (operating from January 2021) the UK will continue to be open to the brightest and best from India. The new immigration system’s focus on skills and talent, not nationality, will strengthen our global offer. Under the future skills-based immigration system, the new skilled workers route will not be capped.”

The inquiry of ‘security and defence’ also requires a major policy change because the committee urged the government to work on exchange of technology, cyber space, and boost the domestic defence production all of which requires a higher-level concurrence in both countries involving senior officials and ministers. Since matters of defence are primordial to any country, to reform any policy might generate differences between countries and their relationships with other allies; hence it is regarded as a major policy change. The committee welcomed the suggestion and quoted, “We recognise that further political and economic integration is needed to ensure the region reaches its full potential. Together with India, as responsible global actors, we can together we can enhance the opportunities for sustainable development for all.” 

The inquiry of ‘global governance’ and India’s role in economic institutions suggests small changes because although the government has already taken the necessary steps to make sure that both countries are working to jointly execute pertaining in its power like supporting India being a member of EBRD but it can still change a small number of existing policies which make India anxious about its power and status in the global arena; of which UK holds a significant position.

The inquiry of UK support’s in favouring India for a permanent seat requires absolutely no change since as the government quotes, “UK has made its stand clear time and again and has asked for permanent seats for India, Brazil, Germany and Japan.”

This inquiry stands more towards gathering evidence on the government’s work along with suggestions small policy changes.

Smaller inquires like ‘apologies for historical events’ is something which the parliament doesn’t outrightly reject since it doesn’t require policy change per se but requires an ideological change which it can’t control; but it still gives an appropriate answer. Hence, I’ve put it under the section of no/small change. Although, it did create pressure. In the words of an interviewee, the committee could thus provide a platform for transparency and put people under pressure’ which has rightfully occurred since more than 80 MP’s have formally asked the government to apologise for the incident. (Ram, 2019)

Inquiries/Recommendations - Acceptance

Large Change

Medium/Small Change

          Rejection

Special Relationship

 

              Yes

 

Trade Relationship

          Yes

   

Movement of People

          Yes

   

Security and Defence

          Yes

   

Historical UK-India Ties

   

               Yes

Conclusion

          Yes

   

Acceptance of Recommendation based on the degree of policy change

 

Implementation of the recommendation -

This was a crucial step to be taken into consideration because merely using the acceptance as a tool of analysis is insufficient; As this document is a formal, public record, hence is as much about giving a good impression as giving a frank assessment of steps taken to implement the committees’ suggestions. (Russell & Benton, 2011). The formal record also explains to a certain extent why out of 7 recommendations only 1 was ignored/rejected.

Since this inquiry was concluded in 2019 and the Parliament was dissolved shortly after, the scope of concrete implementation is limited, nonetheless, there have been quite a few developments as far as implementation is concerned.

The inquiry on ‘Trade and Special Relationship’ was effective to an extent even under implementation considering it demanded sizeable change. Shortly, after the inquiry, over a telephonic conversation both Prime Ministers spoke and as Downing Street quotes, “The two leaders agreed on the importance of the UK-India partnership and the need to build on it further, particularly through trade and economic ties and through the living bridge that links our countries.” This rhetoric also continued in G7 Summit in Biarritz, France.

Another inquiry requiring a large policy change under ‘trade and business environment’ also developed its demands based on the reports of the committee and as the report of CBI, 2019 states, businesses asked for similar reforms of the Indian government; thereby, showing signs of causation and acting as a body of Spotlighting issues and altering policy priorities which as Benton and Russell say is helpful in assessing the work of committees.

The inquiry of ‘movement of people’ required large changes but we see a direct implementation in this short time of Boris Government considered on the issue of 2 year post-study work visas, As British High Commission in India says, “In a major boost for Indian students, the UK government has today announced a new two-year post-study work visa, expanding opportunities for talented international students to build successful careers in the UK.” (GOV.UK, 2019)

The committee’s work was effective as it acted as a ‘tipping point’ in policy debate which as Benton and Russell say, “The role of select committees in contributing to policy debate has been widely recognised, and some interviewees considered this to be their most important role.”.

The inquiry of ‘security and defence’ also requires a major policy change and although there is no confirmed direct relation to the implementation, we still observe a steady drumbeat of not just highest levels of officials meeting often but also a bonding being formed between two countries. This can be proved because UK influence and patrolling in the Indian Ocean is jointly done with India for exercises, capacity building and training (KONKAN).

As the Navy quotes, “KONKAN aims to promote mutual understanding and provide exposure to operating procedures, communication measures and best practices. This allows both Navies to develop greater confidence to operate together during maritime missions.” (Business-Standard, 2019)

The committee also asked for medium change of building more than just a buyer-seller relationship. This move led to influencing a policy debate like increasing more joint-programme’s, bringing in policies which would satisfy India and the UK, thereby, we can see that the committee was influential to a certain extent because 14-years down the exercise; this year we see that there is a stronger relationship being developed by recent acquisitions.

As Rahul Roy-Chaudhary of British based think tank India Inc says, “India-UK maritime security cooperation currently comprises warship visits to each other’s ports; the recent induction of two UK submarine rescue vessels into the Indian navy; the signing of the ‘white-shipping’ MoU; and prospective UK participation in the recently established Indian Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).” (Shah, 2019)

To this extent, the committee and their recommendations are successful, my research complements what Benton and Russell say, “Although the level of success of recommendations falls well short of 100%, their prolific nature means that in absolute terms large numbers are implemented by government.” (Benton, Russell, 2019)

Qualitative Findings -

Qualitative findings are subject to the anomaly that the success of recommendations cannot be exact; its either overestimated or underestimate because it is based on one of the 7 influences: direct acceptance, Influencing policy debate, Spotlighting issues and altering policy priorities, Brokering in policy disputes, Providing expert evidence, Holding government and outside bodies accountable, Exposure, Generating fear.

Some measurement problems still inevitably persist. As Russell and Benton say, “It is impossible to determine accurately whether a committee was causally responsible for recommendations being implemented or whether the government was influenced by the wider policy community.”

Seven recommendations of the research can then be categorised into responses which are: ’special relationship’ inquiry spotlights issue and alters policy debate; ‘trade relationship’ holds government accountable while also providing expert evidence in doing so opening up the government to exposure. ‘Business environment’ influences policy debate and spotlights issues and policy priorities. ‘Security and Defence’ and ‘Global Governance ‘are holding government accountable and influencing policy debate; ‘Historical ties’ is generating fear, opening up to exposure and thereby influencing policy debate.

Therefore, as a sum of qualitative findings we see that the committee is influential in recommending inquiry and policies, accepting a few along with holding the government accountable.

Select Committees provide MPs with the opportunity to specialise in a particular policy area (Hindmoor, 2009). This specialisation is used by the Committee’s to generate a democratic dialogue between MP’s and public which proves to be really effective, when committees are assessed in this capacity, they, “enrich the quality of public life and feed into policy-making process” (Kelso, 2018, pp.166)

Conclusion -

To conclude, this research sets out to analyse the effectiveness of inquiry by the committee by using qualitative and quantitative analysis. As the quantitative analysis suggests that both the acceptance and implementation of inquiries are based the size of changes; we see to a larger extent that committee’s implement larger policy changes like defence and security and movement of people; whereas inquires which require change in attitude or small changes in policies like in the UK-India historical ties barely get implemented; to this extent we see 80% of the committee recommendations not just being accepted; but 60% of them being implemented in the short time that the parliament had before it was dissolved.

Qualitative findings help us understand that the work of committee is not just the acceptance of recommendations, it extends to influencing policy debate, holding government accountable, generating fear and exposure and spotlighting issues and encouraging dialogue between government and public. These “oversight committees also strengthen the policy-making process inside and outside government by exposing decision-making to rigorous tests, and by encouraging more careful consideration of options” (Benton, Russell, 2019) thereby, making them an integral part of policy-making process of the government.

Although, committee’s influence and effectiveness are growing and has been getting better since its inception there are considerable constraints which still affect its functioning. We can establish correlations at various influences but establishing a sure-short causation is extremely difficult in assessing its effectiveness simply on implementing policies.  

Works Cited

1)     Lees, J. D. and Shaw, M. (eds) (1979) Committees in Legislatures: A Comparative Analysis, Oxford, Martin Robertson.

2)     Kelso, A. (2009) Parliamentary Reform at Westminster, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

3)     Barnett, S. and Gaber, I. (1992) ‘Committees on Camera: MPs and Lobby Views on the Effects of Televising Commons Select Committees’, Parliamentary Affairs, 45, 409–419.

4)     Kubala, M. (2011) ‘Select Committees in the House of Commons and the Media’, Parliamentary Affairs, 64, 694-713.

5)     L Fisher (2015) ‘The Growing Power and Autonomy of House of Commons Select Committees: Causes and Effects’, The Political Quarterly, 86 (3), 419-426

6)     I Marsh (2016), ‘The Commons Select Committee System in the 2015–20 Parliament’, The Political Quarterly, 87 (1), 96-103

7)     A Hindmoor et al (2009) ‘Assessing the Influence of Select Committees in the UK: The Education and Skills Committee, 1997-2005’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 15 (1), 71-89

8)     A Kelso (2018) ‘Select Committees’, pp. 163-173 in C Leston-Bandeira and L Thompson, Exploring Parliament.

9)     M Benton and M Russell (2013) ‘Assessing the Impact of Parliamentary Oversight Committees: The Select Committees in the British House of Commons’, Parliamentary Affairs, 66 (4), 772-798

10) Oral evidence: UK foreign policy in changed world conditions, House of Lords, Select Committee on International Relations, 9 May 2018, Q119 [Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada]

11) Q17 [Sir James Bevan]; Q149 [Ranjan Mathai]; Chatham House (GBI0017), para 1–2; Professor Kate Sullivan de Estrada (GBI0033)

12) GOV.UK. (2019). UK announces 2-year post-study work visa for international students. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-announces-2-year-post-study-work-visa-for-international-students  [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].

13) Business-standard.com (2019). INS Tarkash participates in KONKAN bilateral exercise. [online] Available at: https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/ins-tarkash-participates-in-konkan-bilateral-exercise-119081500895_1.html [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].

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15) Ram, V. (2019). Jallianwala Bagh massacre a ‘shameful scar’ on British Indian history: Theresa May. [online] @businessline. Available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/jallianwala-bagh-massacre-a-shameful-scar-on-british-indian-history-theresa-may/article26797988.ece [Accessed 23 Nov. 2019].

16) Shah, S. (2019). India-UK maritime security: Convergences and Opportunities- India Global Business. [online] India Inc Group. Available at: https://indiaincgroup.com/india-uk-maritime-security-convergences-and-opportunities-india-global-business/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].

17) Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties Government Response to the Committee’s Eighteenth Report of Session 2017-19: 6 September 2019, HC 2633 2017-19

18) Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties Eighteenth Report of Session 2017-19: 24 June 2019, HC 1465 2017-19

19) 10 Downing Street, P. (2019). PM call with Prime Minister Modi: 20 August 2019. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-call-with-prime-minister-modi-20-august-2019  [Accessed 23 Nov. 2019].

20) Partington, R. (2019). Ease migration rules for Indians to win post-Brexit deals, say MPs. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/24/ease-migration-rules-for-indians-to-win-post-brexit-deals-say-mps  [Accessed 24 Nov. 2019].

21) Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, The work of the Committee in the 2010 Parliament Twelfth Report of Session 2014-15: 6 September 2019, HC 1128 2014-15

22) D'Arcy, M. (2019). A stronger parliament. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14330865  [Accessed 19 Nov. 2019].

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