Andy Hayman’s protests about his treatment by the parliamentary committee last week have been drowned out by his critics. Those on the receiving end of media firestorms usually find themselves shouted down. Mr Hayman may not be the country’s most popular copper at the moment but there is still some truth in what he says. The performance of the Home Affairs Committee would have been considered unacceptable in any other profession.
Calling Mr Hayman a “dodgy geezer” and “Clouseau rather than Columbo” was rude and counterproductive. No matter how much you disapprove of what you think someone has done, calling them names rarely helps you get to the truth.
The interviewing was desperately poor too. Each MP asked questions in turn but they rarely built on each other’s points. It was as if they each had a go with a drill for a few minutes, after which it was handed to someone else who would then start drilling in a different place. As as result, there were lots of little holes but no-one managed to drill down to the core.
This is typical of large groups. You see it in management meetings. People queue to speak and have their pet points they want to make. They rehearse their own speeches or questions in their heads and don’t listen to what has been said before. Once they have made their point or asked their question, they then stop listening again while they prepare for their next one. That is why meetings are so often disjointed.
Such behaviour is bad enough in any context but when you are trying to probe for facts and greater insights, it is disastrous. That is why most organisations in both public and private sectors abandoned large panel interviews years ago. They are ineffective and yield little useful information about candidates.
MPs might see a parliamentary committee as a moment of fame but it should not be treated like a debate in the House of Commons. Its purpose is not to score rhetorical points and give the media soundbites. It is, or should be, about finding out what happened and holding people to account.
To be fair on the Home Affairs committee, most other parliamentary hearings have been just as bad. I have watched a couple where I have known some of the background and seen MPs consistently fail to get to the nub of the issue. People whose performance and behaviour should have been seriously probed have walked out of the room relatively unscathed.
Tony Cunnane’s withering critique of last week’s proceedings is worth reading in full if you didn’t see the hearing and want to get a flavour of what happened. If any corporate executives conducted an inquiry into misconduct in such a haphazard manner, they’d be facing disciplinary charges themselves.
If the Murdoch’s keep it together next week, they will be able to drive a coach and horses through the disorganised MPs. Unless they drop a clanger, like Rebebkah Brooks did in 2003, they have little to fear. By the end of the session, it is unlikely that the MPs will have discovered any more than they did from assistant commissioners Yates and Hayman. The judge’s inquiry will be more professional and will, hopefully, get to the truth.
Parliamentary committees have their place, though. It is right that people should be called to account by our elected representatives but poor interview techniques and silly name-calling make the MPs look stupid, just at the point where they should have the moral high-ground. Insulting people might make the MPs’ feel better but, if they really want to nail those they suspect of wrongdoing, focused and probing interviews are a hundred times more effective.
These hearings need to be conducted more professionally. MPs on the committees need to be skilled at interviewing people politely but effectively. No-one should be insulted in a parliamentary hearing but no-one should walk out of one having been let off the hook. Corporations have invested a lot to improve the interviewing skills of their executives. It’s time parliament did the same.