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Themes and Topics in Parliamentary Oversight Hearings: A New Direction in Textual Data Analysis

James Sanders, Giulio Lisi and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey

Abstract

This paper contributes to the growing empirical work on deliberation in legislatures by proposing a novel approach to analysing parliamentary hearings using both thematic and topic modelling textual analysis software. We explore variations in deliberative quality across economic policy type (fiscal policy, monetary policy and financial stability) and across parliamentary chambers (Commons and Lords) in UK select committee oversight hearings during the 2010–2015 Parliament. Our overall focus is not only to suggest a multi-method approach to the textual analysis of parliamentary data, but also to explore more substantive aspects of parliamentary oversight, such as: (1) the extent to which oversight varies between unelected and elected policy makers; and (2) whether parliamentarians conduct oversight more forcefully or more along partisan lines when they are challenging fellow politicians as opposed to central bank officials. Our findings suggest consistent differences in deliberative styles between types of hearings (fiscal, monetary, financial stability) and between chambers (Commons, Lords).

Appendix

A List of Hearings

House of Commons Treasury Select Committee:

Monetary Policy Hearings:

28 July 2010, Inflation Report

10 November 2010, Inflation Report

1 March 2011, Inflation Report

28 June 2011, Inflation Report

25 October 2011 [Quantitative Easing]

28 November 2011, Inflation Report

29 February 2012, Inflation Report

26 June 2012, Inflation Report

27 November 2012, Inflation Report

25 June 2013, Inflation Report

12 September 2013, Inflation Report

26 November 2013, Inflation Report

24 June 2014, Inflation Report

10 September 2014, Inflation Report

25 November 2014, Inflation Report

24 February 2015, Inflation Report

Fiscal Policy Hearings:

15 July 2010 [Budget]

4 November 2010 [Spending Round]

29 March 2011 [Budget]

27 March 2012 [Budget]

26 March 2013 [Budget]

11 July 2013 [Spending Round]

17 December 2014 Autumn Statement

Financial Stability Reports and Hearings 2011–2015

17 January 2012: (December 2011 FSR)

17 July 2012: (June 2012 FSR)

15 January 2013: (November 2012 FSR)

2 July 2013: (June 2013 FSR)

15 January 2014: (November 2013 FSR)

15 July 2014: (June 2014 FSR)

14 January 2015: (December 2014 FSR)

House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee:

Monetary Policy Hearings:

16 November 2010: Meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England

27 March 2012: Economic Outlook (Meeting with Governor and MPC members)

17 December 2013: Meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England

10 March 2015: Meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England

Fiscal Policy Hearings:

30 November 2010: Economic Outlook (Meeting with Chancellor and Treasury Staff)

8 December 2011: Economic Outlook (Meeting with Chancellor and Treasury Staff)

4 February 2014: Meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer

B Model Selection in STM

With respect to fitting the algorithm to the corpus, two features of STM should be noted. First, the user must define the number of topics, K, prior to the analysis. In this case, we opt for a model with K=30 topics after exploring the performances for alternative specifications ranging from 25 to 40 topics. Such topic range was suggested by exploring model performance for the held-out likelihood, a commonly used metric of model fit for topic model (Wallach et al. 2009), for the dataset of interest. Furthermore, as mentioned a key feature of STM is the possibility of comparing topic prevalence across hearings. For this reason, we fit the algorithm to the a dataset comprising the five hearings combined.

The held-out likelihood is the probability that a given model correctly predicts a set of words intentionally left out from the estimation, namely the estimation of words probability after some of those words have been removed from the text. The essence of this method is to check which model gives the best out-of-sample predictions, i.e. it is able to better explain the left-out set of words.

The held-out likelihood for a sequence of K=5, 10, 15 … 80 topics is reported in Figure 6. The figure shows that the held-out likelihood is low for models with less than 20 topics, it remains broadly stable for K between 20 to 40 topics, and it marginally increases afterwards. While Figure 6 suggests a model with 80 topics would provide the best model fit among those considered, increasing the number of topics to 80 would probably imply loss of generality for the interpretation, as topics become over-identified (Grün and Hornik 2011: p. 13). In general, interpretability is also an important criterion for choosing the number of topics (Blei 2012).

Figure 6: Held-out likelihood for K=5, 10, …, 80.

Figure 6:

Held-out likelihood for K=5, 10, …, 80.

Taking these considerations into account, we opt for a model using a spectral initialisation (Roberts et al. 2014a) with K=30 topics after exploring the performances for alternative specifications ranging from 25 to 40 topics (the shaded grey area in Figure 6). Figure 6 suggests models in this range provide a reasonable fit of the text; at the same time, the limited number of topics should allow direct comparison with the semantic classes derived in Alceste and T-Lab.

C Matching Software Outputs

Alceste and Structural Topic Model:

TSC Monetary Policy:

Alceste class 1: lend, small, bank, size, enterprise

Topic 2: bank lend small fund credit compani busi

Alceste label: Bank of England Lending Facilities

STM: Bank Lending to SMEs

Alceste class 2: growth econom income product

Topic 1: growth economi product recoveri see unemploy data pick labourmarket

Alceste label: Real Economy, Productivity & Competitiveness

STM: Labour Market/Economic Growth

Alceste class 3: monetary_polic; committee, discuss, decision

Topic 29: view discuss decis committe differ meet whether member monetarypolicycommitte

Alceste Label: Monetary Policy Decisions & Decision Making Process

STM label: MPC Process and Transparency

Alceste class 4: inflation forecast target look expect

Topic 6: inflat percent expect target forecast look mediumterm rise forwardguid will guidanc

Alceste Label: Inflation Forecast, Expectations & Outlook for Inflation

STM label: Path of Expected Inflation

Alceste class 5: guidance, interest_rate, threshold, tighten, forward_guidan

Topic 6: inflat percent expect target forecast look mediumterm rise forwardguid guidanc

Alceste Label: Forward Guidance & Outlook for Monetary Policy

STM label: Path of Expected Inflation

TSC Fiscal Policy:

Alceste class 1: tax income benefit people percent system

Topic 27: tax percent peopl increas pound cut work measur benefit take fair system incom

Alceste Label: Housing & Household Indebtedness

STM label: Fiscal Policy/Tax and Benefits

Alceste class 2: department, cabinet contract ring process secretary minister

Topic 4: process minist involv consult secretari treasuri prime chief offici part

Alceste Label: Budget Process and Role of Ministers

STM label: LIBOR

Alceste class 3: committee chancellor brief office_for_budg budget inform

Topic 14: committe think made interest public good inform

Alceste Label: Budget Leaks

STM label: Accountability to the TSC

Alceste class 4: small sector businesses private bank fund regional

Topic 5: invest job busi project privatesector will new industri creat region

Alceste Label: Economic Effects of Budget

STM label: Real Economy/Investment

Alceste class 5: deficit, structural, fiscal budget_deficit, fiscal, world

Topic 15: economi countri debt econom deficit problem export challeng growth world

Alceste Label: Public Deficit and Debt

STM label: Rebalancing of Debt and Imbalances

TSC Financial Stability:

Alceste class 1: capital bank asset ratio sheet institution

Topic 26: bank capit liquid balancesheet account asset fsa crisi posit hold

Alceste Label: Bank Capital, Leverage, & Lending Capacity

STM label: (Reform of) Bank Capital

Alceste class 2: price, market, econom, debt mortgage rate interest_rates rise income

Topic 7: scheme hous will new home mortgag suppli housepric build increas

Alceste Label: Housing & Household Indebtedness

STM label: Housing Market/New Home Building

Alceste class 3: committee court board decision oversight chancellor parliament report

Topic 23: report suggest evid review respons independ court board oversightcommitte

Alceste Label: Governance of the Bank of England

STM label: Bank of England Governance/Oversight Committee

Alceste class 4: ask governor thank answer andrew subject helpful conference new_york_fed

Topic 4: libor cabinet perman depart discuss contract situat bba work

Alceste Label: Barclays and LIBOR

STM label: LIBOR

EAC Monetary Policy:

Alceste class 1: assets asset_purchas gilt yield pension purchase private

Topic 11: interestr, mean, therefor, might, effect, pension, rise, obvious, suppos

Alceste Label: Pensions, Savings & Annuities

STM label: Transmission of Policy to the Economy

Alceste class 2: inflation growth percent interest_rate price consistent

Topic 6: inflat percent expect target forecast look mediumterm

Alceste Label: Real Economy & Economic Forecast

STM label: Path of Expected Inflation

Alceste class 3: prudent financial_policy prudential_regu supervis prudential_regu financial_servic financial_stabili

Topic 10: risk financialst take financialpolicycommitte tool perspect mortgag type potenti term fpc debt respons valu action stabil

Alceste Label: Financial Stability & Macro Prudential Policy

STM label: FPC/Household Debt

Alceste class 4: want political auditors competitivenes reform politic

Topic 26: air system incom analysi impact make includ chang welfar way

Alceste Label: Banking & Bank Regulation

STM label: (Reform of) Bank Capital

Alceste class 5: fail buffer big institut border trouble bail systemically taxpayer

Topic 25: bank regul problem fail issu structur big competit new way import system rule

Alceste Label: Too Big to Fail & Bank Resolution

STM label: (Reform of) Bank Regulation

Alceste class 6: test ring fence stress standard resilient individual capitalised

Topic 17: fpc power set institut need leverageratio capit system stresstest will bank

Alceste Label: Stress Testing Banks & Bank Lending

STM label: FPC/Bank Capital and Stress Tests

EAC Fiscal Policy:

Alceste class 1: gas regime shale local oil region energy

Topic 5: region particular peopl support area price part help publicsector countri oil

Alceste Label: Energy, Energy Prices, Gas & Shale Oil

STM label: Real Economy/Investment

Alceste class 2: percent medium small credit enterprise

Topic 16: rate cost peopl pay borrow high look

Alceste Label: Real Economy & Bank Lending

STM label: Borrowing Costs/Transmission of Monetary Policy

Alceste class 3: financial regul service european_unio bank prudent legislat centre proper

Topic 12: nation countri control requir european will london british legisl europeanunion

Alceste Label: Financial Services & Regulation

STM label: European Union

Alceste class 4: scotland scottish establish arrangement fiscal

Topic 20: unit state kingdom reserv scotland global relat gdp

Alceste Label: Scotland & Regions

STM label: Scotland

Alceste and T-Lab:

TSC Monetary Policy:

Alceste class 1: lend, small, bank, size, enterprise

T-Lab class 2: bank lend small enterprise medium-sized fund

Alceste label: Bank of England Lending Facilities

T-Lab label: Bank Lending to SMEs

Alceste class 2: growth econom income product

T-Lab class 4: growth price interest_rates house income consumption

Alceste label: Real Economy, Productivity & Competitiveness

T-Lab label: Real Economy and House Price Growth

Alceste class 3: monetary_polic committee discuss decision

T-Lab class 5: gilt quantitatice_easing monetary_policy_committee asset

Alceste Label: Monetary Policy Decisions & Decision Making Process

T-Lab label: Quantitative Easing Discussions

Alceste class 4: inflation forecast target look expect

T-Lab class 1: inflation percent forecast labour target expectation

Alceste Label: Inflation Forecast, Expectations & Outlook for Inflation

T-Lab label: Outlook fro Inflation and Inflation Expectations

Alceste class 5: guidance, interest_rate, threshold, tighten, forward_guidan

UNMATCHED

TSC Fiscal Policy:

Alceste class 1: tax income benefit people percent system

T-Lab class 4: tax rate pounds income billion increase measure oil

Alceste Label: Housing & Household Indebtedness

T-Lab label: Income Tax Rates

Alceste class 2: department, cabinet contract ring process secretary minister

T-Lab class 3: department process minister secretary contract prime chief

Alceste Label: Budget Process and Role of Ministers

T-Lab label: Ministerial/Cabinet Involvement in the Budget Process

Alceste class 3: committee chancellor brief office_for_budg budget inform

UNMATCHED

Alceste class 4: small sector businesses private bank fund regional

T-Lab class 5: bank banks committee small business lend

Alceste Label: Economic Effects of Budget

T-Lab Label: Bank Lending to SMEs

Alceste class 5: deficit, structural, fiscal budget_deficit, fiscal, world

T-Lab class 2: economy debt deficit economic country fiscal structural UK

Alceste Label: Public Deficit and Debt

T-Lab label: Fiscal Deficit and Government Debt

TSC Financial Stability:

Alceste class 1: capital bank asset ratio sheet institution

UNMATCHED

Alceste class 2: price, market, econom, debt mortgage rate interest_rates rise income

T-Lab class 1: risk lend mortgage price house capital UK asset economy debt

Alceste Label: Housing & Household Indebtedness

T-Lab label: Bank Stress Tests, Mortgage Lending and House Prices

Alceste class 3: committee court board decision oversight chancellor parliament report

T-Lab class 2: Committee oversight member M_P_C decision court view

Alceste Label: Governance of the Bank of England

T-Lab label: Bank of England Governance and FPC/MPC

Alceste class 4: ask governor thank answer andrew subject helpful conference new_york_fed

T-Lab class 3: L_I_B_O_R B_B_A barclays evidence consultation week dark

Alceste Label: Barclays and LIBOR

T-Lab label: LIBOR

EAC Monetary Policy:

Alceste class 1: assets asset_purchas gilt yield pension purchase private

T-Lab class 5: asset pension gilt yield annuity purchase buy Q_E

Alceste Label: Pensions, Savings & Annuities

T-Lab label: QE and Pension Investment

Alceste class 2: inflation growth percent interest_rate price consistent

T-Lab class 1: inflation growth economy target percent productivity expectation price

Alceste Label: Real Economy & Economic Forecasts

T-Lab label: Inflation Outlook and the Economy

Alceste class 3: prudent financial_policy prudential_regu supervis prudential_regu financial_servic financial_stabili

T-Lab class 4: leverage institution ratio system regulation prudential supervision Basel Alceste Label: Financial Stability & Macro Prudential Policy

T-Lab label: Leverage Ratio for Banks

Alceste class 4: want political auditors competitivenes reform politic

UNMATCHED

Alceste class 5: fail buffer big institut border trouble bail systemically taxpayer

T-Lab class 2: banks capital banking_system debt requirement Irish global lend

Alceste Label: Too Big to Fail & Bank Resolution

T-Lab label: Bank Capital and Lending

Alceste class 6: test ring fence stress standard resilient individual capitalised

UNMATCHED

EAC Fiscal Policy:

Alceste class 1: gas regime shale local oil region energy

T-Lab class 1: tax impact carbon spend decade benefit local rate pricel

Alceste Label: Energy, Energy Prices, Gas & Shale Oil

T-Lab label: Tax Measures (notably energy)

Alceste class 2: percent medium small credit enterprise

UNMATCHED

Alceste class 3: financial regul service european_unio bank prudent legislat centre proper

T-Lab class 3: financial bank service Vickers sector banks regulation ask regulator

Alceste Label: Financial Services & Regulation

T-Lab label: EU/Financial Services/Regulation

Alceste class 4: scotland scottish establish arrangement fiscal

T-Lab class 4: fiscal union scotland vote monetary political scottish bad

Alceste Label: Scotland & Regions

T-Lab label: Scotland

D 25-class T-Lab Clustering

Table 6:

Characteristic Words and Labels for a 25-Class Thematic Analysis.

Characteristic wordsLabel
1labour capacity spare market gapSpare Capacity and Labour Markets
2benefit housing House child claimUnemployment and Housing Benefits
3banks scheme lend fund incentiveLending and Bank Lending Scheme
4F_P_C power P_R_A board recommendationFPC/PRA
5inflation target percent remit expectationInflation Targeting and Expectations
6billion plan pounds spend set_outPublic Speding and Budget
7union monetary arrangement currency euroEMU and Fiscal Integration
8yield gilt asset_purchases Q_E unwindQuantitative Easing
9treasury official secretary minister pressTreasury Department and Officials
10economy export rebalancing consumption recoveryInternational Trade and Demand
11reserves deposit hong G_D_P kongForeign Currency Reserves
12unite united rest kingdom solutionUnited Kingdom
13bond assets buy corporate purchaseAsset Purchasing
14institution regulation capital leverage requirementLeverage Ratios/Capital Requirements
15interest_rates raise rate long-term lowInterest Rateqs
16tax budget chancellor _YR_MARCH12 pennyTaxation (particularly income tax)
17question answer ask quick _R_CHAIRQuestioning (disc.)
18issue service governor majority financialFinance and Scottish Independance
19price risk inflation energy commodityPrice Changes and Inflation
20growth productivity wage average dataProductivity and Wage Growth
21public expenditure deficit decision politicalPublic Expenditure and the Defecit
22home build local social buildingHousing Policy
23contingency event okay have– but–Bank of England Contingency Planning
24monetary policy guidance tighten stancePath of Monetary Policy/Forward Guidance
25small enterprise business medium-sized companySMEs

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Published Online: 2018-4-19
Published in Print: 2017-12-20

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