Providing information and access for the
120. The Commission recognises the importance of improving
public understanding of, and engagement with, the work of the
House. The Board of Management acknowledges that this requires
close co-ordination between departments responsible for visitor
access, retail, education, information, the website and media
activities, where appropriate with the House of Lords. The Group
on Information for the Public (GIP), which is comprised of senior
officials, co-ordinates this area of work on behalf of the Board.
Line of Route tours in Members'
Lobby and (right) Central Lobby.
121. The group focuses on four main strands of work:
- strategy and management;
- public access to the Palace of Westminster;
- publishing - both print and website; and
- broadcasting and media.
122. Research commissioned by the House has shown
that there is significant scope for strengthening public understanding
of, and engagement with, the House's scrutiny function, and for
clarifying the distinction between Government and Parliament.
These two themes inform the House's public information and access
work wherever possible, and provide the basis for prioritising
any new public communication initiatives.
123. The House now employs a small team of media
and communications specialists. The House's media liaison work
is overseen and co-ordinated by the Communications Adviser and
her assistant. The Commission is separately advised by the Commission
Media Adviser. A Select Committee Media Officer post was created
in October 2003, to provide media and communications advice and
support to six select committees: Constitutional Affairs, Defence,
Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, International Development, and
Public Administration. This experiment was successful and two
similar posts, to be created later in 2004, will ensure that all
select committees have specialist media support and advice (see
Providing information to the public
House of Commons Information Office
124. The House of Commons Information Office answers
enquiries from the public which relate to the work, publications
and history of the House of Commons. During 2003/04 the Information
Office received 59,373 telephone enquiries and 5,347 written enquiries,
most via email. In 2003/04 the telephone enquiry bureau answered
86 per cent of calls within 20 seconds, the best performance ever.
125. The Information Office provides a substantial
amount of interpretative material on the Parliament website. The
amount of material on the internet has increased, as has its use,
particularly since the 2002 redesign of the website. This
may explain the reduction in enquiry numbers shown in the chart
126. The Information Office produces a range of publications,
including the Weekly Information Bulletin and a series
of over 60 'Factsheets'. During the year approximately 440,000
Factsheets were accessed from the Parliament website (see page
22). In 2003/04 the Information Office produced a new leaflet,
You and Your MP that explains the role of Members both
in Parliament and in relation to their constituents. This leaflet
is available in fourteen languages.
127. During 2004/05 the Information Office will be
involved in the House's preparations for the implementation of
access rights under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This
will involve significant staff training and the revision of training
and guidance materials.
128. In 2003/04 there were over 25 million
successful hits on the Parliament website, a 74 per cent increase
on 2002/03, demonstrating the extent to which, for many members
of the public, the website is the preferred medium for accessing
information about the House.
The Parliament website received over 25 million hits
in 2003/04, a 74% increase on 2002/03.
129. When the main parliamentary website was redesigned
in 2002, the aim was to provide a starting point for improvements
rather than a finished product. With 9,000 pages on the primary
site and over a million pages of linked publications for the Commons
alone, the site is a substantial reference source.
130. However, more needs to be done to render
the site more usable for the casual rather than expert user. Further
enhancements which would partially achieve this aim, and which
can be made without significant resource implications, are under
development and expected to go 'live' in autumn 2004. More far-reaching
changes, requiring additional resources, will be possible once
the first phase of the PIMS project has been completed at the
end of 2004 (see paragraphs 83-4).
Freedom of Information
131. Preparations for the implementation of the Freedom
of Information (FOI) Act in 2005 continued during 2003/04. A cross-departmental
working group of senior Commons officials, chaired by the Clerk
of the Journals, has met at regular intervals throughout the year
to coordinate preparations and to monitor progress.
132. The publication scheme requirements of the Act
came into force for Parliament in November 2002 and the House
of Commons scheme has been available since then on the Parliament
website and in booklet format. New material relating to finance
and personnel issues was added in July 2003 and December 2003.
Work is in progress to add a new class for Members' allowances
information in late 2004 and to add to the information available
133. One of the priorities for the year has been
to raise staff awareness of the Act, in order to identify new
material for the publication scheme and to establish where new
policies on disclosure need to be developed. This awareness programme
included, for example, a workshop for procurement specialists
to discuss and develop a draft policy and a more general session
attended by over 90 members of staff which focused on records
management issues, particularly relating to email correspondence.
134. The other main priority has been to consider
the application and administration of the two exemptions which
relate specifically to Parliament. Both the parliamentary privilege
exemption and the effective conduct of public affairs exemption
are absolute exemptions for Parliament, as certified by the Speaker
of the House (or the Clerk of the Parliaments for the House of
Lords). Work is underway to describe some of the types of information
which might fall into these categories and to develop the process
for issuing certificates so that information about these arrangements
can be explained to the public in the publication scheme. Work
is continuing on the development of policies for the handling
and recording of requests and on the application of fees.
135. The FOI Act will apply the Data Protection Act
1998 formally to Parliament in 2005. The House appointed a Data
Protection Officer in 2003 and he is coordinating preparations
for the implementation of the Data Protection Act with the FOI
136. Records management continues to be of fundamental
importance for both FOI and data protection preparations and the
working group has lent its support to the records management initiatives
being led by the Parliamentary Archives (see paragraphs 189-92).
137. The arrangements for broadcasting
House proceedings, a partnership between Parliament and the major
domestic broadcasters, guarantee 'gavel to gavel' coverage of
both Chambers and of sittings of the House in Westminster Hall.
Together this represents a total of more than 80 hours core coverage
138. Committee television coverage is limited to
those meetings which broadcasters consider sufficiently newsworthy
to justify the extra costs. On average about a dozen select committee
meetings are now televised each week. The deliberations of standing
committees do not translate as easily to television and broadcasters
rarely request coverage. However, the House is moving towards
a situation where either video or audio coverage of all committees
which are meeting in
public will be available on the Parliament website
and intranet (see below).
139. The Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) archived
1,828 videotape recordings of proceedings during the year, 15
per cent fewer than in 2002/03. The Unit also completed 718 orders
for recordings of proceedings, a two percent increase on the previous
year. 46 per cent of orders were from Members and Peers, 27 per
cent from commercial organisations and nine per cent from broadcasters
- a balance which remains largely unchanged year on year. The
PRU provides recordings on tape, CD and DVD and also runs a videoprint
service offering still pictures taken from video coverage.
140. A permanent webcasting service was launched
in October 2003, as www.parliamentlive.tv. The service, part funded
by the House of Lords, builds on a pilot which went live in January
2002, streaming on the internet live audio-visual coverage of
the House of Commons, House of Lords, sittings in Westminster
Hall and a number of select and standing committee meetings.
The permanent webcasting service, launched in 2003,
delivers up to 30,000 viewings a month for around 10,000 individual
141. Although only a simple service, making use of
signals already available to broadcasters through existing televising
arrangements, the pilot scheme attracted more than 200,000 visits
to the site within the first year and in the run-up to the war
in Iraq up to 600 people were logged on at any one time.
142. Following a review it was agreed that an enhanced
version of the pilot project should be established as a permanent
service. Designed by specialist suppliers working closely with
the Broadcasting Unit and with PCD, this now offers live audio-visual
coverage of all televised proceedings in both Houses, both on
the floor of the House and in committee, a total of up to seven
simultaneous webcasts. There is now captioning and identification
of speakers in the two Chambers and a limited archive which stores
material for on-demand viewing for the following fourteen days.
143. New channels offering audio coverage of all
other committees meeting in public, supported by information pages
about the committee being webcast and its work, were launched
in January 2004, initially as a 'next day service' accessed via
the archive but with plans to go live. By March 2004 the service
was recording a total of about 70 sessions/meetings a week.
144. Further improvements are planned over time but
the service is already well used - delivering up to 30,000 viewings
a month via the internet for an average of around 10,000 individual
users. During 2003 upgrading of the Parliamentary Network by PCD
allowed www.parliamentlive.tv to be carried on the parliamentary
intranet for the first time.
Retailing and merchandising
145. A detailed review of merchandise
was undertaken during 2003/04 to overhaul the product range: slow
selling items have been removed, new lines have been introduced
or are under development, and better targeting of the market has
been achieved by recognition of the differing needs of various
customer groups. More seasonal lines have been introduced in order
to refresh the range, in particular specific lines for Christmas
and Easter. Work has also started in developing a new range of
merchandise using images from the House of Commons Works of Art
Collection: Christmas cards were the first items in the range
and further items will be introduced during the course of 2004.
Proceeds from this new range of merchandise will go to the Speaker's
During 2003/04 a detailed review of merchandise has
resulted in an overhaul of the product range (right).
146. As part of a co-ordinated approach to the development
of retail and merchandising activities, management of the visitor's
bookstall in St Stephen's Hall transferred to the Refreshment
Department in April 2003. This has allowed a wider range of souvenirs
to be added to the guidebooks and postcards sold from the bookstall,
which, together with an increase in the number of visitors taking
Members' tours, has led to an increased turnover of 17 per cent
in this venue. This has in turn enabled economies to be made by
the closure of the separate souvenir kiosk in Westminster Hall.
147. A larger range of souvenirs from both the House
of Lords and House of Commons was available to the public through
the summer opening shop in Westminster Hall and this delivered
a 25 per cent increase in turnover compared to 2002. The visitor
capture rate increased from 24 per cent last year to 28 per cent
in 2003, with average spend per transaction increasing from £6.19
to £6.38. Merchandising operations contributed a net profit
of almost £48,000 towards the cost of the summer opening
(see paragraph 167).
148. On an experimental basis, the format of the
Westminster Hall summer shop was repeated in December 2003 for
the Christmas period, giving the visiting public an opportunity
to buy from this wider range of giftware as well as offering an
additional service to Members and staff. The Christmas shop in
Westminster Hall took over £60,000 and led to an overall
23 per cent increase in income from the sale of souvenirs House-wide
149. At year-end, total income from the sale of merchandise
(excluding the Parliamentary Bookshop) was over £895,000,
returning a net contribution in excess of £255,000 to House
funds in 2003/04.
150. The Parliamentary Bookshop provides access to
parliamentary and Government documents to members of the public
and professional users from close to the Houses of Parliament.
Business activity has continued at much the same level as last
year, reflecting the reduced demand for papers from professional
users, but a sustained level of interest from callers to the shop.
The e-trading facility put in place last year has generated only
modest sales directly, and those mainly from the UK rather than
overseas as anticipated. The number of people that telephone the
shop to pursue inquiries after having first looked at the website
has been more significant, however, thus ensuring that the site
is contributing directly to the objective of providing additional
opportunities to emphasise education and information for the public.
Providing information to targeted audiences
Parliamentary Education Unit
151. The Education Unit works on behalf of both Houses
of Parliament, providing resources and support for teachers and
students to increase their knowledge and understanding of the
role, work and history of Parliament. The Unit offers a range
of services including booklets and posters, visits programmes,
videos and an education website for Parliament, at www.explore.parliament.uk.
The website was re-launched in August 2003. While many of the
existing activities and features were retained, the refreshed
site makes basic explanatory material about the work and role
of Parliament more prominent and provides better access to materials
provided for teachers.
The Education Unit works on behalf of both Houses
of Parliament to provide educational resources and support, enabling
students to increase their knowledge and understanding of the
role, work and history of Parliament.
152. During 2003/04, the Unit developed a new colour
booklet, An Introduction to Parliament, to complement its
Parliament Explained series aimed at older secondary school
students. This has also been produced in a bilingual Welsh/English
153. For over 20 years a major feature of the Education
Unit's work has been the Autumn Visits Programme, which is aimed
at 16-18 year olds studying politics or related subjects. Four
sessions are run daily, each with four elements
- a welcome and introduction;
- a video presentation;
- a question and answer session with a guest speaker
- usually an MP or Peer; and
- a tour of the Palace of Westminster emphasising the
work and role of Parliament.
154. Due to the introduction of September sittings
the 2003 Autumn Visits Programme ran for fewer days than in previous
years but with a higher maximum attendance per session (96 rather
than 80). These changes were only partially successful and further
restructuring of the Programme will take place in 2004.
Hansard Society projects
155. The House has granted £50,000 per year,
for three years, to the Hansard Society to help fund two outreach
projects which complement initiatives organised by the House itself.
HeadsUp is an online resource, run by the Hansard
Society, to promote political awareness and participation among
156. HeadsUp (www.headsup.org.uk) is an online resource
to promote political awareness and participation among young people.
Its centrepiece is a moderated online forum where students debate
topical issues that relate to the work of Parliament.
157. The Connecting Communities project aims to build
stronger links between Parliament and members of the public, through
a series of structured visits to Parliament supported by an educational
pack. The project focuses on giving people the tools to play an
active role in national decision making between elections but
has also already provided useful feedback for the development
of the House's own services for the public.
158. During the year the House welcomed
official visitors from some 84 countries. The visitors included
24 Speakers and Deputy Speakers and over 220 parliamentary officials.
In addition to organising the programmes of many official visitors
and contributing to other programmes, the Overseas Office
arranged short attachments for clerks and officials from other
159. The Overseas Office assisted the UK branch of
the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) with its regular
Westminster seminar and the annual UK visit, both of which are
attended by representatives of many Commonwealth Parliaments.
The Overseas Office also contributed to several of the programmes
organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
160. The head of the office is secretary to the Society
of Clerks-at-the-Table in Commonwealth Parliaments. The Society
met in Bangladesh in October 2003 under the auspices of the CPA's
Parliamentary libraries: international links
161. The Library continues to participate actively
in the Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments
of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)
and in the European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation
(ECPRD). Staff of the House attended the Prague and Berlin IFLA
conference in August 2003 and participated in seminars hosted
by the ECPRD. The Library also works with the Inter-Parliamentary
Information Services Forum which promotes co-ordination between
the information and research services at Westminster and their
devolved equivalents. During the year, the Library answered around
200 specialised enquiries from parliaments in other countries.
It continued a programme of co-operation with the Hungarian Parliament
which has, in part, supported the establishment of a new research
service there from February 2004.
Visitors to the public gallery
162. Tickets to view proceedings in the Chamber of
the House are available to guests of Members of Parliament, visitors
from overseas, specialist press and members of the public who
queue to attend each sitting. At any one time the galleries provide
seating for around 250 people, including those allocated to Members'
constituents on a rota basis. The average number of people visiting
the galleries each month was 12,000, with the majority entering
via the public queue.
163. A temporary security screen has recently been
installed in front of the Strangers' Gallery (see paragraph 181).
It has not detracted from the visibility or audibility afforded
to visitors and everything possible has been done to ensure that
its construction is sympathetic to the architectural environment
of the Chamber.
Central Tours Office
164. The Central Tours Office (CTO), which organises
tours of the Palace of Westminster sponsored by Members of both
Houses and the summer opening of the Palace, has now successfully
completed its first full year of operation. As reported last year,
initial problems caused by staff shortages at inception were soon
smoothed out and the administrative systems introduced to provide
the tour booking and guide allocations services to Members are
165. Some dissatisfaction has been expressed about
the limited availability of "full" tours (incorporating
both Chambers) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which is necessitated
by the revised Commons sitting hours. The revised hours had an
impact on total visitor numbers, but careful management led to
a significant increase in visitor numbers in the first three months
of 2004 compared to the same period one year earlier. In total,
there were 105,439 visitors booked on Members' tours in 2003/04,
an increase of 5 per cent on the preceding year. 86 per cent of
all tours were taken by Members of the House of Commons. There
remains significant unused capacity during recess periods and
in tours which only take in the House of Lords. The introduction
of timed tours has had the desired effect of reducing crowding
along the route.
166. New guides have been recruited, but numbers
are still lower than desirable. The CTO is working on guidelines
about monthly working hours in order to encourage more current
House staff to apply to work part-time as guides.
167. The CTO now also has responsibility for the
opening of the Palace to paying visitors during the summer and
conference recesses. The Palace was open to paying visitors for
45 days (29 full, 16 half) compared to 48 (29 full, 19 half) in
2002. Nonetheless the 2003 season was the most successful yet,
with the total number of visitors up 5 per cent to 86,806, an
all time high. Net (post commission) income from ticket sales
was £502,583.90 against an operating cost of £455,493.49,
a surplus of £47,090.41. This compares with a shortfall of
£45,966 in 2002. The shop and café added a further
£47,844 surplus, a rise on the £23,569 surplus in 2002
(see paragraph 147). The summer opening showed an overall surplus
for the first time in 2003. This was largely due to a revised
pricing structure, which allowed for the headline admission charge
to remain the same as in 2002. It will again remain unchanged
168. A survey of visitors showed an overall satisfaction
rating of nearly 90 per cent, which is extraordinarily high for
such a site. Value for money also scored very highly.
169. The summer 2004 season will run from 24
July to 4 September and 18 September to 2 October. Tickets
have been on sale since November 2003. The temporary ticket office
will reopen for "walk-up" sales in late June.
170. Located off Westminster Hall at the
end of the parliamentary tour route, usage of the Jubilee Café
has consistently grown since its opening in May 2002. Two distinct
annual trading periods have emerged, each with a different primary
market: the Jubilee Café provides a facility for paying
visitors, mainly tourists, during the summer opening of Parliament,
but caters for general visitors to the House and galleries as
well as visitors booked on Members' tours during the rest of the
The Jubilee Café catered for an average of
385 covers per day at the height of the summer opening.
171. The café is busiest during the summer
opening, when it catered for an average of 385 covers per day
in 2003. Higher usage, increased customer spends and a tight control
of staff costs led to a modest contribution of £9,300 being
returned during the 2003 summer opening, compared with a small
deficit in 2002. During the rest of the year, covers in the Jubilee
Café averaged around 140 customers a day, with an unpredictable
and sporadic business pattern over the course of any day. Although
it is expected that usage will increase with better marketing
and growing awareness of the Jubilee Café, business levels
are unlikely to match those experienced during the summer opening
until visitor reception facilities are relocated (see page 62).
17 The chart does not show the number of written enquiries
before 2001/02, because the basis on which such enquiries were
recorded was changed in that year Back