Providing information and access for the public
The Education Unit organised events throughout
the year to increase student understanding of the role, work and
history of Parliament.
118. 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.
119. 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
120. Wherever possible, the House's public information
and access work is informed by two themes: strengthening public
understanding of, and engagement with, the House's scrutiny function,
and clarifying the distinction between Government and Parliament.
121. In June 2004, the Modernisation Committee published
its report Connecting Parliament with the Public.
GIP has been responsible for co-ordinating action on those of
the Committee's recommendations agreed by the Commission, on behalf
of the Board of Management.
Key recommendations on which progress has been made include:
- an additional staff post in the Education Unit,
to focus on outreach to young people and liaison with local education
authorities. The post is expected to commence in Autumn 2005;
- an extension of the Education Unit's autumn visits
programme to provide year-round visits to Parliament for young
people. These will start in the 2005-06 academic year (see paragraph
- the production of a new voters' guide to be sent
to all young people on or around their eighteenth birthday, from
early 2006 onwards;
- the production of a weekly newsletter aimed at
the non-specialist reader, summarising forthcoming business, to
be made available both in print and electronic form. A pilot newsletter
has been produced since February 2005;
- the establishment of a Media and Communications
Service for the House of Commons, to take a more proactive role
in promoting the House and its work (see below);
- further improvements to signage around the parliamentary
- consideration of Saturday opening for visitor
- removal of the term "strangers" from
the House's Standing Orders, and the renaming of the 'Strangers'
Gallery' as the 'Public Gallery';
- an upgrading of the Parliament website, with
significant investment in systems and staff (see below); and
- online publication of the Hansard report of proceedings
in the Chamber throughout the day, to be piloted later in 2005
(see paragraph 47).
Media and communications
122. A centrally co-ordinated Media and Communications
Service was established in October 2004 to:
- promote better public understanding of, and engagement
with, the work of the House and its committees;
- provide a modern, professional media service
for journalists and serve as a central point of contact for media
provide media and communications advice and support
where requested to all House departments and committees; and
- work with officials across both Houses to improve
public information and access.
The team now consists of six staff, three of whom
focus on promoting better understanding of the work of select
committees (see paragraph 69). A secondment to the Media and Communications
Service from the House of Commons Information Office commenced
in June 2005.
Providing information to the public
House of Commons Information Office
123. 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 2004/05 the Information
Office received 53,245 telephone enquiries and 4,822 written enquiries,
most via email. In 2004/05 the telephone enquiry bureau answered
88 per cent of calls within 20 seconds, the best performance ever.
124. The Information Office provides a substantial
amount of interpretative material on the Parliament website. The
amount of material on the website has increased, as has its use,
particularly since the site was redesigned in 2002. This may help
explain the continuing reduction in enquiry numbers shown in the
125. The Information Office produces a range of publications,
including the Weekly Information Bulletin and a series
of over 60 factsheets. During the year approximately 280,000 factsheets
were accessed from the Parliament website (see page 25).
126. During 2004/05 the Information Office was closely
involved in the House's preparations for the implementation of
the Freedom of Information Act 2000. New procedures are now in
place and operating smoothly, and the Information Office keeps
in close contact with other departments and the Freedom of Information
Officer (paragraphs 130-134).
127. In 2004/05 there were over 29 million 'requests'
for information from the Parliament website, 16 per cent more
than in the previous year. This again demonstrates the extent
to which, for many members of the public, the website is the preferred
medium for accessing information about the House.
128. A number of incremental enhancements to the
website have been made, including a new email alerting service
to which users can subscribe, an upgrade to the search engine,
and improvements to the content and clarity of the top-level pages.
A programme of improvements to the content of the site is in development,
including a select committee calendar and list of current inquiries;
a 'news page' for select committees with daily changing content;
progress towards a higher level of Royal National Institute of
the Blind (RNIB) certification; and a glossary of parliamentary
129. Qualitative research was commissioned in January
2005 on how the website could more effectively reach out to young
people and other non-specialist target audiences, and to consider
whether there is a case for continuing to maintain a separate
educational site. The results of this research are now being used
to inform the planning of the site's development. A bicameral
web development project board, chaired by the Commons Librarian,
was established in April 2005 to oversee the major enhancements
to the website and intranet that are underway or are currently
at the planning stage, including the radical redesign recommended
by the Modernisation Committee and endorsed by the House.
Freedom of Information and Data Protection
130. The Freedom of Information Act 2000, which applies
to both Houses of Parliament as well as to a wide range of public
bodies, came into effect in January 2005. As well as introducing
new rights of access to information, it also formally applied
the Data Protection Act to Parliament.
131. Preparations for the implementation of the FoI
Act continued throughout 2004; a group of senior Commons officials,
chaired by the Clerk of the Journals, co-ordinated work and monitored
progress. The main aims were to ensure that the House would be
ready in all respects for the coming into force of the FoI Act;
that all staff would be aware of the Act's requirements, and that
key staff were trained; that detailed guidance was available (both
in hard copy and on the intranet); and that procedures were in
place to handle requests properly and efficiently. These aims
132. The Act requires public bodies to prepare a
publication scheme, showing the information that they will routinely
publish. This requirement was applied to Parliament in November
2002; the House of Commons publication scheme has been available
since then on the Parliament website and in booklet format. A
new class of information on Members' allowances, and details of
the House's internal procedures for handling requests, were added
to the scheme in late 2004 (see paragraph 115).
133. Records management has continued to be of fundamental
importance for both FOI and Data Protection preparations and the
working group has supported to the records management initiatives
being led by the Parliamentary Archives (see paragraphs 182-185).
134. During the first three months of 2005 (after
implementation of the FOI Act), the House received an average
of around ten requests per week which required formal handling
under the Act. However, the vast majority of routine requests
for information continued to be dealt with as part of normal activity
(for example, the House's Information Office handled an average
of 33 requests a week).
135. The arrangements for televising 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 a week.
136. 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, in October 2004 the House expanded
its 'webcasting' service so that either video or audio coverage
of all committees which are meeting in public is now available
on the Parliament website and on the intranet (see overleaf).
137. The Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) archived
2,078 videotape recordings of proceedings during the year, an
increase on the previous year. The number of requests for recordings
of extracts of proceedings was also up: the Unit completed 780
orders compared with 718 in 2003/04. Almost half the orders came
from Members of the two Houses, 27 per cent from commercial organisations
and nine per cent from broadcasters - a balance which remains
largely unchanged year on year. The PRU has been re-equipped to
offer most modern formats, providing recordings on tape, CD and
DVD and both electronic and 'hard copy' still pictures taken from
138. Since October 2004 the webcasting service www.parliamentlive.tv,
part-funded by the House of Lords, has streamed 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 and audio coverage of all other committees
which are meeting in public. Designed by specialist suppliers
working closely with the Broadcasting Unit and with PCD, it is
thought to be the most ambitious project of its kind to be undertaken
by any legislature worldwide.
139. As many as fifteen meetings have been webcast
simultaneously and each week www.parliamentlive.tv webcasts an
average of more than 70 hours of video footage from the Commons
and Lords chambers, twelve hours of video footage from Westminster
Hall, 20 hours (eleven meetings) of video footage from committees
and a further 45 hours' committee coverage in audio only.
140. The service attracted 300,000 individual visits
during 2004/05, with around 5,000 external users accessing the
archived files monthly. The service is also "multi-cast"
- delivered to 3,500 desktops via the parliamentary intranet.
Set piece debates can attract significant audiences: on the day
of the March 2005 Budget statement the House of Commons recorded
4,785 individual accesses in a single day, averaging over 17 minutes
each, with 54GB of content and 1,389 hours of material streamed
141. Figures for the record breaking Prevention of
Terrorism Bill sittings earlier that month were even higher. On
Thursday 10 March 3,568 individual visits were recorded, each
lasting an average of about eighteen minutes. Interest increased
as the sitting stretched into the following day, with 6,740 visits
being recorded for Commons proceedings and 5,920 for the Lords
on 11 March.
142. Designed and supported by specialist suppliers
working closely with the Broadcasting Unit and with PCD, the service
is now being upgraded to meet the aspirations of the six million
UK internet users who now have access to broadband. The installation
of webcameras in committee rooms to increase video coverage is
also under consideration.
Over the past year the Parliamentary Bookshop has developed a number of briefing and alerting services for customers.
143. The Parliamentary Bookshop provides access to
parliamentary and Government documents to professional users from
close to the Houses of Parliament and to the public at large.
Business activity has continued at much the same level as last
year. Over the past year, a number of briefing and alerting services
have been further developed for customers and are now on offer.
Work is also in hand to redesign and update the Bookshop website.
Providing information to targeted audiences
Parliamentary Education Unit
144. 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,
which was re-launched in August 2003.
145. During 2004/05, the Unit launched the first
two publications in a new series aimed at the eight to twelve
age-group: Wise up about Parliament and General elections
explained. Further titles will be produced in 2005/06.
146. For over 20 years a major feature of the Education
Unit's work has been the autumn visits programme, which includes
a question and answer session with a guest speaker, usually a
Member of Parliament, and a tour of the Palace of Westminster,
and which is aimed at sixteen to eighteen year olds studying politics
or related subjects. Plans are currently being prepared to extend
the programme so as to offer a year-round service from autumn
2005. An additional staff post has also been created to focus
on outreach to young people and liaison with educational authorities,
following a recommendation by the Modernisation Committee (see
Hansard Society projects
147. The House partly funds some projects run by
the Hansard Society. During the year, this funding has contributed
towards one completed project (Connecting Communities), which
has been followed by a one-year project (Enhancing Engagement),
and a long-term, continuing project (Heads Up).
148. 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. Its findings have informed the planning of a number of House
services, and were reflected in the Modernisation Committee's
report on Connecting Parliament with the Public. The project
also led to a booklet entitled Your Parliament, a valuable
addition to the House's publicly-available information sources.
Enhancing Engagement has been building on this programme and will
develop practical proposals to bring Parliament closer to the
public, especially those least engaged in the political process.
149. Heads Up (www.headsup.org.uk) is an innovative project based
on a moderated online forum where students can debate topical
issues relating to the work of the Parliament.
150. During the year the House welcomed
official visitors from some 82 countries. The visitors included
fourteen Speakers and Deputy Speakers and over 500 parliamentary
officials. In addition to organising the programmes of many of
the official visitors and contributing to other programmes,
the Overseas Office arranged short attachments for clerks and
officials from other Parliaments.
151. The Overseas Offices of the House of Commons
and House of Lords arranged the programme for the parliamentary
commemoration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale in 2004.
The Commons Office assisted the UK branch of the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association (CPA) with its regular Westminster seminar,
the annual UK visit, and its first seminar on Corruption, Human
Rights and Party Politics, all of which were attended by delegates
from many Commonwealth Parliaments. It also contributed to several
of the programmes organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and,
with the Speaker's Office, began preparing for the G8 Speakers'
Conference in Glasgow in September 2005.
152. The head of the Overseas Office is secretary
to the Society of Clerks-at-the-Table in Commonwealth Parliaments.
The Society met in Canada in August 2004 under the auspices of
the CPA annual conference.
Parliamentary libraries: international links
153. Library staff continue to participate actively
in the Section on Library and Research Services for Parliaments
of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA),
and staff of the House attended the Buenos Aires conference in
August 2004. In November 2004 the Library hosted (jointly with
the House of Lords) a conference on meeting users' needs for the
European Centre for Parliamentary Research & Documentation
(ECPRD). 66 people from 50 organisations, mostly Parliaments in
Europe, attended, 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 over 200 specialised enquiries
from parliaments in other countries.
154. There were approximately 450,000 visitors
to Parliament in 2004/05, of which some 207,000 were conducted
on tours organised by the Central Tours Office; 127,000 visited
the Chamber galleries; and 9,000 students attended programmes
organised by the Education Unit.
Visitors to the public gallery
155. 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 250 people, including those allocated to Members'
constituents on a rota basis. There were 126,781 visitors to the
galleries during the year, with the vast majority entering via
the public queue.
Central Tours Office
156. The Central Tours Office (CTO) organises public
access to the Palace of Westminster via Members' sponsored tours
and the annual public summer opening. It is well established after
two years of operation and is developing its broader role by working
with other offices in both Houses to develop a co-ordinated visitor
service strategy for Parliament. The CTO has also had strong input
into the design of the new visitor reception building, which will
be built on Cromwell Green, off Parliament Square, and will manage
the new team of visitor assistants based around this facility.
157. The revised Commons' sitting hours reduced the
availability of 'full' tours, incorporating both Chambers, on
Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The CTO has worked with Members to make
the best use of the time available. In consequence, the drop in
total visitor numbers experienced in the first year of revised
hours has been reversed, with 113,778 visitors booked to tour
compared with 105,529 in 2003/04. The return to later sittings
on Tuesdays is expected to ease the pressure for tours on Mondays.
As before, most bookings are made by Members of the House of Commons.
There remains significant underuse during recess periods and lower
usage on days when only tours of the House of Lords are available.
158. The Palace was open to paying visitors on 30
full- and 18 half-days between 24 July and 2 October 2004.
93,314 people visited, the most to date. Snapshot surveys of public
opinion showed that levels of satisfaction and perceptions of
value for money remained very high. CTO controlled operations
produced a surplus of £113,000 but this was more than offset
by security, cleaning and maintenance costs. Ticket prices have
been held since 2003 and will again be unchanged this year on
account of the major construction works due to take place in the
House of Commons Chamber. The summer opening will run this year
from 2 August to 5 October.
Retailing and merchandising
159. Work has continued in 2004/05 to review and
develop the range of House of Commons souvenirs and 32 new lines
were introduced including a number of seasonal products. The development
of merchandise using images from the Works of Art Collection has
also continued, with proceeds from this range benefiting the Speaker's
160. Visitors to Parliament may usually purchase
souvenirs from St Stephen's Bookstall, which is located on the
visitor route in St Stephen's Hall. With the increase in the number
of visitors taking tours in the morning and an expansion of the
range of merchandise available, sales have increased by eighteen
per cent in two years to £45,000 in the nine months of trading
in 2004/05. The bookstall was closed for three months while the
shop in Westminster Hall was open.
161. During the period of the summer opening, the
temporary Westminster Hall shop generated sales of £178,382,
an increase of fourteen per cent on the previous year. The visitor
capture rate increased again, from 28 to 30 per cent, while the
average customer spend remained constant, at £6.38. The shop
continued to trade during the September sitting period, producing
sales of over £15,000, a 40 per cent increase on 2003. Trade
during the period of the summer opening generated an overall surplus
of £60,355, an increase on the previous year of 26 per cent.
162. Following the successful, experimental, opening
of the shop in Westminster Hall in December 2003, the shop opened
from the end of November 2004 through until Christmas, providing
visitors, Members and staff with an enhanced retail facility.
Sales of over £93,000 were made during this period. The shop
also opened for two weeks during the period of the Hansard Society
exhibition in Westminster Hall, before the summer opening, and
generated sales in excess of £25,000.
163. At year end, income from the sale of merchandise
(excluding the Parliamentary Bookshop) was in excess of £947,000,
nearly six per cent more than last year, returning a net contribution
of over £250,000 to House funds.
164. The larger shop in Westminster Hall not only
provides a better facility for visitors, but by drawing people
down into the Hall, brings attention to the Jubilee Café
which reports an increase in the number of customers using the
café, when the shop is open. 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, and caters
for general visitors to the House and galleries as well as visitors
booked on Members' tours during the rest of the year.
165. The Café is busiest during the summer
opening, when it catered for an average of 320 covers per day
in 2004, compared to 385 covers per day in 2003. During the rest
of the year, an average of 190 covers per day was catered for,
36 per cent more than in 2003. This level of business, allied
with a continuing focus on opportunities to make cost savings,
enabled the Jubilee Café to make a modest, but increased,
contribution to House funds for the second year running, of just
21 HC 368, 2003-04 Back
HC 69, 2004-05 for the Commission's response to the Committee's