Annex 7: Connecting Parliament with
the Public Recommendations of the Modernisation
1. The House of Commons is the representative institution
of the British people. It is here that our laws are made and it
is from its Members that governments are formed. The sovereignty
of Parliament is the fundamental expression of the sovereignty
of the people. It is the apex of our democratic system. As such,
it is very much a working place and at any time there are many
thousands of passholders, in addition to 659 MPs and around 700
Peers. It is the purpose of this Report to make recommendations
which will better reconcile the necessary purpose of Parliament
with the reasonable expectation of the people to have access to
the processes by which we govern ourselves.
2. It serves no-one if we make it difficult for voters
to understand what their elected representatives are doing. Too
often the impression is given that the House of Commons is a private
club, run for the benefit of its Members, where members of the
public are tolerated only on sufferance. It is beyond the influence
of the House of Commons, let alone this Committee, to arrest international
trends of declining participation and trust. However, the Commons
can make itself more accessible to those outside, both as interested
visitors and as citizens wishing to be more involved in proceedings,
it can do more to make it easier for people to understand the
work of Parliament, and it can do more to communicate its activity
to the world outside.
The Citizenship Curriculum
3. We recommend that Ministers in the Department
for Education and Skills re-examine the balance of the citizenship
curriculum because, while we recognise that the other matters
covered by the curriculum such as the balance of rights and responsibilities
and community involvement are crucial aspects of citizenship education,
an understanding of the country's democratic institutions is also
of fundamental importance to today's young people, and to the
engaged voters of tomorrow.
Educational resources at Westminster
4. We recommend that the House consider the provision
of dedicated educational facilities for the use of the Education
Unit, including a teaching area, as the National Assembly for
5. We recommend that the Education Unit be given
precedence in the Macmillan Room when the House is sitting in
6. We also think it would be desirable for the Central
Tours Office to offer, in addition to its current tours, a Parliament-in-action
Tour which would help visitors to understand how Parliament works
and give them a brief taste of select committees, standing committees,
adjournment debates and Westminster Hall as well as the Chamber.
Outreach work with schools and colleges
7. Outreach work is the core of the Education Unit's
work, and rightly so. The vast majority of young people will not
have the opportunity to participate in a school visit to Parliament,
and Parliament's educational activities must therefore be tailored
to those who wish to learn about Parliament in the classroom.
To supplement existing resources such as the website, outreach
facilities such as a Parliamentary roadshow could have the potential
to reach many more young people than currently are able to visit
Parliament. We recommend that before any further consideration
is given to establishing an educational roadshow, the House should
examine the scope for a Parliamentary partnering scheme with,
for example, local authorities. Parliament's contribution to the
teaching of political literacy could be delivered to people in
their own communities (in schools, libraries and council premises)
by way of joint enterprise.
8. The Education Unit already does a great deal of
work building links with individual teachers, schools and colleges.
We recommend that it should do more to publicise its work to Members,
and to build links with local education authorities.
Use of the Chamber
9. We believe there is a case for reconsideration
of the long-standing convention that only elected Members of Parliament
may ever sit in the Chamber, which is in contrast to the practice
of many other legislatures.
10. We recommend that the House devise a new voter's
guide to be sent to all young people around the time of their
11. We are convinced of the need for a radical upgrading
of the website at an early opportunity, which will require significant
investment in systems and staff. The financial implications of
this are for the Finance and Services Committee and the House
of Commons Commission to consider.
12. We recommend that the Broadcasting Committee
keep under review the possibilities offered by the digital broadcasting
13. We believe that the greater use of on-line consultation
is a good way for Parliament to take account of the views of the
14. There have now been several experiments with
on-line consultation on an ad hoc basis, both by select committees
and by all-party groups. They have generally been successful and
have proved effective as a way of engaging members of the public
in the work that we do and of giving a voice to those who would
otherwise be excluded. We urge select committees and joint committees
considering draft legislation to make on-line consultation a more
regular aspect of their work.
A Commons newsletter
15. We recommend that the House make available to
those interested in receiving the information (by post, e-mail
or other convenient method of communication) a weekly newsletter.
Aimed at the general, non-specialist reader, it should summarise
the business of the previous week and set out forthcoming business
for the following week. In due course, it may be possible to extend
this service to allow for communication of other information by
e-mail (such as the daily list of papers available in the Vote
Office) and regular, subject-based updates for which users could
subscribe. A printed form of the newsletter should be made available
to visitors at various points around the Parliamentary Estate,
including the bookshop. Electronically, it should occupy a prominent
position on or near the front page of the Parliamentary website.
Information for young people
16. We recommend that, as development of the website
progresses, the House authorities, in consultation with young
people, develop the website in a form which is more accessible
Visitors to the Parliamentary Estate
17. To the extent that there is conflict between
the needs of different groups of visitors, we believe that the
House should, as a matter of principle, give priority to the needs
of those who come to see and participate in the work of Parliament
over those whose primary interest is the Palace of Westminster
as a historical building.
A visitor centre
18. We welcome the work of the Administration and
Accommodation and Works Committees and the House's endorsement
of the proposals for the construction of the reception and security
19. We recognise the several unique difficulties
involved in establishing new visitor facilities near the Palace
of Westminster, but urge that all possible options are explored.
20. Our starting point is that any Visitor Centre
project should have four main objectives:
a) it must provide a welcome to visitors;
b) it must provide an interesting and friendly environment;
c) it should make Parliament more accessible, allowing
visitors to see at least something of what Parliament is and does
without necessarily having to visit the galleries, committees
or take a tour; and
d) it must improve public understanding and knowledge
of the work and role of Parliament.
The new reception and security building will help
to meet the first of these objectives; it will use visitor staff
so that visitors' first contact with staff of the House will come
from someone whose primary concern is to greet them and make them
feel welcome. A major review of signage, currently under way,
should also help to make the environment more welcoming. There
may also be scope to improve the current facilities designed to
meet the other three objectives but in our view the need for a
dedicated Visitor Centre remains. Once the overdue improvement
to Parliament's welcome and access has been addressed, attention
can focus on meeting the other three main objectives of the Visitor
Centre Project through planning for a dedicated Visitor Centre.
21. Participants in the Hansard Society's Connecting
Communities with Parliament programme suggested a number of ways
in which visitors' experience of the Parliamentary Estate could
be improved for a very modest cost. The main proposals were:
a) More staff on-hand specifically to welcome visitors,
tell them what they could see and point them in the right direction,
handing them a written guide, perhaps including a plan and an
indication of what visitors were able to do.
b) A sign at the entrance saying 'Welcome to the
Houses of Parliament'.
c) Better signage in general, indicating such things
as toilets, the Jubilee Café, the Grand Committee Room,
Committee Corridor, etc.
d) Improved queuing systems for the Gallery.
e) The possibility of a 'viewing gallery' which would
allow visitors to pass along the corridor at the back of the Gallery,
seeing the House while it is sitting but not stopping to listen
to the debate.
We welcome these practical suggestions and we commend
them to the House authorities.
22. We recommend that the term 'Strangers' be no
longer used in referring to visitors to the House of Commons.
Access to the Gallery when the House is sitting
23. We recommend that further consideration be given
to ways in which groups of visitors touring the building might
be able to pass through the gallery as part of a tour so that
they are able to witness aspects of Parliament in action.
24. We recommend that the Administration Committee
consider Saturday opening of the Line of Routefor Members'
parties as well as paying groupsto assess its feasibility.
25. We further recommend that the Administration
Committee consider the feasibility of allowing Members to book
guided tours of the Line of Route throughout the Summer opening
on a similar basis to that on which they can book tours on sitting
26. We recommend that the Procedure Committee consider
how better to present the information from the bill, explanatory
notes, amendment paper and selection list, either on paper or
electronically, so that when an amendment is being debated Members
and visitors can see the original clause, the clause as amended,
and an explanatory note on both, so that the issue under debate
is clear to all.
27. We recommend that a guide for visitors to standing
committees on bills should also be produced.
28. We believe that there is a case for the House
to do more with public petitions which, if handled correctly,
represent a potentially significant avenue for communication between
the public and Parliament.
29. We recommend that the Liaison Committee and Procedure
Committee consider a process whereby public petitions should automatically
stand referred to the relevant select committee. It would then
be for the committee to decide whether or not to conduct an inquiry
into the issues raised, or to take them into account in the context
of a current or forthcoming inquiry.
Rules governing the submission of petitions
30. We recommend that the House accept petitions
in both typescript and manuscript, although the present restriction
against interlineations, deletions and insertions should be retained
so that it is clear that the wording of the petition has not been
changed without the petitioner's knowledge. The top sheetthe
authoritative copy of the petitionshould continue to be
distinguished from sheets of additional signatures by the Member
presenting it signing in the top right-hand corner, as is the
The House of Commons and the media
31. We welcome the progress that has been made in
recent years to improve the House's communications strategy, in
particular the establishment of the posts of Communications Adviser
and Media Adviser and the Select Committee Media Officers. The
Group on Information for the Public has likewise played a vital
role. But we believe that there is scope for greater co-ordination
of the House's media and communications resources. We therefore
recommend the establishment of a central press office for the
House of Commons, to take a more proactive role in promoting the
House and its work.
32. We recommend that the Board of Management and
the House of Commons Commission urgently consider whether there
is scope for further improving the co-ordination of the House's
media, educational and communications resources and planning,
with effective Member oversight and close liaison with appropriate
officials and Members of the House of Lords.
33. We recommend that the Department of the Official
Report aim to produce a simple index to the daily part of Hansard
once the necessary technological changes have been seen through.
34. We recommend that the Hansard report of a debate
should be posted on the internet at the same time as it is sent
to the printer, to be replaced with the published version the
The Press Gallery
35. Consideration should be given to allowing journalists
to bring laptop computers into the Press Gallery.
Select Committee on Modernisation of the House
of Commons, First Report of Session 2003-04 (HC 368), pages 3
to 8, Conclusions and recommendations.