Communicating the Commons: how effectively does the House of Commons Administration communicate about Parliament? – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report.

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The UK Parliament stands as one of the most respected legislatures, with its practices and procedures replicated by both emerging and deep-rooted democracies across the world. Visiting delegations from other parliaments tell us our role is significant: to many we represent a place with powerful procedures which enable politicians to scrutinise Government, and celebrated services which deliver the many complex functions of our two Houses.

At home we do not hear the same story. Parliament can at times represent a place of scandal and gossip, seeming to the public to be far away at best, and untrustworthy at worst. People can be confused by how it works, feel shut out of its mechanisms with not enough easy access to material that elucidates what we do in the Chamber and committees. Many do not see the full breadth of an MP’s role, which stretches from constituency to the Chamber. We are often seen as caseworkers first and lawmakers last.

As the Administration Committee, the group of MPs responsible for advising the House of Commons Commission on how the House should run its services, this perception is far from our own. In our view, Parliament is a place that conducts serious business, with a House Administration employing thousands of experts across different fields to facilitate our work as MPs. We have clerks and library teams advising on procedure and policy whose expertise is admired and consulted around the world; a bolstered Health and Wellbeing Service which is of note to many; an Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme which is the first of its kind. These are some of the many groups in Westminster which go above and beyond to make the machinery of Parliament run.

We launched this inquiry into the House of Commons communications and engagement services so that we could ask big questions. To what extent can the Administration uphold the reputation of Parliament through its official communications? How can the Administration improve public understanding of parliamentary procedure, and why it matters? And how can Members be better involved in the storytelling of Parliament?

Complex questions are rarely met with simple answers. And yet we identified clear and concrete actions for officials to take in their efforts to communicate the Commons:

  • Governments come and go but Parliament remains a constant. We need an overarching strategy towards how we promote the institution of Parliament and its deliberative and democratic proceedings. This consolidated strategy should be presented to the Committee annually.
  • We need to generate innovative ideas on how to make the website more user-friendly.
  • We need to harness the potential of to provide more real-time information about what is happening in the Chamber and committees.
  • We should launch flagship video content, supporting the public to understand more about the procedure which binds Parliament.
  • MPs should be seen as the voice of Parliament: the Administration should equip us to spread the word about what Parliament does well and how it works.

We should value the work of the UK Parliament. It is an ever-evolving institution that has stood the test of time to deliver laws, and scrutiny of laws, for centuries. The daily work of its Members has become increasingly nuanced, and huge demands are now placed on us at home and in Westminster. Now is the time for the House to assess how it tells this story, and how it counters narratives of dysfunction and distrust. A clear message about the effective things that Parliament does is fundamental.

Communicating the Commons has never been more complex - but has also never been more accessible. Let us use the tools we have before us, from digital to physical, to turn the tide on attitudes towards the UK Parliament, and remind the public that it is there for them, and there to be celebrated.