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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we seem to be taking on the character of a revivalist meeting. However, I know that the matter of EU subsidies causes concern both to noble Lords and to the Government. We have taken up the matter a number of times with the European Union, and we shall continue to press the matter very vigorously.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, as one who has not smoked since the age of 13, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government are any closer to implementing an approved code of practice on passive smoking at work, as recommended by the Health and Safety Commission rather more than two years ago? Has he been following developments in the Irish Republic, where the Irish Government are giving active consideration to banning smoking completely in pubs?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government do not seek to go down the route of banning smoking in pubs. We have, however, encouraged the development of a partnership with the hospitality industry which will ensure that non-smokers are protected and that there is a choice of places to eat and drink so that they will not be bothered by other people's smoke. I think that a voluntary approach is desirable.

My noble friend will know that the Government are giving careful consideration to the Health and Safety Commission's proposals in the approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace. As part of that process, the commission has been asked to consider the implications of the code of practice for the hospitality sector and small businesses generally.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, what is the most important step that the Government could take to reduce deaths from smoking?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we continue to press on with our anti-smoking strategy of which the development of smoking cessation services is an important part. We cannot be complacent, but there are encouraging signs on which we need to build.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, does the Minister agree that prohibition in the United States did not stamp out drinking and, if anything, encouraged it? It became smart to go underground.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not believe that the two matters can be pooled together in the same category. First, smoking is harmful under

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any circumstances. I believe that a different situation exists in regard to alcohol, particularly for sensible drinkers. Secondly, it is not the Government's intention to make smoking illegal. We seek to ensure that in public places non-smokers, as far as possible, are not subject to passive smoking and we seek to develop programmes to help those who want to give up smoking to do so as effectively as possible.

Railtrack: Investment Risk

3 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with investment fund managers relating to their investments in Railtrack plc.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State held a meeting with representatives of the Railtrack Shareholders' Action Group and the Institutional Shareholders' Committee on 20th November 2001. A separate meeting with members of the Railtrack Private Shareholders Group also took place on 20th November 2001.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, in view of the wide range of subjects with which he deals. Has he seen the letter in The Times of 6th March written by investment managers? Usually they are highly respected members of the community—some of them are probably middle class, although their investment advice is not always correct. I am not now talking about Railtrack, but about a point that was made in that letter that they believed—not "thought"—that there was a regulation that made sure that downside risk was limited. Does the Government believe that to be true? If it is, can my noble friend tell the House which other privatised companies have their downside risk limited by regulation? If he would care to let me have the names of the companies—I declare an interest—I would be happy to consider investing in them.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yes, my Lords, I was aware of the letter, published on 6th March in The Times written by the investment fund managers. It referred to a range of matters, including privatised companies with a downside risk regulated. I do not know of any other. I cannot draw the attention of the noble Lord to them. An article in the Financial Times commented on that letter, saying that a number of other people, including Tim Stone, chairman of corporate finance at KPMG, said that the issues raised in that letter had no effect on PFI generally.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether he is aware of any letter of comfort, similar to that given for London Underground in response to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for debt or equity that would lead those

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investment fund managers to consider that the Government would not allow Railtrack to go into administration or liquidation or anything else?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am aware of no such letter. It is worth reminding the House of the first point of the April 2001 statement of principle between the Government and Railtrack, which clearly stated:

    "The Government stands behind the rail system but not behind individual rail companies and their shareholders who need to be fully aware of the projected liabilities of the companies in which they invest and the performance risks they face".

That statement was made in April 2001.

Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I declare an interest as an investment fund manager. Does the Minister agree that, due to Railtrack receivership, the relationship of trust between investment fund managers and the Government has broken down, so making it more difficult for them to support, with confidence, future railway expenditure without firm government guarantees?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords, I do not believe that the relationship of trust has broken down. I shall quote what David Metter, the chief executive of Innisfree, one of the largest PFI equity investors, said:

    "We have absolutely no concern that the Government will not honour its obligations under PPPs and PFIs".

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the reality is that no major passenger railway system in the world has ever broken even, let alone made a true profit; that every government have found themselves subsidising our passenger railway system; and that any private bidder will assume that on the basis of all history the Government will pick up the tab because it has no realistic alternative? It was a mistake to privatise British Rail, but having done so would it not be sensible to recognise the reality?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the basic proposition. I cannot say that every single passenger rail system, but the vast majority, require a public subsidy. That has always been known. It was known in relation to Railtrack, but that is not the same as saying that the Government were providing a guarantee that they would always provide to that particular vehicle whatever it asked for, irrespective of the quality of its management and irrespective of the quality of its asset management.

Lord Peston: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what has happened to free-market capitalism if fund managers managing millions of pounds are under

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the impression that there are downside risk-free assets in which one can invest? Adam Smith and Karl Marx would turn in their graves.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, to answer what has happened to free-market capitalism would require a wide-ranging reply. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, is probably the man to ask.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, as a result of the errors of omission or commission that the Government may or may not have made in the case of Railtrack, we the taxpayers will have to pay an extra £1 billion in interest payments to banks to compensate them for the perceived decline in the Government's credit rating?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not accept that proposition. The party that my noble friend represents may ask whether it was wise to privatise Railtrack in the way that it did in 1994.


Lord Carter: My Lords, between the two short debates today, my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in the other place on audit and accountability in central government.

It may be for the convenience of the House to know that the usual channels agree that the House will sit at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 19th March for the debate on hunting with dogs.


3.7 p.m.

Lord Norton of Louth rose to call attention to the case for raising public awareness of the work of Parliament; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the institution of Parliament is fundamental to our political system. It is the vital link between citizen and government. People speak to government through Parliament. It is the authoritative public body for calling government to account. A healthy Parliament is central to the well being of the political system and central to the health of Parliament is public awareness of, and support for, the work that it does. A Parliament that is starved of public support is an isolated and, ultimately, vulnerable institution. In short, Parliament and the public need one another and each ideally needs to recognise the importance of the other. That recognition, I suggest, is lacking. There is declining public interest in what Parliament does and a failure on the part of Parliament to develop links with citizens.

Let me identify what I believe to be the causes of this poor relationship. They are several and are not confined to Parliament. I suggest that the problems are

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structural, attitudinal, behavioural, and societal. By structures, I refer to parliamentary structures. The two Houses are not structured, or rather are not as well structured as they could be, to facilitate public awareness of what goes on within Parliament. Much of the present debate about parliamentary reform focuses on the relationship between Parliament and the executive. That is of fundamental importance and I very much welcome the debate that is taking place. However, what tends to be neglected is the relationship between citizen and Parliament and, indeed, between Parliament and citizen. Although there is greater transparency in parliamentary proceedings than previously was the case, both Houses tend to stick with structures, as well as procedures and practices, that are not geared to encouraging public interest in, and access to, the work of Parliament.

By attitudes, I refer especially to the attitudes taken towards Parliament by government and the media. If government and the media take the attitude that Parliament is somehow peripheral, a body not to be taken seriously, then it is not surprising that citizens generally are not inclined to take much interest in Parliament. A dismissive attitude toward Parliament is not new but it is becoming more pronounced.

Successive Speakers have had to remind Ministers in another place that statements of new policy should be made first to Parliament and not to a press conference. Media interest is limited. The press galleries for most of the time resemble the "Marie Celeste". What coverage there is has shown a qualitative change. The sketch-writer has taken over from the parliamentary reporter. Television coverage has diminished since the cameras were first admitted. Coverage of the committee work of Parliament in particular attracts far less attention than it did a decade ago.

However, parliamentarians cannot be absolved from responsibility. Some Members do not always take Parliament seriously as a body for effectively scrutinising government. There is an inherent tension in the position of most MPs, being elected to support the party in government yet being Members of a body that is expected to subject to critical scrutiny that very same government. If the balance tips too far in favour of the government, then it is hardly surprising if the public take little interest in Parliament.

There is, in addition, a tendency on the part of some Members to be somewhat wary of the media. We criticise the media for not giving Parliament the attention that we believe it deserves, yet we tend to ignore how we might ensure that what we do is more attractive and more accessible to the media. We are too prone to make a virtue of economy at the expense of effectiveness.

Both Houses devote relatively few resources to public relations, to ensuring that what we do is promoted to the media and other bodies outside the House. Your Lordships' House has taken the lead in appointing an information officer. She does an excellent job. The other place has now followed suit. However, the resources we commit to public relations are minuscule compared to other parliaments. Indeed,

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the Scottish Parliament has more than three times the number of staff that this House has with responsibility for public relations.

By behaviour, I refer to the conduct of politicians. There is a problem at a collective as well as an individual level. The clash of beliefs represented by the political parties is healthy, indeed fundamental to our political system, but if the clash degenerates into mindless point scoring then it repels electors. Partisanship in the other House is a product of excessive party loyalty: MPs recognise that it does the reputation of the House no good but are unable to stop their party instincts from driving their behaviour.

At the individual level, if Ministers and parliamentarians behave in a way that falls below the standards expected of them by citizens, then their behaviour undermines popular support for and, consequently, interest in Parliament. Although we now have codes of conduct, a Parliamentary Commissioner in another place, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the public perception of the conduct of politicians remains a negative one. The perception is that politicians cannot be trusted to tell the truth and that they are out to further their own ends. That was made all too clear in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and it continues to be borne out by survey data.

Finally, and most important of all, there are changes in society itself. We have seen some significant shifts in the stance taken by citizens towards political institutions. In recent decades, according to some commentators, there had been a decline in the civic culture. Samuel Beer, the distinguished American political scientist, has argued that deference in Britain has given way to a new populism. Party leaders seek to tap that populism, to some extent directly. What has been termed "designer populism" has been a feature of the growth of presidentialism in British politics—the Prime Minister becoming detached from his own government as well as from party and Parliament and intervening in public policy as the champion of the people to address a particular problem. That development, as is implicit in what I have said, has been at the expense of parties and Parliament.

Not only has there been a more populist approach, but there has also been a change in participation. There has been a decline in support for political parties. People have found outlets for their political views through pressure groups—in some cases through direct action groups. Others have simply turned away from politics. Other attractions now absorb their energies.

A consequence of these developments is that there is limited and decreasing public interest in Parliament. People do not see Parliament as particularly relevant to their lives. It appears peripheral. That is reinforced by constitutional change, with powers passing to other bodies—the European Union, the courts and now elected assemblies in different parts of the United Kingdom. If there is an interest in political activity, then it is directed elsewhere.

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We thus face a dilemma. Parliament is crucial to the health of the political system. It needs the support and interest of the people if it is to be a strong institution in fulfilling the tasks expected of it. That support and interest, on the whole, are not there. Parliament by itself cannot restore faith in political activity. We need to go wider than Parliament in order to achieve that. But it can go some way towards addressing the problem. It needs to adopt a more robust stance towards government, and especially towards the conduct of Ministers. It also, and crucially, needs to increase public awareness of what it is doing. That is a prerequisite for bolstering public support, although support will not necessarily flow from greater awareness. Parliament has to prove itself.

I turn to what needs to be done. We need to take a new approach to the media and, indeed, to citizens. The relationship between Parliament and citizen is, as I have argued, two way. We need to provide greater access for citizens to Parliament. We need to ensure that Parliament reaches out more to citizens. Furthermore, what people see, and what we tell people we are doing, has to be relevant.

What can we do to increase greater access? Interest groups send us a lot of material and constituents write to their MPs on an ever-increasing scale. But none of that gives us a clear view of what people think. We need to provide more structured means of ensuring that citizens have some input and are heard. One possibility is to make greater use of the Internet for on-line consultation. The Hansard Society—and I declare an interest as a member of the society's council—has already undertaken some on-line discussions for committees, including the Science and Technology Select Committee of this House. There are some problems associated with using the Internet for consultation, as the Commons Public Administration Select Committee has noted, but such techniques can help complement other means of contact.

Another important change would be to create, in another place, a petitions committee. Many citizens devote a great deal of time and effort to persuading people to sign petitions. Some petitions have many thousands of signatures. But the petitions go into a parliamentary black hole. Petitions committees, able to receive petitions, investigate them or pass them on to other committees, are features of many west European legislatures. The Scottish Parliament has one. The House of Commons used to have one. There is a powerful case for creating a new one.

The proposal for a petitions committee was advanced by the Conservative Party's Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which I had the honour to chair. Another proposal of the Commission was that your Lordships' House should regularly refer Bills to Select Committees before the usual Committee stage of a Bill. That would permit bodies outside Parliament to have some input into the legislative process and to do so in a highly transparent manner. A similar argument applies to the use of special standing committees in the other place.

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I take these as examples of the kind of thing that we should be doing. What, then, of reaching out to citizens? I welcome the fact that the Parliament website has been re-designed and will soon come on-line, albeit far too late. I welcome the experiment with webcasting of parliamentary committees. But we must go further. As the modernisation committee in another place noted in its recent report,

    "committee reports now look like documents from a previous era".

We need professionally designed documents. But that is just the beginning. We need a fundamental change of attitude towards the media and towards the dissemination of reports and information about what we do. We need more staff to promote our work to the media and to the wider public. Despite recent additions, we are grossly under-resourced. We need to push out material to anyone we think is interested in it. We should be disseminating reports, even Hansard, to groups, societies and any organisation with an interest in public policy. We need to bring the media in. Rather than politicians trooping over to 4 Millbank, we should be bringing 4 Millbank into the Palace of Westminster. We need to provide more space and facilities for the media. We need to make the Palace media-friendly. That involves a change of attitude and more resources. It also involves ensuring that what we do is relevant.

If citizens are to take an interest in what we do, we have to ensure not only that they see what we are doing but that what we do resonates with their interests and concerns. Here there is a problem, especially with the other place. Your Lordships' House does a good job in carrying out its functions. We could do better and we must ensure that what we do is better known and that there is greater input from people outside.

With the House of Commons, there is a more fundamental problem. Often, the issues that concern people outside are those that are discussed on free votes. Such occasions are rare and are generally squeezed out by the predictable debate that takes place between the parties. As a consequence, the House of Commons does not appear dreadfully relevant to the citizens who elected it. There needs to be reform of practices and procedures but also new thinking about the issues that Parliament discusses. The Commons Liaison Committee has recommended short debates on Select Committee reports, which I very much welcome. But what about short debates on grievances raised by petitions? That would be one way of re-connecting with the people.

I offer those as illustrations of what we should be thinking about and doing. The list is far from exhaustive. I hope that your Lordships will add to it during this debate. But I hope that I have shown the need for much more innovative thought about how Parliament connects with citizens. Some of my proposals may appear radical. My purpose in focusing on the wider context is to show that, relative to the problems we face, far from being radical, these are

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extremely modest proposals—modest, my Lords, and essential to the health of our parliamentary democracy. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, we are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for initiating this important debate. He made the case for Parliament. In all my years in the other place and in my brief time in this House, I never thought that I should ever have to rise to make the case for Parliament. That was almost inbred in us—part of our background and part of our history. We should not need to make that case. The sadness is that we need to do just that. That is a shameful situation.

Parliament must prove itself and, more importantly, Members of Parliament must prove themselves and assert themselves rather more. In the past few years, they have not done that and have been considered almost as part of the executive machinery, supporting the executive rather than questioning them and bringing them properly to account by asking them real questions. They should have been saying, "I am here to represent the people who sent me here, not to represent only my party. My party is important, but even more important than my party are my principles and this country". That should be the motivating force behind them all. Unfortunately, we have not seen that.

Let us get one thing out of the way at the outset: the standards of the conduct of Members of Parliament. I was the chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons. Of course there were one or two unpleasant cases, but they were a very small minority. If we consider the country as a whole, I would say that my colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons and on all sides of this House are honourable and decent men—men and women of much higher standards of probity and conduct than one would find in the population at large. So that is not the cause of the problems that we face. Naturally, it is a matter that we must deal with, but it has nothing to do with the decline of Parliament. Let us get that quite clear at the outset.

In fact, during the past few years we have seen the rapid decline in the reporting of Parliament. Part of that was due to the large government majority; part to a much greater consensus on a number of matters which made for fewer policy differences between the parties. Speeches in the House of Commons used to reflect strongly independent, personal views that made for comment in the newspapers and the media generally. However, speeches seemed no longer to have that force. Members of Parliament would say in private what they did not say on the Floor of the House. In the past, more of them were prepared to speak their mind even where they disagreed with their own party. So it was left to the parliamentary commentators in the press to interpret what they saw as the mood of Parliament, rather than the speeches in Parliament, which should have shown the greater division in reality as Members of Parliament saw it.

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That allowed the sketch writers to whom the noble Lord, Lord Norton, referred greater opportunity to provide their own amusement amid their interpretation. Because it did not fully represent the views of dissenters on the Government Benches, and because the Opposition were reduced and demoralised, Parliament became more of a ritual of tit-for-tat as antagonistic views were thrown across the House of Commons. The House of Lords was much better in that respect, but as the House of Commons is the primary Chamber for commentators, the standing of Parliament was represented by what took place there.

Dissent by their own Back-Benchers is always inconvenient to government. We all know that. But such inconvenience did not prevent previous generations of Back-Benchers expressing their views openly and frequently—with courtesy, of course—as was the obligation of each Member of Parliament. In that respect, the role of the government Back-Bencher is crucial. It is that person who, speaking to others, can apply the pressure to alter policy. With such a large majority as we now have, that pressure is much reduced. Francis Pym, now the noble Lord, Lord Pym, had it quite right when in 1983 he pointed out the need for a modest majority. In such circumstances, Parliament can operate nearer to what the standard works on our constitution predict. It is in this situation that government can be held to account by their Back-Benchers when their voices and, occasionally, their votes cannot be overlooked. For that correct and honourable assessment, the noble Lord, Lord Pym, was sacked. That was sad.

Perhaps I may set out my personal position. As a member of the government party, like most other members, I have always believed that where I had no decided view opposing that of the Government, my responsibility was to support them. In the 1960s, I was chairman of a Back-Bench economic and finance committee, as was my noble friend Lord Barnett. I disagreed with the Government on two matters that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, put at the top of his political agenda. Those were the devaluation of the pound sterling, of which I was in favour, and the need as I saw it to withdraw our troops from East of Suez. The first subject, devaluation, was unmentionable; the second was also opposed by Harold Wilson who, in one memorable speech, said that our frontier was on the Himalayas.

My views, unorthodox at the time, aroused considerable interest. I set them out in Parliament. Parliament should not be an optional medium for setting out one's views; for a Member of Parliament, it should be the main one. So it was with Churchill, so it was with Lloyd George, so it was with Gladstone—so it was with all those great people of the past. We are only pale shadows of them, but in at least one respect, we should be able to do what they did and speak what we feel in this place. That is what we are here for.

Of course one supports government—frequently after argument, discussion and dissent—but one comes to one's own conclusions and one should express them here. That is what this place is about.

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Unfortunately, the other place has not been about that for some time. That is a great shame. People write their columns in the press, they give interviews of one kind or another, but if they have a view and want to express it, this is the place to do so. This is the heart of democracy. Unless we understand that and act on it, we are not doing anything about it.

An effective opposition sitting across the House of Commons Chamber is essential to the proper functioning of Parliament. Dissent on the government Benches—not opposition—is inconvenient but is essential for Parliament. Such are the aspects of Parliament that make it the centre of political ideas and action. The situation today may be much easier. The Opposition may be settling down now, after a long time, for the long haul. Many Labour Members who feared that they might be one-term MPs are beginning to use their position to assert themselves. Parliament as a whole may now be well on the road to re-asserting itself. If that proves to be the case, the press and the media generally may become more interested in the day-to-day work of Parliament.

A further cause for the lack of interest in Parliament is the increasing power of special advisers and the growing disillusionment with their role. As my noble friend Lord Hattersley reminded the House on Monday, the special advisers whom he used to know were different. They owed much of their legitimacy to the Fulton committee on the Civil Service. That committee, on which I served, agreed that there was a role for special advisers who were expert in their field but had political allegiances. That enabled them to fit in with the Civil Service and with the views and aspirations of the Minister whom they served. Such were Nikki Kaldor and Tommy Balogh. Another was Jack Straw, whose salary I happen to have confirmed while I was a Minister in the Civil Service Department.

Such people caused no problems. They were not grit in the machine; they were an asset to the Civil Service and to the Government. They were experts without executive power and acted as an expert link between the Minister and the higher Civil Service. They were valued in Whitehall, and there would have been no difficulty getting them to appear before Select Committees. Advisers now are rather more than the name suggests and are not even permitted to be questioned by the relevant Select Committees about their role and operations. If they are there, what are they doing? If we have to ask what they are doing, who should be asking that question? The relevant Select Committee should ask it, but Select Committees are not allowed to see them. They are not allowed to call them before them. Such people are taking on a role beyond that of special adviser; they are almost political appointees, in some senses.

The Select Committees need to examine the role and operation of such advisers. Some of them, without question, are very good, but why should they not be questioned? Why should we not know what they do, day by day, whom they see and how they handle themselves? The consequence of all that is increasing cynicism and lack of concern about the work of Parliament. I see that there is expected to be a new

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Civil Service Act in the next Session of Parliament. I hope that that will be confirmed by my noble and learned friend the Minister. It would be a valuable contribution, and the House could add quite a bit to it.

There is one important change that must be made. The Committee Office of the House has done much to promote public understanding of the activities of committees. In the other place, when I was chairman of the Liaison Committee, minutes of evidence were available fairly promptly. I argued for them to be made available overnight on the Internet. That made it possible for such information to form part of the following day's political news, so people could see what was going on, even if they were not present. If there was a matter of concern or interest to someone, they would be able to find out something about it.

The Liaison Committee went further and argued for uncorrected evidence to be made available overnight, with the proviso that it be clearly labelled on each page that it was uncorrected. Corrected evidence could, of course, be published later. The delay in publication allowed witnesses to correct any mistakes that they may have made in giving evidence. The evidence was available to journalists present, but was only partial. We argued that it should be complete. It was eventually agreed that the new arrangements should apply to Ministers, with further discussions to be held on extending the arrangements. As far as I know, the argument continues.

The position in your Lordships' House is that even corrected evidence is not available. For example, there have been no minutes on the Internet of the Economic Affairs Committee since last July. I have kindly been given draft minutes because of my interest, but such information should be freely available. I had some difficulty in achieving the widespread dissemination of minutes of evidence in the other place. I hope that I will not have long to wait for it here.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for introducing the debate and for the powerful speech that he made. It will repay much careful study. It was densely packed with insight and suggestions. He was right to pay tribute to the parliamentary information services. They do a good job on a small budget. I imagine that it is common ground among your Lordships that a great deal more must be done. It is to that that I shall address myself.

As chairman of the Hansard Society—to which the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred—I speak with particular conviction that more must be done. Over the years the Hansard Society has done much to try to bridge the growing gap about which we have heard between Parliament and the public. We are now poised to take a step up in our activity, in partnership with the Citizenship Foundation—I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the president of the Citizenship Foundation, in his place—and the Electoral Commission. Our activity is designed to

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increase understanding of and respect for Parliament, especially among young people. Most of what I have to say will, indeed, be about young people.

Sadly, it is not the case that young people in this country respect and understand Parliament. Yet it is imperative for our democratic health that those people—the next generation—grow up with a good grasp of what Parliament does, how it does it and why it does it. In that respect, one need only compare this country with countries such as the Federal Republic of Germany or the United States. There, whatever the defects of the political system, no child grows up without a healthy and well developed respect for the constitution and the Bundestag or the United States Congress. Such respect does not exist today among our young people. In fact, the reverse is true. We see the negative and reverse image of that respect and understanding—ignorance and alienation.

MORI research carried out recently for the Hansard Society showed that there was a perception among 18 year-olds that Parliament is incomprehensible and irrelevant. As we know, turnout among first-time voters hit an all-time low at the last election. There is a massive job to be done. The citizenship curriculum, which I welcome—I think that it is one of the Government's most constructive educational innovations—gives us an opportunity to do that job. However, I would like an assurance from the Minister, when he responds to the debate, that, in a citizenship curriculum crowded with all sorts of worthy issues, the key issue of understanding Parliament will be a fundamental building block.

The aim of the Hansard Society-led consortium to which I have just referred is to give every student, during his or her school career, a taste of Parliament. We want to work with schools to take Parliament to students and bring them to Parliament. We want to do that virtually, creating a virtual Parliament on the web, and physically. We must connect better with young people.

Of course, when we say that they are ignorant of Parliament, we do not mean that they are not interested in issues. They are intensely interested in issues, but they do not see the connection between this House, the other place and our procedures, and the issues that interest them. Many issues interest young people, among which are public policy issues and the environment, including conservation issues. Student grants have been a controversial subject in Parliament. Young people are interested in issues such as—if I dare to say it from these Benches—the decriminalisation of cannabis. All those matters have particular salience for young people today, but they do not see Parliament as the place in which they are dealt with; nor do they know how they are dealt with. They do not see the connection between their interest in issues and the way in which they are dealt with in the public sphere.

As I listen to young people being conducted around this place by our admirable staff and others, I have to say that very often the lens through which they are invited to see Parliament is a historical one. They are invited to view this great institution as though it were

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a historic monument or house, with wonderful history attached. That is important but it is as nothing compared to our working institution which is designed to protect, guard and advance the interests of the public.

We need a feasibility study on whether there should be a large visitor centre to increase the carrying capacity of this House which, at present, is scarce. Your Lordships cannot abuse the carrying capacity of this House if we are to do our job, but such a centre would give people a chance to understand what they were about to see before they came into the Houses of Parliament. We need to examine that proposal very carefully.

I should like to move on to the issue of the media—always a popular dog to kick in your Lordships' House—and in particular to the role of television. We shall shortly discuss the communications Bill—although it seems to be indefinitely postponed—and in that Bill the issue of public service broadcasting will loom large. Only in Britain would we spend hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money through the licence fee to secure the vital good of the public interest and not be prepared to define exactly what that interest is and how it is to be safeguarded by the broadcasters. If public service does not include communicating the role, activities and value of our national democratic institutions, what else can it possibly include? That must be fundamental to any definition of public service broadcasting.

Today, the coverage of Parliament is wholly inadequate, not only by the BBC but by other terrestrial broadcasters who have public service obligations. I know that many of the talented and well-motivated people who work in news and current affairs would agree with my criticism. The problem is that parliamentary coverage is confused with political coverage. We all understand very well how they relate to each other, but it sometimes seems that some of the pier-end entertainment managers who appear to have taken over the direction of British television think that there is no difference between parliamentary coverage and political coverage.

They can just about get their minds around adversarial politics because that is good knockabout stuff. They quite enjoy elections because they treat them almost as a sporting event, though not as entertaining as the Cheltenham Gold Cup. When they think about Parliament, they can barely stifle their yawns. The idea that Parliament could be interesting or important is a peripheral issue within political coverage, which is seen to be primarily about adversarial fun and games.

As a result of the communications Bill, I hope that we shall see a firm commitment, as part of the public service remit, that the activities of Parliament be properly covered by television and radio. I should like the Minister to draw to his colleagues' attention at the DCMS that this is a fundamental matter of public interest which must be protected and not be treated, as it so often is by broadcasters, as an ego-driven whinge

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from party politicians wanting their speeches covered. I should be grateful if he can pass on the public interest argument to his colleagues.

Finally, having criticised others, we must, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, says, be open to the possibility, that the fault lies not just in the stars, but in ourselves. Does Parliament work sensible hours in a workmanlike way? Is it accessible and accountable?—values much rated in contemporary society. Are its procedures arcane and archaic or straightforward and understandable? Does it have joined-up legislation between both Houses? There is a massive challenge for Parliament to make itself effective and the Government accountable. The Hansard Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, made some very sensible recommendations, some of which were taken up in the report of the modernisation committee last month.

There is a tide for parliamentary reform which comes probably once in a generation, but it is running very strongly. There are now 237 members—Peers and MPs—of the All-Party Group for Parliamentary Reform. The Leader of the House in another place, is open to and, we hope, committed to reform. Will he be remembered like Richard Crossman and Norman St John-Stevas as a parliamentary reformer? There is a mood in Parliament to address this issue, not only in your Lordships' House but at the other end of the corridor. The noble Lord was right to refer to the merits of web consultation. We should use the web to consult with experts and the general public on a regular basis, not just occasionally.

I conclude by asking the noble Lord to add his considerable weight to that of his colleague, the Leader of another place, in trying to move the agenda on from what often seems too much manipulation and populism in Parliament to one of modernisation and participation. That is something for which the Government would be remembered with gratitude for generations.

3.47 pm

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the case for raising public awareness of the work of Parliament, particularly at a time when we are facing a complex and rapidly changing environment and when the degree to which it functions effectively, its relationship with government and its success in representing the public, are being increasingly questioned. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton on his success in this ballot and the choice of subject.

The work and role of Parliament and the associated issues of parliamentary reform merit far greater discussion. It is a vitally important subject and one to which we do not devote enough time—to the detriment both of democracy and society. Good government and an effective Parliament are intrinsically linked. If we do not have an effective Parliament, not only do we not have good government, we do not have a healthy political system or a vigorous democracy.

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In my remarks, I wish to range wider than the current work of Parliament and to look to its future shape and role in national life. I have spoken before of the disconnection between the people and their democratic institutions in this country. While civic life is prized in new societies, in established democracies a growing number of citizens are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of their public institutions. Most developed societies are experiencing a collapse of confidence in traditional methods and models of democratic governance. Our last general election certainly proved this, in contrast to Zimbabwe where people queued for 50 hours or more to vote in the presidential elections, because, deprived of true democracy, they know its worth.

Last year's general election here produced the lowest voter turnout since 1918. Millions of British people were prepared to forgo the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Some 41 per cent of the population did not vote, and of those who did fewer than a quarter voted for the Government. That underlines the need for a strong Parliament, able to scrutinise legislation and contain the executive, of whichever political hue.

Since the general election, confidence in politicians and political institutions has continued to wane. Many of your Lordships will be all too aware that more people voted in the final of the television programme "Pop Idol" this year than voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last general election.

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