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It struck me that, interestingly, that is all of a piece with much of what has been said in the debate today. New doors are open because people are frightened. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to keep those doors open. However, the door that we most need to keep open is the door to democracy; it is the door to hope and to a belief that we in this Chamber can offer something bettera better future for the people of this country. Should we not take
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Lord Tyler: My Lords, we all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, not just on his persistence in bringing this subject to the Floor of the Chamber, but on the fact that he practises what he preaches. As has already been said, he is our prize blogger. The rest of us who attempt to blog on a regular basis cannot keep up with him. I do not always agree with everything he says, but he introduced two major themes at the beginning of the debate that were extremely important. First, he urged us to recognise that we need to keep pace with the technological changes outwith this building and with political changes. That is extremely important, and we need to keep it constantly in mind.
Secondly, the noble Lord made the very important point that new forms of communicationother noble Lords have referred to thismake possible a degree of two-way communication that simply was not available to our ancestors and predecessors. That is very important.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, because I served on the commission that has been referred to several times and which produced the excellent report entitled Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye. He will recall that that was followed up a couple of years later by Parliament in the Public Eye 2006: Coming into Focus?, which I think it is fair to sayI hope he will agreeticked off a number of improvements that had been made, notably, at this end of the building. I will return to that point in a moment.
I very much agree with the noble Lord on the recruitment of additional staff, and the wider remit given to the education unit and to the outreach effort, which has been extremely effectively driven by our own Lord Speaker. Perhaps I may saybecause I am sure nobody at the other end of the building is going to watch this part of the parliamentary channelthat we outshine the other place in terms of recognising these things, not least because of the interest of the Lord Speaker. We should always remember that we had television cameras in this Chamber some time before the House of Commons thought it was safe to let them in down there.
I want to refer to two specific thingsI am conscious of limited timebefore I come back to other noble Lords comments. The Hansard Society in its excellent reportsand I too have to declare that I am a vice-chairhas indicated a number of important issues as to how the public see us. These have been referred to by my noble friend Lord McNally and others. One has not been mentioned. I think that the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Marlesford, will be interested in this. Only one in two members of the public is confident that Parliament is not the same thing as the Government. That is a very serious issue. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, may recall that in his commission I pointed out that if you then went on the No. 10 website, you could view a day in the life of the then Prime Minister. If I tell you that Alastair Campbell arrived on screen at regular intervals during the day of the then Prime Minister, you will understand how very interesting this was. At the end of this sequence of pictures of the
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My other passion is that we need to demonstrate that this building is not just a historic monument, and nor are the people who occupy it. Noble Lords have referred to this. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves that we have to demonstrate that this is a working democracy. Many years ago I suggested that instead of having just the virtual tour of the building, showing the pictures or whatever, we should have Billy the Bill finding his or herit should be gender-neutralway through this building. If the relevant Bill starts in your Lordships House, Billy should show where it goes and, most importantly, should show that in Committee in the Moses Room or on the Floor of the House those who have an interest in the Bill have an entry point into the decision-making process of the building. That would be helpful. I have a wonderful ally in the person of Mary Morgan in the Information Office, but I have argued for four years that our fellow citizens should be able to access such a site easily on the parliamentary website. Incidentally, during those four years I have had it on my own website in a rather limited amateur form as I am no great technocrat, but the number of hits on it is amazing. Every time I go to a school on behalf of the Lord Speaker, I find a ready audience for the suggestion that that should be put to better use.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that there was no golden age. We sometimes hear older Members of both Houses say that somehow or other in the good old days it was possible to read their speeches on the parliamentary page of the Times. They were the only people who read them, of course. The limited readership of Hansard in those days is nothing compared to those who watch the parliament channel or look at our proceedings online. We have a huge audience now and there is an appetitethe Hansard Society has demonstrated thisto know more about what we are doing. It is true that sometimes navigation of the site is not very easy because generally the public
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I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocotthe hinted at this point and I hope that he will forgive me if I paraphrase his wordsthat in a parliamentary democracy the fundamental form of communication between Parliament and the people is the ballot box. I hope that he agrees that important lessons can be learnt from that, possibly by your Lordships House as well as the other place.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord McNallyperhaps I should, as he is my leader. What he said about BBC Parliament is absolutely critical. I have not had the advantage of being so desperately short of sleep as my noble friend Lord Greaves to watch what is happening on that channel at three oclock in the morning. However, when I did watch it, I was infuriated by the dead silence that was recorded whenever there was a Division in your Lordships' House or in the House of Commons. We operate rather quickly here but down there 18 to 20 minutes of dead silence elapse when there is a Division. That is enough to turn anybody off. Anybody who is involved in any sort of communication will knowas will the noble Lord, Lord Puttnamthat silence is not encouraging to the viewer or to the non-listener. Those 18 to 20 minutes present a wonderful opportunity to explain what Members are voting on. However, commentators are prevented doing that not by their editors or the broadcasters but by the House of Commons and, I suspect, your Lordships' House. I hope that we shall look at that because that would be the ideal time to explain what is going on.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, obviously speaks with a great deal of professional experience. We all have to learn how to be more succinct. I have tried with my blog, and it is very hard work. The public are used to soundbites, and they are not used to long, flowery phrases. We all need to remember that great saying by Dr Johnson, I havent time to write a short letter. We need a bit more preparation on the behalf of Members of the House and those who work for us all.
Time is short. I want to address what was a very interesting contribution by my noble friend Lady Garden. It is a critical part of open government that we have a transparent parliamentary system. I do not understand how the public can feel engaged with politics or with governance if they cannot see what is going on. Robin Cook once said that good governance demands good parliamentary scrutiny. The relationship between Parliament and the Government is incredibly important. It needs to be as open as we can make itnot just open in the sense of opening windows and doors so that the public can look in, but so that they can actually influence what is happening in the building.
We are very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, not just for this debate, but for all that he does in this field. I hope that others outside the Chamber this evening take note of what has been said. It is constructive, extremely relevant and important.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for introducing this debate this afternoon. He clearly has much experience in this area, and he made numerous very good points. When I say that he touched on a topic, that means that he gave a very succinct description of a situation. He has given us a brilliant introduction to our debate.
My noble friend Lord Norton touched on interest groups, and he is right, but I have some concern about single-issue pressure groups. I do not find their briefing as valuable as that of the groups with wider areas of concern; there always seems to be a lack of balance and rather too much intensity.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made one of his characteristic speeches. He is very knowledgeable about IT; I have heard about him outside your Lordships House as well. He made some very good points, some of which were about relatively easy problems to solve. I was going to suggest that he is appointed to the Information Committee, but I found out that he is already on it.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the need for the guillotine in the Commons. Mindful of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I agree with my noble friends analysis of the difference between the two Houses. I well recall the noble Lord who is now the Chairman of Committees inviting me to drop several of what I believed to be brilliant amendments during the passage of the then Transport Bill to finish the Bill in good time, because the principle of this House is that the Government get their business.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about the choices and the quality of the choices made by the media. I agreed with everything that he said on that point. Many noble Lords remarked on the good work done by the Information Office, with limited but slowly increasing resources. One operational problem is the number of single-man posts; it must be very challenging to maintain continuity of service. This is an issue of how much resource we are prepared to put into the Information Office. One of the big improvements made by the Information Office is in the generation of media interest in publications of your Lordships Select Committee reports. I have certainly noticed the effect of this outside your Lordships House when you casually pick up a newspaper and see that a Select Committee report has been published.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and many others, mentioned the Lord Speakers outreach programme. I confess that I have not yet made a presentation, but I will do so next year. I look forward to doing it, and I hope other noble Lords will join me. We really ought to try to do one every year, although I know that that will be challenging.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, talked about BBC Parliament. I share all his views, good and bad. It is surprising how many people dip into it just by chance. More would look at it if it were better organised. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it was not that easy to see what we have been up to. I had exactly the same experiences as those described by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I agree with him, and his view of the URL links brings me to my next point. However, the relevant technology is fast moving and can be hard to keep up with, even for the best resourced organisationsbut we need to keep up.
Most of the population obtain their information via the internet, and my noble friend Lord Norton touched on that. Having a high-quality website is vital, but I am not an expert on web design. Can the Chairman of Committees say whether our website could be assessed by an outside organisation? It is no good that we look at our own website, because we are either not very experienced at assessing websites or look at our website through rose-tinted spectacles. How good are we at measuring the quality of our website?
I am surprised at how few private individuals make direct contact with me in Parliament, either by e-mail or by letter. It may be that I need to raise my profile a little in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. Organised letter campaigns, often by Christian religious organisations, are an exception. However, I receive few communications, despite my e-mail address being easily available through open sources. Many years ago, it was with some trepidation that I published my e-mail address in Commercial Motor magazinethe publication for managers in the transport industry. I was surprised that I received very few e-mails as a result, despite there being several big issues which remained to be decided.
I pay tribute to the writetothem.com website. So far, I have received about half a dozen e-mails. I have carried out a test this afternoon to see how fast I would receive an e-mail back, so shall see whether that is on my desk when I return to my office. That website is a positive development.
I should also draw noble Lords attention to the theyworkforyou.com website, which other noble Lords have mentioned. It is excellent and allows the public to see what we have been doing. It is constantly being improved and developed. I am confident that its operators will recognise some of their problems and that they are taking steps to rectify them. The website measures how many times each noble Lord speaks in debate or at Question Time. I have spoken 33 times in the past year, my noble friend Lord Selborne has spoken 13 times, and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, has spoken 16 times. However, the reality is that this year I have been rather less assiduous, because I have been doing other things, whereas my noble friend Lord Selborne has, we know, done tremendous work with the Science and Technology Select Committee of your Lordships Housealthough the site does not show that. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is an absolutely sterling Member of your Lordships House and is highly regarded inside it and outside. I am sure that he has done much more than I have done this year, but he does not receive any
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My final point concerns visitors. As well as outreach visitors, thousands visit the Houses of Parliament, some hosted by a Peer or MP. I certainly regard it as my duty to host as many visitors who would not normally be able to come here as part of their work as I can. I have only once failed to sell the virtues of the House, even to some somewhat sceptical guests. However, the vast majority of visitors are taken around the House by a range of guides, and improvements have been made to the operation of the tours system. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, touched on the excessive attention given to ceremonial dress and photographic images of the House. One difficulty is that both Houses form a working Parliament; we are not a museum.
Furthermore, we must be getting fairly near to maximum capacity for visitors. My noble friend Lord Renton talked about virtual visits and other means of achieving the same effect as an actual visit. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about the visitor centre. I am not aware of the pros and cons of this project but no doubt the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will be able to give us a little information about it.
My concern is with the message put out by the guides. The history of Parliament is interesting and the State Opening ceremony is important, but I fear that visitors from the UK and overseas leave with a good idea of Tudor history but are little informed about our day-to-day work and our ethos, which we believe to be distinct from that of the House of Commons. For example, do visitors learn that we are a self-regulating Chamber? Your Lordships will recognise that we could not have arrived at that position from a clean sheet of paper. It is a bizarre situation but it works. Therefore, will the Chairman of Committees take steps to ensure that the guides, while still being accurate and objective, are more definite about the message that they send out about your Lordships work?
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for raising this important subject. I also congratulate noble Lords who have contributed so knowledgeably to todays debate. I think we can all agree that ensuring effective communication between Parliament and the public is absolutely crucial. Not only should we strive to publicise the valuable work carried out by Parliamentand, from our point of view, particularly by the House of Lordsbut we should also make it as easy as possible for the public to communicate with Parliament.
Over the past few years, much work has taken place to improve Parliaments performance in this area, and I congratulate the noble Lords and staff responsible. I am particularly grateful for the work that your Lordships Information Committee is doing in this area. It has done a great deal to advise and support the Houses information and communication services, as shown in
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I shall start by setting out some of Parliaments current activities in this field before attempting to respond to the questions raised by noble Lords. The activities fall into three broad categories: visits to Parliament, including those by school children; parliamentary and House of Lords outreach work; and remote access through a variety of different media.
I turn to the first of thosevisitors. One of the most effective ways in which we can help the public to increase their understanding of Parliament is by encouraging personal visits. As noble Lords will know, much good work has been done over the past few years to enhance the visitor experience. A Central Tours Office was set up in 2003 to manage groups of visitors invited to Parliament by Members and to train guides to a standard script. I hope that that will please the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The office also runs the summer opening programme, which is now a permanent and extremely popular fixture.
Visitor Assistants have been introduced to provide an improved welcome to visitors, to manage queues and to give out information about parliamentary business. They are also trained in the workings of both Houses and so are able to impart useful information and answer questions from visitors. The 24-strong team now provides a service until both Houses have risen. In addition, the Cromwell Green visitor reception building provides an enhanced access point for the public.
In 2007, the Palace received more than 1 million visitors in total, including 184,000 visitors to the Galleries of either House, 134,000 visitors on Members sponsored tours and 29,000 people on Education Service visits. These impressive figures speak for themselves.
An essential part of our visitor strategy is the Education Service, to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred. It has significantly increased the number of young people it welcomes to Parliament and provides valuable tours and workshops about the role of Parliament. It is hoped that 37,000 young people will be received by the Education Service in the 2008-09 financial year, up from 7,500 only four years or so ago. Plans for the provision of a dedicated education centre in the Palace of Westminster will enable the service to receive 100,000 learners per year and to provide an even better service. I have to admit that that is still a little way off at the moment.
In addition, the Education Service produces materials, including a new website, which support teaching and learning about Parliament. The education outreach team trains teachers to increase their knowledge and understanding of Parliament. This year alone, the team has worked with 1,000 teachers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, pointed out, across all parts of the UK, including the most far-flung places. We will, of course, continue to ensure that the Education Service covers fully the important role of the House of Lords within its material.
I now turn to my second category, outreach. This Houses outreach and engagement programme seeks to connect external audiences with the work and Members of the House through outreach visits by Peers, events held in Parliament and online initiatives. The broad aims of the programme are to increase understanding of the role and relevance of this House and to raise awareness of how people can interact and engage with us. I warmly welcome the Lord Speakers leadership in this area and I join the noble Lords, Lord Grocott, Lord Puttnam, and others in congratulating her on that role.
The outreach visits by Peers are a particularly important means for raising awareness of the work of this House. So far, 160 visits to schools have taken place, involving over 8,000 young people, 300 teachers and nearly 70 Peers. I am sure that some of those 70 are in the Chamber now. Visits are also made to many other organisations and groups, including regional meetings of the Womens Institute and, in the future, to district conferences of Rotary International.
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