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I also welcome the outreach events that take place in this House. For example, in May 2008, the UK Youth Parliament held a debate in the Chamber which was very well received, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others. A number of events are planned for next year, including a flagship event in the Chamberthere will be only one such event each year; seminars designed to showcase the expertise of Members; an annual lecture in the Robing Room to follow on from the five very successful lectures celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act which took place over the course of the past 12 months; plus new projects involving young people.
In addition to the Lord Speakers outreach programme, the parliamentary outreach service does good work in spreading awareness of the work and processes of the institution of Parliament. Four regional outreach officers have been appointed, working predominantly in the two start-up regions of Yorkshire and Humberside and eastern England. The intention is to expand the service over the next two years, ensuring a national service from year 2 which will be consolidated in year 3. The service offers training and information events to a range of audiences, including people from the voluntary sector.
Parliamentary Archives is also heavily involved in the outreach agenda, placing emphasis on engaging the public with the archives and the history of Parliament with a view to stimulating interest in the current work of both Houses. A key part of its strategy has been to increase the provision of online services; for example, inquiry-answering and online payment for copies of records. Also important are the exhibitions and websites that have highlighted elements of the collection.
The archives are also starting an innovative project that will take its outreach work beyond the confines of the parliamentary estate into the regions, supported by the parliamentary outreach team. The initiative, entitled People and Parliament: Connecting with Communities,will involve partnership working with regional archives, thus making connections between archival material in Westminster and archives held locally. This, in turn, will lead to community-based activities producing content for the new living heritage
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The last of the three strands I mentioned is connecting with the public through the work of the Information Office, the internet and broadcasting media. Clearly, this area is by far the largest in terms of the size of the audience reached. I start with the Information Office, and I join the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in praising its work and I congratulate all those involved. This House was the first to appoint a professional to promote its work and the first to appoint a press officer dedicated to publicising committee work. The Information Office carries out valuable work in promoting the work of the House, emphasising the important role that your Lordships play in holding the Government to account through scrutiny of legislation, Select Committee work, Questions and debates. It also focuses attention on the broad range of expertise to be found in this House, which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in particular, referred to, and the more we can do of that, the better.
The Information Office conveys these messages in a variety of ways. Noble Lords will know that it produces a range of publications and briefing materials, such as the excellent pamphlets entitled The Work of the House of Lords, 100,000 copies of which are circulated to target audiences annually, and the Guide to Business in the House of Lords. The Information Office also provides an inquiry service, so that members of the public, journalists and others can get answers to their queries by telephone, e-mail or letter. In the past financial year, around 20,000 inquiries were handled.
A significant part of the Information Offices work is its press and media strategy because coverage in the media reaches a very large audience. The focus is on promoting debates, Select Committee reports and outreach activities. In the past Session, the Information Office undertook for the first time to promote general debates to the media with a view to highlighting the diversity of expertise and experience in the House. In total, 45 debates were promoted, which resulted in 150 items of news coverage in national newspapers and 103 in regional or local news sources. That was a 63 per cent increase on the number of articles related to Lords debates in the previous year. The general tone of the media coverage was positive and the expertise of the Peers taking part was often referred to.
The press officers have also been successful at promoting the reports produced by your Lordships Select Committees, ensuring that they receive maximum exposure and make a significant impact. Notable examples last Session included the Science and Technology Committees report on waste reduction, which was widely covered in the press and on the radio, the Communications Committees report, The Ownership of the News, and the Economic Affairs Committees report, The Economic Impact of Immigration, which sparked a very high-profile debate. In addition, reports of EU sub-committees often receive widespread coverage by the media.
In this day and age, one of the most important ways we can communicate with the public is via the internet, as many noble Lords said. The Parliament website has improved substantially in recent years and provides an
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I am aware of mySocietys Free Our Bills campaign, which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, mentioned. Many of the issues it raises have already been addressed through improvements to the website. For example, Bills, amendments, related copies of Hansard and research papers are put on the website minutes after they are published in hard copy. Access is easy and users can sign up for a wide range of alerts. In addition, Bills are already available in XML formatwhatever that iswhich allows individual clauses and subsections to be tagged, as mySociety wants. This material is available with a free click-use licence.
The difficulty in indexing Bills in the way that mySociety wants is that UK legislation is frequently referential, and often makes provision without anything that would appear to the lay reader to be an obvious or useful keyword. None the less, I understand that a feasibility study on clause-by-clause indexing is in train. The study will also consider how the results of indexing might be integrated with the current Bills information on the website. Further progress on that point will depend on the outcome of the study.
Other valuable services on the website include the parliamentary calendar, which enables people to find out what is going on in Parliament; the improved search engine; virtual tours of Parliament; quick guides to Parliament; podcasts; and an enhanced news service. The capacity of the website to run online consultations on behalf of Select Committees is also being developed. Some such consultations have already been held, with 42,000 unique visitors making 85,000 visits to the web forum site. I also note that the Lord Speakers Competition for Schools 2008 involved your Lordships Science and Technology Committee inviting school groups of different ages to submit their ideas to the committees inquiry into waste reduction. Finally, I welcome the fact that analysis of the results of Divisions will be posted on the website from next month onwards, which I hope is good news.
Elsewhere on the internet, the House of Lords has been at the forefront of developing new approaches to engaging and informing youth audiences, with the launch of five videos about the House on the YouTube website, to which the noble Earl, Lord Errol, in particular, referred. To date, there have been 111,000 views of videos on Parliaments channel on YouTube. Work is also ongoing to enhance Parliaments presence on other social websites, to which some noble Lords referred. That brings information about Parliament to a much broader audience and provides a forum for discussion of relevant issues.
I should also mention the innovative Lords of the Blog website, where certain Members discuss political topics of interest. Since its launch in March 2008, the site has received more than 110,000 views and more than 2,400 comments from the public. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, wrote on the site about this debate, and more than 20 people suggested topics for him to raise in his speech. I welcome this dynamic communication between Members and the public. I was very interested in the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, whom I know has been very much involved, showed that younger people, in particular, were interested in that form of communication. I can tell him and other noble Lords that the next edition of Red Benches next month will invite all Peers to take part in the Lords of the Blog website. I hope that we will get enhanced coverage from that.
Broadcasting is another important medium for conveying the work of both Houses to the public. The full proceedings in both Chambers and in Westminster Hall are covered, as are a number of committee meetings in both Houses. In addition, Chamber and committee proceedings are made available online through the www.parliamentlive.tv website, either in visual form or in audio only. As a result of the planned capital programme to upgrade committee rooms, an increasing proportion of committee meetings will be available in visual form, rather than audio only. I should add that the length of time for which proceedings are available on the website has recently increased substantially, from 28 days to a year.
I turn briefly to some of the specific issues raised in the debate, some of which, I must say, are not for me. The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Greaves, commented on the BBC Parliament channel. My influence over that is very limited, but I hope that the BBC will pick up on what they said. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked why Divisions were always broadcast in complete silence. I do not know the answer to that, but I shall try to find out and let him know.
I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, only that he will have to be patient for accommodation and will have to wait for the bright, sunny uplands of Millbank House, in which I am sure a palatial suite of offices will be made available to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked me to do something about the Prime Minister, mentioning going to Parliament. I am not sure whether I can do that either, but I shall read with care what the noble Lord said and I will see what can be done.
I shall now conclude. This has been an excellent debate on a subject of first-class importance. I hope that I have demonstrated that Parliament has made great strides in improving the way in which it communicates with the public, although it is clear from noble Lords speeches that there is still more work to be done. I am particularly interested in the forthcoming inquiry of the Information Committee,
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I begin by picking up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I did not mean to suggest that we are not political animals. We are, and we should be, political animals; political parties are absolutely essential to the health of our political system. I hope that that means that I now have 100 per cent agreement from the noble Lord. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who made a point in that light, that I joined the Conservative Party when I was 13.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. The list of speakers today is notable for its quantity as well as its quality. The fact that so many of your Lordships have taken part in the debate on the last sitting day before Christmas is testimony to the importance that we attach to the subject. Some excellent points have been made, and I am very grateful to the Chairman of Committees for his detailed response.
It is clear from what has been said that this debate should be seen as part of a process rather than the start or the end of one. I very much endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said, which the Chairman of Committees picked up on, about blogging and contributing to Lords of the Blog. Any noble Lords who have not yet seen it may wish to go to www.lordsoftheblog.net to see exactly what we are talking about and the contributions that have been made. May I also say how delighted I was by the speech of my noble friend Lord Renton and his proposal for an inquiry into this topic by the Information Committee? I hope that he will ensure that members of the public have an opportunity to contribute to that inquiry.
As I said, it has been an excellent debate. Very good points have been made, which I hope will feed into and allow us to build on what has already been achieved. As I said and as the Chairman of Committees has emphasised, we have achieved an awful lot already. It is a question of building on the strength of that and taking it further. It is clear from the debate that we recognise the importance of communicating with the public and enabling them to communicate with us. Let us take this further forward. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as we are at the end of business for the day, and indeed for the calendar year, it falls to me to move the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas break. Before I do so, however, as is traditional, my colleagues in the usual channels and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the House: the clerks, the doorkeepers, the attendants, the Hansard writers and those whom we do not see who work below stairs, if you likethe cleaners, the cooks, the chefsall those who keep this House working and enable us to do the job that we do. I pay tribute to them, as I am sure everyone in the House does.
This is not always an easy place in which to work, with its sometimes long and unpredictable hours. The staff must be flexible and committed, and I am constantly impressed by the qualities that they all display. Everyone who works here provides a world-class service, for which we should all be truly grateful. We should be particularly grateful that many members of staff are prepared to invest their whole careers here, building up incredible expertise in the work of the House and a terrific rapport with its Members.
I know that my opposite numbers in the other parties will pay tribute to some outstanding individuals, but I should like to focus on just oneMr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records, the head of the Parliamentary Archives. As Clerk of the Records from 1999, he instigated a major programme to modernise the Parliamentary Archives, which was done with great sensitivity. He can be proud that he transformed it into its present shape, which is used by everyone from Peers of the realm to family historians in Australia. During his time, among other things he managed the refurbishment of Victoria Tower to modern standards, the creation of an online catalogue and some spectacular exhibitions, including those on the Gunpowder Plot and the Act of Union, which many noble Lords, including me, were fascinated by and will remember for a long time.
Stephen also steered through the development of a records management service for both Houses. As a relative newcomer, I know how difficult it can be to make real change happen in this place, so his were very real, long-awaited and genuine achievements. Stephen joined the House of Lords Record Office, as it was known then, almost four decades ago, in 1969I think that I was doing my O-levelsat the tender age of 18, so he really was here man and boy. But it started even earlier than that: as a baby he demonstrated an attraction to Parliament, eliciting a kiss from Winston Churchill in the 1951 general election campaign. No lasting damage was obviously done.
Stephens career in this House is a shining example to us all. He joined the House as a clerical officer and rose through the ranks to become the Clerk of the Records, in the process breaking through the glass
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I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing Stephen and his wife, Susie, whom he met while they were both working herea House romancea long and happy retirement. All that it remains for me to do is to wish all staff and all noble Lords, regardless of their politics, a well deserved break and a restful and enjoyable festive period.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms in paying tribute to all staff of this House, both personally and on behalf of my colleagues on the Benches of Her Majestys Opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, we are extremely well served in this House at all levels. The details that he set out today are evidence of that across the board. I thank wholeheartedly the officers and doorkeepers for their patience, courtesy and assistance, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, often through very long and unpredictable days and nights. In addition, it is important to record the work of the police and fire staff, who all take great care to ensure our security. In the modern climate, that is a most difficult job to do day after day. We thank them all for keeping us safe. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has put on record the remarkable service of Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records. I add my congratulations to his.
I should like to put on record today the remarkable service to this House of Mr Peter Davies, who retired as our Deputy Librarian on 16 September. Without superb Library staff, the quality of work carried out by Peers would suffer incalculable damage. We are fortunate indeed to have the first-class service of our staff in the Library. They respond to the varied and exacting requests of Peers with unfailing professionalism and expertise. Even when asked to produce the impossible by yesterday, they manage it.
The standard of service in the Library has been developed and maintained to meet the demands of the modern information technology age by the work of Mr Davies over the past 30 years. After completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, Peter joined the House of Lords in 1978 as a Senior Library Clerk, one of a team of just two in those days to answer Members research inquiries. Peter was appointed Deputy Librarian in 1991. He managed the Reader and Technical Services teams, the Library budget and business plans, all crucial work to ensure the provision of an effective service to Members. He played a lead role in strategic planning for the Library itself, ensuring that the standard of service for Members and other users is of the highest quality. He also represented the Library and the House as the public face of our work to external audiences. These activities brought him into direct contact with the House of Commons and a wide range of partner organisations such as those represented in the European Centre for Parliamentary Research
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Lord Addington: My Lords, I join both noble Lords in wishing the staff who run this building a happy festive season, and thank them for all their support. I always like to say something about the Hansard staff before I turn to individuals, for the simple reason that I am not sure whether I am a hindrance or a help to them because I do not use notes. But the fact is that they usually manage to make sense of what I say and apparently people read my speeches and enjoy them, so full credit to them.
I also pay tribute to the doorkeepers. On one occasion last year I forgot that I had some visitors coming to the House. I received the most polite but thorough reprimand that I have ever experienced in my life. I thank that sterling body of men and women who help us so much, and of course I thank all the rest of the staff.
I want to thank in particular Yvonne Williams, who started work in the catering department on 29 September 1973. If an army marches on its stomach, Parliament, shall we say, pontificates on its stomach. Anyone who has kept the people in this building fed for that many years has given sterling service. Yvonne was known universally as Mum, and someone who could generate that degree of affection deserves the respect of all. I hope that she enjoys her retirement, that she has a particularly good festive season, and that she goes on to do many interesting things in her retirement.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, it is that very happy time of the year again and I add my personal tributes and those of the Cross-Benchers to all those that have been paid today. I find that I tend to use the staff of the House rather more than anyone else. I am for ever asking things such as, Who is speaking? How long will they speak? When will the vote come? When will the House be up? Have you found my lost brooch? Is there any way in which you can accommodate below Bar my newly arrived friend from New York?. Nearly always the answer is yes. It is wonderful. I truly thank the staff around the House for their courtesy and generally good cheer in providing such a service for us.
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