ARE THE LORDS LISTENING?
CREATING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PEOPLE AND PARLIAMENT
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1. Parliament's public reputation is at a low
point. Media coverage about Peers' allowances and MPs' expenses
and the suspension of two members of the House of Lords have had
a negative impact on people's perception of Parliament. There
has been a lot of consequent talk about constitutional reform,
but many of the changes under discussion bear little direct relation
to the problems that have been revealed. What is needed are reforms
within Parliament. The need for Parliament to be open and transparent
was apparent before the recent revelations and the need will remain.
2. We have not produced this report as a consequence
of the problems that have recently arisen. We decided in January
2009 to hold an inquiry into 'People and Parliament'. However,
what we recommend in this report will contribute to making the
House of Lords more open and transparent. We want to see better
public appreciation of the role and work of the House of Lords.
In our view, that can only be achieved once the House has taken
further steps to increase public understanding of, and engagement
with, the House.
3. Our remit is to consider the information services
of the House of Lords, which includes information for members
and information for the public. Accordingly, our report focuses
on the need for reforms of the House's practices and how the House
makes information available, rather than on electoral or constitutional
change. In a debate in the House of Lords on constitutional renewal
on 11 June, Lord Bach, speaking for the Ministry of Justice,
said that democratic reform "must principally be led by our
engagement with the public."
We agree, and in this report we explore what further steps the
House of Lords should take to engage with the public.
4. In our inquiry, we set out to investigate
how the House of Lords, could relate better to the public. The
inquiry had two aims:
(1) to evaluate progress made since the reports
of the House of Commons Modernisation Committee (Connecting
Parliament with the Public, June 2004),
the 'Puttnam Commission' (http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blogs/parliament_and_government/pages/Parliament-in-the-Public-Eye.aspx,
Hansard Society Commission, May 2005),
and the consequent first business plan of Parliament's Group on
Information for the Public (March 2006);
(2) to consider improvements to how the House
of Lords and Parliament as a whole can engage with the public
and enable members of the public to communicate with it.
5. The Committee's inquiry focused on three issues:
- online communication and engagement, including
and channels such as social media sites; and
- press, media and broadcasting.
6. Alongside our recommendations, our report
includes a series of actions, in order to help readers to see
what needs to be done to implement our recommendations. None of
our recommendations require legislation.
7. We recognise that some of our recommendations
have budgetary implications, although we understand that some
of these could be implemented through existing programmes or by
re-prioritising existing resources. Furthermore, where a recommendation
calls for additional expenditure, we believe that any costs "must
be regarded as an investment in modern democracy, not a charge
against it" (QQ 22, 225).
8. We are keen to see our recommendations
implemented. To this end, we call for changes to the governance
arrangements for the House of Lords information services, with
a view to increasing member involvement. We have asked the Director
for Information Services to draw up an action plan against which
progress implementing our recommendations can be measured, detailing
the deliverable activities for each recommendation and showing
who is responsible for delivering them and by what date.
9. We consider the House of Lords to be an effective,
value-for-money second chamber. It makes a substantial contribution
to the law-making process; its members' expertise adds value to
the process; and it complements the work of the House of Commons.
However, it is not enough for the House to perform these functions.
People must be able to see that the House performs this role,
and our recommendations should help to achieve this end.
What would change if our recommendations
10. A common question when reading a committee
report is 'what happens next?' To put it another way, 'what will
change as a result of this report?' We would like to show at the
start of our report what will change if our recommendations are
implemented. We hope that seeing the following changes will make
you want to read further.
11. If our recommendations were implemented:
PEOPLE WOULD BE ABLE TO:
- watch House of Lords proceedings on YouTube;
- embed parliamentary proceedings on their websites;
- watch video recordings of Lords proceedings and
read Lords Hansard on the same screen and at the same time;
- watch Lords divisions from inside the division
- participate in an online debate in parallel to
a debate in the Lords Chamber;
- analyse and re-use parliamentary data;
- access more information online about Bills and
see on the parliamentary website how a Bill has been amended by
- sign up to receive electronic alerts and updates
about particular Bills or portions of Bills relevant to their
- access a list showing which Lords are expert
on, or have a particular interest in, which subjects;
- access parliamentary information in formats that
are user-friendly for people with disabilities (including learning
disabilities and mental health issues);
MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS WOULD
BE ABLE TO:
- inform people and the media about their areas
of expertise and interest;
- access a more appropriate room for interviews;
- see more clearly how a Bill amends previous Acts.
JOURNALISTS WOULD BE ABLE TO:
- access a list of members who are willing to speak
to the media on particular subjects;
- attend information sessions on the House of Lords.
BROADCASTERS WOULD BE ABLE TO:
- film in more areas within the House of Lords;
- show more engaging footage of Lords proceedings;
- access a list of members who are willing to speak
to the media on particular subjects.
12. We invite the House to debate this report.
1 Lords Hansard, 11 June 2009, column 792. Back
1st Report of Session 2003-04, HC 368. Back
Hansard Society Commission on the Communication of Parliamentary
Democracy, Chaired by Lord Puttnam. Back
A full account of Parliament's public engagement work since 2006
can be found in the paper submitted to the Committee by the parliamentary
Group on Information for the Public, a bicameral grouping of officials. Back
Further details are set out in the Committee's 'Call for evidence',
which can be found in Appendix 3. Back