Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament - Information Committee Contents


93.  The House of Lords press office (currently staffed by the Head of Press and Media and one assistant) focuses on publicising the functions and work of select committees, the Chamber and the House more broadly. The office also handles media enquiries and works with officials across both Houses to improve public information and access. Journalists and broadcasters praised the "pro-active" approach of the current Head of Press and Media (QQ 193, 208; ITV regions), and Peter Riddell, Political Commentator and Assistant Editor of The Times, singled out how journalists were now kept informed about committee reports and hearings, saying that that was an area where the House had improved "enormously" (Q 189).

94.  However, the Hansard Society considered that the press office did not have "sufficient resource capacity to convey the full scope and nature of the work of the House of Lords, the depth of its scrutiny of legislation, and the changes it secures through debate and committee work. More often than not, a limited staff such as [in the Lords press office] is going to be working on a reactive rather than a proactive basis." Specifically, the Society argued that the House "should invest in more media officers to promote the work of its committees. If the House of Lords wants to engage more widely with the public then it needs better resourcing in this area of work." Furthermore, the Society said that, in addition to promoting the work of the Chamber and the House's committees, there was also "scope for covering the interests and work of Peers more widely as well. The House of Commons media and communications service has recently established a new post to focus on features and factual programming. The House of Lords should consider doing the same" (pp 11-12, 15).

95.  Lord Cameron of Dillington, Lord Feldman and Lord Norton of Louth also argued for more press officers in the Lords: "There is a marked disparity in the employment of press officers in the Lords compared to the Commons and, indeed, the Scottish Parliament (see Lords Hansard, 25 February 2009, col. WA89.) There is a compelling case for extending the resources of the Information Office, not least to double the number of press officers" (pp 65, 102-03, 116).

96.  One question which arose during our inquiry was how to balance the demands of different media. Ralph Negrine, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Sheffield, suggested that the House's committees should not focus on the mainstream media but should employ staff to target and communicate proactively with specialist audiences via specialist media and online media (pp 144-47). ITV Regions suggested that the House should do more with regional broadcast journalists "to highlight debates, issues and peers that are relevant to the regions they cover" (p 90). Lord Cameron of Dillington suggested that members could be encouraged to notify the Information Office of their local publications, and the Office could then notify those papers when the members made "meaningful" interventions (p 103). The Hansard Society went further, suggesting that the House should establish a regional press system "with each member invited to sign up, indicating their willingness to actively engage with local/regional media in a specified region. Each region should have an assigned press officer who co-ordinates the press/media work with the Peers" (pp 15; Q 23). Lord Norton of Louth suggested that the parliamentary outreach officers, who are already eastablished and based in the regions, could provide briefings to local media (p 65). Lord Hunt of Chesterton suggested that members could be more proactive by informing Information Office of significant speeches they intended to give, and the Information Office could offer advice (p 136). Lord Lipsey suggested that members should proactively engage with the press by "promoting specific causes" in which they were involved (p 141). John Hipwood, Political Editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star, agreed that it was members themselves "who should be providing the links" and should be "more proactive in contacting members of the [press] gallery", and that position was shared by other journalists and broadcasters (QQ 188-89, 193-95, 213, 291-92, 294, 316-17).

97.  There is a limit to the amount that the press office can do. During the course of our inquiry, a modest increase in the staffing level of the office was agreed, and an additional press officer will be recruited. There is also a limit to what the office can do for individual members whilst maintaining its political neutrality. We recommend that the administration continue to build relations with regional and local media as well as national media. We recommend greater use of online media.

98.  The Puttnam Commission recommended that Parliament provide a formal induction for journalists joining the press gallery. The Hansard Society suggested to us that the induction should be formal as that would be "beneficial for the House" (Q 26). Furthermore, they proposed that such induction should be "enforced perhaps, for example, by linking the taking of an induction course to the provision of a parliamentary pass" (p 15). ITN, on the other hand, unsurprisingly said that a formal induction was "not necessary", but a voluntary, informal session might be useful "for those that wish to attend" (p 88). Lord Lipsey, Lord Norton of Louth and Baroness Thomas of Winchester thought that the House should help new members of the lobby to understand more about how the House operates (pp 65, 141, 163), and John Hipwood agreed that introductory sesssions would be "a good idea". He suggested that we follow up the proposal with the Chairman of the Press Gallery (Q 192).

99.  We recommend that the House experiment with offering information sessions to members of the press gallery, and our Chairman will write to the Chairman of the Press Gallery to take forward this recommendation.

100.  The Hansard Society suggested that the House should explore what support it "might provide to accredited journalism training providers across the country" The objective would be to "ensure that journalism training schemes across the country are offered support in covering the House of Lords effectively as part of their training programme … This will have long-term benefits in educating the next generation of journalists about the role and work of the House of Lords" (pp 11, 15-16).

101.  We recommend that the administration explore possible links with journalism courses.

Recommendations on Press and Media

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