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


102.  The Puttnam Commission called for "a thorough review of the language and terminology Parliament uses". No such review has been carried out. The subject of parliamentary language came up repeatedly in the Committee's public meetings and on the Committee's web forum. It was raised as being a barrier to engagement by the Hansard Society, the UK Youth Parliament, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and sixth-form students (pp 144; QQ 3, 47, 65-66, 132, 163-64, and 176). Whilst views on the web forum were split, the language used in and about Parliament clearly puts some people off:

    "One of the ways that the House of Lords could improve public understanding of what it does is by making the information available on the webpages accessible. At the present time, all information is available in "Political Speak"—it is not difficult to put out information in Plain English"

    "I think a lot of people feel intimidated by the language … A lot of people feel they are being looked down on and patronised."

    "I don't have any trouble with the language when I've been watching a debate, and I appreciate that some of the more arcane language has been phased out (e.g. starred/unstarred questions)."

    "Simplify the language"

    "I'm not sure whether the language is as serious a barrier as some have suggested"

    "Parliamentary language and processes are tough for a first-timer. You may not wish to lose it, for good reasons, though transcripts should have a quickie hyperlink to such items."

    "you still use esoteric language to describe the work of the Lords. This is exclusive to people who aren't familiar with the terms"

103.  In a recent debate on people and Parliament, Lord Soley made a plea for the House to change some of the historical terms it uses, so that people can "understand and relate to us better".[19] The link between language and engagement was repeatedly stressed to the Committee. Involve, a non-governmental organisation specialising in public participation, said that "information should be provided for citizens in plain English" (p 137). ITV Regions suggested that the House modify language that acts "as a barrier to understanding for the average viewer" (p 90). For Optimum Communications, it was "self evident" that "to promote understanding, Parliament must speak to people in language they are familiar with" (p 155).

104.  We recommend a review of the parliamentary language used in the House of Lords to make it easier for people outside the House to understand our proceedings. As a start, we have asked the Head of Online Services to examine whether the parliamentary website could include more links between parliamentary terms and the glossary. Our Chairman will, after our report has been considered by the House, seek to initiate a separate debate in the Chamber on the language and terminology used in the House.

19   Lords Hansard, 16 June 2009, columns 1026-27. Back

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