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


CHAPTER 10: INCREASING AWARENESS OF MEMBERS' EXPERTISE

115.  The Committee received a large number of requests asking for the same thing. People, outside organisations, journalists and broadcasters asked for the House to provide better information about members' areas of expertise. A contributor to our web forum explained the problem and suggested the solution:[21]

    "One obvious barrier to interaction is the bewildering number of peers to select from if any private individual wishes to raise a matter … The parliament site could do with a 'Find a peer' search tool to allow people to find peers by defined criteria. The public needs something to identify as the right peer to raise a matter with."

116.  Peter Lowe, Assistant Political Editor at Sky News, explained why information about members' expertise would benefit broadcasters: "There are certain members of the House of Lords who are the most eminent people available to speak on certain subjects but, with exceptions, we rarely get them on the air. I think it is probable quite often that our own journalists do not know enough about who those people are" (Q 292). He regretted this, because those members "would add to viewers' understanding of news stories and current events". His suggestion was that the House "should be pro-active in setting up a list of Peers and their areas of expertise who are prepared to use their background knowledge in interviews on TV and radio" (p 86). David Hencke, Chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, said that such a list would be "very useful" to journalists (Q 189), and Peter Ridell said that the House needed to provide information about "where the expertise lies" because it cannot be assumed that everyone knows who the Lords experts are in a particular subject (Q 209).

117.  We note that the website of the Crossbench members contains a list of Crossbenchers who have special interests in various subjects (e.g. business, education, transport). We note too that Dod's Parliamentary Companion contains a list of "Peers' political interests", but that publication is not freely available. Moreover, as it is a printed list, it is static and cannot be searched by more than one category (e.g. to find a member who lists special interest in both agriculture and tourism).

118.  It would be possible for the administration to create a database of members' expertise to which interested members could contribute on a voluntary basis. The database could fulfil two distinct purposes. First, it could be used to provide the media, press and broadcasters with a list of those members who are ready to be contacted by the media and asked to speak on particular subjects. Second, people outside Parliament would be able more easily to identify which members were interested in particular subjects. Members who wanted to feature on the database could specify topics on which they were happy to be contacted by people outside Parliament, topics on which they would be ready to speak to the media, or both.

119.  Increasing awareness of members' expertise would help to demonstrate one way in which the House of Lords adds value to the law-making process and complements the work of the Commons. The need for better information about members' areas of expertise and interest came up more than any other in our inquiry. Providing such information coincides with one of the key messages in the House's public information strategy, and we hope that it can be implemented as a priority. We have invited the Director of Information Services to bring forward proposals by the end of the year for establishing a database of members' areas of expertise and interest.


21   Written evidence: BBC, Five News, Sky News, Lord Lipsey, Community Service Volunteers, Novas Scarman; QQ 25, 139-40, 188-89, 242, 292-96. Back


 
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