CHAPTER 10: INCREASING AWARENESS OF
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:
"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