Review of Investigative Select Committee activity in 2017–18 Contents

Chapter 6: Communicating more widely

Introduction

103.Lords Committees have increasingly been taking advantage of the pace of technological changes and opportunities to enhance their ways of communicating. While reports continue to be the main “product” of committee work, the use of social media and innovations such as infographics to encapsulate the main thrust of a report’s conclusions and recommendations in a more visual and engaging format have been trialled successfully. It is hoped that these will become a more regular and routine feature of committee work, while noting that for some more technical committees, there may be less emphasis on such engagement.

104.As noted earlier in this report, a review of the investigative and legislative committee system is currently underway in the House of Lords - an important feature of its work will be to consider how and with whom committees can best engage outwith Parliament, to compliment some of the more established spheres of influence in relation to committee work. Such efforts are important to ensure that the House is, and is seen to be, more relevant to society and people’s lives. As this report demonstrates, there is a wide range of important and influential work being undertaken in the House; we need to ensure that people are aware of that where it affects them and have the opportunity to have input into that process if they wish to.

Media coverage

105.The period between the State Opening of Parliament on 21 June 2017–30 April 2018 (a timeframe that included the publication of reports from the 2017–18 ad hoc committees) saw 3,114 items of media coverage about Lords Select Committees. Of these 2,913 were positive in tone, 181 were neutral and 20 were critical.

106.That coverage consisted of 1,509 broadcast features, 550 pieces in national print media, 541 in regional print media, 277 in specialist trade media, 185 pieces of online coverage and 52 in consumer titles. It should be noted that broadcast coverage will include some repeat broadcasts, for example when a committee session is broadcast on BBC Parliament it is often repeated later in the week.

Figure 1: Committee coverage by media type

107.The leading committees for coverage in the period were the EU Select Committee, the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, the Constitution Committee, the Committee on the Licencing Act and the Economic Affairs Committee.

108.The high level of coverage for EU Select and the EU Sub-Committees (five of the top 10 Committees in terms of incidence of coverage are EU Committees) reflects the continued domination of the political agenda by Brexit. The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee had a particularly strong year with reports on Animal Welfare and Energy Security attracting significant coverage.

109.The continued high level of media coverage for the Licensing Act 2003 Committee (a committee from the 2016–17 session) suggests that ad hoc committee reports can continue to attract attention once the committee has disbanded. In this case the Committee’s recommendations on the sale of alcohol at airports is almost universally referenced when the media reports on drunkenness on flights or proposals to restrict alcohol sales to passengers. This reflects the high level of media coverage the report received on publication, resulting in its entering journalists’ consciousness as a key text on the issue.

110.These figures only include coverage picked-up by the cuttings service used by the House of Lords, and is thus likely to underestimate the full level of coverage.

Figure 2: Top 15 committees for volume of coverage

Twitter accounts

111.Twitter accounts enable committees to communicate with interested stakeholders on a much more regular basis than other channels. When such interested users retweet committees’ content, it can be seen and engaged with by large numbers of people. Committee Twitter accounts can enable interested members of the public to follow current Committee meetings quickly and easily, simply by clicking on an attached link. They can also be a means whereby committees can make best use of some of the innovative report content discussed below.

112.Five committees had Twitter accounts during this period, and they have reported the benefits in their sections above. In particular, the number of people following the EU Committee’s Twitter account continued to increase markedly in 2017-18, and the Artificial Intelligence Committee reported that its account was useful for engaging stakeholders and encouraging submissions.73

Innovative report content

113.While House of Lords select committee reports are by their nature formal documents and made “to the House”, committees have sought to communicate their conclusions more widely and in more accessible formats.

114.Some committees have used graphics in their reports in order to convey complex points in a way that can easily be understood.74 Some reuse such graphics on Twitter, serving as an attractive entry point to the main content of the report.

115.Some committees have published separate highly visual material alongside the report itself, generally based on the conclusions and recommendations. Unlike the formal report, these are designed especially to be read on-screen on all devices, including mobile phones, and to be published and shared on social media.75 The post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, for example, produced one of these “enhanced report summaries” alongside its formal report, thereby demonstrating the relevance of its findings to a wider audience.

Other outreach activities

116.Committee Office staff have continued to be engaged in a variety of outreach activities, including the bicameral Parliamentary Studies programme. An innovation in 2018 was another bicameral project, an online course on select committees, which was open to a self-selecting group of students, not only those currently studying at university. 1,379 students enrolled for this course, to select committees were accessed by these students, at least three of whom proceeded to make submissions to select committees.

Conclusion

117.This “highlights” report has been written in the context of the current review of committees. It contains much to celebrate, and by its nature only skims the surface of the full range of House of Lords investigative and scrutiny committees. The Committee hopes that it will spark further suggestions for how the committee work of the House can be further developed, bearing in mind the pace and extent of technological and other changes over the 25 years since the last over-arching review of committees. Twenty-five years ago the widespread use of the internet was in its infancy, and there was no parliamentary website.76 This report provides some examples of current best practice amongst Lords committees in embracing new communication tools to carry out their work. We encourage all committees to build on this best practice and look forward to being able to report on further progress in our report for 2018–19.


73 Para 66.

74 For example, European Union Committee, Brexit: deal or no deal (7th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 46), Figure 1, p 19

75 For example Artificial Intelligence Committee, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?: https://social.shorthand.com/LordsAICom/32KXpihQLj/ai-in-the-uk [accessed 8 June 2018]

76 In 1996 the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s report, Information Superhighway: Agenda for action in the UK, became the first Select Committee report from either House of the United Kingdom Parliament to be published electronically on the new www.parliament.uk website.




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