1.As part of the Liaison Committee’s review of House of Lords investigative and scrutiny committees, Lord McFall of Alcluith, Chairman of the Liaison Committee, asked Lord Gilbert to set up a working group to develop solutions to the issues that had been highlighted in the evidence taking of the review surrounding communications of Lords committee reports and the process of producing reports.
2.On 24 October 2018 Lord Gilbert of Panteg, Lord Sharkey and Lord Whitty met for the first time to discuss the initial issues surrounding communications in the context House of Lords committees. During this discussion it was established that in addition to the form of committee reports there were wider issues surrounding the reputation of the House, and the way communications are structured administratively. In addition to this report, the group will produce a separate note, developing ideas on improving the communications structure of the whole House.
3.Following the initial meeting, the group held further meetings with House of Lords communications staff including Benet Hiscock, Director of Communications and Owen Williams, Head of Press and Media. As well as this, the group spoke with Lord Puttnam, and the majority of the current Chairs of sessional committees to gain consensus on these issues and possible solutions. This work has led to the following set of recommendations which we now present to the Liaison Committee for consideration.
4.Following conversations with committee Chairs, it is recommended that there should be a new formal written role for both members and Chairs of committees, issued on appointment. This should include the following expectations of members in relation to communications:
(a)Regular attendance at most committee meetings, and where possible attendance at meetings held outside of Westminster
(b)Willingness to be available for and to participate in relevant media, publicity and stakeholder engagement
(c)Willingness to engage in promoting the follow-up of committee reports, including chasing the Government if responses are late or weak.
5.There should be an effort to understand how successful press coverage is achieved. Whilst appearing on national TV and radio is positive for report publications, there should be targeting to technical and regional press outlets where individuals affected by the topics at hand.
6.Whilst it is acknowledged that there is a place for the current style and substance of House of Lords committee reports, there needs to be active work towards producing committee reports in a variety of formats that are more accessible to a wider audience. This could include condensed reports, summaries through infographics, and interactive presentations. A full assessment of the possibilities should be carried out in order to establish the most useful and engaging style which would be appropriate to the subject matter of, and likely target audience for, the report.
7.More work must be done to engage with companies, organisations and other stakeholders. It is therefore recommended that stakeholder mapping should be part of the standard process carried out at the beginning of each inquiry; this mapping should involve the committee members and identify those who are to be directly involved in the inquiry in terms of evidence submissions and sessions as well as those in wider civic society who might find the Report of interest professionally and personally.
8.It is recommended that there should be formal communications strategies agreed at the outset of committee inquires. This outline plan for communications should encourage further member engagement and allow for a continuation of communication after initial report publications.
9.There has been a widespread call for an increase in the number of events and seminars that are held during the course of inquiries and report publication. This should normally involve:
(a)initial roundtables of stakeholders at the beginning of the process ie prior to formal evidence sessions:
(b)visits (mainly outside London) to include open meetings with businesses, academics and other stakeholders - some of which should involve local/regional/specialist media
(c)use of focus groups or equivalent representation of general public
(d)presentation of the final (or near final) report to a range of stakeholders; this could be either before or after final publication.
(e)Presentation of final Report to business, university or professional bodies with media presence.
10.The working group suggests that one way to increase the public or semipublic activity would be to include the Lord Speaker in some of these events, and for a number of events in relation to report publication or later relevance to be run by the Lord Speaker and supported by the relevant committee, where it still exists.
11.There should be an active increase in the use of social media, digital platforms, across committees. This increase is likely to require increased staff expertise for committees.
12.Committee Chairs should be more involved with the allocation of resources for inquiries. In order to do this Chairs should work with the Clerks of committees on budgeting for the promotion and publicity throughout inquiries.
13.There should be a regular meeting of all committee chairs to discuss upcoming inquiries and topics, at least three times a year. This meeting could help promote a joined-up communications strategy linking the different aspects of work in committees and the House. It could also enable greater cohesion in the work of committees, as well as assisting the communications team in their awareness of the upcoming work in relation to wider societal developments.
14.A weekly written report should be sent round to all members of the House summarising committee work. This report could include interesting facts, summaries of evidence sessions, what’s coming up and embargoed reports or summaries. This report should be separate to current documents such as Red Benches and should be produced ideally within the committee office as staff there are best placed to have up-to-date information and know what is likely to be of most interest to members.
15.Following the publication of committee reports, relevant debates are held in the chamber much later, meaning the relevance and topicality of them is often outdated. In order to improve this, it is recommended that a time limit should be set for debates to be held on committee reports to ensure relevance when the debate is held.
16.As well as this, it is recommended that once a week after questions in the Chamber, there should be a ten-minute slot held for Committee Chairs to draw attention to recently published committee reports and particular recommendations. This should aid in promoting committee reports more widely across the House and encourage greater awareness and participation in debates.
17.It has been noted by the group that there is confusion around the structure of communications across the wider administration. As well as this, it is unclear who is politically responsible for media communications in the case of wider reputational issues. It is recommended that the communications department is restructured to bring together all the currently separated elements, including outreach. This would create one cohesive department, with overall political press responsibility being made clear. The authors of this note will produce a separate and more detailed note on these issues.
14 March 2019 Lord Gilbert of Panteg
Supported by Lord Sharkey and Lord Whitty