Peers complain at times when the media pay little attention to the House. On occasion, though, they have grounds for complaint when the House is covered.
There are times when reporting of the House derives from a very limited knowledge of the institution, resulting in inaccurate information being carried. Perhaps the most consistent bugbear as far as peers are concerned is when a picture is used to illustrate a story about the Lords. All too often, the picture is of peers sitting in their robes during State Opening of Parliament. I am one of those who has pursued editors, particularly where it is an online site, to change the picture. The picture may be colourful but it is completely inappropriate for the simple reason that, though it may show peers, it is not a picture of the House of Lords as a legislative chamber. It is physically the chamber of the House but what it depicts is the State Opening of Parliament, with the Queen, peers, MPs, judges (not just the law lords), and diplomatic corps assembled to hear the Speech delivered. It is the one occasion when Parliament in its legal form – the Queen-in-Parliament – is assembled.
However, even worse is that on occasion some media use pictures which do not even include a single Lord. The Times once illustrated a story on the Lords with a picture of men in robes entering a building – it was a picture of senior judges. Last week, an online blog run by one of our national papers illustrated a story about a Bill in the House with a picture of robed figures sat on the benches in the front of the Throne during the Queen’s Speech. There wasn’t a peer among them. For the State Opening, senior judges (some members of the Court of Appeal and puisne judges) sit in front of the Throne. None of them is a member of the House. The law lords, being peers, sit with other peers on the red benches. I did draw this to the attention of the author of the online blog. The picture was then changed – to one of peers sat during State Opening!
The point is more than a pedantic one. Showing pictures of State Opening misleads readers or viewers as to the House of Lords as a legislative institution. Stories about the House of Commons are not illustrated by pictures of MPs stood at the Bar of the House of Lords during State Opening. Peers do not wear robes other than for their introduction to the House and for the annual State Opening. The work of the House is conducted by members debating, in normal dress, in the chamber in a manner similar to MPs.
I have academic robes as well as my peer’s robes. The former I wear only at degree ceremonies. The latter I wear only for State Opening. Media stories about universities and lecturers will normally show a lecture in progress. It is equally appropriate for stories about the House of Lords to show a debate in the House. That conveys far better to readers or viewers what the House is about.