Peers sometimes complain that the House gets little media attention and sometimes have to complain when it does! In this post, I will address the former.
The absence of regular media attention is understandable. The Commons is the elected chamber and the arena in which the grand debate between the parties occurs. The cameras go for the gladiatorial conflicts, such as those at Prime Minister’s Question Time, which are not typical of what the House of Commons does, but are deemed to be televisual. Viewers might dislike what they see but nonetheless watch it.
The House of Lords, on the other hand, lacks the grand gladitorial conflicts. Much of its time is taken up with detailed scrutiny; that (as with detailed scrutiny in the Commons) is generally neglected by the media. Debating an amendment to the Water (No. 2) Bill may be of considerable importance in terms of improving the legislation but not something that will excite people in the pubs and clubs of the country.
However, where peers do have grounds for complaint is when important issues are debated but neglected by the media. There are rare exceptions – as when former Chiefs of the Defence Staff in the House criticise the Ministry of Defence – but many significant debates go ignored, with the press gallery empty. The only regular coverage is on Radio 4’s ‘Today in Parliament’ as well as on the Parliament Channel, albeit broadcast at what may be deemed marginal times.
There is a downside to the lack of media coverage. People are unaware of what the House does and – much more importantly – do not get a chance to benefit from what is said in the House. Watching proceedings may give some understanding of how the House works, but it is what peers say that constitute the important output.
However, there is a potential upside to the lack of coverage. Working away from the glare of the media spotlight enables a productive discourse between ministers and members. Ministers can engage with peers in different parts of the House, knowing that acceptance of an amendment from another part of the House will not be written up as a government u-turn or climb-down. Constructive dialogue is not particularly televisual but it does benefit the House in being able to make a difference to the detail of legislation.