Interested in Parliament 2….

Lord Norton

47566.jpg One of the best sources of information about Parliament is the Parliament website (www.parliament.uk). This now has a mass of useful information and is invaluable not only for learning about the institution but also about subjects debated or investigated by either House or their committees. Just browsing through the official report (Hansard) for each House, you can learn a lot about a range of subjects, not least in answers to written questions. However, for the subject specialist, there is little to beat the reports published by select committees in the two Houses.

The Lords has select committees on Communications, the Constitution, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, Economic Affairs, the European Union, Intergovernmental Organisations, Merits of Statutory Instruments, and Science and Technology. The EU Committee works through seven sub-committees, each covering particular sectors of public policy. As each sub-committee has about 10-12 members, this means that most weeks there are more than seventy members of the House engaged in EU scrutiny.

The committees, as with committees in the Commons, are productive and fairly prolific bodies, publishing a range of well researched and authoritative reports. The EU Committee, for example, has just published a massive report on The Treaty of Lisbon: an impact assessment. The report itself is 300 pages in length. The volume of evidence is an equally large document. The Constitution Committee will shortly be publishing a report on the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for the British Constitution.

The bad news is that copies of committee reports are generally expensive. The EU Committee report, for example, is £24.50 (and the evidence volume £34). The good news is that all committee reports are available on the Internet via the Parliament website. If you log on to the Parliament website and click on ‘committees’, you can then browse through committees in the two Houses and see the range of reports they have issued. You can then access a report in pdf or HTML format.

If you are interested in a particular sector of policy (be it, for example, criminal justice, pollution, defence, animal welfare, war in Iraq, or medical ethics) there is likely to be a substantial body of material on the website of interest to you. It is well worth a browse.

10 comments for “Interested in Parliament 2….

  1. ladytizzy
    20/03/2008 at 6:12 pm

    I concur. I remember years ago trying to find a reliable source for a personal printed copy of Hansard (pre-internet) with no joy.

    Parliament has done a damn good job of making the vast amount of records easily available.

  2. howridiculous
    20/03/2008 at 9:32 pm

    Do you know if the Parliamentary authorities have any plans to put earlier editions of Hansard online? It would be very helpful for researchers and historians, and very interesting for those with a general interest in poliics and history, if all the parliamentary debates ever recorded were uploaded.

    A big job but worth it.

  3. Former BPLSer
    21/03/2008 at 5:50 pm

    I agree that the Parliament website contains a huge amount of excellent information and reports. Finding what you are looking for is easy enough, which is an achievement for the website designers in itself. Select Committee Reports and Commons Library Research Papers are always worth a read.

    On early editions of Hansard, so far they have gone back to November 1988 for the Commons and November 1995 for the Lords. It means you can go back and read the Prime Minister’s Questions exchanges between Thatcher and Kinnock. If they could go back further it would be good to read up on debates from the time of the Falklands War, the social reforms of the 1960s, the World Wars and further back through the centuries.

    I have a 17th Century copy of the House of Commons Journal from 1680 and it is a fascinating look back in time, though it is amazing how many of the issues (e.g. terrorism fears) are still relevant more than 300 years later!

  4. Alan Wallace
    22/03/2008 at 11:40 am

    I presume this work is another drain on the public purse. Its time the political system recognised that there is no need for a replacement for the Lords, it should just be done away with. It is a pathetic waste of public money. There is tier upon tier of talking shop waste in our systems, from parish councils to world forums. I am extremely interested in politics but wastes of space such as this house and its members are convince me that there is no point in participating in a system which is so corrupt and wasteful.

  5. lordnorton
    22/03/2008 at 2:57 pm

    It is precisely the sort of comment from Alan Wallace that actually justifies this blog. There is widespread ignorance about the work of the House of Lords. The House itself is highly cost-effective. Because there are no salaries and relatively little staff support, the cost to the public purse is small; on last year’s figures, in so far as one can do a direct comparison, the cost to the public purse of a member of the Lords was less than one-sixth the cost of an MP. Far from being a talking shop, the Lords makes a substantial difference to the detail of legislation. Each year (parliamentary session), about 2,000 to 3,000 amendments to the Government bills are secured in the Lords. In some sessions, the figure is considerably higher. (In 1999-2000, for example, it was 4,761.) In so far as a comparison is possible, it has been suggested that the Lords makes twice as much difference to the detail of legislation as the House of Commons. The Lords engages in substantial detailed scrutiny, often of a mundane and back-breaking sort, but which is necessary to prevent the statute book from being worse than it is. The Lords fulfils a range of functions that complement, rather than duplicate or challenge, the elected House and as such add value to the political process. The system, far from being corrupt and wasteful, is highly efficient and if it didn’t exist someone would have to invent it!

  6. lordnorton
    22/03/2008 at 6:46 pm

    In response to How Ridiculous, Parliament is currently digitising historical volumes of Hansard back to 1803. This is, I think, very much in its early stages, so it may take some time before the project is finished and the material available online. The parliamentary authorities are very much aware of the value of making such material available. There is also considerable work being undertaken by other bodies, such as the History of Parliament, to make more historical material available online.

  7. howridiculous
    24/03/2008 at 2:33 pm

    Lord Norton – many thanks for your response. I look forward to the debates being available online and to the ones before 1803 also being made available in due course.

  8. Matt
    25/03/2008 at 10:31 am

    For those who are interested, the digitised transcripts from both Houses from 1803 onwards are already available in digital format here: http://www.hansard-archive.parliament.uk/

    However they have not yet been organised and formatted, so searching through them is an almost impossible task unless you know what you’re looking for, and more importantly, when it was spoken.

  9. Stuart
    25/03/2008 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the link, Matt. I just opened it up at a random spot, around 1806, I think, and they were talking about the economic potential of China. Plus ca change.

  10. howridiculous
    26/03/2008 at 7:35 pm

    My thanks also to Matt for the link. I have to say that I am very disppointed with how the material is presented. In fact, when I saw it, I was prompted to declaim: ‘how ridiculous’.

    I do hope that the material is going to eventually be uploaded in a more user friendly fashion – ideally in similar format to the how current Parliamentary proceedings are recorded online.

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