Guest blog: People and Parliament

Guest Contributor
Lord Renton, House of Lords Information Committee

Lord Renton, House of Lords Information Committee

When does a Blogger, talking about himself, turn into an Inquisitor asking lots of questions?  That is what I want to become.

The Lords Information Committee, of which I am the proud chairman, is starting an inquiry this week in which we want to find out your thoughts about Parliament in general and the House of Lords in particular. We are calling it “People and Parliament”.

We are asking straightforward questions that we hope you will want to answer.

Parliament is, after all, the place where laws are decided and the long-term future of the UK is changed.


  • How could the House of Lords improve public understanding of its work?
  • How could the House of Lords increase people’s interest in its work and Members?
  • How could the House of Lords best enable people to interact with it?

We’re also particularly interested in hearing the views of young people and how they view the House of Lords.

Take part in our eConsultation, follow our inquiry on Twitter and come back to us with your comments. We will listen and learn.

In addition to the eConsultation, which is aimed at the general public, the Information Committee is also asking more detailed questions about online communication and engagement. The questions can be found in the Information Committee’s call for evidence.

Please also watch our YouTube video –  we would like you to post video responses to this film (via Parliament’s YouTube channel ( suggesting how we can improve understanding of the work and role of the House of Lords.


Tim Renton

15 comments for “Guest blog: People and Parliament

  1. Croft
    18/03/2009 at 3:52 pm

    A few general thoughts:

    Obviously I expect everyone here thinks the Lords of the blog is a good thing and ought to be encouraged/expanded.

    Peers may be able to correct me here but as I understand it MPs have voted themselves £10,000 each a year for a website/online presence. From my experience those costs seem excessive but in principle I see no reason why all peers ought not to have a lower allowance to support a basic website/blog. Unlike MPs they can’t be accused of gaining a financial advantage over rivals for their seat at the next election. I’m not clear what expenses – if any – peers can legitimately claim at present for online activity? For a younger audience peers posting on a blog will have infinitely more chance of being read/heard and getting some engagement than almost any speech in the chamber. This is especially true if two way discussions are the norm. A website is too easily a broadcast not a conversation.

    On public knowledge and interaction peers suffer from identification and accessibility. If I want to find my MP it takes 2 seconds on I can then raise any issue of concern or policy. How do I find a peer – randomly picking off a list on the parliament website or from the party lists? As soon as you’re asking people to start looking at membership lists of select committees to find a peer who might conceivable be the right person to raise a particular subject area with you’ve lost 1/2 the public already.

    On one other point, you say:

    “We’re also particularly interested in hearing the views of young people”

    Yet if you go to the eConsultation site you find the truly head shaking statement:

    “If you are aged 16 or under please get your parent/guardian’s permission before participating in this forum.”

    It’s difficult to put into words the level of dislocation in trying to engage ‘young people’, who are used to logging on and registering for any and every major site with few restrictions, while telling them they can’t participate in parliament’s consultation unless they have a ‘note from their mother’ or are over 17! 🙁

  2. ladytizzy
    18/03/2009 at 4:42 pm

    Welcome, Lord Renton, a paticularly good time to dive in to these warm waters.

    Notwithstanding, you don’t make clear where you would prefer us to answer such questions. Here, on the forum, in writing, which? Does this question, in itself, pose another in the gathering of future information? Why set a date rather than allow people to continue putting forward ideas? Have you written to the main bloggers about this?

    Lord Inquisitor, a concern is how the info from the myriad sources provided will be collected, sorted, and addressed. My first attempt to give ‘written evidence’ seems to have gone down a plughole but, then again, maybe it hasn’t. I don’t know what I should expect but an acknowledgement within a fortnight would be reasonable, and polite – standards of behaviour would be a good place to start. How do you propose to acknowledge receipt of evidence/ideas? We also don’t get paid for our input.

  3. Senex
    19/03/2009 at 12:29 pm

    Lord Renton: Parliamentary statutes always assume an ability to pay and individuals are not means tested on that ability. Failure to pay will result in a criminal record within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

    Road traffic offences have standard level fines as defined by the Criminal Justice Act. Such fines are likely to cause hardship to those in contravention of the London Olympics Bill traffic regulation orders.

    Is this an example of evidence that your committee would like to see and hear?

    London Olympics Bill s13 Traffic regulation orders: enforcement (1)

    Criminal Justice Act 1982 s37 Standard scale of fines for summary offences

  4. Bedd Gelert
    19/03/2009 at 9:33 pm

    Vaguely on this topic…

    Interested, and slightly surprised, to see Lord Ramsbotham involved with this [well he’s on the video] though I don’t know the level of commitment he is putting in.

    Interesting that they are trying to get more ‘independent’ candidates, although it doesn’t, as yet, appear to have a big chance of upsetting the balance of power with the main parties.

    Any thoughts ?

  5. Bedd Gelert
    20/03/2009 at 6:38 pm

    Iain Dale is sticking his oar in about the Lords…

  6. Senex
    22/03/2009 at 8:01 pm

    Lord Renton: This Hansard note suggests that Parliament needs to do more in scrutinising money matters. As the pursuit of money is the root of all evil is there a correlation with public dissatisfaction of Parliament and the way it spends our money?

    Ref: 4.3 Connecting with the public, p29

  7. Senex
    22/03/2009 at 8:22 pm

    Bedd Gelert: Baroness D’Souza has already said in chamber that she anticipates 1000 more peers. The government can then offer them cabinet posts plus salary where they will deflect all the flack away from the Commons. Sounds like we may have some more scape G.O.A.T’s?

  8. edemprog
    24/03/2009 at 1:54 pm

    You are quite right. Parliamentary statutes set down the law and assume that it will be followed. They may set a maximum amount of years to be spent in prison or money to be paid as a penalty if the law is not followed.

    The actual amount, though, of the penalty will be decided either by a magistrate in minor cases or by a judge, acting on the decision of a jury as to whether the person in the dock is guilty or not.

    Road traffic offences do not, in my experience, have standard level fines. For example, the fine is usually assessed by a magistrate, based on the evidence that he has heard. If you are caught by the police driving at 50 mph in a built up area, you will be fined much more heavily by the magistate if you are over the alcohol limit than if you are not.

    Tim Renton

    The Information Committee has set up a variety of ways for people to participate in the inquiry (video, web forum and written responses to the call for evidence).

    The idea is to allow people to choose the method of communication that they are most comfortable using. The questions in the web forum are reasonably general and the Committee hope they will generate discussion among those who participate in the forum.

    The questions in the call for evidence are more specialised and focus on particular ways in which the House of Lords/Parliament might improve the way in which in relates to the public.

    We don’t have a preference for which way you get involved.

    I suggest you see which questions most interest you and respond to them – you’re welcome to:

    contribute to the web forum;
    send us a YouTube video; and
    reply to the questions in the call for evidence !

    Tim Renton

  9. Senex
    26/03/2009 at 4:36 pm

    Lord Renton: “Road traffic offences do not, in my experience, have standard level fines.” If you cast an eye over the Olympics bill referenced you will see that it prescribes a maximum level 5 fine of 5000 GBP. I must admit that it will be down to the magistrate as to whether the maximum amount is levied. Seems a bit steep to me, is it meant to frighten people?

  10. Senex
    27/03/2009 at 12:17 pm

    Lord Renton: The last link in your reply to Tiz is broken?

    Not to cut too finer a point, it is not a peoples parliament but the Monarchs. In your Youtube video you refer to citizens when we are all subjects of the Crown. Such language is in common use but I do feel that it stokes up a perception in the public eye that we are a republic of some sort. We are not! But for some reason it seems to be an embarrassment to tell the truth? Pedantic? Yes! But it does irk me somewhat.

  11. laura miller
    27/03/2009 at 4:09 pm

    Just fixed the link – sorry about that!

  12. beccy83
    30/03/2009 at 4:20 pm

    Please see resonse from Lord Renton below….

    Many thanks for your interesting response to my guest blog.

    I don’t think we have reached the stage when it is appropriate for Peers to have a financial allowance to support a basic website/blog. We don’t pay anything out of our pockets to do it and I think we have to tread the way carefully to see how it works out.

    Of course you are right in saying that you can find an MP on the Parliament website much more easily than you can find a Peer. The MPs have their 70 or 80,000 constituents that they have to woo in order to get returned at the next election. We don’t have the same problem or the same challenge but, as you can see, some of us are working on using the website and I hope more of us will get attached to it.

    Thank you for bringing the issue of the participation of young people in the eConsultation to our attention. We have taken additional advice and have updated the guidance accordingly to state parental consent is only required for young people under the age of 12. The views of young people are of utmost importance to our inquiry and we do hope many people will contribute new suggestions on how we can improve understanding of the work of the House of Lords and Parliament.

    Tim Renton

  13. laura miller
    31/03/2009 at 8:23 am

    Here is Lord Renton’s response to Senex:

    Thank you for pointing out the broken link on my blog – it’s been
    updated and you should be able to access and contribute to the call for evidence without a problem.

    Tim Renton

  14. Croft
    01/04/2009 at 10:26 am

    Lord Renton: The vast majority of MPs have some online presence, there is a risk if the Lord’s delays enhancing it’s activity out of fear of financial cost, comment or an abundance of caution that it perpetuates a somewhat fusty image of the house and increases the likelihood then when the it does switch to blogs/websites (or similar) that some MPs and many of the net users you are trying to communicate with will already have moved to another technology, perhaps vlogs, so the cycle of technology lag is perpetuated.

    Anyway, on a positive note I won’t be able to say that Lord Renton doesn’t listen. I’m pleased to see you were able to change the illogical age rating – Symbolism is important and now at least when parliament says it wants young people to get involve in consultations it does at least look like it means it.

    Having looked at the membership of your Committee there are some with hard IT expertise so I have hopes of what will come.

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