Connecting Parliament with the public

Lord Norton

44584Tuesday’s question for short debate, put by Lord Renton – “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the connection between Parliament and the public” – can be read here.

Because of the number of speakers, each – other than Lord Renton and the minister – had a maximum of three minutes.  Lord Renton quoted from some contributions to his earlier post.  I drew on my visit to Shoeburyness High School last week.   The debate was rather wide-ranging.  Because the question was directed to the Government, I argued the case for greater resources for citizenship education.  I got a sympathetic response from the Leader of the House.   

I also identified the criteria that we should have in mind in seeking to increase the connection between Parliament and the public.  We need to ensure that what we do is accessible, interactive (we want to hear from the public and not simply push material out to them), targeted (not everyone is interested in what we do, but different publics are), and emphasise substance over process.  Our procedures are relevant, but most members of the public are likely to be interested in what we are saying, rather than the mechanisms by which we say it.  “If we can keep those criteria in mind, our attempts at connecting can be both effective and efficient.”

I managed to keep within my three minutes.

11 comments for “Connecting Parliament with the public

  1. 18/06/2009 at 8:54 pm

    Looking forward to Widdy as Speaker on Monday. If she is not selected I’ll feel more sickened than I already am.

    I am feeling very sad, angry and disillusioned over what is going on politically here in England. I support what Matt in a comments thread at Guido Fawkes’ blog said today:

    Close Parliament.
    Send every MP back to their constituency for re-selection.
    Hold a General Election.
    Start from scratch after the summer recess.

  2. ladytizzy
    19/06/2009 at 12:09 am

    I asked a question some weeks ago regarding the essential difference between a code of practice and government guidelines. Despite various attempts at finding the answer myself I still have no clear idea.

    Would you reconsider answering this, comparing them with regulation, licensing, and law.

    Thank you.

  3. j
    19/06/2009 at 9:54 am

    My only concern regarding interactivity is in preventing small vocal groups and/or lobbyists from gaining too much credence. Most of us plebs are too apathetic to take much notice. Having said which, I think this blog is a great idea.

  4. 19/06/2009 at 10:16 am

    You can read the debate on TheyWorkForYou (with at – Lord Norton, if you’d care to supply a photo, I could add it to the site 🙂

    I quite agree with you about process – Parliament does indeed publish a vast amount of information, but finding what you want, or working out which bit links to which other bit, is very difficult (for example, in the Hansard you link to there’s a reference to a speech made by the Bishop of Durham – but no way of accessing that speech. TheyWorkForYou tries to provide a link, but currently fails in this case as the speech covers multiple columns – change the “764” to “763” on the search results page and it will work perfectly). And Bills are a whole step more complicated again.

    Targeting too – people are definitely interested, as is borne out by the sheer number of people signed up to receive alerts on key words or when a Lord or MP speaks in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou; and that only covers the sections we’ve been able to do.

    • Croft
      19/06/2009 at 10:54 am

      Of course if parliament could sort its act out on allowing use of parliamentary content (including pictures) you wouldn’t need to ask.

      I thought we had a perfect case in point over yesterdays expenses release. Instead of a nice open format with proper mark-up/meta data which could have been easily used to generate comparisons on all sorts of expenses or activities we had the joys of a mountain of clunky PDFs. 🙁

  5. Nick C
    19/06/2009 at 1:34 pm


    I happened to tune in to this by accident the other evening and was most impressed. (I am normally watching “Hogan Knows Best” or “Pimp My Ride” on the other channel).

    I’d always imagined the House of Lords to be full of condescending old crusties (no offense intended, but that is how I imagined you) totally out of touch with the ‘real world’, but what I heard was a concise, considered and courteous exchange of ideas.

    I was totally taken aback and to be honest felt ashamed that I’d assumed all sorts of negative things about you which, from the debate, seemed unjustified.

    None of the heckling, bickering, points-scoring and general playing to the gallery found in ‘the other place’, as you like to call it.

    After watching the debate I personally felt that if parliament is to re-engage with the public, the Lords are—rather perversely, given my preconceptions—far better placed to do it.

    In my humble opinion, politics went wrong when it became a career in itself.

    Anyway, just to say I intend to be tuning in more often from now on. Hearing the debate of real world issues by informed minds is almost as stimulating as Coronation Street.

    Lord Renton, I can now honestly say (and have been saying to friends and family): “I was listening to Parliament on Tuesday; it was very interesting”.

    And at that moment, I knew we were moving forward.

    Good luck to you.

  6. lordnorton
    19/06/2009 at 5:19 pm

    ladytizzy: i began to research the distinction when you first raised it; it appears that the definitions are not that clear cut. I shall resume my enquiries.

    j: I fully take the point you make. There is always the conundrum of whether you listen to those who shout the loudest or those who make the best points, and the extent to which you allow for the fact that you are normally dealing with a small minority.

    Matthew: Many thanks. (A photograph has been sent!) As I touched upon in my speech, the problem is one of us being able to ensure thst people who are interested in what we are doing are able to find out about our activity and to do so in an easily accessible manner. In terms of the House of Lords, there is also the question of enabling people to find out who we are and, most importantly, our interests. At the moment, I refer people to TheyWorkForYou or Dod’s, but the ordinary member of the public is not likely to want to spend ages trawling through either to draw up a list of peers who are interested in, say, animal welfare or defence; though the e-mail alerts are of obvious value in this regard. The Information Committee is alert to the idea of the House generating lists of interests.

    Croft: We still have a great deal to learn.

    Nick C: Glad you have discovered us. I hope others do likewise. I think the House is conscious of the need to engage with others outside the House. I have variously made the point that members of the Commons, by virtue of being elected, have tended to take their legitimacy for granted. Members of the Lords, not being elected, have tended to recognise that the House has to work hard to demonstrate its legitimacy.

  7. 19/06/2009 at 5:50 pm

    Note that in the comments thread of this blog post entitled “Connecting Parliament with the public” Lord Norton has responded to each of the comments here, except mine. It was not anonymously authored. I am a real person. The very least he could have done is acknowledged my comment and said “I am sorry that you feel that way” but instead he simply chose to ignore and exclude me. Good luck with connecting Parliament with the public.

  8. lordnorton
    19/06/2009 at 7:59 pm

    Ingrid Jones: Your declaration of support for Ann Widdecombe is not really something that invites a response (other than from anyone wishing to support your preference or to argue for someone else) and the only comment I could think of was to draw attention to the fact that she has said she would only serve to the end of the present Parliament and you want the Parliament to end immediately.

  9. ladytizzy
    20/06/2009 at 10:09 pm

    Phew! I’m glad I wasn’t being stupid, this time!

    Members of the Lords, not being elected, have tended to recognise that the House has to work hard to demonstrate its legitimacy.

    Ain’t that the truth?

  10. lordnorton
    24/06/2009 at 2:18 pm

    ladytizzy: We like to maintain high standards, including telling the truth!

Comments are closed.