Are the Lords listening?

Hansard Society

Lord Renton, House of Lords Information Committee

After all the dreadful stories in the past months about Parliament, I’m very pleased to bring you a piece of good news today! As many of you will know, our Information Committee has been carrying out an inquiry into how the House of Lords and Parliament as a whole can engage with the public and enable members of the public to communicate with it. And today we publish our report Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament

I give an overview of the report’s contents in a short YouTube video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzeM9ENwrGE]

I’d like to thank all of you who have contributed to make this possible. We received a large number of written submissions, YouTube videos, comments on our web forum and comments in response to my earlier blogs. All of the comments were considered by the Committee and helped to shape our deliberations. So I hope that you’ll take some time to read our report. If you do, you’ll see how much of what we say was shaped by what others said to us. I hope that you’ll read it and think – yes, the Lords do listen.

Tim Renton

9 comments for “Are the Lords listening?

  1. clif e
    15/07/2009 at 11:48 am

    No, not to the people.

  2. 15/07/2009 at 12:46 pm

    I’ve had a quick read of the report, and it contains a lot of Good Stuff. I worry, though, that some of the recommendations would be duplicating the work already done at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ (which provides nicely html-converted versions of Lords debates; there is already infrastructure there for connecting speeches to video); that website also has quite an extensive glossary of parliamentary language.

    • Tim
      15/07/2009 at 5:02 pm

      My response to this concern is that although yes it seems pretty silly to be duplicating work done by mySociety – it’s also ridiculous that it had to be done by a separate organisation in the first place. To get the maxmimum exposure to the information to the public (people are more likely to find the parliament website than TWFY), the parliament website needs a restructuring too.

      This won’t prevent TWFY from doing their work, there is the big recommendation that data is all available and openly accessable – it just introduces some healthy competition. Even if they did decide to call it quits because the parliament website is too similar – that’s a big success in terms of what they’ve achieved up to now, and in getting it to happen in the first place.

      There are two separate issues here – public engagement and the raw data. Raw data can drive public engagement.

      This is not to mention that presumably the raw data will come out first, since that’s what the altered site will be building on, and the altered site will take a good time longer to make – extending TWFY’s lifetime.

      • Senex
        15/07/2009 at 8:42 pm

        Tim: “it’s also ridiculous that it had to be done by a separate organisation in the first place.”

        Maybe this is how it should be? I remember Lord Renton in committee interviewing somebody from the BBC. To paraphrase what he said: a person has only to sneeze in the Commons for it to be reported. A peer by contrast has to perform a handstand before it too will be reported.

        Its the Commons that funds the BBC so I view this as a conflict of interest when it comes to fair coverage of the Lords.

        Also, some very important debates take place in a packed Lords but live coverage from the BBC Parliament channel is often a handful of MP’s debating something that might be considered of lesser importance. It is truly bizarre to behold when it happens and I don’t accept the excuse of advertised programming constraints. Who is manning the editorial desk on these occasions, a Commons Minister?

        I favour a private enterprise similar to the American C-Span cable network independent of Parliament. Perhaps then, we might get a dedicated HoL channel in its own right.

        PS: Tim, if you are Lord Renton, then please consider that such informality is quite confusing. In the Commons they are talking about dropping terms like ‘my honourable friend’ etc to make it all a bit friendlier. When you cannot place somebody’s name how will the dears address each other with some degree of decorum? Heaven forbid this should happen in the HoL too.

  3. 15/07/2009 at 2:42 pm

    Good report that seems to cover most of the issues. The Lords of The Blog site has provided a great service IMO. It would be good to see a few more Lords use the service.

    A few points, if I may:

    1.Parliament sites are there to inform. Isn’t it for individuals, ie MPs and Lords to engage? (Para 48)
    2.How we got in the situation where ”the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL) cannot allow any of its licensees to offer embedding.” is strange. Surely publicly funded, public information should be publicly available. (Para 42) The PMQ YouTube site was providing a wonderful service, until it was forced to shut down. Whilst I was abroad, this service was invaluable.
    3.We are not a pure democracy, thank God, so recommendations in para 58 should be looked at with great care. There is a balance to be struck between allowing our representatives to get on with the job, and the people providing continuous input. Who is to say that that input is representative?

    • Senex
      15/07/2009 at 8:52 pm

      Alfred: “Surely publicly funded, public information should be publicly available.”

      I agree! However, copyright I understand belongs to the relevant Speaker and Parliament. Permission for embedding must come from the Speaker.

      LoL, they fear that misuse of the content might bring Parliament into disrepute.

  4. Croft
    16/07/2009 at 4:38 pm

    The report was a pleasant surprise all in all. I’ve read committee reports (or summaries) before where the reports and its conclusions had obviously been almost wholly predetermined on party or ideological matters and the evidence given ignored or distorted to serve the majority opinion. This report seems on balance to largely recommend exactly those things witnesses were saying or requesting.

    I suppose the question is to what extent the government is willing to act – not just give warm words – on those areas where only they can change the system? Is the report/recommendations as a whole likely to get debate time in the chamber?

  5. 17/07/2009 at 3:11 pm

    I’m very impressed with this report; it really took me by surprise with it’s clear commitment to a genuinely more open and engaged Parliament. It gives me real hope that Parliament will come out of this crisis radically changed for the better.

    I was interested to come across this comment quoted in the report:

    “For a younger audience (<30) in particular a blog about a particular matter before the Lords or topical political issue is far more likely to get read about there than any speech in the house itself."

    This is certainly true and made me think about the way we take it for granted that parliamentary debates and their equivalents across the world take the form of a number of people in one room taking it in turns to hear each other speak. In the past this was the only practical format. Today however, it seems to me that the advantages of holding debates online in a written format outweigh the disadvantages.

  6. laura miller
    17/07/2009 at 4:48 pm

    This is Lord Renton’s response to some of your comments!

    Many thanks for your comments about the Information Committee report.

    It’s a strange feeling when you release a report summarising the information you have received in the last few months and your conclusions from it.

    I have just welcomed into the world a new grandson. I watch him in my daughter’s arms yelling a good deal and beginning to grow, and I think he’s a bit like our Committee’s report.

    Our ideas start small, but you hope that they will develop and really be of benefit to better understanding and more interest in what we do at Westminster.

    The same with Tristan, the grandson. He is only seven pounds at present, but, of course, I hope he will grow into a useful and intereresting person who plays his full part in the world. He has a long way to go!

    Matthew, I take your point about not unnecessarily duplicating TheyWorkForYou. That isn’t our intention. As Tim (a different Tim, not me) suggested, the responsibility is on Parliament to release parliamentary data in a form that others can use.

    Senex, editorial decisions of what to show on BBC Parliament are made by BBC Parliament.

    Alfred, I agree with your distinction about informing and engaging. And the Committee discussed your concern about representatives in Parliament taking decisions. After spending 23 years in the Commons, I certainly hold that to be important. Hopefully, what we’ve recommended in paragraphs 56 and 60 will add to that position and help those of us in Parliament to make more informed decisions.

    Croft, I’m going to speak to my Chief Whip to try and secure a debate slot in the House for our report after the summer recess.

    Tim Renton

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