Debate on Wednesday – thoughts please

Hansard Society

Good news. I have secured time for a debate in the Lords on this Wednesday afternoon from 3.45pm on our report ‘Are the Lords Listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament’.

Our report has certainly had some effect. Members of the House of Lords and the Administration are using the internet much more to describe what is going on in Parliament. Our website – www.parliament.uk – is now full of information about debates that are taking place, select committee meetings and new Bills.

Our Education Service is expecting to host visits from up to 40,000 students this year and I am hoping that the idea of parallel debates for the public online to compliment our Thursday debates in the Chamber is moving forward.

But I would like a better idea of what else you think we should be achieving. Please tell me what, in your judgment, are the political subjects and ideas that you would like to know more about but are still missing on Parliament’s website.

Expenses have of course had an enormous amount of coverage. The reputation of Westminster is at a very low point but Parliament remains the vital element in law making in Britain. So what else would you like to hear about in the workings of the Lords?

Serious thoughts please, today or tomorrow. Not too many jokes.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

42 comments for “Debate on Wednesday – thoughts please

  1. Gareth Howell
    08/03/2010 at 6:32 pm

    I hope Lord Renton and family are keeping well!

    “the idea of parallel debates for the public online to compliment our Thursday debates in the Chamber is moving forward.”

    This is an excellent idea rather than have the press set up an alternative debate in their studios. I may say that the function of
    the parliament channel has changed some what over the few years of its existence in that
    BBC presenters seem to be making the running.
    there must have been a policy change decision for the the channel at some time, but it now seems little different from a regular BBC channel.Alicia Macarthy’s reports were top notch.

    When you say online debates, do you mean message board or viva voce… using voice chat rooms or what?

    • beccy83
      09/03/2010 at 6:56 pm

      From Lord Renton:
      To Gareth Howell

      I mean viva voce

      RTR

  2. 08/03/2010 at 6:43 pm

    Certainly, the House of Lords blog is a massive positive. I feel a far greater confidence in the thoughtfulness and ability of the Lords than I do of the Commons. This is largely down to this blog.

    While your website is very good, it should be noted that often people go to Wikipedia first. The House of Lords Wikipedia entry is long, rambling and takes a great deal of time to say what the House of Lords actually does.

    With regards to the Lords interaction with broadcasters: I would greatly appreciate Lords Committees holding press conferences after major Commons/Lords bills are finally passed. They could discuss their approval/disappointment in what finally got through parliament. This would highlight the Lords valuable role as scrutinizers of legislation to the public.

    I often think that the Lords leaves itself open to attack (unelected stooges etc…). This is partly because larger constitutional issues (the volume of politically appointed Lords etc…) but also because the Lords rarely explains its own importance within the UK constitution (unwritten constitution, parliamentary supremacy, tyranny of the majority etc…). My blog post on the Westminster system might give a clearer idea of what I mean (http://governing-principles.com/the-uks-westminster-system/). When explained properly, the role of the Lords becomes not only defendable but seemingly essential.

    http://www.governing-principles.com

    • Gareth Howell
      09/03/2010 at 10:21 am

      “The House of Lords Wikipedia entry is long, rambling and takes a great deal of time to say what the House of Lords actually does”.
      Edit it then.

      They used to be known as estates of the realm; The monarchy;parliament; the press.

      Parliament, and least of all,HofL, can not assume the responsibility for organizing the press, which is what parallel comment on Twitter, Flicker, what have you, is all about.

      A parallel debate for school children, and an instruction website provided by the noble Lord Renton may be all that can be done(“Education Service” above).

      All this “connecting people with parliament”
      assumes that the party in government in the HofC does not do so, and is consequently a party political endeavour, even if it were not at election time. It is.

      People forget that, especially those who correspond here, that a good many Labour ,and even Lib Dem, Members of the HofC, do not believe that the HofL has any value in the modern world, and that further reform is desirable and necessary.

      “Connecting people with parliament” (meaning the House of Lords) is pointless in that case, if the HofL is to be
      dealt with again, in the new parliamentary sessions from June onwards.

      Many Labour members who retire are not in the least bit interested in This Place, being in principle, unicameralists, and wanting at the very least further diminution of Lords’ power.

      It is not easy for them to say so, having declared the oath of allegiance!

      No! It’s party politics!

      I favour a drastic reduction in numbers in this second chamber, and no allowance payments. Will the Education website be discussing that?

      All other London clubs have membership fees.
      Lords should have the same, with reductions to those who are involved in debate or committee.

      So the Membership is £6000 per annum, and allowances remain the same, deducted from that £6000+, It would rule out the greater number of grafting members, all of them.

    • Gareth Howell
      09/03/2010 at 10:31 am

      “I would greatly appreciate Lords Committees holding press conferences after major Commons/Lords bills are finally passed. They could discuss their approval/disappointment in”

      They do; it’s called a debate, or a committee meeting. Public gallery peoples in both chamber committee rooms are allowed to speak, if they can attract the attention of the chairman; rather less so in the HofL committee rooms, but then very few people are interested in them, and the subject matter is arcane to all mortals. Send an email first if that is what you want to do.

      Communicating with the people! HAH!

      • 09/03/2010 at 3:42 pm

        Gareth Howell:

        Wikipedia, it’s not that I can’t change it. The House of Lords needs to realize that it’s not just about controlling their own site. It’s about modifying/lobbying external websites that people actually go to.

        Press Conferences: Welcome to the modern world. Most people do not watch debates because they are too long. More importantly – while journalists could just pick the best bits for us – journalists do not watch debates because they are too long. The House of Lords can either adapt to this, by using press conferences like the rest of the world, or risk obscurity. The only non-Ashcroft Lords article that I have seen this week got in the papers because… a press conference (it wasn’t even a Lords press conference it was a Royal Society conference that two prominent Lords spoke at). Committees have spent a vast amount of time working on a bill and their opinion does still have some weight. A couple of 15 minute press conferences here and there would probably increase the Lords media coverage tremendously.

        http://www.governing-principles.com

      • Carl.H
        09/03/2010 at 4:12 pm

        I watched the whole 4 hours of last weeks Digital Economy Bill (second day). Whilst parts were interesting, seeing which Lords were where on it, it was tedious after a while.

        Oh that some mortal would give me independent highlights, please. It`s not easy to fast forward or control the streaming on the BBC site.

      • 09/03/2010 at 4:34 pm

        Carl H: If only the Beeb would do a daily 5-15 minute “Parliamentary Highlights” online program. I would be glued.

        Old-fashioned parliamentary reporting seems to be a dying art though…

        http://www.governing-principles.com

  3. 08/03/2010 at 8:17 pm

    I feel that the Lords need to do more in terms of interaction, and to encourage us to take an interest in what is going on, and what the Lords actually does.

    Interaction here is good, but quite restricted, when you consider how many Lord’s are actually active in the house.

    Suggestions:

    a. More media releases on the work on legislation, and as suggested, when the commons over rules the Lords, feedback to the public on the implications of their action.

    b. Lords being given a constituency affiliation, which allows people to relate them, especially, when MP’s or MEP’s can be un-responsive and not interested in constituents issues or complaints.

    c. Lords actually commenting on Party Proposals and prospectus for elections, viability of them and whether they could be implemented in the life of a parliament.

    d. The Lords being non-party political, with working peers forming committees to vet legislation, using expertise available within the house.

    e. An house, independent of political patronage. (No former MP’s unless elected).

    f. Representation in the house to be a tenure of 5 years (not the life of a Parliament) or be re-elected. No Life Peers.

    g. Makeup of house to be broken down between a percentage of Independently appointed, Independently Elected and existing Peers, Bishops or Faith leaders (representative of all faiths).

  4. Wolfgang
    08/03/2010 at 8:30 pm

    1. That the Lords are dealing with the expenses. We have reports today of Lord Rennard being at his main home at the weekend (second home to the expenses committee no doubt)

    2. Claiming back money paid out for second homes. You don’t have a record of second homes, so you shouldn’t have paid out any second home money. Get it back.

    3. Deal with selling changes for legistlation. For a start, make it illegal.

    4. Cut the number of Lords.

    5. Cut your costs. 2 grand a minute is too much.

    6. Deal with Spanish practices. Sign on, check out.

    7. League tables of Lords. How many speeches, how many days attended. etc. Almost worth doing myself.

  5. Dave H
    08/03/2010 at 9:03 pm

    As I type, a significant number of home educators are watching the Lords debating the CSF Bill and using Twitter and other on-line media to pass comment, highlight points and clarify matters to each other. If there was a way to feed that back into the debate in a sanitised and coherent form then it could be a valuable input.

    On a technical note, the Lords feed from the Parliament website is lagging about 30 seconds behind the BBC feed this evening.

  6. Jana
    08/03/2010 at 10:07 pm

    Lord Renton:

    Parliament’s website:
    It is messy and can be hard to navigate depending on where you start. I have moaned about this before. There is a reason why people prefer formats like Wikipedia, they are simply structured and easy to navigate. The ‘search’ function on parliament’s website, frequently fails to find relevant information which is actually on the site. I am not in favour of dumbing down the content, but people should not have to be experienced researchers to find basic information. I think it is also ugly to look at, this does not make me want to use it.

    Access to Bills:
    I have moaned about this at length elsewhere. What is wrong with supplying the bill in accepted formats like .pdf and .rtf? as one document, or if it is very large, split into sensible and logical parts? At present those just wanting to read a whole bill can be put to some trouble to get it. These things are tedious enough to read without making access frustrating.

    It is all very well to consider supplying datasets for easy reuse in various media, a good idea, though there may be some argument that not everything wants to be supplied in this way. But please also make sure people can just read the text without jumping through hoops.

    I like the idea of people being able to comment on legislation on the website, but please, let us read the stuff first.

    Relations with the press:
    Mmm. It’s one thing to give media agencies all the information they could desire, the question is what will they do with it? The media is in the business of selling advertising. The vehicle is ‘news’. Slime and getting people’s backs up sells copy. Even if the lords are listening, will anyone get to know about it?

    The ‘parliamentary news’ section of parliament’s website seems to be an attempt address a part of this problem. But to my mind, its range and appeal is severely restricted by its placement within that already overloaded website. I would split it off into a separate site, and expand it, perhaps adding room for comment on various topics. The Lords might like to take advantage of such an arrangement, or could do something similar itself? – just an idea.

    Video coverage:
    I think it was the Baroness Murphy (? – apologies if that’s wrong) who commented about TV shots that made the House look empty when it was the reverse. This stuff is important, even if almost no one does watch it. As the Nixon debate and Carter’s woolly jumper have indicated, a bad look on TV can put nails in your coffin. It might be worth getting some serious advice about camera placement.

    Also, the links in you post to ‘www.parliament.uk’, and ‘parliament’s website’ don’t lead where they should.

    • Dave H
      09/03/2010 at 11:41 pm

      I don’t know where you’re looking, but there are PDF copies of Bills on the Parliament website.

      Start at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/ and look through a few of them.

      What I’d like to see are up-to-date versions of older Acts of Parliament with the latest amendments from subsequent legislation. What’s available is usually several years out of date. The Education Act 1996 is one such example which, last time I looked for it, noted that it did not incorporate amendments from various other education acts passed after that date.

      • Gareth Howell
        10/03/2010 at 10:55 am

        Dave is nothing if not conscientious

        “What I’d like to see are up-to-date versions of older Acts of Parliament with the latest amendments from subsequent legislation”.

        You can usually find these online but not necessarily from an official website. Older Acts you might have to pay for. All acts refer to all previous acts, when necessary, although there was a time when the Law Lords were attempting to consolidate old Acts to which that did not apply. Certainly when amendments are made they refer to the Act amended.

        “What’s available is usually several years out of date. The Education Act 1996 is one such example which, last time I looked for it, noted that it did not incorporate amendments from various other education acts passed after that date.”

        That would be difficult! Knowing the frequency of Education bills and acts may be the key to that little problem, and also knowing the importance of a particular Act such as the 1944 act of RA Butler.

        If you know the frequency, then you also know which year to look for the most recent Act, or whether there is currently a Bill in parliament, which may be the cause of your interest.

        To find the year of amendment to regulations, you would probably have to contact the department concerned, who are always keen, like all good civil servants, to help you with your quest.

        Even for the advice/information you seek above, department staff are rarely averse to sending you, satisfied, on your way. An e-mail to the right person may well be very helpful.

        Education students can be very knowledgeable about the education acts right back to 1870; basically the history of education seen through acts of parliament.

        Knowing the ‘effect’ of amendments to the main body of law is another matter again.

      • 10/03/2010 at 11:32 am

        http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/ and http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ both have Acts with subsequent amendments – not completely up to date, but a much better situation than in the past, and thanks to the people that provide it.

  7. Bedd Gelert
    08/03/2010 at 10:50 pm

    Thoughts.

    Islamophobia vs Homophobia vs ‘Phobia’ phobia..

    Stem cell research.

    Climate science – the peer review process. [No, not phone voting for one’s favourite..]

    Libel reform and the frankly hilarious sight of Justice Eady hosting a debate about how to best achieve ‘freedom of speech’ [sic]

  8. Croft
    09/03/2010 at 11:32 am

    On a technical note your link to the parliament site is broken. Your missing part of the url: the code should read

    Parliament’s website

    On the subject of the site it does still need some work. Try your own example. If I want to see what speech you’ve made typing “Lord Renton” into google and the 2nd result is http://www.theyworkforyou.com and it takes two clicks to find your question on banking (Jan 26). Now try the parliament website. A search returns “View by Member” which in turn tells me “No Questions have been asked to date” Other links from the same search are similar dead ends or point to Liaison reports from 2006!. You have to realise you need to select “MPs, Lords and Offices” not “All pages” before you get hansard links. The ease of use still really isn’t what it could be.

  9. Carl.H
    09/03/2010 at 12:34 pm

    Parliament sites in general : Educative for the educated.

    A little leaning to those of the red tops wouldn`t be amiss. Interaction in the form of similar to the BBC ” Have your say”….An easy one line question.

    Not everyone will understand or want to…

    Clause 17 : leave out the words “Secretary of State” and his insert the words….. ” His Imperial most supreme highness of everything”.

    If we wish to address and interact with the majority of people it would help if we spoke a similar language. Plain English please.

  10. 09/03/2010 at 4:29 pm

    “Educative for the educated” definitely rings true. I’m not sure that it would be easy for the Lords to appeal to the red top brigade though. I don’t think the blog is partisan/populist enough to draw that type of audience.

    Now a House of Commons blog for backbenchers… it would be a Punch & Judy bloodbath but it would probably bring in some serious viewing figures.

    http://www.governing-principles.com

  11. 09/03/2010 at 4:51 pm

    Agree with pretty much all of Jana’s comments, especially the diabolical parliament site – the search facility should be renamed ‘search me’.

    A special commendation for Bedd Gelert’s point on Justice Eady.

    The lack of female commenters here is noticeable. Female voters are being ‘wooed’ via mumsnet while the media set about contrasting the style of Sam and Sarah. Thanks Harriet.

    http://www.fmwf.com/media-type/news/2010/03/women-voters-want-more-than-political-charm-offensives-say-fawcett-society/

  12. Dave H
    09/03/2010 at 4:56 pm

    Carl H:

    I’m sure many of us would love to fast-forward parts of some of the debates but, at least when watching live, it is beyond the power of mortals to provide 🙂

    I know that on YouTube and possibly other places, it is possible to specify a starting time in the URL, even though I can’t remember it. Even something like that would be an improvement to start streaming at a particular time into the proceedings.

  13. Gareth Howell
    09/03/2010 at 5:05 pm

    “journalists do not watch debates because they are too long.”

    The press gallery is usually occupied,isn’t it,
    with two or three correspondents.

    I am not sure that I can watch the parliament online, since I can no longer watch live TV,
    unless it is recorded for “catch up” later.

    Even if I can watch it an hour later, that would be ok.

    I am now a “catch-up” viewer, one of those who helps to avoid excessively heavy usage, at peak hours.

    • 09/03/2010 at 6:05 pm

      Hmm… I’m not so sure. Apart from the odd political correspondent popping in and out and the few big debates, I would guess that those would be Hansard and Mark D’Arcy of the BBC (who seems to be the only full-time parliamentary reporter left). We’ve moved well beyond the Victorian period when parliament was where everything happened. Policy announcements moved away from the House and into media-focused press conferences a long time ago.

      The Lords complained about “policy via press conference” situation only last year:
      http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_press_notices/pn260109comms.cfm

      However, it’s not like I spend my time roaming its corridors. I don’t suppose there is a Lord/MP/journo reading this who can settle this?

      • Gareth Howell
        09/03/2010 at 9:41 pm

        “not like I spend my time roaming its corridors. I don’t suppose there is a Lord/MP/journo reading this who can settle this?”

        I did for some time, in the 90s, but it has moved on since then with live feeds, and parliament channels and all sorts.

        I did attend a meeting in the corridor of the Palace in June of 2009, which had all the press corps in attendance, as well as my gentle self.

        You’ll never guess what the subject was!

        Jon Sopel publicized it so grandly, that all the press got to it but not…. Jon Sopel.
        I enjoyed a very pleasant hour with Carole Walker, an astute politics broadcaster.

        That was an occasion, when we discussed everything from Joan Ruddock to Lord Kinnock’s loud voice, mainly because they were there too…… an extraordinary PLP meeting to be reported on.

        Wot a larf! (Very serious business)

  14. Dave H
    09/03/2010 at 11:45 pm

    How about a formal channel for proposing amendments and issues for debate during various stages of a Bill? A suitable place to post such items that could be checked by interested members of the Lords who could then refer to the concerns of those outside the house during debate. With the option to leave contact details, it could encourage dialogue between members of the Lords and members of the public.

    • Gareth Howell.
      10/03/2010 at 8:07 pm

      The two links provided by Matthew have amendments to Acts, to which there have presumably been succeeding acts, in which the amendments are made to the previous acts!

      Once you have identified the particular section, that you know you want, in, say, 1990, it is not that difficult to do your own fast forward, to acts, AFTER that date to verify whether amendments have been made.

      • Dave H
        10/03/2010 at 9:43 pm

        The problem is often identifying which later acts may amend the one of interest. There will be some obvious suspects to examine but the whole mess is so intertwined that it’s easy to miss one.

      • Twm O'r Nant
        11/03/2010 at 3:09 pm

        “The problem is often identifying which later acts may amend the one of interest”

        Dave;In deed; that is the skill of the professional lawyer, but probably not of the politics graduate,teacher, or even campaigner.

  15. Twm O'r Nant
    10/03/2010 at 10:36 am

    Dave’s comment is quite a serious one. “formal channel….. post”

    It would still only be peopled by journalists and politicians, but that would not detract from its value.

    The BBC message board moderation is done by such simple people with BBC ethos that it ceases to be valuable. What is more there is the “entertainment” requirement for BBC doings which has nothing to do with parliament. People may laugh at politicians but it is certainly not entertainment.

    Quoting myself above and even then not particularly on topic, the London club feature of membership fees applied to HofL

    “Membership is £6000 per annum, and allowances remain the same, deducted from that £6000+, It would rule out the greater number of grafting members, all of them”

    would work very well indeed to reduce perceived membership. All the London clubs send the fee invoice to the member some time after making full use, and those who only use for a short time, get the bill, don’t pay and then cease to attend; then the membership bill does not get sent again.

    There must be up to 2500 people with the right to call themselves “Lord” in the UK today, but 1900 of them do not attend parliament; some of those 1900 have been “created” since the ejection of most hereditary peers in 1999(?). It does not do them much good. There should be some formal way of distinguishing between non attending peers and attending ones, for example, Lord Jonas,MP. (I don’t think that escapes me)

    It might reduce membership to about 200-250, but it would not affect the hard working consultant physician, the noble Lady baroness Murphy!

    The effectiveness of the above suggestion would be verifiable from the members’ allowances list, the link to which I have mislaid.

    Also if mod will allow, I have mislaid the link to “supplementary rules” or “supplementary orders” of the second chamber, if anybody has them to hand.

  16. Senex
    10/03/2010 at 6:26 pm

    Lord Renton: “Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament”. It’s your use of the word ‘Parliament’ that I find troublesome as it is a word much abused in political rhetoric.

    When the Prime Minister was giving his evidence to the Iraq Enquiry he made frequent reference to that same word, ‘Parliament’. Parliament must do this and Parliament must do that. I was confused because as you know the House of Lords is irrelevant when it come to exercising real power. What the Prime Minister meant in his use of the word was government, in a House of Commons, that is Parliament.

    Your question therefore “Are the Lords listening?” is immaterial. Why should people care about a chamber that must first seek approval from the Commons in its appointments? Surely, is it not just a bureaucratic adjunct to government?

    The HoL can free itself of an unpopular elected Commons by itself becoming elected; the house then representing powerful groups could realistically hold governments to account. One such group constituency would be the trade unions and what a slack impotent lot they are at this moment.

    Their membership fees are too high; they waste their member’s money in a chamber that continually creates poor quality legislation needing close corrective scrutiny and they are collectively weak when interfacing with Parliament. Both the Lords’ and the Unions have one thing in common; they exist to protect people from those that govern.

    The Unions are based in the wrong house. When they come to the HoL as a group in an elected chamber they will have a legitimate influence over both primary and secondary legislation. Their political costs will fall dramatically allowing lower membership fees and an improved public perception.

    The unions in protecting people are going to rub up against governments, it is inevitable. One such trauma gathers pace where government has protected the public sector whilst allowing other sectors to languish. See Table 3 in the link below. Better in future to pursue such matters through an elected House of Lords than the Commons.

    Ref: The labour market across the UK in the current recession
    Economic & Labour Market Review: Vol 4: No 1: January 2010
    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/elmr/01_10/

    • Gareth Howell.
      10/03/2010 at 7:57 pm

      Senex writes:

      “the Iraq Enquiry he made frequent reference to that same word, ‘Parliament’. Parliament must…”

      As far as responsibility is concerned Parliament was and is responsible for the war, rather less so than the govt of the moment, who also voted in parliament on the subject. That being so the PM was considering responsibility.

      Senex should remember that a good many labour seats go to Union convenors. It is only those union convenors who are so involved with Union business,that they do not become MPs of the HofC,who enter the HofL as “political nominees”.

      My understanding of “political nominees” is that like most other Peers they are self selecting, unless they are appointed, by the appointments commission in the new way. The latter is a new and charming way of doing it.

      “The Unions are based in the wrong house”
      The Union is the father of the Labour party… everywhere!

      I can’t agree with Senex’s “facts”, so I do not agree with his conclusion either.

      Peers election has been mooted for more than 100 years. We do have a few from amongst the otherwise ejected hereditary peers, of all parties.

      I do favor one form of election and that is for the seat of Lord Speaker at the time of a general election. The job of PM and Lord speaker are no longer necessarily joined up.
      The job of HofC justice secretary/Lord Chancellor is.

      • Senex
        11/03/2010 at 6:57 pm

        GH: “The Unions are based in the wrong house”
        The Union is the father of the Labour party… everywhere! And the warmth of Michael Foot came from a bright red, inner flame, that burned to the very last only to be extinguished by the tears of a new socialism.

        How can MPs both represent the little person and big group identities at the same time? It leads the public into cynicism by way of perceived conflicts of interest. Better to simplify politics for voters and move these group identities into an elected HoL as constituencies.

        And on the subject of voters and voting:

        http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/bills/plural-voting-bill

        Given is a timeline of the abolition of ‘Plural Voting’ by the Liberals that’s worth reading as well as a warning from history for the likes of me:

        “LORD NEWTON My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill it will readily be believed that I do so under a feeling of considerable trepidation, being conscious, for one thing, of the ridicule which invariably attaches to amateur constitution-makers, and, in the second place, of the painful fact that there are a certain number of my friends, whose opinion I respect, who do not consider the present moment opportune for the introduction of a measure of this description.” Para 1, House of Lords (Reform) Bill [H.L.], 1907-05-06

        An elected HoL would restore the nations trading fortunes because its primary role would NOT be wealth redistribution but wealth creation. The trade unions have an investment opportunity in such a house by promoting increased membership as new jobs are created.

  17. 10/03/2010 at 10:12 pm

    I pretty much concur with most of the above suggestions – and all of the ones in the report itself; although, how long will it take for them to be implemented..? – except for electing the Lords. I think the Lords should be a bit more tough on its membership (i.e. those in prison and those who don’t show up should be expelled), but it could change positively: trade union leaders could be given places in the Lords, and, indeed, I would encourage more “professional peers” along the lines of the Irish Seanad Éireann. The House could renew the idea of “people’s peers”, too (if that’s not too populist). Certainly get some young (and by that I mean 20s), female and ethnic minority peers in to at least be more representative of society as a whole. I think a lot of young people could better engage with the House if it had some 21-year-olds in it!

    I understand a fair amount about web-design and I think Parliament’s website is a poor showing (and others here, and the report itself, have highlighted these). One place where I suggest Parliament could get inspiration is the website for the Parliament of New Zealand (http://www.parliament.nz) which is clear, colourful (but not too colourful), and uncluttered (something which http://www.parliament.uk is not). In particular the “Get Involved” section (http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/AboutParl/GetInvolved/) is excellent in the way it encourages the public to submit suggestions and petitions. It makes the Parliament seem more connected and less aloof.

    Following on from this, perhaps the Lords could take some initiative to debate topics the public actually want debated. Perhaps the Lords could debate some of the issues from No. 10 Petitions if the government are unwilling to do so (or create their own petitions website).

    About using video clips, it’s not really enough to just stick it all on YouTube as the debates can be hard to follow and the fusty language (something both Houses should ditch) can be off-putting. Important debates could be scaled down to 2-3 minutes clips with commentary just as news and current affairs programmes are able to do on a daily basis.

    The key problem the Lords has is that we don’t really see it, and, when we do, we see lots of old grey men (many of whom ex-MPs) in a privileged position enjoying pomp and ceremony. This doesn’t really create the image of a modern and responsive House. In reality, the problem is answering the question “What does the House of Lords do? What is it there for?” (beyond usual legislative duties) and when you are able to convincingly answer that to the public, then you can go about convincingly engaging with them.

  18. edemprog
    11/03/2010 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for all your comments.

    We had a very good debate on Wednesday evening. 14 speakers all with ideas as to where we should go next, particularly in using the Internet to put over what we do in House of Lords.

    Please don’t hesitate to give us your ideas.

    Tim Renton

  19. Carl.H
    12/03/2010 at 12:09 am

    “Expenses have of course had an enormous amount of coverage.”

    It`s not over yet but don`t put me in the dock about it, I might plead parliamentary priviledge.

  20. Carl.H
    12/03/2010 at 12:41 pm

    I`m sorry my Lords I am very annoyed about this.

    The refusal to stand in the dock when charged with an offence is an affront to the people of this Country. It makes no difference if you are innocent or guilty, you must stand in the dock.

    To attempt to state or put yourself above the law of the land because you are a parliamentarian is abhorrent. I hope this does not sit well with the House because it will make every member of both Houses look bad. It negates everything the Houses say about equality especially under the Law.

    The people realise that these members HAVE been treated differently than they would. They possibly will be treated differently in the Courts also, be this due to better legal representation or not.

    The rules under which most have gotten away with prosecution stink and it shows an institutionalised way of making money from immoral deeds that the country feel as a whole is stealing from the people.

  21. Matt
    12/03/2010 at 3:29 pm

    What about the secular quality of the Lords? Surely at this point in time, so long after the Enlightenment, the body responsible for critiquing new law should not have so many bishops sitting within it–not even one.

  22. Senex
    13/03/2010 at 12:11 am

    CH: I wonder if the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 will come into play. This raises another issue regarding the Royal Prerogative and the removal of the Law Lords from Parliament. The link below states:

    “An important immunity of the sovereign is the prerogative of perfection. The common-law maxim that “the King can do no wrong” resulted in the complete immunity of the sovereign personally from all civil and criminal proceedings for anything that he or she might do. This personal immunity remains, but actions may now be brought against the Crown under the Crown Proceedings Act 1947.”

    Hypothetically, if the Monarch felt that that a pheasant plucker was disrespectful in only giving a 45 degree bow and said Monarch kicked this individual in the nether regions to elicit a full 90 degree bow commensurate with their station in life the individual would no doubt feel strongly that they should bring a legal action for common assault against the Crown.

    Where would the court action take place? I think it would have to be in the HoL as a royal throne is located in the chamber. With no judiciary present in Parliament where would the Judges come from? It seems to me that the Monarchy as of now can not be prosecuted in any UK court but it can be prosecuted in a foreign court.

    Clearly I’m wrong here but it would be reassuring to know that the Monarchy would be able to enjoy British justice in a British court should the need ever arise.

    Ref: Sixth Form Law: Royal Prerogative
    http://sixthformlaw.info/03_dictionary/dict_qr.htm#Royal%20Prerogative

    • Carl.H
      13/03/2010 at 12:32 pm

      Senex this brings to bear the idea that whilst Parliament is keen to quickly update laws regarding the public it is not so keen on law regarding itself.

      We are a modern state yet our Parliament still see`s itself living in the age of chivalry which is clearly not the case.

      The House of Lords is clearly not how common people would ascribe it. Lords now are of the more common variety, no longer are they the landed gentry who the common man could turn to in crisis or issue. No longer do they act as judges in local issues as in the past. Nor do I feel that all would alleige to the Crown if a republic was called for.

      It clearly is time for change in regards Parliamentary law and regulation. We cannot allow old legislation to protect, by means of parliamentary privilige, those whose aim is purely selfish in taking/stealing monies from the common man.

      It is clear that Parliament itself is not prepared, by means of it`s silence and it`s apparent inabilty to punish those involved, that laws regarding Parliament need updating.

      Whilst I respect all the members of the upper house, I suggest that entry to it now by means of the commons and other does not hold true with the historic meaning of the term Lord.

      It should be the wish of Parliament that in this modern era of equality that all members are subject to the same law that is applicable to the electorate. That should they be accused of theft/fraud that they should stand in the dock as would the common man. If in their defence they should plead and be found not guilty by means of Parliamentary Privilige that the Crown should deal with them in historic fashion such as beheading or forfeit of land etc.

      Though we have heard many from the House preach that change is now necessary, as this event has unfurled, how many have stated outright their condemnation of the practices that have been allowed ?

      There is seldom anything louder than the silence of the guilty.

      • Wolfgang
        13/03/2010 at 4:08 pm

        Quite right. It’s a kleptocracy.

        If we take the two Lords selling cash for changes to the law, we have Lord Norton stating its not a problem because they wouldn’t have got away with effecting the change.

        It’s still not been made illegal either. In spite of protestations that the Lords were looking into it, as far as I can tell from Hansard, nothing has been done.

        We’ve also hade Lord Clement-Jones submitting an amendment to the HoL about the copyright bill. For all intents and purposes that has been drafted by the BPI. He works for a PR agency as a partner that has put out press release by the BPI. However, no where does the BPI appear in his list of interests in the HoL register of interests.

        Will this be investigated and prosecuted? Nope, its not illegal is it.

        It’s far worse that the cash for questions. A member of the public won’t be affected by a question being asked, even if its done in an underhand way. Changing the law to remove the presumption of innocence is far far worse.

  23. Dave H
    15/03/2010 at 12:03 pm

    Wolfgang:

    I see nothing wrong with outside parties drafting suggested amendments, it’s one way to get involved with Parliament. I’ve done it (a very interesting exercise, to be sure), and some of the amendments laid down for the relevant Commons bill scrutiny committee bore some resemblance to what I’d suggested.

    At what point do you draw the line? We are all able to raise matters with our MPs and with members of the Lords, who may choose to take forward issues so raised in an appropriate manner. If I provide a written statement of how I think the proposed law should be changed, why should that not be presented? If it has enough merit then why shouldn’t it ultimately become law if enough MPs agree?

    However, there were no commercial implications, no one got paid and the only financial reward from the process to anyone may be that certain MPs get re-elected because they listened to their constituents.

    I do agree that interests should be properly declared, and your example case is probably the wrong side of the line. However, with a proper declaration of interest, I see no reason why such an amendment couldn’t be proposed and properly considered.

  24. 19/06/2010 at 1:52 am

    Lord Renton “But I would like a better idea of what else you think we should be achieving…”

    I believe that we all, People, Parliament, Establishment, and ‘Exceptions’, need a new “Quality & Sustain-worthiness of Human Life and Civilisation Practical Encyclopaedia”.

    1. A block-schematic; a Flow-chart; and a progressive (unfinished) Mind-Map; of the whole of ‘Britain’, as far forward as 5000 years (or at least 2000 years, the time it takes Nature to re-vivify clapped-out topsoil); and of Britain’s place in the World and forwards onto the next planet.
    (There was an “Atlas of Planet Management” for instance).

    2. Those at The Top who are able (and willing) should show every level of The People how they (the people, not the establishment/Government/Civil Service/Economic Sector) could most effectively and assuredly connect to the Body-Mind-Spirit of Britain, 24/7/52/260; i.e. between elections, by written-hand, two-way discussional neighbourhood meetings, and word-of-mouth* .

    3. Forget the 5-yearly 30 seconds of ‘dumb’ pencil crosses on little pieces of ballot-paper: that is entirely separable from our respective Life-maintenance and Democratic needs, abilities and duties between such briefly-essential pollings.

    4. And I would strongly submit that there is, waiting, much more to also be lodged on the Table and kept there dust-free, until it has all been thoroughly deliberated and given “Six Thinking Hats” scrutiny , my lord; and has also given Friendly Method III win-win-win cooperative problem solving by every level of The People.

    { 5. Then, and only then, let the Legislative and Constitutional Reform Bills and Referenda details be written. }

    * Given 60 million ‘interested’ British-Isles residents/citizens: how much speaking-time would each citizen be entitled to, for the essential democratic purpose of telling the other 59,999,999 citizens his/her needs and constructive ideas for meeting those needs ?
    Answer: Two (2) seconds.

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