One of the comments in response to Baroness Murphy’s post touches upon the extent to which people are now encouraged to lobby members of the House of Lords. In this, there is nothing new. One survey conducted in 1986 of charities, consumer groups, unions and other organised interests found that 70% had approached peers for the purpose of making representations to government or to influence public policy. Over 80% had regular or frequent contact with one or more peers.
Though the main focus continues to be the House of Commons – and, as shown in my previous post relating to mail received in the Palace, MPs receive more correspondence than peers – there has been a notable increase in lobbying material sent to peers in recent years.
The increase may be attributable to the somewhat higher profile of the Lords in recent decades, not least since 1999, as well as the new technology. Though we continue to receive a large number of letters, most of the representations made to us on Bills now arrive electronically. From the point of view of those lobbying, this is more efficient as well as less costly financially than mailing letters. It is also more environmentally friendly, since we do not need to print out attachments unless relevant for our purposes. There is also an element of catch-up involved. If those arguing for one side lobby the Lords, then those making the opposite case feel the need to do so.
Lobbying has increased in quantity and, in my observation, in quality as well. Briefings tend to be clear and not too long. Many recognise the need not only to identify the problem but also offer a solution. Where lobbying bodiers seek to work through supporters, encouraging them to write to peers, they will tend to advise them to keep letters short and expressed in their own words. Usually, though, it is a fairly obvious when letters are the product of interest group initiatives.
One point worth stressing is that it is not a case of groups having influence by dint of being well resourced. Glossy material will have little effect if it is lacking in substance. A letter written by an individual making a good case can have a much greater impact than a leaflet from some well-heeled campaigning organisation. I read every personally-written letter that I receive; circular or printed material may only be looked at briefly to determine its relevance.