Last Wednesday, as part of ‘Parliament Week’, the Hansard Society organised a panel on ‘Parliament and the public: what difference does the Lords make?’ The picture shows the participants (left to right) Lord Soley, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, Peter Riddell (in the chair), Mark D’Arcy of BBC Parliament, Baroness Young of Hornsey, and me. I arrived hot foot from chairing a seminar with my students.
I focused on the key roles of the Lords (legislative scrutiny, scrutiny of public policy, debate), complementary to the House of Commons, and addressed how the House could engage with the public (not least through further use of new social media) and how people could have greater input into the work of the Lords. I identified interaction through blogs (I have initiated two parliamentary debates based on recommendations and information supplied by readers of this blog, and plan to take more action shortly), the greater use of online consultations by committees, and the use of petitions (possibly developing e-petitions, and avoiding the problems associated with the Government e-petition site). The House has recently had petititions presented to it, after a period when the practice had basically fallen into disuse, and I see no reason why petitioning should not be encouraged.
In response to questions, I also commented on changes that we could usefully make to the legislative process. We could utilise evidence-taking committees for Bills – thus providing a more open and structured means for achieving input from those outside the House – and make use of our power to vote down statutory instruments (SIs). If outside organisations draw attention to flaws with SIs – flaws that may be reported to the House by the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee – we remain reluctant to vote against the SI. There is no reason why we should not vote down an unsatisfactory SI. The Governmment is quite able to return with one that meets the objections that have been raised. Voting down an SI has been described as a ‘nuclear option’ (because the vote cannot be overridden) but that strikes me as a nonsense. By voting an SI down, one is telling the Government to go away and ensure that it is properly drafted and meets the concerns expressed.
You can see the video of the session here.