At the Study of Parliament Group conference at the weekend, one of the panels was on the process of socialisation for parliamentarians. The emphasis was on new MPs and how the process has changed over recent years, with a far more extensive process of induction. It used to be the case that, once elected, MPs were simply expected to arrive at Westminster (some never having set foot in the Palace before) and find out for themselves what they were expected to do. They relied on some senior Members and the whips.
It struck that there were some notable differences between the two chambers. One is the fairly simple fact that peers, unlike MPs, have to share offices. As with the Commons, there is an induction process organised by the House authorities, but in terms of day-to-day queries a peer can simply ask the other peer or peers in the office. This is quite a powerful means of socialisation and ensures one learns the ropes fairly quickly. It covers the sort of questions not usually covered in an induction process. It not only helps integrate a peer into the norms and practices of the House, it can also generate a particular ethos within the room. In my room, we have a very distinct office culture. It allows us not only to enjoy some degree of autonomy, it can be very valuable in sharing knowledge and finding out what is going within the Palace. It also means one has a sounding board for ideas and querying a particular policy. The sharing of offices means we work in very cramped conditions, but it does have its benefits.