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House of Lords: Public Information

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 1 May 2008

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What plans there are for bringing the work of the House of Lords to wider public attention.

My Lords, a wide range of activities is taking place with the aim of raising understanding of the impact and relevance of the House of Lords. These include the Peers in Schools programme, appointment of regional outreach officers and new media initiatives such as virtual tours. The developments are taking place within the context of a five-year bicameral programme endorsed by both Houses that seeks radically to improve the connection between Parliament and the public.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and for the support that he has given. I also thank the House’s information officer and the Hansard Society for their help in starting up the weblog, commonly known as the blog, which in the first six weeks of its existence has drawn 30,000 visits from the public, has had 600 comments from members of the public and is growing fast. Given that we no longer get reports of this place or, indeed, of the other place in the newspapers, and have not done so for many years, is not this a direct tool to reach out to the public to tell them what we are doing? If people look at the blog site, and preferably join in, they will see that there is great interest in what happens here and a desire by the public to be involved.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments and congratulate him and his colleagues who started the Lords of the Blog project, which was launched last month and which, as he said, has attracted considerable interest. The project is conducted and hosted by the Hansard Society and is being run on a six-month trial basis. Any noble Lords who have not yet had the opportunity to look at it can find a direct link to it from this month’s issue of Red Benches. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome other participants in it.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Lord Speaker deserves a bouquet of congratulations for the amount of public attention and people that she has brought to this House, thereby enormously increasing knowledge of it? She deserves to be thanked for that.

My Lords, I can hear the House’s ready acceptance of the noble Baroness’s remarks. Since 2006, the Lord Speaker has indeed been very active in this role. I mention particularly the Peers in Schools programme, in which I believe more than 60 Peers participate. I understand that more volunteers would be welcome. We also have the UK Youth Parliament event, which will take place tomorrow, and a further important programme associated with the 50th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act this year. There are other matters as well.

My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees join me in congratulating all those associated with the production of the excellent publication, The Work of the House of Lords, 100,000 copies of which I understand have been distributed? Does he agree with the following two propositions: first, that it is essential that a substantial sum of money be allotted annually for publicising the work of this House; and, secondly, that all forms of communication, not least the modern ones so powerfully advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, should be considered at all times?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount. The Work of the House of Lords is a great step forward and the information office, which produced it, deserves our congratulations. A budget of £4.8 million has been allocated in 2008-09 to fund the delivery of work to make the House and its work more accessible to the public. That is not a large amount in terms of the total budget, but it is quite a large sum of money.

My Lords, is the reputation of the House of Lords enhanced by the sight on television of noble Members of this House bawling and shouting at one another, as is to be heard during Question Time?

My Lords, that is a difficult one to answer. I am happy to say that normally when I answer questions I do not get too much of that. But, of course, we are a party-political House and it is not unnatural, therefore, that Members from either side should occasionally get excited about a subject.

My Lords, the Chairman of Committees has given us some indication of the work that has been going on within the House of Lords with the help, assistance and guidance of the Lord Speaker. Could he give us a little more information about the current programme of Lords activity?

My Lords, I was fairly brief in my Answer because one does not want to take up too much time. I could go on at some length. I mentioned the Peers in Schools programme There are visits to Women’s Institute branches across the country and the “What a waste!” competition for schools followed the Science and Technology Committee’s report on waste reduction. We have recently appointed regional outreach officers with a remit to establish links with stakeholders in specific regions and localities in the UK. Each officer will spend approximately 10 working days a month in their local region. Many community groups have specific objectives to increase civic participation, and parliamentary outreach can play a key role in the attainment of that.

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees agree that the constituency that perhaps most needs to be aware of the work of this House is the other place?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an extremely good point. Members of this House have tried to deal with that for many years, but I am not sure that we are getting very far.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the quality of information about the history of the nation conveyed to visitors to this House by the diligent guides is formidable and impressive? I have learnt a lot from them. Would it not be desirable if that could be supplemented or even replaced by more information from the guides about the work that we do here and how we do it? That would be a most useful addition to the valuable work that the guides do already.

My Lords, that is true. The guides whom we all see working on the morning tours do a very good job indeed, although one sometimes thinks that maybe they make too much of Henry VIII and his wives, which has rather limited parliamentary interest. It is important also that the guides explain the work of both Houses, which they do.