House of Lords: Public Awareness

– in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 22nd May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 3:12 pm, 22nd May 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they plan to stimulate public awareness of, and involvement with, the work of the House of Lords.

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, overall this is an area which is the responsibility of the House itself, not Her Majesty's Government. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is himself well placed to offer ideas on, and to contribute to, the wider understanding of the work of the House of Lords. There are many other noble Lords in all parts of the House--obviously, it would be invidious to name them--who are equally successful in promoting public awareness. I would be encouraged if the House was accurately judged as an important part of the legislature and Peers as hard-working Members of Parliament, rather than, as is sometimes the case, colourful characters in a bizarre comic opera. But, as always, it is the responsibility of Peers themselves, individually or collectively, to achieve that.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for her reply. Does the noble Baroness agree that the great British public is in a state of almost complete ignorance about what is said and done in this place and that that is an evidently self-defeating state of affairs, as recent research and polling data make clear? Is the Leader of the House also aware that, as far as I have been able to assess, we spend less than one penny per head on public information and education about the entire workings of this place? Does the noble Baroness agree that that is scandalously inadequate and, compared with other legislatures, very backward?

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, since the autumn of 1996 the House has had a dedicated information officer who does a very good job of work. It has also had a dedicated inquiry service since 1998. I refer the noble Lord to his helpful contribution to the debate in this House on 10th May on the workings of the House of Lords in which he said that the Information Office carried out its work "brilliantly". I suggest that we are fairly well served at the moment.

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench

My Lords, can I tempt the Leader of the House to agree with me that the best way that noble Lords can stimulate involvement in and public awareness and approval of this House is by actions such as voting against the Government on closed lists for European elections, student fees, free post in London mayoral elections and Section 28? Will the noble Baroness encourage the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, not to "cosy up" to new Labour too much but occasionally to join us in the coming months to increase public approval of your Lordships' House by similar defeats of the Government?

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, I certainly do not intend to fall to the noble Lord's temptation to intervene in the relationship between the Conservative Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches. I point out to the noble Lord that the dedicated information service to which I referred in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, had its busiest day on 11th November 1999 when this House passed the House of Lords Act.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the pre-legislative scrutiny by committees in the Scottish Parliament has proved very popular in engaging both the public and civic organisations? Since the Leader of the House made a speech in this House 10 days ago about the possibility of dealing with more legislation by way of committees and electronic voting, will she come to Scotland to see these methods working very successfully in practice?

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, I always welcome any opportunity to visit Scotland. As I have not yet had an opportunity to see the Scottish Parliament in action that is a particularly attractive invitation. Several points were raised in our useful debate on the workings of the House of Lords on 10th May which referred to some of the very good practices in the Scottish Parliament. That is an attractive invitation.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a good way to inform the public about what we are and what we do is by each Peer having a website to tell the public about the work of the House and the interests and expertise of noble Lords? Does my noble friend agree that that would provide some means of communication with the public?

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend's energy in this regard. It is up to individual Peers to create the appropriate impression of their work in your Lordships' House. As I understand it, the website of the House of Lords is being redesigned to make it more effective and easier to manage for users both in the House and outside. I look forward to seeing the extent of that redesign.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

My Lords, can the Leader of the House tell noble Lords how many hits the website has had over, say, the past three months and how high up the search engines it is, since those are the two factors which really matter?

Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office

My Lords, I do not have the precise figures broken down in that way. The only information I have, which I believe covers both the dedicated call line and website hits, is that inquiries are running at about 2,500 to 3,000 a month. If I can obtain the more detailed information that the noble Lord requests I shall write to him.