House of Lords: Writing Prohibition

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 15 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs 2:51, 15 November 2005

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Why strangers in the main Public Gallery and below the Bar of the House are prohibited from writing while observing proceedings.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, historically no-one was allowed to report speeches in Parliament, to prevent the Crown inhibiting freedom of debate. In the 19th century restrictions were eased, but only journalists were accredited. The public were still not permitted to take notes, in the belief that this would prevent inaccurate and scurrilous reports. Since 1993 the Commons have permitted the public to take informal notes for personal use. We might do well to follow their example.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have had the wind completely taken out of my sails, although in a most congenial way. When does he think that that sentiment will be reality? Will he and his fellow officers—and indeed the relevant committee—undertake a complete review of the way we offer hospitality to visitors in this place? As one of our peerless Doorkeepers put it to me only a couple of days ago, we treat our visitors like cattle. They start mounting the stairs to the gallery to find an aggressive notice describing them as "strangers"; they reach the top of the stairs and have their body and baggage searched a second time within a few minutes; and they enter the Chamber without any real idea of what is going on.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, that might not necessarily apply only to visitors. If there is a wish to change this rule, and the next few minutes will no doubt demonstrate whether there is that wish in the House, it would be a matter for the Works Committee, which meets next week. I am happy to put a paper to that committee to recommend a change. On the noble Lord's wider point about the reception that visitors receive and the facilities we offer them, that matter has recently been debated in what is popularly known as the Puttnam report. That report will be considered very soon in the Information Committee, and it will no doubt come up with recommendations.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I give my enthusiastic support to any proposition to change this practice. Before I had the privilege of joining this House, I was sitting below the Bar and had the temerity to scratch three words on a bit of paper. I was threatened that if I did it again I would be removed forthwith. It is time that we brought this House into the present century. We serve the public. Surely they have the right to be treated like civilised human beings.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is absolutely right. However, prior to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, tabling the Question, this matter was never raised with me or, as far as I can discover, with anyone else. That is why nothing has been done about it for so many years. If the Commons changed their rule in 1993, we could do well to do the same. We have been ahead of the Commons on several occasions. We created the first dedicated Press Gallery in October 1831, three and a half years before the Commons. More recently, in 1985, we allowed our proceedings to be televised, four years before the House of Commons.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may endeavour to put a little wind back into the noble Lord's sails. Is it not possible for a pen to be a bomb?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, it could be possible, but it would be a fairly small bomb. And members of the public could bring into the galleries other items of equal size to a pen. Members of the public in the galleries will still not be allowed to smoke, to read books or papers other than the papers of the House, to draw or write—well, they will be allowed to write—or to bring in cameras, transistor radios or other electronic devices.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, the Chairman of Committees mentioned the debate on the Puttnam report. Does he recall that at the end of that debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the Leader of the House, promised to place in the Library one or two sides of A4 on which it was made clear to which committee each suggestion or recommendation in the report had been referred? Those two sides are not yet in the Library. Will the Chairman of Committees give the Leader of the House a gentle nudge, because those two sides of paper will be the guarantee that the many sensible suggestions, including that which my noble friend made in the report, do not disappear into some parliamentary black hole? Those two sides of paper will allow us to check whether the recommendations in the Puttnam report are to be implemented.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the Leader of the House is not sitting far away from me. I can say that a list of the recommendations will fairly soon be placed in the Library of the House.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, given that there seems to be general agreement within the House that we should improve the facilities for visitors and for ourselves, would it not be a good idea to copy the House of Commons and have monitors around the Chamber to allow Members to see who is speaking and on what debate, and therefore generally improve the information available to all of us?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, that is a possibility. The monitors in the Public Gallery have relatively recently been improved so that it is now possible to see what is happening in the Chamber. Members will see that they are fairly large screens.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, would it not be a good idea if the Chairman of Committees and all Members resisted the mad idea of this House being dragged into this century? It is a very disagreeable century. Would it not be a better idea to drag us back perhaps into the 19th century, which in many ways was a very much better one for this country?

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I do not think that anything I have said today could be construed as bringing us into this century. I am actually trying to bring us into the previous one.