Parliament and the Public — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:07 pm on 16th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 8:07 pm, 16th June 2009

My Lords, one of the strengths of the British political system and its protection of freedom has been its ability to adapt over the centuries. In a three-minute speech I am not going to persuade everyone of the necessary adaptations, but I commend some of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, as well as his work and his appearance on YouTube. When I started my blog, originally as a Member of the House of Commons, seven or eight years ago, it was regarded as slightly weird. When I came here and suggested that we create a group "Lords of the Blog", I was accused even by bloggers of being slightly weird, which I thought was a step in the right direction; I was getting ahead of the game.

There must be major change in how we do our politics. It is not just down to quick fixes like the PR system. I do not want to get into an argument about PR here but, frankly, it is not the answer in itself. There are many countries with PR systems that have low turnout and low voter interest, and countries like ours with first past the post also have a similar problem. It is much wider and deeper than that and we need to make the changes.

First, like the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, I commend everyone for the work that has already been done, which is great. My second point is about something we could do as a next step: to recognise that until about 30 years ago, newspapers would carry stories about what MPs and Members of the House of Lords said. That was killed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We need to get something of that back, which people can look at and read either online or in paper form. One way of doing that—and here is another shock-horror suggestion that startled some of my colleagues in the other place when I first made it a few years back—is to allow an edited version of Hansard. The fear has always been that if we allowed editors to get their hands on the speeches that we make, they would distort them in some way. I am convinced that we can do it well enough so that—whether it is edited television footage or edited Hansard extracts with photographs, and so on—it enables people to engage. One of the lessons of Lords of the Blog, from the people who wrote in to say what they liked about it, was that it was more informative and easier to read. Please can we have an edited version of Hansard, with pictures, that is easily available online and, preferably, on paper?

My final point echoes something that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said about language. This place should be held in respect, but not in awe. Much of the language and behaviour here dates from the 19th century and it shows. You make new traditions only if you create new traditions. You can test this if you talk in a school. If you say "the right reverend Prelate", most kids will not know who you mean, as I am sure the Bishops will agree, but they know who a bishop is. If you say "the learned gentleman", some of us would quibble about whether all barristers are learned anyway. Whether they are or not, do we really need that? Do we really need—and I say this as an ex-serviceman, not particularly gallant, of many years ago—"gallant"? We need more ordinary language. Certainly, such phrases as "the other place" just do not make sense. They sound embarrassing to many kids if you talk to them about it. We can start making those changes without changing very much. We do not need grand Acts of Parliament. Let us just get on and talk normally and people will understand and relate to us better because of it.