Parliament and the Public — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:21 pm on 16th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government 8:21 pm, 16th June 2009

My Lords, it is a privilege to start the winding-up speeches on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to this very impressive and enjoyable short debate. It is an impossible job in three minutes. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for promoting what I think is an appetizer, or perhaps a commercial, for his report. No doubt we will all meet when it comes out and, I hope, have an opportunity to discuss it in much more detail. We look forward to that.

My only response to these speeches is to say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford how wonderful it is to hear people, who do not sit on these Benches, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has a history of these things, extolling the merits of the single transferable vote. Nevertheless, it is very welcome indeed to hear that. These matters are on the agenda now but, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said they must be debated in a proper context and not as a knee-jerk reaction to the present political situation.

We have discussed widely in this debate a range of problems, from the problems of the present collapse of confidence in Parliament, particularly in the House of Commons, right through to practical matters of promoting greater understanding of what we do. I want to touch on two issues that I and other noble Lords raised when we last debated these matters last December.

First, it is true that the educational work that is taking place on behalf of Parliament, and the outreach work on behalf of this House, is a great advance. However, the single big lack is a proper parliamentary visitor centre. Everybody who comes to London comes to this building. The vast majority never get beyond the pavement outside, and that is wrong.

Secondly, the parliament channel is a journal of record, like Hansard. The explanatory information that is provided as part of the parliament channel is entirely inadequate. People do not understand what they are watching or listening to. That needs to be improved.

I finish with a quotation from John Keats:

"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?".

I believe that this House at least is waking up to the need to communicate with people and to encourage their involvement in what we do. Let us continue doing it and give a lead to the rest of Parliament.