Developing links

As I have already mentioned in a post on Lords of the Blog, a good part of my time this week has been devoted to considerng the relationship between Parliament and the public. 

On Wednesday, I attended a seminar organised by the new Backbench Business Committee in the Commons to discuss how the committee can communicate effectively with members and with the public.  On Thursday, I attended a conference in Hull on the links between parliaments and public, with academics drawn from a number of countries analysing how particular legislatures engage with those outside Parliament. 

The advantage of comparative analysis is that is enables you to understand your own processes better and also to learn from others in terms of what can be done to strengthen existing practices.  In comparative terms, the UK Parliament is a fairly transparent body – public bill committees meet in public, as do select committees when taking evidence, and votes are roll-call votes – though it lags behind some others in terms of how it deals institutionally with attempts by the public to have some input.   Previously, standing committees were not empowered to receive evidence (that has now changed with the introduction of public bill committees) and petitions submitted to Parliament went into a parliamentary black hole.  There is now pressure to allow e-petitioning and the work of the Backbench Business Committee may result in more attention being given to petitions, possibly with some being scheduled for debate, either in the chamber or in Westminster Hall.   The adavantage of drawing on practice elsewhere is that it enables one to identify best practice – and to avoid pitfalls.  It is not unkown for some legislatures to have received lots of petitions, but petitions signed only by one person – the same person each time!

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to Developing links

  1. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    I think governance as whole has to compete in a way it did not in the past. Spectacular acts of asymetrical warfare (terrorism), multinational corporations, mass movements on the internet, FIFA, IOC and countless other forces shape life, debate and perception as well as destroying government roles in all three. Most of these forces can be benign from a political point of view. But governments must be in the game to win it. The building and the State Opening and published laws used to constitute a fairly high profile. Today it may in time be necessary to have Lady Gaga read some of the bills on television. Part of survival of any kind is living in the reality one is currently facing, Shall I try to reach Lady Gaga for you?

  2. Lord Norton says:

    franksummers3ba: Lady Gaga is a friend of yours? I should add that the ‘Lady’ in her name does not mean she has been ennobled.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Sadly “try” was the key word. I do know people in the entertainment industry in this country and perhaps twelve years ago if I had a legitimate message from a person such as yourself I could broker the occasional meeting with people who do not really know me. However, the Life of Miss Germinata (I think) probably involved primary school at that time. But I suppose I could still try,

  4. Teithiwr says:

    Whilst always good to draw from best practice in other countries, it is also important to keep in mind the political and cultural differences. The UK has a relatively strong and influential lobbying industry which does not exist in many countries. Ensuring that any petitions system (electronic or otherwise) is an effective way for the general public to raise issues with / in Parliament and is not a tool of influence only for wealthy organisations is a challenge in the UK context.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Teithiwr: I very much agree. One of the points I made in respect of campaign groups in the UK is that there is little need for the Backbench Business Committee to find such groups. The groups will find the committee. It also struck me that in future when petitions are submitted (not least ePetitions) they must be accompanied by a statement as to which groups (if any) have been active in organising the petition or soliciting signatures.

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