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!