The House of Lords is not immune from media criticism. Some of it is justified. Much of it is not, but the House constitutes an easy target for the cynicism that tends to pervade coverage of politics. It also suffers from ignorance of what it does. This may at times be wilful ignorance or simply the result of increased pressure on resources, with media devoting more resources to human interest stories than politics.
The House has a problem when it is attacked in the media, not least in terms of generating a quick and authoritative response. Some of the difficulties, and what we do in the face of criticism, were discussed in the House last night in a Question for Short Debate (QSD) initiated by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. The number of speakers was such that we had two-minutes each. My speech was succinct – I kept well within the limit – and I think the point it makes is clear:
Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hodgson on raising this timely debate and endorse what he and other colleagues have said. In the time available, I want to raise a fundamental question, one already touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. It is fundamental to this House, this Parliament and indeed Parliaments generally.
If a crisis erupts affecting a company, there is a chairman or CEO who can speak for the company. Companies can, and good companies do, plan ahead in terms of crisis management. But what happens if a crisis hits the House of Lords? Who speaks for the House of Lords? Who speaks for Parliament? There is no one figure in a position to do so. That is why each House is always on the back foot if it is hit by a crisis. We cannot respond immediately and authoritatively, because there is no equivalent of a chairman or a company CEO. We need to beef up our excellent media team to be ready to respond but press officers can only inform. They can report and give information but they cannot be the face of Parliament or speak authoritatively for Parliament. That is the fundamental conundrum which we, as Members, need to address. We cannot hive off the responsibility; the sooner we address it, the better.