A MORE ACCESSIBLE PARLIAMENT
17. The House of Commons belongs to the British people
who elect it and who pay for it. However it inhabits a building
that long predates the mass franchise and was not designed in
the expectation that large numbers of the public would either
have the right or the wish to visit their elected Members.
18. We welcome recent steps to improve our service
to the visiting public, such as the refreshment facility supplied
by the Jubilee Cafeteria. We also applaud the decision of the
House of Commons Commission to put the provision of guides for
visiting groups on a formal basis with common standards of training.
We hope that this will place as much emphasis on the role of Parliament
in our democracy as on the history and architecture of the building.
19. We strongly welcome the current feasibility study
into a long overdue Visitor Centre and look forward to commenting
on its proposals. In the meantime we record our unanimous view
that such an interpretative centre should focus on the function
of Parliament as a working institution at the heart of our representative
democracy, and not just Westminster as an interesting building
with a lot of history. We believe that such a Visitor Centre will
have failed if it does not excite the enthusiasm of younger visitors
and to do so it must harness the latest technologies of interactive
display. Nor should the Visitor Centre be conceived in isolation
as a service to the random visitor. We would hope that it would
be an integral part of an expanded programme of educational outreach
in which a visit to Parliament would be part of wider school projects
on our constitution. The advent of citizenship education this
autumn both provides an opportunity and imposes an obligation
on Parliament to assist the next generation of voters in a better
understanding of Parliament.
20. The creation of a Visitor Centre will have substantial
implications for the line of route. It will also make more valuable
a visit to Parliament when one or both Houses are sitting when
the present line of route is necessarily curtailed. We are aware
that other parliaments are more successful in enabling members
of the public to visit their building while the chamber is in
session. For instance, Australia has provided a glass fronted
gallery which is included in the tour of the precinct and enables
conducted groups to see the chamber at work and to hear an explanation
from guides in a way that is not possible in the public gallery.
There could be even greater educational value to a visit to the
Commons in session than to an empty Chamber. We recommend that
the Board of Management prepare a revised line of route which
would include a facility for conducted tours to see the Commons
in session, in a manner which avoided disruption to the Chamber.
A similar visit to Westminster Hall might also be incorporated
in the revised line of route.
21. At the present time the line of route is entirely
closed on Thursday mornings. We appreciate the importance of security
considerations, but believe that an hour should be a satisfactory
period for a security sweep of the Chamber before the sitting
of the House. We recommend that in the event of an 11.30 am
start to the Commons day, the line of route should be open from
9.00 am to 10.30 am from Tuesday to Thursday.
22. The Palace of Westminster has been one of the
fastest growing visitor attractions in recent years. It is therefore
curious that it remains closed to the public throughout the weekend
when it is not otherwise in use. Twenty million members of the
public live within convenient commuting distance of central London
and many million more of our constituents pass through London
at holiday time. We recommend that the House of Commons Commission
should pursue their consideration of opening the line of route
on a Saturday to a favourable conclusion.
23. However much we improve access to the premises,
most members of the public will never visit it in person and will
depend on television for their impression of Parliament. It is
therefore important that the House makes maximum use of the TV
media to convey a sense of the Commons as a working environment
and a forum of serious and challenging debate. There will always
be a balance to be struck in responsible control over access to
parliamentary proceedings, but we welcome the recent decisions
of the Administration Committee. These will permit interviews
with Members at locations within the precincts which will enable
viewers to get a glimpse of the bustle of the Commons at work,
such as on the Committee Corridor. We hope that it will prove
similarly possible to achieve a better balance in the coverage
of proceedings in the Chamber. One witness from the BBC complained
that the present arrangements are like trying to convey the sense
of a football match under rules which only permit the player with
the ball to appear on camera.
24. The new communication technologies open up unprecedented
opportunities for remote access. There already have been successful
exercises by parliamentary bodies to harness the Internet for
public consultation. For instance, in the past Parliament the
then Social Security Committee carried out a very successful survey
on the views of claimants of the Working Families Tax Credit,
and the All Party Group on Domestic Violence set up a website
for victims which received over a thousand responses. The Government's
current Consultation Paper on e-democracy, In the Service of
out how the new technologies can widen participation in our democracy.
We support the recommendation of the Information Committee that
Parliament should make more use of ICT to increase the accessibility
and transparency of Parliament.
We recommend that Select Committees and other parliamentary
bodies step up their use of ICT to increase e-participation by
the public in the parliamentary process. We welcome the pilot
study in webcasting of Select Committee hearings and hope that
as capacity expands it may provide more routine access by the
public to committee proceedings.
2 Ref. 02/8085, Office of the e-Envoy, Cabinet Office,
15 July 2002. Back
First Report from the Information Committee, Digital Technology:
Working for Parliament and the Public, HC 1065. Back