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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
Parliament's website under fire
Woman protesting outside Parliament
Parliament is seen as the home of democracy
The UK's Parliament website needs a radical overhaul, according to a report by the Hansard Society.

It says Parliament is failing to communicate effectively with the public it serves.

Improving the website is part of a wider reform needed to improve communication with the public.

Better search facilities and more interactivity will be key if the website is to fulfil its role as a portal for democracy, the report says.

Entitled Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye, the report is damning of the way the home of democracy is doing business.

The Hansard Society, a non-profit organisation set up to defend parliamentary democracy, describes the organisation, procedures and general ethos of Parliament as "seriously out of date".

It is blamed in particular for failing to make use of modern communication methods such as the internet.

Chaired by film-maker David Puttnam, the Hansard Society Commission makes 39 recommendations to improve the way Parliament communicates with the public.

Gateway to democracy

One of these is a major overhaul of its website.

Parliament's website - screen grab
A parliamentary internet should be for the public, not the people who work there
Gemma Rosenblatt, Hansard Society
"It remains, in essence, an online archival resource, impenetrable to most people, difficult to navigate, with almost no opportunity for interaction and a wholly inadequate search engine," said the report.

"The overall impression is dry and unengaging," it concluded.

Improvements should include better search facilities, improved links to other sites and more focus on using the site to get in touch with MPs, said Gemma Rosenblatt, the clerk to the Commission.

It also needs a dedicated webmaster as no-one currently has overall responsibility for the site.

"The website is an opportunity for people to find out directly what is going on in Parliament and is a great way to engage a far wider audience than it currently does," said Ms Rosenblatt.

At the moment there has been more emphasis and resources put into Parliament's intranet than to its public web presence, she said.

"A parliamentary internet should be for the public, not the people who work there," she said.

Local government example

Improving interactivity by having virtual tours of the parliamentary buildings on the site could be a good way to help people connect with an institution that some may find remote and alien.

Diverting money that is currently spent on physical tours of the building to the website could help, said. Ms Rosenblatt.

While Parliament struggles to get to grips with the internet age, the government's own websites are striding ahead, she said.

Parliament should take note of what regional government is doing with the web, said Piero Tintori, managing director of content management firm TerminalFour.

"While local authorities have been quick to realise the potential of a well-designed website to re-engage with a jaded electorate, it looks like the Houses of Parliament needs to take a leaf out of their book," he said.

Discussion forums, news updates and even live election results are becoming widely available on council websites.

"This enables all constituents to actively interact with council members and other citizens. It is about time Parliament caught up with this accessibility revolution," said Mr Tintori.

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