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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 19:58 GMT
More freedom for Parliament TV?
Baroness Amos
Lady Amos wants Lords' committees to host online debates
Strict rules governing the televising of Parliament could soon be relaxed, the government has said.

Lords leader Baroness Amos said Parliament had to communicate better.

And she said its TV contract, due for renewal next year, was an "opportunity to look again at the rules to see if they are too narrowly drawn".

The Lords has been televised since 1983 and the Commons since 1989 but reaction shots, close-ups and behind-the-scenes footage are banned.


Responding to a report by the Hansard Society and Lord Puttnam on improving communications, Baroness Amos said she "hesitated to say any more about the wider role of the media" in reporting Parliament.

People love going backstage but we don't allow them to here
Baroness Bonham Carter

"As a government minister and as a member of Cabinet, anything I say from this dispatch box about the role of the media will be misinterpreted," she told peers.

"I do think that the whole issue of the relationship of the media and the interpretation of political events in our country is something which perhaps one of the committees in this house might consider looking at in more depth."

Addressing points raised in Lord Puttnam's report, she said there was a case for having a single office in charge of communications across both Houses of Parliament.

A better website for Parliament, with greater interactivity, was being developed, she said.

And she backed a proposal to hold Lords' debates around the country.

'Lone voice'

Lady Amos said the rituals and traditions of Parliament could "lend our proceedings dignity" and "had something of its own quaint charm".

But peers "could be more rigorous in thinking about what works and what doesn't".

Lord Puttnam
More often than not we are actually falling behind public expectations
Lord Puttnam

She said Lords' committees should host online debates and Parliament's education programme should be expanded, even allowing the chamber to be used for the finals of a national debating contest.

But she hit back at calls from Lib Dem leader in the Lords, Lord McNally, and others to push the case for Lords modernisation in Cabinet.

"There is absolutely no point in participants in this debate looking at me to deliver these changes. I am one person, sometimes I have to say, my Lords, one lone voice."

She said it was up to peers themselves to bring about changes.

'Falling behind'

Launching Thursday's debate on the recommendations of the Hansard Society Commission on Parliament in the Public Eye published last May, Lord Puttnam said the internet was key to Parliament connecting with a new generation of voters.

What is it that makes it so hard for us to carry through those changes which many citizens and many members of this house know in their hearts to be necessary
Lord Howe

And if Parliament did not sharpen up its communications strategy it risked becoming a laughing stock, he argued.

The Labour peer said parliament could learn lessons from commercial websites such as amazon.com, which offered a personalised, user-friendly service.

"The pace and in some cases the nature of changes happening in society are occurring so rapidly that even our best efforts at incremental change leave us running in order to standstill," said Lord Puttnam.

"More often than not we are actually falling behind public expectations."

He blamed a lack of ambition and said a large "step change" was needed in the way Parliament "engages with the electorate", especially younger people.


Conservative former Chancellor Lord Howe welcomed the report, but said: "The substance of what we do and how we do it is probably even more important than how that is perceived and how we communicate it."

The age of contempt has to end
Lord Gould, Labour polling guru

He said Parliament was "ever less respected" because it had been "stunted" and "confined" by successive governments.

"That is one of the reasons people feel they have lost ownership of parliament, if it has been hijacked by the executive."

Lord Howe called for more "candid" and "courageous" political leadership, particularly on controversial issues such as nuclear power, climate change and retirement age.

He asked: "What is it that makes it so hard for us to carry through those changes which many citizens and many members of this house know in their hearts to be necessary?"

'Special measures'

Lord Howe defended the rituals, traditions and language of Parliament, saying it could "serve a real purpose" by making debate more courteous.

And he said Lord Puttnam's report also paid too little attention to the House of Lords.

Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris, in her maiden speech in the Lords, said if Parliament was a school its poor communication strategy would be in "special measures".

Baroness Bonham Carter, a former television producer, said the public should be allowed to "experience the drama" of events such as the Tory leadership race first hand rather than relying on correspondents interpreting events from fixed camera positions.

"People love going backstage but we don't allow them to here - and it is a stage that belongs to them just as much as it belongs to the politicians."

She added: "This is a place that deserves a better press, from the press and the public, but to get it we have to loosen up."


Tony Blair's polling chief, Lord Gould of Brookwood, also called for "unrestrained" television coverage of parliament.

He said politics had become "trapped in a cycle of disengagement" with a cynical and hostile press putting politicians under relentless pressure and alienating the public.

"The age of contempt has to end," Lord Gould told peers.

Journalists had their job to do but they had to realise that most politicians were decent people trying to do a good job and the key was greater "accessibility and responsiveness".

"As involvement increases so does trust," Lord Gould added.

But former Labour general secretary Lord Sawyer of Darlington said the problem was that Tony Blair did not have the same "passion" for modernising Parliament as he did for modernising his party and the country as a whole.

And he looked forward to the day when one of the parties produced a leader who did.

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