The public and Parliament: more engaged, less satisfied – Hansard Society audit

One of the most positive findings for Parliament is that a clear majority believes that it is essential “to our democracy” (73% – equaling 2016’s record score).

However, people do not think that parliament is doing a good job for them. Fewer than a third of people were satisfied with the way that parliament works, and not many more think parliament is doing a good job of representing their interests (38%).

Knowledge of parliament fell in the latest study; 45% claimed to know a great deal or a fair amount about parliament, down from 52% last year. This is similar to the level of knowledge about politics in general (49%) and the European Union (43%).

Increasing engagement with parliament
There were positive indicators around engagement with Parliament: overall just over half the public say they have engaged with Parliament in some way in the last year – a ten point increase from 2015. Also:

  • The proportion of the public who report watching or listening to a parliamentary debate or committee meeting (online, on TV or on radio) has increased from 31% to 39%
  • The number saying they have signed an e-petition is up from 15% to 22%
  • 12% contacted an MP or Peer with their views.

Some if this could be down to the seismic political events of the past year – public interest in Brexit and high-profile e-petitions on topics like Donald Trump’s proposed state visit will have increased people’s appetite to engage.

Arguably the most positive indicator in the study is the score on certainty to vote. 59% of respondents said that they would be certain to vote in an immediate general election. This is the highest recorded score in the 14 years of the Audit (joint with 2016). We won’t have to wait long to see if this is borne out.

Engagement by age
The overall message of this year’s report could be “increasingly engaged, but not satisfied”. However, looking at the data for younger people, the picture is bleaker. Variables on engagement, knowledge and effectiveness all show lower scores for younger age groups.

Other data used within chapter 2 of our briefing on political engagement shows a similar pattern – in December 2015, 67% of 20-24 year olds were registered to vote, compared with 93% of 55-64 year olds. IPSOS-Mori estimate that turnout of 18-24 year olds was 43% at the 2015 General Election, compared with 77% for 55-64 year olds.

The test
Arguably, the key indicator for engagement with politics and parliament is turnout at a general election. In 2015, turnout across the UK was 66%, slightly up on 2010, but still well below levels seen in the 20th Century.

The Audit provides some grounds for optimism; a record percentage were certain to vote. But again, this score varies significantly by age, from around two in five for 18-24 year olds, to four in five for over 65s. There are also large variations by social grade (ABs are most certain to vote), by qualification level and by income.

There will be many groups working to encourage participation in June’s general election; the challenge for them is not just whether they can increase overall turnout, but also whether they can increase participation among the young and other less politically engaged groups. If we accept that politics and Parliament are more effective when they represent the views of all constituents, Parliament too has a job to do encouraging everyone to register to vote. It is likely that if you are reading a Commons Library blog post you’re probably already going to vote in June, but perhaps someone you know isn’t. The deadline to register is 22nd May – please motivate someone you know to register and use their vote.

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  • Founded in 1944, the Hansard Society is a non-partisan research and education charity working in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments.
  • The information in this year’s Audit of Political Engagement is based on a Political Engagement Poll undertaken by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Hansard Society. The findings are based on a total of 1,771 face-to-face interviews with adults aged 18+ conducted between 2 December 2016 and 15 January 2017, which have then been weighted to the national population profile of Great Britain. This is the 14th year of the Audit, which began in 2004.
  • During the general election campaign, the Commons Library will not be publishing new briefings; Parliament’s Participation team will be encouraging people to register, to cast their vote on the 8 June and to continue to engage with Parliament following the election.

Picture credit: The British Parliament and Big Ben by MauriceCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)

 

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General Election 2017: a short guide

A short guide to what this snap election means for parliament – via Second Reading

General Election 2017: a short guide

The Government intends to seek an early election. Here is our short guide to what it all means for Parliament.

How are early elections called?

There will be a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow to trigger an early election using the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The Act set the date of the last general election on 7 May 2015 and set all future general elections for the first Thursday in May in every fifth year. The next election was therefore scheduled to take place on 7 May 2020.

The Act states that an early election can be held if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House (including vacant seats) or without division (i.e. if it is agreed unanimously.) So tomorrow’s motion will need 434 MPs to agree it to pass. Our Fixed-term Parliaments 2011 paper has more detail on the Act.

When will Parliament be dissolved for the election?

Parliament has to be dissolved 25 working days before Polling Day. The Prime Minister has announced an 8 June election. This means that Parliament will be dissolved on Wednesday 3 May.

The House may Prorogue (suspend but not dissolve) before then.  The Leader of the House has indicated today (18 April) that talks regarding prorogation will follow if the motion is passed tomorrow.

What will happen to Bills currently before Parliament?

Bills can’t be carried over through a dissolution. Any Bill before Parliament that has not received Royal Assent by dissolution will fall. To ensure that essential or non-controversial legislation is passed a ‘wash-up’ period takes place – when the Government and the Opposition reach agreements on the bills or parts of bills that should be hurried through their remaining parliamentary scrutiny. The wash-up procedure is enabled by motions, agreed by the House, which allow for the expedited progress of certain Bills.

How long does this take?

Normally the House of Commons will spend most of a day (or more) on a stage of a bill. However, during the wash-up, when several bills need to be considered in two or three days this is not possible. After consultation with the Official Opposition, the Leader of the House makes a statement indicating how the Government wishes wash-up to proceed. However, the House has to agree to this timetable.

Our briefing Wash-up – Election 2010 explains what happened before the 2010 election.  There was no substantial wash-up period before the 2015 general election as the date of the election was known in advance.

What is purdah?

The term ‘purdah’ means the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants and Ministers are in place.  The preface to the General Election 2015 guidance for civil servants, issued on 30 March 2015, sets out the general principles:

  • During an election campaign the Government retains its responsibility to govern and Ministers remain in charge of their Departments.
  • Essential business must be carried on. In particular Cabinet Committees can continue to meet and consider correspondence if necessary, although in practice this may not be practical. If something requires urgent collective consideration, the Cabinet Secretary should be consulted.
  • It is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any action of a continuing or long-term character.
  • Decisions on matters of policy, and other issues such as large and/or contentious procurement contracts, on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the Election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.
When will purdah start and how long will it last?

Purdah is likely to start on the day that Parliament is dissolved until after Polling Day on 8 June 2017.

The purdah period before general elections is not regulated by law, but governed by conventions based largely on the Civil Service Code. Guidance is issued to civil servants ahead of the election. For the 2015 general election it was issued and took effect on 30 March 2015 – the day that Parliament was dissolved.

Conversely, there is statutory guidance for local authorities about publicity during the period just before local elections, whilst the purdah period before referendums is regulated by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Our briefing ‘Purdah’ before elections and referendums (13 April 2017) provides further details.

What about select committees?

A 2017 election means that those select committee chairs who were elected on 10 June 2010 (a list is here) must, if still holding that position, cease to be chair of their select committee on 10 June 2018, unless the House orders otherwise.

An early election and shorter 2015 Parliament means that some select committee chairs will have shorter terms than expected. Standing Order 122A states that: ‘no select committee may have as its chair a Member who has served as chair of that Committee for the two previous parliaments (of whatever length) or a continuous period of 8 years, whichever is the greater’.

A 2015-2020 Parliament would have allowed those chairs elected in 2010 to have a 10 year term.

Will the Manchester Gorton by-election go ahead?

David Lidington MP, Leader of the House, said today in the Commons that he expected that the Returning Officer would cancel the by-election. As it was due on 4 May and Parliament is likely to be dissolved on 3 May, the new MP would be elected to a Parliament which no longer existed.

Erskine May, the guide to Parliamentary procedure, indicates that there is “no statutory provision for cancelling a by-election when a general election is in progress”

The procedure for a by-election starts with a Writ being sent from the Clerk of the Crown (triggered by a Warrant from the Speaker) to the relevant Returning Officer. It is presumed that an acting Returning Officer would consider the Writ to have been superseded if the by-election were due to take place at a date when Parliament had been dissolved, since the MP could not be elected to a Parliament which no longer existed.

Commons Library Briefing Election Timetables, March 2015 (p.16-17) provides more detail.

Will the local elections go ahead as planned?

Yes, the local elections are on a statutory timetable (see our Election Timetables briefing for more info).

Will new constituency boundaries apply?

No. The four boundary commissions (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) are still working through the set cycles of consultation and analysis for their respective boundary reviews. They must complete their reviews and hand their reports to the Government by 1 October 2018.

This process is explained in Commons Library Briefing Parliamentary Boundary Reviews: Public Consultation (November 2016)

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Helping parliaments get closer to the people they represent

The Democratic Society
http://www.demsoc.org/wp-content/themes/spacious/js/html5shiv.min.js

“The internet has given us the opportunity for a genuine paradigm shift towards the ‘open parliament’ “

“The successful digital parliament must reflect the world around it.  It draws on the tools ordinary people use, taking parliament closer to their world”

Read more on the Democratic Society blog

#LibrariesMatter because…

In the lead up to the local government election in May CILIP in Scotland will be campaigning for libraries across Scotland and showing why #LibrariesMatter.  SWOP members can help with this campaign.

If you would like to know more and become more involved take a few minutes to visit:

http://www.cilips.org.uk/advocacy-campaigns/campaigns/libraries-matter/help-us-show-librariesmatter/
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Introduction to the UK Parliament: People, Processes and Public Participation – Free online course

Starting on the 14th November…

Learn about the UK Parliament with this free online course from FutureLearn – explore the work of Parliament and find out how it’s evolving.

The course will introduce you to the work and role of the UK Parliament. From setting the age at which we start school to deciding pension policy, the UK Parliament makes laws that impact our lives, our work and our wider society.

Learn what Parliament is and does

You will begin by looking at what Parliament is, how it is different from government and how it has changed and evolved over hundreds of years. You will find out about the work of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and discover how things work in the Chambers and beyond on a day-to-day basis.

Visit Parliament launches ‘My Favourite Room’ on social media

Visit Parliament launches ‘My Favourite Room’, where people who work at Parliament reveal which room or space is closest to their heart.

Favourite rooms could be the Commons Chamber, somewhere in Portcullis House, Prince’s Chamber, or even a committee room – all places accessible to visitors. Through regular posts on Twitter and Facebook discover why Parliament is so special from the people who spend almost every day walking its many corridors.

Queens Speech and State Opening of Parliament 2012

Queen delivering speech at State Opening of Parliament 2012.
Queen delivering speech at State Opening of Parliament.

Today at the State Opening of Parliament the Queen delivered her address outlining the legislative agenda of the Coalition Government for the forthcoming parliamentary session.

The State Opening takes place on the first day of a new parliamentary session, or shortly after a general election, and is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar.

You can watch the full speech on the UKParliament YouTube channel.

In total there are 15 bills and 4 draft bills proposed. These include:-

  • House of Lords Reform Bill – to modernise and reduce the membership of the House of Lords
  • Pension Bill – to raise the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028 and make it more sustainable as average lifespan increases
  • Banking Reform Bill – to split banks into retail and investment arms and reduce taxpayer risk in the event of a bank going bust
  • Draft Communications Bill – could allow police and intelligence agencies to more easily collect data on texts and emails
An at-a-glance guide to the content of the Queen’s speech is available on the BBC website.

Following the Queen’s speech the House of Commons returns to its Chambers, the House of Lords is cleared, and the Debate of the Address begins: five days of debate on the content of the speech.

You can find out more about the State Opening of Parliament from this House of Lords Briefing Paper or from the UK Parliament website.

Some recent items from the Scottish Government and Parliament

  • Draft National Guidance: Under-Age Sexual Activity – Meeting the needs of Children and Young People and Identifying Child Protection Concerns: Consultation – Consultation is open until 23rd July 2010. It is estimated that approx. 25-30% of children under the age of 16 engage in sexual activitity, not all of which should be treated as a child protection issue, but simply part of natural development. This consultation looks at ways to address the needs of children under either circumstance.
  • In-Court Mediation Pilot Projects – In-court mediation pilots ran in Sherriff Courts in Glasgow and Aberdeen between March 2006 and July 2008, an initiative followed through by the Scottish Government. This research on the projects was carried out by researchers at the University of Aberdeen Law School
  • Independent School Census, September 2009 – a National Statistics publication which covers independent primary, secondary and special schools
  • Racist Incidents Recorded by the Police in Scotland, 2004-05 to 2008-09 – statistical bulletin which presents data on number of racist incidents recorded by the eight police forces in Scotland in 2008-09
  • Unemployment (SPICe Briefing 10-26) – latest unemployment data for Scottish Parliamentary constituency areas. Highlights the best and worst performing areas over previous month.