Published on behalf of Ruth Hayes, SCOOP (Standing Committee on Official Publications)
On 9 April 2019, Steven Hartshorne, Secretary of SCOOP sent members an email with the subject, “New information-related subcommittee launched”, in which he said ‘This may be of interest to you (it seemed to sneak under the radar of press coverage last week): Report: The launch of the Sub-Committee on Disinformation ‘. This is the title of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s tenth report of session 2017-19, published on 2 April 2019 (HC 2090): https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/2090/2090.pdf
Among the Sub-Committee’s aims is that it “will become Parliament’s ‘institutional home’ for matters concerning disinformation and data privacy; a focal point that will bring together those seeking to scrutinise and examine this threat to democracy.” The plan is also to “make use of the new Standing Order [137A(e), Select committees: power to work with other committees] enabling us to invite members of any other select committee to attend any meeting of the Sub-Committee to ask questions of witnesses.” A week or so later, (16 April), I replied to Steven, thanking him for the link, and telling him that I too had found “very little press coverage other than in the likes of Press Gazette”. Maybe, though, he would already be aware of the website, Parallel Parliament; and this is the link I found during my searching which includes mention of the report, among other things: https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/dept/DepartmentforDigital_Culture_Media_Sport My initial thought was that that the “current” page relating to each department changes with time, but that you can specify that you want to look at less recent information as well. And the links given take you very nicely either to the relevant bit of the Parliament website, or else Parallel Parliament brings information together, as in the case of recent Written Answers.
Another result of my search for press coverage of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report was this page on the BBC News website by Mark D’Arcy, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-parliaments-47747986 The Week ahead in Parliament, 29 March, which includes mention of the debate in Westminster Hall on 4 April announcing launch of the report.
After the seeming initial lack of interest and/or coverage, more results were found in early May. For thorough coverage, this contribution by Michela Palese of the Electoral Reform Society to UCL’s Constitution Unit has an air of authority: https://constitution-unit.com/2019/05/01/how-the-new-sub-committee-on-disinformation-can-help-strengthen-democracy-in-the-digital-age/
She outlines the main findings from the major inquiry and report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on fake news, and discusses what the Sub-Committee’s priorities should be. James Warrington of the free newspaper CityA.M. reported the report’s publication on 2 April; his coverage was linked to news about Facebook. See: http://www.cityam.com/275601/dcms-committee-launches-new-body-fight-fake-news-pressure The Committee’s Twitter has received some reaction. See: https://twitter.com/CommonsCMS/status/1113019182197719041
The They Work For You website has coverage of the debate in Westminster Hall on 4 April, which followed publication of the Committee’s report: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-04-04a.459.2 Although this debate is in Hansard, the contributions in this version include links to Wikipedia or elsewhere on They Work for You, to inform the layperson.
The BBC News website, 2 April at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47792349 adopts a similar approach to that of CityA.M., though the explanation seems clearer, even if mention of the Sub-Committee is confined only to the last two sentences.
Finding information about the Parallel Parliament website was initially elusive. A Google search found https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/ on page 3 on 24 April 2019; by 5 May, it had climbed to number 4. High on the list are two reports from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmmodern/194/19404.htm Second report, session 1998/99, in which paragraphs 4-13 come under the heading, “The arguments for a parallel Chamber”; and a section from that Committee’s first report, with 4 mentions of the word “parallel”; See: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmmodern/60/6003.htm
Initially at number 3 doing this search (but now further down the first page) is a House of Commons Library Research briefing, ‘Social care forthcoming Green Paper (England)’ published on 10 April 2019, in which the word “parallel” appears 13 times! https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8002
Thereafter, the parallel parliament search threw up references to Venezuela, Moldova, Afghanistan, Libya, European Parliament, Egypt, India, until at the top of page 3 (on 1 May 2019), we came to ‘I wanted a better way of finding information than Parliament’s clunky website, so I built my own to share: http://www.parallelparliament.com ‘ The weblink for this is: https://www.reddit.com/r/unitedkingdom/comments/b796d9/i_wanted_a_better_way_of_finding_information_than/ On 5 May 2019, it had reached page 2 (last but one item); in my first search for something about this website on 24 April 2019, it was on page 4, or page 5 if in quotes. The link given opens a new window and will take you to https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/
So now for a look at what you can expect to find on this page, based mainly on results on 9 and 11 May 2019. “Parallel Parliament is constantly updated to keep you informed of the latest legislative and departmental news, providing a single source for the latest developments on Government and legislative issues.” A link to House of Commons Twitter feed gives latest news according to that site, which included on 9 May: “The best Prime Minister this country has never had.” 25 years on from the sad death of then-@UKLabour leader John Smith, we asked @IanMurrayMP to explain why he applied for a @CommonsBBCom debate on this anniversary. https://twitter.com/HouseofCommons/status/1126485570732081152
Then, looking at Parallel Parliament home page on Saturday 11 May, clicking on Business today in the box, Future Parliament schedules, takes you to Business for Monday 13 May 2019 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmagenda/ob190513.htm Here, you see everything on that day’s House of Commons order paper (including oral and topical questions, in this instance, to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; and Select Committees’ subjects and names of witnesses appearing at oral evidence sessions). A final section lists Committee reports being published on that date. I don’t think I’d ever come across a presentation such as this, not even on the Getting the best out of the Parliament website course six years ago (see my articles: Refer, vol. 29, no 3, Autumn 2013, pp 21-27; or, with correction, ISG (L&SE) News, issue 53, October 2013, pp 5-8).
Especially useful is Parallel Parliament’s section on Bills. Whether you select All Bills, Government Bills, Private Member’s Bills, or Royal Assent (i.e. that have become Acts), you are presented with a list in reverse date order of last update, and with a brief explanation of the legislation’s intention. Clicking on the title of an Act or Bill gives you anything and everything you need to trace and go to each of the links to that Bill’s progress through Commons and Lords. For example, https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/bills/2017-19/europeanunionwithdrawalno5 European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019, which was presented by Yvette Cooper and supported by Sir Oliver Letwin [and 10 other MPs]. Returning to https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/ we come to Government Departments. On a smart grey background are buttons for links to each of the departments listed. Next, a section headed Latest Department Information provides Department news (from Departmental twitter feeds). For example: 11 May 2019, 11:06 a.m. DCMS WATCH: 60 seconds with new Poet Laureate Simon Armitage https://t.co/rdNHqizEPl – Link: https://twitter.com/DCMS/status/1127153095321038859/video/1
The View Recent Tweets, takes you to list of All Tweets made during the week for all Government departments. Examples I’ve found range from the seemingly frivolous to the more serious:
11 May 2019, 11 a.m. Department for International Trade
???? It’s #NationalDoughnutWeek ???? Do you prefer jam or custard? ????????????????????????????’s @Mackays_jams ???? are the top UK jam brand in ????????. And #DidYouKnow in 2018, ???????? jam exports increased by 9% to £145m ????#ExportingisGREAT https://t.co/0nsafH2ItB
10 May 2019, 8 p.m. Home Office
We’re establishing a new statutory duty of care to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of users online. Compliance will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator. #OnlineSafety Find out more: https://t.co/VGH7tnKZv6 https://t.co/YGmLdcc5gf
Back at https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/ the Parallel Parliament website very nicely brings together answers to Written Questions. You can choose one of the headings given, but more useful is to View Recent Written Questions (taking you to https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/WrittenQuestionsAll). Here, you can see either the day’s, week’s, month’s or year’s Written Questions, which can also be filtered by name(s) of Government Department(s). Up to 10 May, there had been 2867 Written Questions made in the past year!
The page https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/ focuses on two sorts of Departmental publications: Consultations seeking feedback; and Latest publications, in each case listing (with links), the three most recent, to give you an idea, so that if you opt to View all …, it will generally just give the most recent week. And while there is the option to filter/expand both to include all in the last month or the last year, it does tell you that “This database is maintained primarily to create live updates, and is not a comprehensive record …”, and suggests you use the search features on the Official Government publications site.
The final sections on the page https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/ focus on the most recent day in the Commons displayed in two columns. On the left, are the subjects of debates or other business in the Commons (and how many speeches), with a link for each to the entire Hansard debate. On the right, are Written statements, debates in Westminster Hall and Ministerial corrections (linked in likewise fashion). Until today (Saturday 11 May 2019), I had not previously managed to find direct links to Hansard using the What’s on section of the Parliament website; but at last, there is now such a facility.
The overall (more aesthetic) impression of this website is its very nice use of colours which do not jar or detract from the content. If we want to keep up to date with the work of Select Committees in general, this link on the Parliament website is the most useful, authoritative and comprehensive: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/ It gives links to all such Committees, and lists subjects/titles of new inquiries. (Lords and Joint Committees not currently covered on Parallel Parliament.)
In its Eighth Report, Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report (HC 1791), the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee stated upon publication on 18 February that “this is the Final Report in our inquiry, but it will not be the final word”. See: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/fake-news-17-19/ You will notice that the Committee had started this inquiry (and took written evidence) in the previous Parliament; and in the box, Scope of the inquiry, that the Government responded to the Committee’s final report on 9 May 2019.
On the same date, Steven Hartshorne circulated information about the Parallel Parliament website to the wider SCOOP membership as a useful and potentially timesaving resource for tracking progress of current legislation, departmental information, and government or Parliament activity. He notes that it seems to be independently produced (using the Open Parliament Licence), and that the domain was only registered in March 2019. If you’ve not already done so, do give this website a try.
[This article first appeared in K&IM Refer 35(2), Spring 2019]