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This Briefing Paper reviews Parliament’s engagement with the public. It outlines the concept of procedural justice, defined as: the fairness of the process by which decisions are made, and the role participants may have in this.[1] This Paper explores the concept’s potential in providing a framework of ideas against which it is possible to examine how Parliament engages with the public. This is the first stage of a project undertaken through the House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme (see below) to examine whether procedural justice can be a helpful tool to explore how Parliament’s engagement is conducted.

Until relatively recently, almost all engagement with Parliament was between MPs and their constituents, with little institutional support. This began to change in 1978, when a House of Commons Enquiry Service was set up to answer queries from the public, and the first Education Officer was appointed in 1980.

Two reports arguably underpinned the impetus for improving institutional engagement with the public:

  • The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons produced Connecting Parliament with the Public (2004), and
  • The 2005 Puttnam Commission’s report, Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye, for the Hansard Society.

There are a variety of reasons for Parliament seeking to engage with the public, including to increase public understanding of Parliament and its work, to broaden the range of voices heard by Parliament, and potentially to enhance legitimacy. In addition, individual services and structures within Parliament may have their own, sometimes different (and multiple), motivations for involving the public. There are also questions about who engagement is sought with. For some initiatives it might be ‘the public’ as a whole, while for others it might, for example, be school children, university students, or people affected by particular government policies or actions that are the subject of a select committee inquiry.

[1]    C Bochel, ‘Process Matters: Petitions Systems in Britain’s Legislatures’, The Journal of Legislative Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 2016, p371


House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme

The House of Commons Academic Fellowship Scheme is run in partnership with the Political Studies Association. It was launched at the end of 2016 and five Academic Fellows were appointed in the first round. The Fellowships are an opportunity for senior political and social scientists to study the work of Parliament, to provide expertise, to contribute to a number of events to help build public understanding of Parliament, and to inform and enhance the work of the House.

Catherine Bochel, Reader in Policy Studies, University of Lincoln, has been awarded an academic fellowship under the title “Procedural Justice: A Fair Process for Public Engagement?”

Richard Kelly is the House of Commons Library contact.

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