Friday, April 3

Behind the scenes at the House of Commons Library

The C room in the member library.What started out as a collection of magazines and Victorian bookshelves has become an important source of politically impartial information on matters affecting the United Kingdom. For 200 years, the House of Commons Library has been a rich archive for MPs and increasingly for the public.

22-year-old Benjamin Spiller was the first librarian in the lower house in 1818. A redesigned suite for a collection that had outgrown a small space was completed by architect John Soane in 1828, but was expected to last less than a decade.

While an attempt was made to dispose of counter sticks that were no longer used on the evening of October 16, 1834, the clerk accidentally set fire to the Palace of Westminster. The library and two thirds of its collection were destroyed, including a number of records dating back to 1547. The library staff saved what they could by throwing books out the window.

The new building, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, opened in 1852. The new six-room suite was a splendid suite with a view of the Thames, Gothic furniture by Pugin and towering windows of the "bay window" that marks the entrance that is still used today.

The discovery of the Library Committee's protocol in 1850 shows that Sir Robert Peel's intervention shaped his future. On April 16, Chairman Sir Robert Harry Inglis proposed: "That the library … should be a library of business and reference; and no library of mere reading; and even less an amusement library ”. In response, Peel successfully argued that it should instead be "useful for study purposes and as a reference to issues directly related to legislation and parliamentary business in general."

World wars and globalization forced MPs to learn more about foreign affairs, and until 1946 a politically impartial research department was set up at the behest of a select committee.

The demographic structure of the library also gradually changed. The first female library employee is said to have been Dorothy Elizabeth Dusart, who was appointed on October 15, 1946. Jane Fiddick, a junior library employee who joined in 1963, was probably the first female official of the House of Commons – a title awarded to library and lower house employees and had access to the members' hall and tea room, where she was "constantly and embarrassing." challenged ".

In the late 1960s, the research department published "Reference Sheets": a collection of information and background information on legislation. MEPs could look at the papers in the library one by one. When Parliament was recalled after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the head of the Department of Science and Defense Research, John Poole, commissioned a coherent analysis of the situation and added "background papers" to the edition. This led to a so-called "research briefing", which is available online for everyone to read.

The vote on joining the European Community (EC) on October 28, 1971 is a milestone in the history of the library. When the vote was held, Helen Holden, IT specialist in the Department of International Affairs (IAS) from 1971 to 1976, was newly appointed. "The atmosphere in the house in October 1971, especially on the 28th, was tense," she said. "There was a lot at stake and there was some bipartisan vote on the request."

Holden was involved in the compilation of foreign press clippings, official documents and contracts and followed the progress of EU legislation:

Some, particularly former ministers, knew exactly what they were looking for and had detailed expertise in specific fields. For lay people, who cannot be expected to know everything, we have tailored the information to individuals. It was a subject that shared parties and there were cross-party activities. It happened very often in the library … It was a pretty private, safe room.

When Argentina invaded South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, the role of the library in overseeing international affairs was reused. After the invasion on April 2, 1982, former library manager Carole Andrews recalls a Commons debate the following day:

I was in the chamber for the opening speeches on Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot's Saturday debate. It was a very tense and sober atmosphere. Earlier, MPs came to the library and asked, "Where are the Falkland Islands?" We had to get detailed maps from the Department of Defense. During the war, we rushed home every night to hear the news, which was carefully controlled.

Richard Ware, a library clerk, was the only researcher at the time to investigate the Falkland Islands: "The sudden jolt towards war was a shock," he said. Some MPs knew about the Falkland Islands but needed to refresh their memories and many others had barely heard of them but wanted to participate in the debates. Among the most demanding were the Labor Opposition front workers who spoke on foreign and defense issues. "

In the digital age, the library publishes its results for public use. His principle of impartiality not only weighs on the debates in the plenary hall and on the political decisions, but also ensures that he plays the role of the fact-checker when necessary.

As an opposition MP, Gordon Brown used the library's findings to successfully argue that the cold weather payment management system hit its Scottish voters more than those living in the warmer south. Labor MPs Yvette Cooper's gender analysis of public budgets, particularly the impact of tax and benefit changes on women, is also based on research commissioned by the library.

And, just as Peel intended, the library's role in dealing with “parliamentary affairs in general” enables researchers to examine all areas of life that affect the UK and its international relations. However, historical events such as the decision to leave the EU continue to pose new challenges that require new expertise and calls for answers.

In addition to briefings on topics related to home affairs, international relations, the economy, statistical data and social policy, which in turn contribute to effective legislative and political changes, parliamentarians, scientists and political researchers are looking for answers to these questions in the library Brexit could have an impact on people's lives.

Eleanor Davis works in the House of Commons Library. The author thanks Alexander Bellis, Richard Cracknell and Richard Kelly for their contributions and the works of David Menhennet, Dr. Mari Takayanagi and Chris Pond.

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