I don’t claim to be at the cutting edge of new technology, but I am aware that I am more up-to-date on these matters than some of my House of Lords colleagues.
It was with some trepidation therefore that I picked up the recommendations of that venerable and important body the House of Lords Administration and Works Committee on “Use of Electronic Devices in the House.” The Committee chaired by the Lord Chairman of Committees, the Lord Brabazon of Tara, has noted that:
“the rules regulating the use of mobile telephones and other electronic devices … in the House are incomplete, outdated and contradictory”
and accordingly is recommending to the full House that the rules be revised and updated.
Most of what they are recommending makes sense and is sensible. For example, they are proposing that:
“Hand-held electronic devices (not laptops*) may be used in the Chamber and Grand Committee provided that they are silent, but repeated use of such devices is discouraged. Members making speeches may refer to electronic devices in place of paper speaking notes, subject to the existing rule against reading speeches.”
But one of their recommendations seems harder to follow and will, I would assume, be rather unenforceable. They are suggesting that:
“Electronic devices may not be used to send or receive messages for use in proceedings. They may be used to access Parliamentary papers and other documents which are clearly and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand Committee, but not to search the Web for information for use in debate which is not generally available to participants by other means.”
So Twittering from the Chamber is presumably permitted because the messages are “not for use in the proceedings”.
Accessing Parliamentary papers – presumably via the Parliamentary web-site - will be allowed, but a Google search forbidden because this may yield “information … not generally available to participants by other means”. I am not sure exactly how this is meant to work or even why it is a distinction worth making. Perhaps I am missing something.
*And another thing: does the prohibition on laptops preclude netbooks and does the approval of hand-held devices encompass iPads and Kindles?