Report by Mr Gary
Waller, Chairman of the Committee
1. The Domestic Committee
structure which resulted from the recommendations of the team
led by Sir Robin Ibbs
is relatively new. The 1992 Parliament will be the first Parliament
in which the Information Committee and the other Domestic Committees
have operated throughout.
2. The Committee has the
normal powers of select committees and some additional powers
to exchange information and meet concurrently with other committees
and Committees of the House of Lords.
The Committee's responsibilities include:-
- the provision
of Library services
- the provision
of computer, TV and video services for Members
- other information
services (including scientific and technological advice).
3. As far as the Library
is concerned, the Committee's main role has been to express a
view on any proposals for changes to the services provided to
Members. However at a more general level, the Committee considered
the Library's responses to the Value for Money Study of the Library's
Research Services, the first value for money study carried out
in the House following the recommendation of Sir Robin Ibbs and
his team that such studies should be introduced in the House.
The study, with the Library's initial response, was presented
to the Finance and Services Committee on 25 October 1994 and to
the Information Committee on 21 November 1994. The Finance and
Services Committee invited the Librarian to submit a further paper
on follow-up action after she had considered the recommendations
further, in consultation with the Information Committee. The Librarian's
further paper was considered by the Committee on 24 April 1995.
One of the recommendations of the value for money study was that
the Library carry out regular surveys of Members to establish
their needs, and whether these needs were being met. The Committee
was consulted early in 1995 on the method of conducting the first
User Survey, which was carried out by consultants in July 1995.
On the advice of the Committee an abbreviated version of the
survey's conclusions was sent to all Members, having been considered
by the Committee together with the Library's response in November
1995. In connection with a further recommendation of the value
for money study, the Committee endorsed in March 1995 a paper
setting out the types of enquiry which the Library does not accept
or to which only a limited response is provided.
4. In addition, the Library
has consulted the Committee on developments in its use of information
technology to provide services to Members and to the staff of
the two Houses. With the agreement of the Committee, the Parliamentary
On-Line Information System, POLIS, was upgraded, expanded and
moved to a new supplier at the same time as it made the transition
from being based on a library-managed network to the Parliamentary
data and video network (PDVN).
New electronic information services for use by Members and their
staff were also considered by the Committee, including the provision
of networked CD-ROM and disk services as well as the Parliamentary
Electronic Delivery Service (PEDDS) which enables Library Research
Papers and other word-processed documents to be accessed from
personal computers throughout Westminster. The Committee has
been consulted by the Librarian and her staff whenever appropriate.
Computer TV and video services
5. The years since the Committee
have seen rapid change in the field of Information Technology
(IT) and in the use of it by Members, their staff and the administrative
Departments of the House.
6. The majority of the Committee's
work has therefore related to the provision of improved IT services
for Members and other Parliamentary users. It should be realised
that, at the start of the 1992 Parliament, the use of computers
by Members was minimal; there was no computer network within the
House and the `clean feed' of proceedings was not available.
7. At the start of the Parliament,
a pilot scheme to test the practicability and viability of a Parliamentary
Data and Video Network (PDVN) was set up and was closely monitored
by the Committee, most Members of which were connected to it.
Users were at that time using a DOS-based computer operating
system and dialling-in to the network by modem. A full-scale
survey of Members' use of IT was commissioned and a PDVN User
Group was set up.
8. As the expansion of IT
became more rapid, the Committee considered whether, as recommended
in a report by the Top Salaries Review Body,
IT equipment, software and maintenance should be provided centrally
for Members and their staff. The Committee's First Report
opposed the recommendation but supported the provision of a limited
amount of training for Members and their staff, paid for from
the Member's Office Costs Allowance.
9. The Committee took evidence
on the PDVN from Members and others which led to a Report
recommending that a full parliamentary data and video network
should be set up. In order to accelerate the provision of the
clean feed of proceedings the Broadcasting Committee agreed to
relax its rule that the clean feed should be available to all
Members at the same time and it was proposed that Members with
offices in out-buildings should be given priority for the video
10. The Report (together
with the earlier Report on central provision of IT) was debated
and both Reports were approved on 30 June 1994.
The necessity to cable most of the parliamentary estate meant
that the PDVN would not be available to all users until the year
2001 but it was recognised that in the interim users could connect
via a modem. It was also agreed that Members should be loaned
a modem if they wished to connect from their home or constituency.
Training in the use of the PDVN would be provided (and paid for)
by the House.
11. In the period following
the approval by the House of the Committee's Report, consideration
was given to the data and video services which might be made available
on the PDVN, and a concurrent meeting with the Lords Library and
Computers Sub-Committee was held, principally to discuss the video
services. The Committee also endorsed a trial connection to the
Internet in order to assess the implications of connection for
the PDVN and its users.
12. The Broadcasting Committee
agreed to transfer to the Information Committee its responsibilities
for delivery of the clean feed while retaining oversight of the
production of the signal. The Administration Committee agreed
that the Information Committee should assume responsibility for
television (including the annunciators). A request by the Information
Committee, based on the merging technologies of video, data and
telephones, to assume responsibility for telephones was declined.
The Information Committee decided not to pursue the question
with the Finance and Services Committee, preferring to await the
appointment of the Domestic Committees in a new Parliament when
responsibilities would be re-assessed. The changes of responsibilities
mentioned above were the only adjustments during the 1992 Parliament
and there were few problems of overlap.
13. The video network was
expanded to provide the four terrestrial TV Channels, Sky News
and Sport, CNN and the clean feeds of both Houses together with
their annunciator services. Surplus channels on TV sets connected
to the network were allocated on a temporary basis to national
14. The Committee endorsed
the reorganisation of departmental responsibility for TV, telephones
and data under an Information Systems Office (since renamed the
Communications Directorate) and approved the proposed strategy
for IT development within the House based on an `Intranet' (ie.
a system enabling PDVN users to access the various systems of
House Departments and to improve communication and co-ordination
15. The immense expansion
of the Internet (doubling in size each year) led to the Committee's
encouragement of House officials to consider the creation of a
parliamentary web-site on the world wide web. A sub-committee
of the Board of Management (the Electronic Publishing Group) recommended
the incremental availability of certain House documents (including
the Official Report) on a web-site, with those documents
being made available, in their original form, free of charge for
personal use. Companies and others wishing to provide added value
for commercial gain would be required to obtain a licence from
the House's copyright agents HMSO. The Committee endorsed the
Electronic Publishing Group's recommendations in its first report
and the proposals were subsequently approved by the Finance and
Services Committee and the House of Commons Commission.
16. The rapid growth of
demand in a comparatively short period (from pilot scheme in 1993
to some 1600 users in 1996) led to various problems of reliability
and resilience of the PDVN, culminating in a major failure in
autumn 1995. As a result of various studies undertaken by consultants,
a major injection of finance (for staff and equipment) was proposed.
In order to house the increased numbers of staff, new leased
accommodation (in Great George Street) was also proposed.
17. Although concerned at
the vastly-increased cost, the Committee gave its qualified support
based on the need to avoid major failures and to improve the service
provided to Members. The move to Great George Street was undertaken
early in 1997 and the Committee will continue to monitor the performance
of the PDVN.
18. Another area of responsibility
of the Committee is for technological advice provided to Members.
The Committee set up briefly at the end of the previous Parliament
had given a limited endorsement (approved by the House) to parliamentary
funding for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
(POST) to be reviewed after 3 years. The Committee considered
the matter and took evidence from POST and the Library. The Committee's
Report, subsequently approved by the House of Commons Commission,
recommended continuation of parliamentary funding for a further
five years ending on 31 March 2001.
19. The Committee was supported
by its Clerk and a Personal Secretary with some (shared) clerical
support. Both members of staff had other responsibilities. The
Committee appointed two Specialist Advisers during the Parliament,
one of whom has continued to advise the Committee on technical
matters throughout. In spite of this minimal level of support
it is not proposed that, given the continuation of the current
work level, the staffing levels should be increased.
20. The new structure referred
gave Domestic Committees the power "to adjourn from place
to place" (ie to travel away from Westminster). The Committee
has taken advantage of this part of its Standing Order on several
occasions and places particular value on the contribution to the
opinion-forming process of such visits. For example the visit
to the United States and Canadian legislatures in autumn 1993
greatly assisted the Committee in its deliberations which led
to the report recommending the adoption of the PDVN, which was
subsequently debated and approved by the House.
Subsequent visits to other legislatures such as the German Bundestag
and to software manufacturers have provided immensely valuable
information on the services to be provided on, and the method
of operation of, the PDVN. In view of the good value which we
consider the House to have obtained from such visits we believe
it is important that adequate funding should continue to be made
available for overseas travel administered by the Liaison Committee.
21. The merging and developing
technologies in a number of areas allied to the Committee's responsibilities,
may mean that it will be necessary, at the start of the next Parliament,
to undertake a thorough review of the Domestic Committees and
their terms of reference.
80 Report on House of Commons Services HC (1990-91) 38 Back
81 SO No. 125 Back
82 See paras 7 to 17 below Back
83 On 23 June 1992 Back
84 TSRB Report Number 32 (Cm 1943) Back
85 HC (1992-93) 737 Back
86 HC (1993-94) 237 Back
87 Official Report, 30 June 1994, col. 1012 Back
88 HC (1995-96) 328 Back
89 HC (1994-95) 578 Back
90 See para 1 Back
91 Op cit Back