Memorandum from the Parliamentary Communications
1. The Parliamentary Communications Directorate
(PCD) has been invited to make a submission to the Procedure Committee
on the possible adoption of Electronic tabling of Questions and
Motions, and also to provide views on the submission made by Mr
Richard Allan MP.
2. Based on an overview of the requirement
it is technically feasible to introduce an electronic means of
tabling questions and motions. Many organisations have adopted
electronic solutions as a substitute for paper-based processes.
The range of potential solutions in this case could include the
use of the existing e-mail system, as suggested by Richard Allan,
or perhaps the introduction of a workflow and/or documentation
management type system. The particular technical solution should
be determined only once a detailed requirement has been prepared
and agreed, based upon a full understanding of the whole process,
the particular aspects of the process to be included in the new
approach, and importantly what the future use and growth of the
system may be.
3. It is known that the House of Lords has
adopted the use of e-mail to submit questions.
4. Two issues arise from such an approach.
Firstly, the matter of authentication and non-repudiation ie is
the person submitting the question who they say they are? And
secondly, what if the system were to fail?
5. With regard authentication, Richard Allan,
in his submission, has provided a helpful explanation of the vulnerability
that could arise without any controls in place, but also points
out the inherent vulnerability that exists with the current paper
based approach. A range of precautions could be adopted, which
would need to be guided by an agreed understanding of the risk.
Accepting questions if only submitted via an established PDVN
account could be one means of reducing the risk as Richard Allan
suggests, as could the use of password protected documents. The
attraction of that latter being that it need not be dependent
upon having access to a particular e-mail account. Other technologies
exist that could offer more assured security but would result
in a more complex solution and implementation, for example digital
6. In the event of a system failure, the
existing manual process, it is assumed, would remain as a familiar
and fully operational alternative.