Select Committee on Procedure Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Parliamentary Communications Directorate


  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 signatures.

  6.  In the event of a system failure, the existing manual process, it is assumed, would remain as a familiar and fully operational alternative.

Matthew Taylor


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