Use of hand-held electronic devices in the Chamber and committees - Procedure Committee Contents

Written evidence

Memorandum submitted by Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, Chair of the Administration Committee (P 74, 2010-11)

Thank you for inviting my Committee to offer a view on the use of electronic devices in the Chamber and in Committees.

We recall that permission was granted in order to allow Members waiting to speak to carry on with other work. This, arguably, has now gone a little too far, because we are aware that some members of the public have begun to express concern that Members appear to be 'engrossed' in mobile phones or devices such as BlackBerries. Members of the Committee do not go so far as to say that their use in the Chamber should be banned. However, there is evidence of over-reliance, and we should remember that a Member who spends no time listening to colleagues can hardly expect to be listened to when he or she speaks.

We believe that the practice of 'tweeting' from the Chamber should be prohibited. We fully support the idea that the Chamber be open and transparent, but find such a practice grossly discourteous to other Members.

We think, therefore, that the Speaker might be asked to redefine the previous ruling in a more restrictive way.

By contrast, however, we believe that a more relaxed approach might be taken from the Chair in Committees of the House (although not in a Committee of the whole House, of course). PICT expects soon to trial the use of electronic devices to provide some House papers, including, for example, the papers for a particular Select Committee. Members may find this of benefit to their way of working.

Again, Members participating in Committees—select or general—should be expected to pay attention to the matter under consideration rather than working entirely on other subjects. But the time involved in Committee work and the need to remain for the duration suggest that more leeway might usefully be given for work that may be done quickly and unobtrusively during Committee meetings.

The watchwords, again, should be discretion and courtesy to others, and the message that Members ourselves are responsible for the messages we send to our constituents—both electronically and metaphorically—would be a useful one to reinforce.

We suggest that the above represents a balanced approach.

February 2010

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