Annual Report 2008-09 - Information Committee Contents

CHAPTER 4: Information Services

Visual aids

16.  In our last Annual Report, we described how the Committee had examined a proposal that Members be allowed to use visual aids to support their speeches during Grand Committee proceedings in the Moses Room. The Committee's view was that visual aids might be useful in supporting debate during the committee stage of complex public bills by illustrating speeches on amendments. They might also be suitable for use during other proceedings in Grand Committee, such as questions for short debates and debates on select committee reports. Committee reports often include tables and charts; and it might prove helpful for these to be visually accessible during the debate.

17.  Allowing Members to use visual aids in Grand Committee would have significant implications for the House's procedures, and so we referred the proposal to the Procedure Committee. In October 2008, that Committee concluded that, whilst the House should not resist the opportunities presented by new technology, the Grand Committee was not the right forum for introducing visual aids. The Procedure Committee invited the Information Committee to undertake further work on possible uses of visual aids, with a particular emphasis on Select Committees and other evidence-taking committees. Since committees already have the ability to take evidence presented using visual aids, in January we decided not to pursue the matter further for the time being.

18.  We welcome the refurbishment of Committee Rooms 1 and 2, following the departure of the Law Lords to the Supreme Court. The horse-shoe tables in the rooms include built-in screens and data points for internet access, so the facilities are now available for Members and committees wishing to display and view visual aids. In addition, both rooms are equipped with the following, all of which will facilitate the use of visual aids:

  • webcasting facilities,
  • broadcasting facilities,
  • modern audio-visual equipment,
  • video conferencing facilities, and
  • wireless internet connectivity.

Developments to the online Hansard

19.  We reported last Session that the Committee had asked for a pilot to be developed to link the online text of Hansard with the archived webcasts of the Chamber to enable users to watch, listen to and read a past debate on the same screen at the same time. In April 2009, we saw a pilot demonstrator linking the online text of Hansard with the archived webcasts of the Chamber. We were impressed with the demonstrator and decided that development should continue with a view to offering a full service to the public by summer 2010.

20.  The parliamentary website has a trial version of a new presentation of the online Hansard text. The main difference is in the way in which the text is split up. The current online Hansard is split into multiple pages on the basis of file size. This results in html page breaks happening in the middle of a debate or the middle of a speech, which can be inconvenient and frustrating for the user. In the new presentation, each debate has a separate page. This means that some pages are very long and others are very short. Further features are planned to be added to this new way of dividing the text, including indexes by Member, direct links from a Member's name to a list of other contributions that they have made, better links to relevant documents, and others. When the new pages are fully functional, they will replace the existing presentation rather than running alongside and duplicating it. The new web appearance can be seen via the following page:

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