Select Committee on Information First Report


The Information Committee has agreed to the following Report:




  1. The Information Committee exists to consider information services provided for the House.[1] Previous reports from the Committee have generally concentrated upon the provision of computer hardware and IT networks to those who work in the House. This emphasis on the development of an efficient parliamentary information and communication infrastructure has been—and will continue to be—the backbone of our work. The vast majority of Members rely heavily on IT services provided by the House to carry out their work effectively.

2. However, this Report, our first of this Parliament, looks both at the parliamentary information and communication infrastructure as well as a much wider issue. There is concern amongst the public—and indeed amongst Members—that the House appears remote, that it does not respond as well as it might to the public, and that it could do more to hold the executive to account. Public perceptions and expectations of Parliament appear to be changing and there is authoritative evidence to indicate that public participation in the political process appears to be in decline.[2] When the public does engage with Parliament, its perception of it is most commonly formed from a distance, via correspondence and reports of proceedings. Other committees of this House have looked into this issue, notably the Public Administration Committee.[3] The Leader of the House, in his capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, has said that "modernisation is about enabling MPs to do a more effective job for their constituency and for the country" and that "the test of [modernisation's] success must be whether it increases the esteem of the public for their Parliament".[4]

3. Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can play an important role in influencing perceptions and helping to meet public expectations. Indeed, they cannot be ignored. The arrival of the Internet as a mass public network is already having a profound effect on the work of Members. Technologies are developing constantly, in particular, the expansion of Digital Television through its three platforms and mobile telephony will increasingly lead people to shop, bank, learn and communicate with one another online, and Members can expect the nature of their work to change significantly over the coming years. With guidance, they can derive benefit from ICT in organising their work more efficiently and maintaining better communications with constituents. It is important that these opportunities are grasped so that the role and reputation of Parliament can be enhanced; otherwise Parliament will be open to criticism that it is falling behind other Parliaments worldwide (and devolved parliamentary bodies closer to home) in their efforts to improve contact between the public and their elected representatives.

4. The purpose of this Report is to identify those areas where the House can assist Members in meeting public expectations. Our recommendations are addressed to the House of Commons Commission and to the Committee on the Modernisation of the House, as well as to the House Administration in general; but we hope that other Committees concerned with the workings of the House as well as members of the public, including those who are concerned with the development of e-democracy, will find the Report of interest.

Course of the inquiry

  5. In order to examine these issues, we took evidence from a wide range of sources. These included:

Much of this evidence is printed as annexes or as Appendices to the Report. We have also been greatly assisted by Dr Stephen Coleman,[5] whom we appointed as a Specialist Adviser for this inquiry.

1   Standing Orders of the House of Commons, HC 825 (Session 2001-02). Back

2   Voter engagement and young people, Research report, Electoral Commission, July 2002; See also Young People and Citizenship, paper presented by Professor Robert Worcester to the ATL Conference, March 2002, Back

3   Public Participation: Issues and Innovations, Sixth Report of the Public Administration Committee, HC 373 (Session 2000-01). Back

4   Modernisation of the House of Commons: a Reform Programme for Consultation, memorandum by the Leader of the House of Commons to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, HC 440 (Session 2001-02). Back

5   Director of the Hansard Society e-democracy programme. Back

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Prepared 15 July 2002