Select Committee on Information First Report


(a)The Committee recommends that the following set of principles for information and communication technologies be adopted for the House:
     A.  The House is committed to the use of ICT to increase its accessibility and to enable the public, exercising its right to use whatever medium is convenient, to communicate with Members and with Committees of the House.
     B.  The House is committed to using ICT to enhance the professionalism of Members, their staff and House staff in all aspects of parliamentary life.
     C.  The House is committed to the use of ICT to increase public participation in its work, enabling it to draw on the widest possible pool of experience, including particularly those who have traditionally been excluded from the political and parliamentary process.
     D.  The House recognises the value of openness and will use ICT to enable, as far as possible, the public to have access to its proceedings and papers.
     E.  The House will develop and share good practice in the use of ICT by other parliamentary and governmental bodies both within the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and will work in collaboration with outside bodies. (paragraph 11).
(b)The Committee recommends that the House report annually on its progress in implementing these principles (paragraph 12).
(c)We recognise the importance of a communications strategy that maximises the accessibility and transparency of the House, and indeed Parliament, and we acknowledge the work already being done by the House of Commons Commission (paragraph 13).
(d)We will investigate the EchoMail and other filtering systems to assess their suitability for Parliament (paragraph 21).
(e)It is possible to put in place a programme which asks senders to supply their postal address and directs them elsewhere if that postal address does not fall within the Member's own constituency. This facility could be publicised to Members (paragraph 23).
(f)The House Administration should develop protocols to assist intermediaries in providing the best medium for communicating with Members, and these protocols will be considered by this Committee (paragraph 24).
(g)The Information Committee will in future investigate and make recommendations on potential mechanisms to enable all Members—whether they choose to have their personal e-mail addresses publicised or not—to be accessible to the public electronically (paragraph 25).
(h)The House could do more to promote the use of video conferencing by Members. Regular investment may be needed to take account of developments in technology (including ISDN and broadband) which improve picture quality, overall reliability, and opportunities for simultaneous translation (paragraph 27).
(i)We encourage the House Administration to bear in mind not just viewing figures during the term of the pilot but also the general desirability of making the proceedings of the House—and of select committees—as accessible as possible. An archive of webcast proceedings would also be valuable to both the public and Members (paragraph 28).
(j)It is essential, in order to run an efficient and professional office, for Members to have reliable remote access links from outside the Parliamentary Estate (paragraph 33).
(k)There is a case for including a suitable mobile device as part of the standard set of equipment issued to Members, funded centrally; the Speaker's Advisory Panel on Members' Allowances may want to consider this possibility. The Parliamentary Communications Directorate would also need to be resourced to enable Members to use any such device to access their e-mails on the [email protected]' domain, and to provide training in the use of mobile devices. (Paragraph 35).
(l)We suggest to the Speaker's Panel on Members' Allowances that it consider whether resources should be made available to assist Members in networking their computer hardware in both their Westminster and their constituency offices (paragraph 36).
(m)The House Administration could usefully draw up guidelines for Members and their staff (and indeed House staff) on how to meet expectations of quick response times and on storage of e-mails (paragraph 39).
(n)Members may wish to use a range of technologies to engage and consult with their constituents, such as via online surgeries and interactive fora. We recommend that support is given to Members to carry out their constituency role in this way. (Paragraph 42).
(o)The House Administration may need to review the allocation of resources for remote connectivity to enable additional members of staff to work from the constituency (paragraph 43).
(p)We make the following recommendations for the conduct of consultations:
—  the purpose and terms of the consultation should be made clear at the outset, both to those initiating the consultation and those participating in it. Consultations may range from a simple invitation to submit views to a more deliberative and interactive debate including senior decision makers.
—  it must be made clear to participants that they are not being asked to make policy but to inform the thinking of legislators;
—  efforts need to be made to recruit participants, whether individuals or organisations, who can impart experience and expertise;
—  special efforts are needed to make online consultations socially inclusive: these may include training in the necessary ICT skills and directions to public Internet access for participants;
—  contributions to consultations need to be interpreted or summarised by an independent body or staff;
—  a good consultation exercise will bring value to both the decision makers and the consultees. This can be tested through effective evaluation procedures, which should be built into each consultation proposal. These should be both quantitative and qualitative. Of particular value would be follow-up with a selection of both consultees and decision makers to assess the value of the consultation to them. The results of any evaluation should be produced in good time and made available to all participants;
—  participants should receive feedback on the outcomes of the consultations.
In each case, the consultee should be given clear information on what they can expect, perhaps in the form of a "consultation contract" (paragraph 47).
(q)If online consultations are adopted widely by House committees as a means of gathering information, consideration should be given to providing such support, with consequences for the House's technical support staff and committee staff. The Liaison Committee would be an appropriate forum to consider whether such a move might be desirable in principle. We encourage all those who would play a part in such a decision to bear in mind the value to the House of widening the net for evidence and of being seen to do so (paragraph 48).
(r)Special efforts need to be made by the House to engage younger people, who are recognised as being both more ready to use technology and more disconnected from the traditional political system (paragraph 50).
(s)If only to maintain a degree of consistency in Members' practice, the House could usefully offer Members guidance on how to meet statutory requirements on freedom of information and data protection (paragraph 55).
(t)We suggest that the House Administration should:
—  conduct a thorough and constant evaluation of its use of Information and Communications Technologies;
—  maintain an awareness of initiatives being developed elsewhere to increase public participation in, and communication with, representative bodies (we have in mind the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, and local authorities); and
—  work with others to use technologies in innovative and effective ways (paragraph 58).

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