Select Committee on Information First Report


Memorandum by

Background on was launched two years ago by Parliamentary Communications Limited—the publishers of The House Magazine and The Parliamentary Monitor. Its aim is to improve the flow of information and communication between elected representatives and the public. is a free and open access politics Internet site. This makes us well placed to contribute to your investigation into how MPs can "keep in touch". During the General Election in 2001 attracted 31 million hits. and MP websites

Our Webminster section houses 285 MP websites—the largest single collection of MP websites on the Internet. Out of these 285 websites has built over 120 sites from scratch—making us the biggest builder of MP websites. Following instructions from the MPs' offices we are also responsible for updating and maintaining these 121 websites and we ensure all 285 MP websites are up-to-date and topical by inviting MPs to send us their latest press releases which we then add to their sites.'s experience of MPs' attitudes to their websites has designed a very basic and simple template for an MP website. It can provide details about the MP, the constituency, how you can contact the MP, the MP's interests, speeches, press releases, articles and their local campaigns. Users can e-mail their MP from a link on the website, if the MP wishes to provide an e-mail address. To build the sites, the MP e-mails us the text and pictures they want to go in and we then build it into our template and send it back for their approval. Whenever an MP wants to update their site they simply e-mail the change to us and we then update the website on their behalf.

We appreciate that our MP websites provide a basic service for MPs and that this is just the beginning of how the MP should be using the Internet to communicate with their constituents, but we believe our service meets most MPs' current expectations of the Internet and fits in with the time that MPs can currently devote to their website. We believe there are many other ways in which the MP could and should be using the Internet to communicate with their constituents, and perhaps more importantly to position themselves to become the "electronic gatekeeper" in the e-democracy process—acting as a vital link between the public and the government. However, we recognise that this would require additional staff and resources for MPs.

The electronic gatekeeper—constituency forums

We believe each MP should have the technical capacity to develop a constituency forum. This forum would include all the key stakeholders within the constituency—local hospitals, schools, businesses, voluntary organisations, etc. and would also be open to members of the public. We would suggest the MP should regularly consult their constituency forum—asking for their opinions on a specific policy issue. The relevant constituency stakeholders who have an interest in the issue along with any constituent who would like to get involved could e-mail in their views. The MP would then send a report to the relevant government department detailing the key comments from some of those who responded. This means the MP would have found a new way of consulting with organisations and individuals from the constituency on a policy issue, gets feedback from the constituency about policy areas and acts as an influential filter—sending key views from the constituents to Whitehall.

Developing the use of technology along these lines would have several major benefits. It would ensure that ministers and officials are aware of a range of grassroots opinion as they develop and implement policies, helping to make policies more effective, and would also place MPs at the centre of a renewed effort to improve co-operation between government and civil society. would like to set up a pilot project with some MPs to develop this idea of constituency forums further. However, we realise that this would require a dedicated member of staff for each MP and would require the MP to invest some of their time into this project.

How improves MPs access to information wherever they are

News runs a highly respected news service covering around 20 politics news stories every day. We also produce three daily e-mail bulletins per day (this service is completely free and open to all users) highlighting forthcoming politics events, announcements and reports; summarising the politics news in the national newspapers and outlining the following day's business in Westminster's Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and other devolved institutions. Our 5000 subscribers to this e-mail service include: over 400 civil servants, over 400 parliamentary staff, over 70 MPs and over 250 journalists.

The news service is also available in WAP format, allowing those who are interested to access the information wherever they are via their mobile phone.


This is the area of the site where over 300 members ranging from corporate organisations to government agencies, trade associations to charities house their specialist public affairs websites within the portal. These sites are different to the organisations' regular corporate site as these tailored sites specifically deal with their public affairs message. Using XML technology we can then link these Forum sites to relevant areas of the site. MPs, researchers, party workers and civil servants have found that by using the Forum they are able to find out about a key organisation's public affairs position on a specific issue far more quickly and easily than by other methods.

We have started consulting our Forum members on topical policy issues and inviting them to give an immediate response. We add these responses to their websites and we put these responses up as news stories on the site. We recently received an e-mail from the Private Secretary to a Cabinet Minster who described our Forum Brief as "Absolutely brilliant." He went on to call it: "A really useful tool. It helps to have supportive and non-supportive comments on key stories that are running through the day."

What some MPs have said about the service

"The website that I hold within ePolitix is a useful addition to my work as an MP—enabling my constituents and other people interested in my work to access information about me on the Web. I am grateful to them for this service."

—  The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP—Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

"My staff are very happy with the support they have received from ePolitix in setting up and maintaining my website."

—  The Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP—Minister for Local Government

" provides a very good and extremely useful service. It makes politics on the Internet simple and accessible."

—  The Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP—Leader of the Liberal Democrats

"It is vital for an MP to have a web presence. In the quagmire that is the Internet industry, it was invaluable to have, a trusted a professional organisation to assist me in establishing a website. I could not be more grateful to them for their helpfulness and encouragement."

—  Rt Hon Virginia Bottomley MP—former Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport

"My staff and I find an invaluable resource that helps us to keep in touch with events in Westminster and the factors shaping the issues of the day."

—  The Rt Hon Bruce George MP—Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee

"I am regularly impressed by the quality and depth of information contained within The subscribed services are of the highest quality and each new addition to the site makes it more and more invaluable. ePolitix is now an indispensable site for obtaining the most up-to-date information on what's happening in Parliament."

—  Nigel Griffiths MP—DTI Minister

Future meeting: would be keen to meet with the Parliamentary Information Committee to discuss in more detail our ideas about how MPs could better use the Internet to communicate with their constituents and how MPs should be using the Internet to access relevant and useful information on policy issues. We hope this will be possible.

25 June 2002

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