First Report of Session 2010-11 from the
Administration and Works Committee |
1. It has become clear that the rules regulating
the use of mobile telephones and other electronic devices (in
this report referred to collectively as "electronic devices")
in the House are incomplete, outdated and contradictory. We have
therefore decided to revise and update those rules. This report
is the result of the Committee's deliberations. It sets out the
current rules and makes proposals in respect of the use of electronic
devices in the Chamber, Grand Committee, select committee meetings
and other parts of the House. The House is invited to agree
the text of the proposed new rules set out at the end of the report.
2. The Companion sets out the current
rules in paragraph 4.14:
Mobile telephones must be silent in the Chamber,
Prince's Chamber, Peers' Lobby, division lobbies during divisions,
the Moses Room and committee rooms during committee meetings.
[Footnote: Also the Library, the Salisbury Room, the Writing Room,
and all bars and restaurants. Elsewhere they may be used with
discretion]. In the Chamber and in committee rooms, pagers or
other electronic devices must not be used to transmit messages
to members of the House for use in proceedings.
3. These rules, which embody decisions reached
by this Committee almost four years ago,
are internally inconsistent. The rule that telephones "must
be silent" in certain areas implies that they can be used
in silent mode to send text messages or check emails and the internet.
But the rule that they "may be used [elsewhere] with discretion"
suggests that they may not be used at all (even in silent mode)
in the restricted areas. Moreover, the reference to pagers is
outdated, and the rules do not address the use of other devices
such as iPads and laptops other than in the context of the ban
on transmitting messages for use in proceedings.
Use of electronic devices in the
Chamber and Grand Committee
4. The main consideration is for what purposes,
if any, Members should be able to use electronic devices while
in the Chamber or Grand Committee.
5. First, we have considered the use of electronic
devices to send or receive messages for use in proceedings. On
the one hand, it could be argued that since there is no bar on
officials sending handwritten notes to Members (generally frontbenchers)
in the Chamber and Grand Committee, the same should apply to electronic
messages. But on the other hand, there is a profound difference
of scale, and we are persuaded that it would not be conducive
to good debate to allow Members to send or receive streams of
messages to and from researchers or advisers outside the Chamber
or Moses Room. We therefore recommend retaining the current
rule of both Houses that electronic devices must not be used to
send or receive messages for use in proceedings.
6. We have also considered the potential use
of electronic devices to provide access to documents relevant
to the business before the House. This could have significant
benefits for Members, not least in reducing their reliance on
paper copies of documents such as the Order Paper, Hansard, texts
of bills or explanatory notes, white papers or other Government
publications, and reports by external bodies which are the subject
of debate. But we are also conscious that internet access could
be abused: we do not, for instance, believe that Members participating
in proceedings should be permitted to use electronic devices to
search the Web speculatively in the hope of finding information
for use in debate which is not generally available to other participants.
7. Policing use of the internet, and in particular
distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate use, would
be difficult; in practice much would depend on self-regulation,
and on the common sense and self-restraint of individual Members.
But we believe that it is worth making the experiment.
8. We therefore recommend that, for a one-year
trial period in the first instance, Members taking part in proceedings
should be able to use electronic devices to access Parliamentary
papers and other documents which are clearly and closely relevant
to the business before the House or Grand Committee; we further
recommend that Members should not be permitted to use the internet
to search for material that might be used in the course of proceedings,
but which is not generally available to participants by other
9. We have also considered for what other purposes
Members might be able to use electronic devices (a) when not speaking
and (b) when speaking.
10. On (a), we propose an approach which reflects
current practice: in other words, subject to the rules above,
we recommend that Members should be able to use electronic
devices, in silent mode, for any purpose not related to the proceedings
before the House or Grand Committee, provided they do not distract
other Members. However, as a courtesy to other Members, we would
discourage repeated use of such devices.
11. The issue raised in (b) is also important.
There is currently no rule against using an electronic device
in place of paper notes when speaking; indeed, at least one Member
has made a speech in the Chamber using his iPad in recent weeks.
Notwithstanding the ban in the Commons on using electronic devices
as an aide memoire while addressing the House, we see no qualitative
difference between using a pad of paper for speaking notes and
using an iPad or other device. Therefore, subject to the existing
rule in the Companion against reading speeches,
and the other rules set out in this report, we recommend that
Members should be permitted to refer to electronic devices when
addressing the Chamber or Grand Committee.
12. If the House agrees to allow electronic devices
to be used in place of speaking notes in the Chamber and Grand
Committee, it will be desirable to ask Members who use devices
in this way to email text to Hansard instead of handing over hard
copy. The Editor of Hansard has confirmed that he would welcome
Which electronic devices should
13. A secondary consideration is which types
of electronic device Members should be permitted to use in the
Chamber and Grand Committee. We believe it is important to avoid
too much detail because the rules would rapidly be overtaken by
new technologyas has happened with the current rules. We
therefore propose that all hand-held devices should be permitted
in the Chamber and Grand Committee provided that they are silent.
This would exclude conventional laptops. But beyond this, we think
it inadvisable to define "hand-held devices". All references
to pagers will also be removed from the rules, as these are no
longer in common use.
Use of electronic devices in select
14. Select committee meetings are different in
atmosphere from proceedings in the Chamber, and some Members use
laptops to read the papers electronically. We therefore do
not propose restrictions on the use of electronic devices in select
committee meetings except to say that they must be silent. We
recommend instead that the use of such devices should be at the
discretion of the Chairman of each committee. Chairmen should
be able to vary the use on a meeting-by-meeting basis, for instance
to differentiate between public and private meetings.
Use of electronic devices outside
15. We propose to retain the current requirement
for mobile telephones (and other electronic devices) to be silent
in Prince's Chamber, Peers' Lobby, the division lobbies during
divisions, the Library, the Salisbury Room and all bars and restaurants,
with the added clarification that calls cannot be made or received
in those areas. The Peers' Writing Room will be removed from
the list of restricted areas because, in light of the current
size of the House, it is now a hot-desking area where mobile telephone
use is explicitly permitted.
16. The following rules are proposed. If the
House agrees this report, the Procedure Committee will be invited
to amend the Companion when it is next updated. The Handbook
on facilities and services for Members will also be revised
1. Hand-held electronic devices (not laptops)
may be used in the Chamber and Grand Committee provided that they
are silent, but repeated use of such devices is discouraged. Members
making speeches may refer to electronic devices in place of paper
speaking notes, subject to the existing rule against reading speeches.
2. Electronic devices may not be used to send
or receive messages for use in proceedings. They may be used to
access Parliamentary papers and other documents which are clearly
and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand
Committee, but not to search the Web for information for use in
debate which is not generally available to participants by other
3. Electronic devices may be used silently in
select committee meetings, subject to the discretion of the Chairman
of the committee on a meeting-by-meeting basis.
4. In the following areas of the House, electronic
devices must be silent and may not be used to hold conversations:
(i) Prince's Chamber
(ii) Peers' Lobby
(iii) Division lobbies during divisions
(v) Salisbury Room
(vi) Bars and restaurants.
1 Announced by means of a Written Statement on 31 January
2007 (HL Deb., col. WS15). Back
See Companion to the Standing Orders, paragraph 4.38: "The
House has resolved that the reading of speeches is 'alien to the
custom of this House, and injurious to the traditional conduct
of its debates' ... In practice, some speakers may wish to have
'extended notes' from which to speak, but it is not in the interests
of good debate that they should follow them closely." Back