HC Deb 11 June 2002 vol 386 cc719-20
45. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

What proposals he will make to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on the matter of the use of electronic equipment in Standing Committees of the House. [57425]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

The Modernisation Committee currently has a heavy programme, but I am aware of concerns about the use of electronic equipment in Standing Committees and will keep them in mind for the future, while bearing in mind also the clearly expressed views of the Chairmen's Panel.

Mr. Jack

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for bearing the matter in mind for future work by the Modernisation Committee. Currently, the rules are unclear about what electronic equipment may or may not be brought into a Standing Committee. On the other hand, Ministers mention websites and refer hon. Members to them, even though the rules mean that there is no way that we can use modern electronic equipment to communicate with the outside world from a Committee Room. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to sort the matter out. The House has invested heavily in information technology, and we should be able to use portable computers in Committee to help us to hold the Executive to account.

Mr. Cook

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. He has raised the issue before during oral questions, and it is one that the Modernisation Committee must address when it has time. However, I put it to him that there is not only one simple conclusion or one simple set of arguments. The members of the Chairmen's Panel have considered the issue on several occasions and they are reluctant to admit portable laptops and other electronic equipment to Committee proceedings, for the simple reason that once they have been introduced it is not possible to he sure that they are being used to further an interest in those proceedings, rather than an interest in other things going on in the world, such as English football and the World cup.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

I hesitate to mention the word e-mail because I know that it is not popular these days, but should we not try to emulate bodies such as the National Assembly for Wales—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)


Kevin Brennan

In the Assembly and the other new devolved bodies, that sort of technology is freely available to Members in meetings, so that they can check statistics and facts and communicate with the outside world. Incidentally, both the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and I attended the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill this morning; no one there was seeking England football team results, but a number of text messages relating to the Ireland football team were passed around.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend's last sentence confirms the point that I made earlier. I am all in favour of our using e-mail when it can speed up a process, and I hope that the forthcoming report of the Procedure Committee will open the way to our using e-mail in the tabling of questions. That will enable those hon. Members who wish to use modern communications to do so, and leave the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and others who do not wish to do so entirely free to use a pencil and yellow paper.