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New Technology

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

27. If she will propose to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons that it inquire into the use of new technology to connect Parliament with the public. (204042)

The Government and the House attach great importance to promoting parliamentary engagement with the public. There are no current plans for the Modernisation Committee to examine the specific issue of the use of new technology in support of that, but the Committee has frequently examined it within its other work—for example, in the recent reforms to the legislative process.

I thank the Minister for that answer. There are many ways in which new technology can help Parliament better to connect with the public, as highlighted by my own campaign to allow parliamentary video clips to be shown on YouTube and other websites and also by the “Free our Bills” campaign to make legislation more easily accessible, searchable and understandable online. Will the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House further consider asking the Modernisation Committee to undertake an inquiry specifically on that issue, taking into account the two subjects that I have mentioned?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware that television proceedings and subsequent use on Members’ websites are subject to a licence issued by the Speaker. The licence stipulates that material must not be hosted on a searchable website and must not be downloadable. The reason for that is to ensure that it is not re-edited or reused inappropriately for campaigning or satirical purposes.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of mySociety’s “Free our Bills” campaign and it is obvious that great strides have been taken recently in improving the parliamentary website. She is right to suggest that if our constituents can gain easier access to the progress of Bills, it will enable them to intervene as they wish. That work is ongoing. The specific proposals of mySociety, however, have some disadvantages. It wants to be able to provide explanatory material and to reorder some material, but before we went that far we would need to look into it in much greater detail.

The most important way in which the public can access the parliamentary system is by accessing their MPs. I want to commend those who organise the IT system, or—as it certainly went through difficult times—those who are now running a much better system. Will my hon. Friend make it clear—it may have to be done through parliamentary procedures—that we really should not be shutting down the system? When we are trying to work through remote access, it is very annoying when neither our constituents can access us nor we them.

Like my hon. Friend I have a rural constituency, so I understand the particular difficulties faced by Members whose IT access collapses, if only temporarily. I will take up my hon. Friend’s points with the Parliamentary Information and Communication Technology department.