The Upper House yesterday took its first trembling steps into the 21st century, by agreeing to allow the use of electronic devices in the Lords – but only so long as they are hand-held and don’t make nasty clicking noises!
Lord Brabazon of Tara kicked off debate by introducing a paper from the Administration and Works Committee, which aimed to clarify the rules regulating the use of electronic devices in the House.
Members were apparently unclear as to which devices could be used in and around the Chamber, for what purpose and at what time.
For the most part, the proposals simply clarify what is already in the rule book. Relaxation has been recommended, for a trial period of one year, during which Members would be allowed to use electronic handheld devices to access parliamentary papers and other documents that are "clearly and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand Committee".
However, "Members should not use electronic devices to search for material for use in debate to which other participants do not have access".
The main consideration when deciding what would be allowed was practical. According to the report: "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".
So no laptops clicking away in the background – and no Google searches during debate, although those wishing to browse privately would be permitted to do so.
Lord Harris of Haringey promptly shocked their noble Lords by confessing to the heinous crime of doing a swift Google search before intervening in a debate.
Lord Higgins expressed some concern as to what the average member of the public might make of this, were they to tune in to find the assembled Lords tapping away on their iPads. Lord Cormack interjected with a confession that he does not Google, Twitter, tweet or blog, adding "nor do I have any particular desire to do any of those things".
He objected to the introduction of handheld devices on the grounds of what he described as potential "electronic mission creep". He said: "Anybody sitting in this Chamber with a handheld device could do anything from googling facts to getting in touch with his bookmaker".
Others were less sceptical, with positive support provided by Lords Lucas, Deben, Kirkwood and Low, as well as Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who welcomed the report, saying it was taking the Lords' use of technology into the 21st century.
Lord Brabazon ended the debate by explaining that he was using the term iPad "generically" (in much the same sense as a hoover). He confessed: "I am not sure that I completely know the definition of a netbook and how it is different."
Apparently, as another Lord helpfully interjected: "It is a question of whether they click or not".
The report was agreed and for the next year at least, the UK's second chamber will echo to the silent patter of fingers on iPads, as our noble Lords get to grips with new technology. ®