House Of Lords Allows iPads

Will iPads and smartphones inform or distract in Britain’s upper chamber of government?

Peers of the realm will be allowed to use iPads, tablets and smartphones in the House of Lords, despite fears that those who can access real information during debates might have an unfair advantage.

Smartphones, tablets and other iPhones are to be allowed in the Lords chamber and grand committees, according to a paper published by the The  Lords Administration and Works committee. Meanwhile, the House of Commons will decide later this month whether it would be seemly for MPs to brandish tablets instead of order papers.

iPads, not laptops, because they are quiet

“You won’t believe how much debate there was about whether it would be seemly to be engaged in debate where members can get information from the outside world,” said Joan Miller, director  of ICT at the Houses of Parliament. “It might be unfair because they could pose questions that were more clever than the questions they usually ask.”

The decision apparently excludes conventional laptops, because they are too noisy: “We therefore propose that all handheld devices should be permitted in the chamber and grand committee provided they are silent,”  said the report “This would exclude conventional laptops.”

The House of Commons appears to be more image conscious, with MPs worrying whether they will look bad brandishing a gadget instead of the usual sheaf of paper documents. The lower house is due to decide on iPads by the end of this month.

IT provision for government is difficult, Miller said, speaking at Cloud Expo Europe in London. All the members of both houses behave like “private businesses”, she said: “They are uncontrollable, becauase we do not employ them.”

This can lead to problems, as some MPs are over-enthusiastic Tweeters, and others make security lapses, but all Miller can do is provide a secure environment at the Houses of Parliament (including the ultra-modern Portcullis House across the road from the historic chambers), as well as for MPs in their constituencies and on the road round the world.

MPs suffer from broadband not-spots

There are still fourteen MPs with constituency offices which do not have broadband said Miller, providing a different angle on the problems with rural broadband. Ofcom has recently told BT to cut the charges it makes for remote broadband users, so perhaps those MPs may have good news soon.

Miller has her work cut out though. Her department is expected to make 17 percent cuts, while she negotiates the public and private clouds, and manages the digitisation and publication of the latest parts of records which go back more than 700 years.

If nothing else, if peers and MPs access documents on mobile devices, the use of iPads might eventually reduce the printing bills at the Houses of Parliament, which Miller said amount to £20 million per year.