House of Commons: reading a letter on paper is OK but reading it off a screen is not

One of the Deputy Speakers of the House of Commons has ruled that, while it is permitted to read an extract from a letter printed on paper in the Chamber of the House of Commons, it would not be permitted if the MP read from the same letter stored on a PDA or Blackberry.

The issue arose when Alistair Burt MP (who I remember from his time on Haringey Council in the early 1980s – he was one of the more sentient and civilised Tory members) tried to read out the text of a letter from the Criminal Records Bureau in a Commons debate.  He was told to desist and reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker, Sir Michael Lord MP.

So the state of the rules in the House of Commons seems to be that an MP may text, twitter or send an email from the Chamber and they may read material on a PDA or Blackberry provided they are not speaking at the time.

I am not sure that this makes much sense.  It will be interesting to see where this is on Speaker Bercow’s list of reforms to the way in which the Commons operates.

So what are the rules in the House of Lords?  As far as I can see, the Companion to the Standing Orders is silent on the subject.  The Companion does say:

“4.22  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.  In the Chamber and in committee rooms, pagers must not be used to transmit messages to members of the House for use in proceedings.”

So – by implication – mobile phones, PDAs, Blackberries etc can be taken into the Chamber (provided they are silent).  Perhaps, therefore, it also follows in the absence of any proscription that a member of the Lords – unlike in the Commons – could quote from something stored electronically.  I am not sure that this has yet been put to the test.  What is clear is that any transgressions would not lead to a reprimand from the Lord Speaker or from one of her Deputies.  The Companion is quite clear that:

4.01  The House is self-regulating: the Lord Speaker has no power to rule on matters of order. In practice this means that the preservation of order and the maintenance of the rules of debate are the responsibility of the House itself, that is, of all the members who are present, and any member may draw attention to breaches of order or failures to observe customs.”

One thought on “House of Commons: reading a letter on paper is OK but reading it off a screen is not”

  1. Material stored on a blackberry is obviously so alike printed words that such use in unexceptionable.

    Updating material, perhaps controlled by another, on such a device is another matter.

    It leave open the possibility of another party observing, say the response of the markets to a speech, and modifying the speaker’s notes.

    When billionaires have bought the Tory Party and the leadership of our media, (Even the BBC & Guardian tend to follow the DT & Dully Maul) there may well be reasons for objections to what SEEM to be minor and trivial practices.

    The fact that one doesn’t understand the New World doesn’t mean that it is Brave, nor that there are not good reasons, if one could find them, for fear.

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