Electronic mail at the despatch box

The use of electronic devices such as iPads in the House of Lords helps ministers access 'direct and accurate information', Lord Sewell said // The use of electronic devices such as iPads in the House of Lords helps ministers access 'direct and accurate information', Lord Sewell said
The use of electronic devices such as iPads in the House of Lords helps ministers access 'direct and accurate information', Lord Sewell said
Ministers in the House of Lords will be able to receive electronic messages from civil servants as they stand at the despatch box under new rules.
Ministers in the House of Lords will be able to receive electronic messages from civil servants as they stand at the despatch box under new rules.
Peers were last year given the right to use handheld devices, such as iPads, in the chamber for a one-year trial period.
And the House has now agreed to make the trial permanent and further relax the rules to allow members and officials to send and receive messages and look up information relevant to the debate taking place at the time.
The Administration and Works Committee report on the subject, which was agreed by peers without a vote, said it was "unnecessarily cumbersome" for civil servants sitting in a box in the corner of the chamber to have to write out messages on pieces of paper which were then carried by hand to ministers.
Lord Sewel, the chairman of committees, told peers: "I think it is important that ministers should have immediate and accurate information to transmit to the House when we are discussing legislation.
"It is quite good fun to see the scuttling backwards and forwards between the box and the front bench and then the minister fumbling over a note, but it would improve the effectiveness of this chamber if ministers did have direct and accurate information."
Labour backbencher Lord Berkeley raised doubts about the move and said he was concerned by ministers "standing at the despatch box and reading out what officials are typing in".
He added: "It is going to change, I think, the way that ministers take advice from the box - and sometimes take the advice and sometimes don't take it, which adds a bit of fun sometimes and is quite important I think."
But Labour former minister Lord Wills backed the change and said often officials wrote "too slowly" to keep up with points being raised.
"All too often ministers have to agree to write in response to particular questions," he said. "This technology offers the possibility of ministers being able to respond at the despatch box, which of course offers this House the opportunity to scrutinise legislation more thoroughly and instantaneously."
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