British MPs get go-ahead to use smartphones and tablets

by Doug Drinkwater

October 13 2011

The UK’s House of Commons has passed a motion which allows members of parliament to use smartphones and tablet PCs in the chamber, and in ministerial committees.

Greg Knight, Conservative MP for East Yorkshire and chair of the procedure committee, revealed the news to TabTimes today, and said that the motion, which also supports the use of Twitter and allows for web browsing in the Commons, was supported by 206 members of parliament and opposed by 63. Knight said that supporters included the front-benches of Conservative and Labour, with detractors sitting on the back benches of both parties. Those who argued in favour said that the devices would allow for multi-tasking, for referring to speeches and for better communication between ministers and the general public. Those in opposition argued that the use of Twitter would 'disconnect' users from debates.

"There are bills which already allow ministers to carry around sheets of paper so what’s the difference between a sheet of paper and a display on a tablet?” said Knight, questioning the opposition to the motion.  Knight did go on to say that the rule, which is effective immediately, stipulates that members must use the tablets providing they are silent and used ‘with decorum’. Laptops cannot be used in the chamber, but can be used in committees.

Apple’s iPads are already being trialled by one committee in the House of Commons, but with tablet adoption now expected to rise in the chamber, Knight did voice some concern over the lack of a suitable Wi-Fi network. “Wi-Fi is a bit patchy in the House of Commons so the next step would be to add Wi-Fi connectivity in the chamber”. Knight said that most tablet users in the chamber currently use 3G and said that the decision does not affect the House of Lords, which has stricter restrictions in regard to web browsing.

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