Commons votes to allow Twitter but MP demands minister communicates via letter

Yesterday Parliament voted by 206-63 to allow MPs to (continue to) tweet from the Chamber, by rejecting an amendment that would have gutted this proposal, subsequently passed:

That this House notes the Third Report from the Procedure Committee on Use of hand-held electronic devices in the Chamber and committees, HC 889; and resolves that hand-held devices (not laptops) may be used in the Chamber, provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum, that Members making speeches in the Chamber or in committee may refer to electronic devices in place of paper speaking notes and that electronic devices, including laptops, may be used silently in committee meetings, including select committees.

Not all the moves in Parliament yesterday however were in favour of embracing technology, for there was also this exchange:

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Along with other right hon. and hon. Members, I received today a letter from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), saying that in future all his communications with us would be by e-mail. I do not challenge the sincerity of his desire not to spend an evening signing letters, or to be quicker or save a bit of paper, but I really do think it is a worry. When we send letters on to constituents, they should not be PDFs or bits of e-mails; they should be letters. They represent an important relationship between the state and the citizen. I am not sure, either, of the legal authority of letters that have not been physically signed. I do not want to add work for Ministers—believe me, I know what it is like—but will you look at the matter with your colleagues, perhaps including the Leader of the House, who is kindly in his seat, and work out whether it is a good initiative for any Minister to take?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle):That was discussed at Speaker’s conference this morning, and Mr Speaker is certainly uneasy about it. Concern was expressed by the other Deputy Speakers, as well. I can say that Mr Speaker will investigate the matter.

The 63 (plus two tellers) who voted against were:

Aldous, Peter; Amess, Mr David; Bebb, Guto; Bell, Sir Stuart; Brady, Mr Graham; Brine, Mr Steve; Buckland, Mr Robert; Burns, Conor; Cairns, Alun; Campbell, Mr Alan; Clark, Katy; Corbyn, Jeremy; Davidson, Mr Ian; Davies, Philip; de Bois, Nick; Docherty, Thomas; Dunne, Mr Philip; Eustice, George; Fallon, Michael; Francois, rh Mr Mark; Freeman, George; Fuller, Richard; Goodman, Helen; Goodwill, Mr Robert; Gray, Mr James; Hamilton, Mr David; Hart, Simon; Henderson, Gordon; Hendrick, Mark; Hinds, Damian; Hollobone, Mr Philip; Hughes, rh Simon; Jackson, Mr Stewart; Jones, Mr Kevan; Jones, Mr Marcus; Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald; Kawczynski, Daniel; Lewis, Dr Julian; Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn; Main, Mrs Ann;e Maynard, Paul; Pincher, Christopher; Reevell, Simon; Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm; Rosindell, Andrew; Ruffley, Mr David; Russell, Bob; Selous, Andrew; Sharma, Alok; Sheridan, Jim; Skinner, Mr Dennis; Soubry, Anna; Stewart, Iain; Swales, Ian; Swayne, rh Mr Desmond; Syms, Mr Robert; Turner, Mr Andrew; Tyrie, Mr Andrew; Watkinson, Angela; Whittingdale, Mr John; Williamson, Gavin; Wilson, Sammy; Wood, Mike; Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Charles Walker and Mr Roger Gale.

Kelvin Hopkins was also recorded as voting both for and against.

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2 Comments

  • Well there are plenty of rules concerning when something can be deemed to have been signed – not least when court proceedings are issued electronically.

    When is a letter from a Minister to an MP regarding a constituent legally significant though? I can think of numerous examples when I’ve seen replies relating to legal or quasi-legal (if there is such a thing) situations but I never thought the letters themselves would carry any legal weight.

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