Should Twitter be allowed in the House of Commons?

in Social
by Matt Neal

Yesterday it was announced that the Commons Procedure Committee has recommended “that hand-held electronic devices (not laptops) may be used in the Chamber, provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum”. So MPs can now tweet when in the chamber of the House of Commons. Now, it may be my inherent distrust of MPs because, for many years, they have felt it appropriate to claim as much money as they can for expenses ranging from moat cleaning to lost toenail clippings. Or, it may be because…no, wait a minute, the first reason was the right one. Personally, I think this is a mistake and there are two main reasons for this:

  1. They should be listening and debating, not tweeting
  2. It opens up the opportunity for those outside the chamber to influence debate in real-time

Under most circumstances, tweeting at work is perfectly acceptable. Many businesses run corporate Twitter accounts which need to be managed on an ongoing basis. We do at Gilroy, and we tweet regularly throughout the day. What we don’t do is tweet when we are in meetings, briefings, pitches and so on. That’s because we believe that meetings such as these require and deserve our undivided attention. There was a curious statement in the Guardian article about this: “The committee chair Greg Knight, the MP for East Yorkshire, said the group had taken a “common sense approach” to modern technology that would stop MPs feeling obliged to miss chamber debates in order to catch up on vital emails.” What did they do before email? Deliberately miss debates on the off-chance that a vital message would come through? Surely there is some system for alerting MPs to critical issues that require immediate attention if they are already in the chambers? There is, it’s called a note. What the recommendation does allow for is the use of tablets and the like for speeches and notes, in place of large wads of paper, and for researching facts on the web. Fair enough, move with the times and keep it green we say (just don’t believe everything you read on the web and then base legislation on it). But, it does raise the possibility of MPs conducting debates in Prime Ministers Questions with the help of armies of researchers, script writers and legal eagles – all of whom can provide input in real-time. Isn’t it the job of the MP to know their facts and intervene or reply on their own terms? According to the report: “at present notes are passed from officials to Ministers during debates and Members may choose to consult others in the margins of committees. We see no reason why such messages should not equally be transmitted electronically as by hand”. They all agree that direct interference should not be permitted, but they’re relying on honesty for this, which has proven to be difficult for some in the past. So in summary, Twitter is great but it has a time and a place and direct messaging should stay out of the chambers in the House of Commons. And to get my point across to them, I’ll be sending as many MP mentions out on Twitter as possible during the next debate. If they’re reading, they’ll hear me. Or they’ll turn their phones off… Read the full report here.