It is notoriously slow to modernise – the House of Commons is, after all, far too small to actually allow all of the elected MPs to sit in the chamber at once, but tradition takes priority over practicality meaning that MPs continue to use the current adversarial debating chamber in the Palace of Westminster rather than move to new, modern premises which could actually accommodate all of the representatives we elect to speak on our behalf.
It therefore may come as something of a surprise to learn that MPs voted last week to actually allow social media to be used in the House. MPs can now sit on the green benches and tweet about proceedings as well as receive tweets. Devolved government chambers across the rest of the UK have built in PCs in the desks for representatives as well as specific seats for individuals, but the Deputy Speaker in the Commons had previously announced that Twitter was banned in Parliament.
MPs agreed with a motion put forward by the Commons Procedure Committee to allow the use of electronic devices “provided that they are silent, and used in a way that does not impair decorum”. They also agreed that MPs can use such devices to refer to rather than paper notes when making speeches, and can use laptops in select committee meetings.
Some MPs argued that using social media in Parliament would mean that MPs could be influenced by people outside of the House of Commons, and could be helped by advisers and others as to what questions to ask. However, other MPs argued that it would allow MPs to get on with other work whilst waiting to speak, meaning that more MPs were likely to attend debates. Rising star on the government benches, Claire Perry, said that “Tweeting helps MPs to stay informed, in touch and accountable to their constituents and to ban this would be an inexplicable step back in time”. Meanwhile Shadow Deputy Leader of the House Angela Smith said that to pretend the world had not changed “would be to deny reality and to deny the dynamic relationship that now exists between Parliament and the world outside”.