MPs block move to ban Twitter use in Commons
MPs today blocked moves to ban the use of Twitter in the House of Commons amid claims from some senior Conservatives that the widespread use of mobile phones and iPads would bring the chamber into "disrepute".
Greg Knight, chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee, had recommended that MPs continue to use smartphones and iPads to send emails, tweet and download documents they can use in speeches provided their use did not "impair decorum".
But 11 MPs signed an amendment to his motion which would have effectively banned the use of Twitter and other micro-blogging sites by only allowing MPs to "receive and send urgent messages" while in the Commons.
Today, the amendment to Mr Knight's motion, which would have banned the use of Twitter, was defeated by 206 to 63, majority 143.
Until now there has been an informal arrangement allowing MPs to use handheld devices such as BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads but not laptops in the Commons so they can keep up with their day-to-day business.
They are also allowed to use devices as an aide memoire in their speeches but they are not allowed to read from them.
With advances in technology, Mr Knight's committee was asked to update the rules which were last revised in October 2007.
Labour MP Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) said moves to limit the use of mobile phones so only "urgent messages" could be exchanged - effectively banning the use of Twitter - were "anti-democratic, regressive and amusing to the public".
She added: "It's a very useful way to connect with communities we were elected to serve. We are all adults and we are all mindful of how we are viewed in the eyes of the public and the importance of being respectful to each other."
She was supported by Tory Clare Perry (Devizes), who said tweeting helped MPs to "stay informed, in touch and accountable to their constituents". Any ban would be "an inexplicable step back in time".
But Roger Gale (C, N Thanet), one of the panel of MPs who chair committees, said the use of Twitter would mean MPs could be prompted to ask certain questions.
He said MPs were already reading "vast tracts" of briefs prepared by lobbyists, while "genuine debate" had often been stifled by MPs turning to speeches prepared for them by other people.
Mr Gale continued: "If we are now to suggest that Members are going to be allowed to Twitter and receive comment in the course of these debates then it is absolutely inevitable that you will have people sitting in the public gallery sending messages saying 'ask him this, tell her that, read this'. That is not what this place is about."
His Conservative colleague James Gray (N Wiltshire), who signed the amendment, said one "very senior" MP told him the Commons should observe the same rules as the opera and ban mobile devices completely.
He warned the Procedure Committee's report would mean "we end up with a room full of MPs staring at devices - as I can see three or four doing as I look round the chamber at the moment".
Mr Gray added: "I think it brings the whole nature of debate in this place into some disrepute. I would like to see the standard of debate here maintained. We are the Mother of Parliaments, let us engage in detailed and logical debate and let us not spend an excessive amount of time on our electronic devices."