Peers support tablet PC use in upper house...
Steeped in the pomp and ceremony of Britain's past, the House of Lords makes an unlikely champion of the iPad. But the Apple computer and other tablet PCs could soon be a familiar sight amid the ermine robes and red leather seats, after a committee of peers backed use of the devices in the Lords.
This week, the Lords administration and works committee issued a report recommending that iPads, tablet PCs and smartphones are allowed to be used in the Lords chamber and grand committee.
Existing rules governing the use of electronic devices are "inconsistent", the report said, as they give conflicting advice on how phones can be used in the chamber, and do not clearly set out whether laptops or tablet PCs can be used.
"We therefore propose that all handheld devices should be permitted in the chamber and grand committee provided they are silent. This would exclude conventional laptops," the report said.
iPads and tablets look likely to feature centre stage in Lords debates, as the report favours their use during speeches.
"We see no qualitative difference between using a pad of paper for speaking notes and using an iPad or other device," it said.
Lord Lucas told silicon.com that the iPad was already winning support among peers: "Several Lords have used them in the chamber and they are immensely useful in dealing with the sort of detailed consideration of a bill that we go in for.
"I'm waiting for the next generation of the iPad to get mine but I am certainly intending to use it in the chamber."
Subject to peers adhering to existing rules on not reading speeches, the report states that "members should be permitted to refer to electronic devices when addressing the chamber or grand committee".
The committee report predicts that allowing tablet PCs to be used in the Lords "could have significant benefits for members in reducing their reliance on paper copies of documents such as the order paper, Hansard, texts of bills or explanatory notes, white papers or other Government publications, and reports by external bodies which are the subject of debate".
However peers should not be able to use devices to send or receive messages during proceedings, the report recommends, arguing "it would not be conducive to good debate".
Lords members would...
...also be banned from using electronic devices to carry out web research inside the chamber, to prevent them "finding information for use in debate which is not generally available to other participants".
Policing the use of the handheld devices will be a challenge, the report acknowledges, stating: "In particular, distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate use would be difficult; in practice, much would depend on self-regulation, and on the common sense and self-restraint of individual members. But we believe it is worth making the experiment."
The report recommends that peers should be allowed to use electronic devices - apart from conventional laptops - for a one-year trial period to access "parliamentary papers and other documents which are clearly and closely relevant to the business before the house or grand committee".
The Lords is ahead of the House of Commons in setting out its position on tablet PCs and iPads - with the Commons currently reviewing its position on the use of electronic devices inside the chamber.
If the House of Lords agrees with the committee's findings, the Lords procedure committee will be invited to amend the Lords rulebook, the Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, when it is next updated.
Here is the full list of rules that the committee recommends are adopted.