Free Apple iPads on the cards for MPs

Parliament considers switching to tablet PCs...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Parliament considers switching to tablet PCs...

Politicians are weighing up whether the UK's 650 MPs should each be given an Apple iPad.

A body of MPs will examine whether parliament should loan politicians tablet PCs at the start of their term in office.

The Commons administration committee will assess whether tablet PCs are suited to parliamentary business by using iPads, provided by parliament, in committee from May to July.

"This is to satisfy the committee as to the usefulness of these devices as a means of handling committee papers," Sir Alan Haselhurst, chair of the administration committee told silicon.com.

Once the iPad trial is complete, the committee will advise the House of Commons commission on whether tablet PCs should be issued to MPs.

Apple iPads in the House of Commons

The parliamentary administration committee is considering whether MPs should be issued with Apple iPads
Photo: Shutterstock

"If this was thought to be a suitable and advantageous way forward, in convenience and cost, then the standard allocation which a member of parliament is given at the start of parliament would be adjusted - whereas the current entitlement is two laptops, it would be a laptop and iPad or other tablet PC," Haselhurst said.

Tablet PCs range in price - a 64GB 3G Apple iPad can cost up to £700, whereas a 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab sells for about £450 - although Haselhurst feels the devices could be bought more cheaply than an equivalent laptop.

"I do not think there has to be a cost, because if you told members they could have one laptop and one tablet PC there would be a saving - because laptops are more expensive than tablets," he said.

The move is being considered as a way of ending the centuries-old tradition of politicians relying on paper notes to carry out parliamentary business.

The use of paper notes is still widespread in Westminster, as technically, laptop computers are...

...banned from the Commons chamber and committee rooms, while "handheld devices" are allowed "to keep up with emails".

Haselhurst said sending parliamentary papers electronically had the potential to get documents to MPs more quickly and cheaply than using paper.

"If this works... it will realise an appreciable saving to the cost of distribution by paper," he said.

"The ability of the House to despatch the papers electronically gives them [the papers] a better chance of being seen in a timely fashion."

A separate report will be produced by the Commons procedure committee on whether to revise the rules on what electronic devices are allowed inside the Commons.

Haselhurst acknowledged that tablet PCs also had the potential to disrupt proceedings in the Commons.

"Members of the public watching the parliament channel are seeing members with their heads down, fiddling around with their BlackBerrys, and saying, 'These members are not paying attention'," he said.

"If you start bringing in larger pieces of equipment, what impact would that have?

"The MPs might be going through the clauses of the Finance Bill or they might be reading a newspaper [which is not allowed in the Commons]. That is the problem."

However, he insisted the issue needed to be looked at if Westminster was to avoid falling behind other parliaments worldwide.

"On the one hand, we want to maintain the tradition of the House but we also do not want to be completely fuddy-duddy, and we have to recognise that these devices are available which, in the eyes of many MPs, could be very useful," he said.

A House of Lords committee also recently backed the use of iPads, tablet PCs and smartphones in the Lords chamber and grand committee for a one-year trial period.

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