Online committees herald e-government breakthrough

The UK government has begun streaming parliamentary committee hearings over the Web. In an even more radical move, members of the public are to be invited to submit their views by email

E-democracy campaigners are celebrating a potentially important breakthrough that will allow UK citizens to use the Internet to help shape government policy.

Under a new initiative, parliamentary committee hearings will be streamed on the Web, and members of the public will be invited to submit their opinions by email.

The Communications Bill was the first piece of legislation to be subject to such online consultation when the Joint Committee on the Draft Communication Bill began began hearing evidence on Thursday. By logging on to www.parliamentlive.tv, viewers could watch as the committee heard evidence from the Independent Television Commission, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, and the Radio Authority.

In future, every such pre-legislative scrutiny committee will have its evidence sessions broadcast online in this way.

The scheme goes against the advice of Otto von Bismarck, who famously remarked, "If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made," but some of today's politicians believe that putting parliamentary evidence-taking online will make the UK a better democracy.

"It means that every member of the public will be able to see and hear evidence at the same time as MPs and peers and to email his or her views and experience to make better law," said Graham Allen MP in a statement.

People can email their views on the Bill to a mediator appointed by the Hansard Society. These opinions will be passed on to the committee. From 10 June, it will also be possible to take part in an online discussion forum about the Communications Bill, which will be hosted at www.commbill.net.

This joint committee - which is made up of six MPs and six members of the House of Lords - plans to hold further hearings every Monday and Thursday until early July.


For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.