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MPs will not drop Web sites during general election

Electoral Commission slow to issue Internet laws
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

Former MPs will not be required to remove personal Web sites inaccurately describing them as Members of Parliament during the general election.

The former deputy speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Morris, is calling for MPs to take down their Web sites once the current Parliament is dissolved, as MPs technically become parliamentary candidates during this period. The Electoral Commission has however confirmed that due to the government's recent take-up of the Internet, there are no legal guidelines in place that would require MPs to alter their Web sites during an election campaign.

"Existing law was not established with the Internet in mind, although candidates are not entitled to use Parliamentary email or publicly funded Web sites during a general election," said a spokesperson at the Electoral Commission. The independent body is however planning to make reference to the use of the Internet and new media in its post-election report.

In response to Morris' request, the Commission is advising MPs to abstain from adding any new information to their Web sites during the election campaign, and says that candidates should not make any reference to their site whilst canvassing.

The Parliamentary Communications Directorate, responsible for overseeing MP email accounts, is leaving the matter to the goodwill of individual MPs.

"It is the responsibility of individual members to monitor themselves -- there is no regulation to follow as this is a matter that has never been covered before," said a spokesperson at the Parliamentary Communications Directorate. "Members will be able to decide whether they want to put up some form of disclaimer on their homepage, or back up every MP reference with a comment that they are currently not a Member of Parliament."

Unofficial advice from the House of Commons says that "the Sergeant at Arms will issue his advice in the event of a dissolution of Parliament".

The Conservative Party admits it has issued no guidelines to its MPs on amending their personal Web sites, but would expect party members to accept any new recommendations from the Electoral Commission. "All of our candidates will comply with the legal requirements surrounding election campaigns -- if it is necessary that they post a disclaimer explaining that they are technically not MPs during a general election, we would expect them to do so," said a spokesperson at the Conservative Party press office.

Parliamentary email accounts will be disabled by the Parliamentary Communications Directorate during the dissolution of Parliament. "As results come in and members are re-elected, we will reactivate their accounts as we will have a lot to get through," said a Home Office spokesperson. There are currently 400 existing MP email accounts, and 1,200 Parliamentary staff accounts.

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