I had an appointment to meet Mr Speaker today – John Bercow. I had requested this meeting as I wanted to suggest to him (gently) that Parliament still probably had a bit of a way to go to really engage with people using technology to make it more accessible.
This is about opening it all up. Things have improved in the website now works better. But most of the best internet developments have come from outside the official Parliamentary structures, e.g. They Work for You and Write to Them both are more popular and have a wider range of functions than the official locations for similar information. These are sites where people can go to find out just what their own MP is doing. You can find what questions your MP has asked, what they have said in any debate and so on.
There is a culture issue here and that holds things back a lot. For example – uploading clips of MPs speaking onto YouTube. It’s taken months to review, and the arguments are over points the rest of the world has largely moved on from years ago like there might be an advert on the page!
Also – the way information about progress of legislation through Parliament is made available makes it very hard for others to then make use of the data. It’s as if the Met Office insisted people come to its website to find the weather forecast and didn’t like people taking its data and reproducing and reusing it elsewhere. Hence the ‘Free Our Bills’ campaign.
So – my visit to Mr Speaker was to suggest that he set up an Advisory Board to help move this agenda forward. It is crucial that it is non-partisan (this is about bringing parliament to life), and includes external experts as well as officers and possibly MPs.
There are a number of simple, significant steps a Speaker can take but the Speaker is very busy and to actually get stuff to happen needs support to make it happen.
Which is why I have suggested to him this Advisory Board. Mr Speaker seemed relatively enthusiastic – and is going to think how to best progress this. I didn’t go into any suggestions or details of things that I think should or could happen – that is for the group.
I think what Mr Speaker will want to do is to sound out the other Parties and officers etc – and then he suggested that we all get together for a brainstorm to see where this could go and how it could happen.
So – I was really pleased that he was open to the idea – and we will see what happens next.