Brian Binley MP opposes the use of handheld devices in the Commons chamber: "I remember when I was a young lad—I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have similar memories—going to the cinema and watching western films. Some of the better films, including ones starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers—I hope that I am bringing nostalgia back for you—showed saloons that stopped people at the swinging doors and asked that they left their guns at the doors. I wish that the Government had taken notice of that particular habit and asked all Members to leave their electrical devices at the door of this Chamber, on the basis that they could cause almost as much trouble as guns in the hands of cowboys in the old west…
I have rarely seen a hand-held device that did not cause disturbance. People forget to turn them off and the things go off inadvertently—we heard of a case of that earlier. Indeed, I have been guilty of the same crime and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were kind enough to recognise that I was a new Member and treated me with great gentleness…
I think that [Sir Peter Soulsby, Labour MP] is absolutely wrong in his assertion that the devices do not disturb. Not only do they disturb, but on occasions they stop participation. That is the point. What is this Chamber for? Is it for Members to participate, or is it for them to come here in a rather ad hoc fashion to do their homework, or to answer correspondence?
…As I understand it, we have always received messages, normally in note form. It is important that that should continue. But should we really have the ability to have conversations with others outside when the prime objective of the Chamber is to be the debating centre of the nation? Do we really want television viewers seeing rows of people acting like secretaries in early 1950s films; great rows of MPs all bashing away on laptops? Is that what the Chamber is about? My argument will be that it is not. This is the debating Chamber of the nation and people should come to take part in that process, not be involved in so-called multi-tasking."
Greg Knight MP‘s response to Brian Binley: "My hon. Friend alluded to the film industry to demonstrate his point; if he were a film mogul, he would probably be the chairman of Nineteenth Century Fox."
Then Sir George Young MP: " I agree with what he said at the beginning of his speech, when he gently disassociated himself from our hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) on what is called multi-tasking. I think that that is a somewhat misleading title. All that is recommended is that
“the use of handheld devices to keep up to date with e-mails should be permitted in the Chamber provided that it causes no disturbance.”
It seems to me that that simply validates what has been the practice for some time, and I do not find it enormously controversial…
Mr. Binley intervenes: "No; my concern is not that the issue is controversial. My concern is whether my right hon. Friend recognises that hand-held devices go way beyond the simple act of e-mailing, and how he would control their uses so they are not used in a manner that he might not wish to see happen?"
Sir George Young: I understand that, but it is not the proposition that is before the House. The proposition is that we should keep up to date with e-mails, and just e-mails. There is no proposition that we should take photos of each other during a debate or participate in any other mischief that might be done with the devices with which the Whips have very kindly provided us."
Mr Binley’s amendment was defeated and Sky’s Jon Craig thinks that a very good thing.
ePolitix.com‘s summary of the wider debate on modernisation of Commons rules: "The Commons on Thursday debated proposals raised in recent reports from the modernisation and procedure select committees. Reforms included allowing open questions during departmental question times and permitting the use of Blackberry and other hand-held electronic devices in the chamber. The modernisation committee also suggested shorter time limits for frontbenchers in debates and Westminster Hall debates on subjects selected by a ballot of MPs."