Oral Answers to Questions — Parliamentary Data and Video Network

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 12:00, 3 April 2001

If she will bring forward proposals to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to improve hon. Members' access to the PDVN system. [155217]

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons is indeed keeping the use of information technology by hon. Members under review. The Information Committee also has an important role in that respect.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Does the Minister accept that it is important in the 21st century for Members of Parliament to be able to access their e-mails and the internet not only within the Parliamentary Estate but remotely, from their homes and constituencies? I congratulate members of the Parliamentary Communications Directorate on the work that they do, but does the Minister accept that people trying to access the House of Commons facilities remotely are finding it difficult because of the limits of the technical resources that are available? Many people feel that that is because of a restricted budget. What can the hon. Gentleman do to ensure that we have a 21st-century internet and e-mail system for a 21st-century Parliament?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I agree that the employees of the Parliamentary Communications Directorate work hard and do an excellent job. I also agree that it is important that all Members of Parliament, whether at Westminster, at home or in their constituency, should have equality of access, which is not the case at present. Budget is an issue, but so is change management. I hope that steps will be taken in the not too distant future to make changes that will be for the benefit of all hon. Members and, more particularly, their constituents.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

May I, on this rare occasion, endorse the words of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant)—especially in relation to the staff of PCD, who do a tremendous job? My hon. Friend will be aware that many of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman may be addressed if the House adopts the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body report. Will he put on his other hat, and find time for an urgent debate on that before Easter?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

My hon. Friend is quite right that the SSRB report makes very interesting reading. It puts great weight on the consideration of information technology. I will put on my other hat and remind my hon. Friend that this matter is for the House to decide, but I also point out that there are a great many demands on time in the House. I am conscious of the fact that the issue is real and pressing; I note what he says.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

The hon. Gentleman has surely noticed that the programme to which we were working—with a general election to be held on 3 May—has changed. We have a whole extra month to fill up, so the excuse that we could not find enough time to deal with the SSRB report has disappeared. Will the hon. Gentleman please agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) that we now have time? When are we going to get this done?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I am grateful for the interest that the hon. Gentleman takes in such matters. He has pursued the issue hard both in the Chamber and outside. I do not dispute the need for change.

I know nothing about timetables for general elections—3 May or any other date—but I know that a great deal of business has to come before the House. This is one issue; I hope that we shall be able to address it in the not too distant future.