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Report of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy
Published: 26 Jan 2015


Key targets and recommendations

The Commission has outlined five key targets and outlined recommendations which are a route map for the House of Commons to meet these targets.

To map out how it will reach this target, the House of Commons should develop a new communications strategy with the aim of:
  • increasing public awareness of the role of Parliament and MP, and
  • increasing public participation in the work of Parliament.
It should build on previous experience to focus on what works and what is most cost-effective. (Recommendation 1)
The House of Commons should take action, during the 2015-16 session, to make parliamentary language and communications easier to understand. This should include:
  • simplifying and clarifying parliamentary language, including procedural terms;
  • developing digital tools such as jargon busters to help readers understand parliamentary language and processes, including the law-making process;
  • clarifying and simplifying online and printed communications; and
  • the wider use of aids for people with disabilities and sensory impairments such as British Sign Language translations and subtitles for video material to help the hard of hearing to engage with Parliament. (Recommendation 4)
The House of Commons should pilot a new procedure for amending bills so that amendments can be written, debated and voted on in plain English. (Recommendation 5) 
The Commission recommends that Parliament’s website should use more infographic and visual data to help provide alternative methods of accessing content and to improve transparency. While the Commission acknowledges the need for intellectual rigour in parliamentary reports and other publications, lengthy documents can act as a barrier to citizen engagement with democracy, particularly for those with learning difficulties, special needs or just limited time. For example, the Register of Members’ Financial Interests could be transformed into a more accessible document for voters by the use of icons to represent data. (Recommendation 2) 
The Commission recommends that improving the search function on the parliamentary website should be a priority for the new parliamentary digital service. (Recommendation 7). It should also provide tools to help people track Parliament’s activities on specific issues. These should be easy to find and register for. (Recommendation 9) 
The House of Commons should make more real-time information available online, including details of who is speaking in debates. It should also experiment further with live social media coverage of what is said in debates. (Recommendation 10) 
The Commission recommends that the current restrictions on members of the public taking mobile electronic devices into the House of Commons chamber and Westminster Hall debates are removed. (Recommendation 11)   
The House of Commons should formally adopt the principles set out in the Declaration on parliamentary Openness. (Recommendation 34) 
The Commission encourages the Department for Education to improve the provision of political education within schools using digital means. (Recommendation 3) 
The House should experiment with new ways for the public to:
  • put forward questions for ministers (Recommendation 19), and
  • contribute to different stages of the law-making process, primarily by digital means. (Recommendation 17) 
Select committees should make greater use of social media and online advertising to reach out to new audiences and raise awareness of their work. They should also experiment with using digital to involve people more in committee work. (Recommendation 16) 
Parliament should step up its work to build links with community organisations and services to help ensure that the digitally excluded are given local support to engage with Parliament online. (Recommendation 20) 
As part of its new, professional communications strategy the House of Commons should, in 2015-16, pilot and test new online activities, working with national and local partners, to target and engage specific groups who are not currently engaged in democratic processes. These target groups could include, for example: 18-25 year olds not at university, people with learning difficulties, homeless people and people living in communities with very low voter turnout. (Recommendation 12) 
The House of Commons should take further steps to improve active involvement by young people. This might include:
  • encouraging young people to participate in the e-petitions system, and
  • youth issue-focussed debates which involve young people and MPs. (Recommendation 13) 
The Digital Democracy Commission recommends that Parliament should seize the opportunity that restoration and renewal work provides to improve facilities to assist MPs in their work for the public and ensure the fabric of Parliament is fit for the future. (Recommendation 28) 
The new parliamentary digital service should identify tools to help increase the volume and quality of interaction between MPs and their constituents. It should involve MPs and constituents in the development of these tools to ensure that an increase in communications is manageable by everyone involved. (Recommendation 14) 
The Commission acknowledges the work on cyber harassment and security that has been conducted by others, but recommends that:
  • the political parties urgently review what measures they have in place to support candidates at the next General Election who may be subjected to abuse of digital technology in the form of cyber harassment;
  • the House urgently reviews measures to support MPs subject to cyber harassment;
  • this review is carried out in tandem with the ongoing work regarding improving cyber-security to ensure that MPs can carry out their duties effectively, efficiently and in the sure knowledge that the confidentiality of their constituents is protected. (Recommendation 15) 
During the next session of Parliament the House of Commons should move to record votes using MPs' smart identity cards but retain the tradition of walking through division lobbies. (Recommendation 29). It should also pilot an electronic version of the practice of 'nodding through' MPs who are physically unable to go through the division lobbies, which would enable MPs who are unwell, or have childcare responsibilities, or a disability, to vote away from the chamber. (Recommendation 30) 
Parliament, working with the Government and other stakeholders, should introduce, by the end of 2016, a new set of online tools for drafting, amending and publishing legislation which are easier to use and provide open data about bills and amendments. (Recommendation 6) 
The House of Commons should identify more areas where a digital-first approach can lead to service improvements as well as increased efficiency. (Recommendation 27) 
By the end of 2015, Parliament should have in place a strategy to ensure that it has the skills it needs to meet the target of being digital and interactive by 2020. The strategy must ensure that the Head of Digital has sufficient means to recruit and retain staff with the specialist digital skills that Parliament needs. (Recommendation 33) 
We believe the public want the opportunity to have their say in House of Commons debates; we also believe that this will provide a useful resource for MPs and help to enhance those debates. We therefore recommend a unique experiment: the use of regular digital public discussion forums to inform debates held in Westminster Hall. This innovation might be known as the “Cyber Chamber” or “Open House.” If at the end of the next Parliament it has been successful, it could then be extended to debates in the main House of Commons chamber itself. (Recommendation 18) 
The Speaker’s Commission wishes to encourage increased efforts in voter education and recommends a fresh, bold, look at the national curriculum in this regard. (Recommendation 21) 
The Commission strongly encourages the political education bodies and charities to consider how to make available and publicise trustworthy information about candidates and their policies, including by means of voter advice applications. (Recommendation 22) 
The Digital Democracy Commission also notes a clear indication from a range of comments received that the profile and knowledge of the Electoral Commission needs to be improved, as it is a vital source of information to voters, with a website that is an Aladdin’s cave for those wishing to participate in the UK’s political process. (Recommendation 23) 
The DDC recommends that the Electoral Commission should consider how best to establish a digital election ‘results bank’. (Recommendation 24) 
The Commission fully endorses the draft Political and Constitutional Reform Committee recommendation that “the Government and the Electoral Commission should examine the changes which can be made to provide more and better information to voters, and should actively support the work of outside organisations working to similar goals.” (Recommendation 25) 
All parliamentary information in the public domain should be made available to the public as downloadable data in formats which make them easy to re-use. Hansard and the register of MPs’ interests should be made available as open data by the end of 2015, followed by bills. (Recommendation 31) 
We recommend that Erskine May, the definitive guide to parliamentary procedure, should be freely available online by the time the next edition is produced. (Recommendation 32) 
Parliament should make its audio-visual coverage of debates and committees freely available for anyone to download and re-use without unreasonable copyright restrictions by the end of 2015. (Recommendation 8)