Video link-up urged for MPs: Report sees savings in time and money

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The Independent Online
PARLIAMENT should begin widespread use of video-conferencing, says a report to be published this week by the Bow group, a Tory think-tank.

Audio-visual conferencing is already used extensively to connect the far-flung executives of international corporations such as Exxon and BP.

The implementation of the Seabrook Report by the Bar Council means video conferencing is now frequently used to take evidence from overseas witnesses in court cases.

A pilot scheme to enable counsel to communicate with clients in prison is also about to begin in Dorchester, Shrewsbury and Canterbury.

Julian Roche, the author of the report, said: 'The idea is to stop MPs travelling long distances for short conversations. The cost of MPs' travel within the UK alone last year amounted to pounds 20m.'

If the scheme is adopted, select committees could interview witnesses by video - the committee members would no longer have to undertake expensive foreign travel or fly in witnesses. Civil servants could appear on video from their offices.

The idea is thought to have widespread support among MPs, following the success of the televising of Parliament.

Nick Hawkins, Conservative MP for Blackpool South and chairman of the Bow Group, is enthusiastic. He said: 'I would like to see video conferencing set up at Westminster as soon as funds can be found. I practised at the Bar for seven years and the system works very well there.'

John Horne, an official of the Bar Council, confirmed that video conferencing has been a success for the Bar. 'Of course the system costs money to set up, but we are finding that it can lead to considerable cost savings. In a recent High Court trial involving a shipping company, evidence was taken by video from a witness in Hong Kong, at an estimated saving to the taxpayer of some pounds 10,000.'

Audio-Visual Conferencing: Rationalising Parliament; Bow Group; pounds 10.