MPs each get through a computer a year. Now they want iPads

Backbenchers claim the gadgets will save money, after Parliament spends £5m on upgrades

By Matt Chorley,Brian Brady
Sunday 13 February 2011 01:00

MPs are demanding the taxpayer buy them each an Apple iPad, arguing that the gadgets will help to cut down on the cost of printing documents.

More than a dozen backbenchers on the Administration Committee, which runs the House of Commons, are to "trial" the devices, which cost up to £700, with a view to them being given to all 650 MPs. Details of the plan come as it emerged that MPs and peers have been supplied with 7,000 new personal computers and laptops – an average of almost five each – over the past five years.

Apple's flat-screen tablet computers are considerably more expensive than traditional laptops, which MPs claim create a "physical barrier" to conversation. The committee, chaired by the former deputy speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst, agreed earlier this month to the iPad trial. Sir Alan has described himself as "a reformer", and has said he "fizzes with ideas" about changing Parliament's procedures and practices.

A new information and communications technology strategy, recently agreed by officials on Parliament's Management Board, included the following imaginary scenario entitled "a possible MP's story in 2015": "As I travel down on the train all the information relating to the parliamentary day arrives on my iPad, I have a quick look through, make some notes and request, by a simple tap on the screen, a printed copy of a report. Furthermore, I can create my personal agenda for the day as I go."

The prospect of MPs – still recovering their reputations after the expenses scandal – using iPads, which are beyond the reach of many of their constituents, is likely to raise questions about their judgement. But supporters of the idea have their arguments ready.

"It is so environmentally friendly," said a committee source. "I would imagine it will pay for itself in three or four months because we wouldn't be printing out great wodges of paper." They could also argue they are following the Prime Minister's lead. David Cameron has spoken of his pride at linking his iPad to wireless speakers to listen to such cool artists as Mumford & Sons and Emiliana Torrini.

The traditionally stuffier House of Lords is one step ahead of the Commons, agreeing earlier this month to a one-year trial to allow iPads and other mobile devices on the red benches. Peers have been told not to use the technology to search for information online during debates.

Some iPads have already made their way into the Commons, with ministers drawing on them when answering questions. In January, Nick Herbert, the policing minister, told his Labour shadow Vernon Coaker: "My iPad has died, so he may have more attention today than he deserves." Stephen Timms, the former Labour minister, is regularly seen using his iPad on the green benches.

The machines have certainly caught on with some legislators in other countries: earlier this month Simeone Di Cagno Abbrescia, one of Silvio Berlusconi's MPs, was spotted surfing an escort agency website in the Italian parliament on his iPad.

Figures released after a Freedom of Information request by The IoS show parliamentary authorities have spent almost £5m on replacing politicians' computers over the past five years. Some 7,000 laptops and personal computers, the vast majority of them in perfect working order, have been replaced with new machines as part of an ongoing IT programme. This equates to almost five new computers for every MP and peer since 2006. MPs were equipped with 5,854 new laptops and PCs over the period, at a cost of £3.8m. Peers received 1,190 new machines, costing £828,000.

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