KINGSTON, Jamaica - Gordon House is finally going fully digital.
Senators will now be able to use laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices during sittings of both the Senate and its committees.
The Standing Orders Committee of the Senate has agreed that it is time its members have access to digital instruments during sittings.
However, this is only allowed for taking notes and doing research and not for external communications. Members may not make or receive calls from their cell phones, and cannot use audio visuals to compliment presentations without the approval of the President.
The House of Representatives has been using computers for some time, however, the Senate resisted until mid-2011 when Senator Norman Grant, then an opposition member, moved a motion noting that there was no provision in the Standing Orders of the Senate to allow the use of technology during sittings. He asked that the Senate review its Standing Orders, to change the situation. However, although the motion had considerable support, nothing was done as the General Election intervened.
This year, Grant tabled the motion again, receiving support from both sides for the matter to be sent to the Standing Orders Committee for deliberation.
Senator Grant noted that a number of government agencies and department’s annual reports were being tabled in Parliament on compact discs, and Senators were at a disadvantage not being able to access them immediately, because of the ban on using the technology during sittings. However, while there was no provision in the Standing Orders for Senators to use digital equipment during sittings, members nevertheless could be seen using tablets, Ipads and Blackberries to send and receive messages.
Senator Grant has often expressed concern about this situation, pointing out that the failure to regularise the situation was tempting members to violate the Standing Orders.
“At this time, we cannot use computers or any form of information technology to read discs that are tabled,” he lamented.
This was the second time the resolution was sent to a Senate Standing Orders committee, but this committee had to meet six times before agreeing to the changes.
The latest committee, chaired by the President of the Senate, Stanley Redwood, felt that since the use of technology was already allowed in the House of Representatives, the privilege should be extended to the Senators.
The new provision in the Standing Orders insists that the devices will have to be kept in the silent mode and should not be allowed to disrupt the proceedings “which might compromise the dignity and decorum of the House”.