Towards a 21st Century Parliament

Speech by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP: “…Despite this, there is an enormous challenge out there not only for the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole but for all legislatures in the 21st century. That challenge is how we reconcile traditional concepts and institutions of representative democracy with the technological revolution which we have witnessed over the past decade or two which has created both a demand for and an opportunity to establish a digital democracy. Quietly, over past decades, a radically different world has emerged which in time will make the industrial revolution seem minor.
There has been much research conducted in to this at the academic level and in individual initiatives and publications, not least those with which the Hansard Society has had the wisdom to become involved. But it is hard to see exactly where we are and hard to understand the notion of ‘trust’ in this brave new world, uncertain as it is. Indeed, there has not been one single overarching strategy for how we might move from where we are now to what a parliament in a digital democracy may look like, nor is there one role model from whom we can all take inspiration. That said, Estonia, where a quarter of the votes cast at its last national election in 2011 and perhaps half of those which will be recorded at its 2015 elections, were delivered online is something of a market leader in this regard and well worth investigation.
I am convinced that we need an innovation of our own to create such a map and a compass and to invite outside expertise in to assist us in this endeavour.
That is why I am announcing today the creation of a Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, the core membership of which will be assembled in the next few weeks, supplemented by a circle of around 30 expert Commissioners and reinforced I hope by up to 60 million members of the public. This exercise will start in early 2014 and report in early 2015, a special year for Parliament as it will be the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament along with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document that set the scene for the 1265 Parliament to come later.
Digital democracy will have some universal features but others which vary nation by nation. It is yet another change which pushes against formality and for flexibility. Its elements might include online voting, e-dialogue between representatives and those represented, increased interconnectedness between the functions of representation, scrutiny and legislation, multiple concepts of what is a constituency, flexibility about what is debated when and how, and a much more intense pace for invention and adaptation. What we are talking about here is nothing less than a Parliament version 2.0….”