Put it on a bit of paper?

Lord Tyler
Facilities Focus from the House of Commons

Facilities Focus from the House of Commons

Some people have said that the Liberal Democrats must avoid becoming part of ‘the Establishment’ just because we are in Government.  I couldn’t agree more.

However, you will imagine my surprise and delight on discovering that part of the Establishment appears anyway to have joined the Liberal Democrats.  The Facilities Department of the House of Commons – which manages accommodation, catering and the like – is publishing a newsletter called Focus

Its namesake is that of Liberal Democrat leaflets up and down the country, informing residents of new campaigns and of the work of our councillors and MPs.

The concept was devised by my friend and campaigning expert, Lord Rennard, who delivered the first Focus in Liverpool.  Closer to my own political roots, the late and much missed David Penhaligon (Liberal MP for Truro) summed it up as, “if you believe in something, write it on a piece of paper, stick it through a letterbox and persuade people to vote for it.”  Many did just that.

Mind you, now I wonder if – while Focus will always have its place – David (who was himself technically far in advance of other campaigners) would certainly have wondered whether paper was still the best form of communication.  I am amazed at the extent to which both Houses of Parliament, and especially Peers, still believe that if something is really to ‘exist’ it must be printed up on millions of bits of paper. 

I’m reminded that it’s more than six years since the Hansard Society’s Puttnam Commission published ‘Members Only? – Parliament in the Public Eye’.  Lord (David) Puttnam persuaded us that Parliament needed to lead in terms of new forms of communication, since he himself was a pioneer in this field.  I wonder whether all our recommendations will ever bear fruit.

There’s been one important development.  The superiority of online publication is admirably demonstrated by Hansard.  If I say something in the House at 11am, it is usually online by 2pm.  Those who insist on printed copy must wait until 8am the next morning.  So putting everything on paper may no longer be the answer.

7 comments for “Put it on a bit of paper?

  1. Twm O'r Nant
    08/12/2011 at 4:59 pm

    still believe that if something is really to ‘exist’ it must be printed up on millions of bits of paper.

    Hm. The law of contract seems to require more than an electronic copy, although all computers have the power to send receipts.
    Barclays Bank leads the way with secure online delivery/collection of …facts.

    Perhaps the method of a random number gadget,Pin Sentry which they use, and which is utterly and completely foolproof, should be extended further; the cost of the gadgets would probably be high, if only a few were required, but it would be interesting to know.

    If millions were made the cost would be fractions of a penny each.
    They would be foolproof for general election voting purposes.

    Random numbers gadgetry!

    I have just had a post from Doc Williamson
    formerly of Hansard, on a similar subject, and he really does have his facts well marshalled. Awfully boring sometimes!(Sorry)

    • Senex
      09/12/2011 at 8:42 pm

      Tom, the gadget you refer to was originally developed by Security Dynamics Inc.


      A number of banks use derivatives of this and they are used extensively in concert with employee Laptops to gain access to internal networks through VPNs. I don’t believe Parliament has yet caught up with this technology?

      They are not utterly foolproof. See theoretical vulnerabilities in the link. One has to be careful where one dangles ones dongle?

  2. Chris K
    08/12/2011 at 5:52 pm

    But where are the dodgy bar charts?

  3. MilesJSD
    08/12/2011 at 6:44 pm

    It is crystal clear to my mind that far too many trees are being felled to be one-way wasted on daily-newsprint, including on ‘Facilities Focus’;

    what is not so clear is how costly is e-publication in comparison or contrast ?

    • Senex
      09/12/2011 at 9:06 pm

      Miles, paper is a very efficient medium in terms of the amount of CO2 per read. The more reads you have the cheaper it gets. What’s more, paper pulp is largely carbon neutral. Think about the carbon footprint and infrastructure required for you to read a web page. I’m all for new means of communication so long as they don’t line the pockets of the big six energy providers something the Liberal Democrats are clearly keen on.

  4. Gareth Howell
    08/12/2011 at 8:47 pm


    The only use made by government is the CAP in Sweden:

    When used for eID, the user is able to file his “tax declaration” online, or any implemented eGoverment functions. The device is also equipped with a USB-port, that enables the bank to perform Sign-What-You-See for approval of sensitive transactions.

    The various weaknesses found by Cambridge researchers really depend on the weakness of the person using it, rather than the weakness of the gadget, and its random numbers.

    A random number is by definition foolproof.
    As soon as you “choose” a number to put in, it ceases to be random, and fails to enter.

    Perhaps the government Bundle which goes to Cabinet ministers every week, could in future, go by secure link using pin sentry.

    It probably does, or do they still get their load of hard copy paper???

  5. Gareth Howell
    08/12/2011 at 9:13 pm

    Feeling confident about giving one’s sort code and bank account number to a complete stranger
    to pay money in to for services rendered, is taking time to catch on, even though cheques can no longer be guaranteed with Barclays.

    It means that some people are going back to unsupported cheques and “I’ll come round to see you if it does not go through!”

    Bits of paper, as you say, should be avoided.

    Having the cheque,in hand, seems to take less trust than having the money out of account on desktop screen, which is slightly tricky to show the payee.

    Showing the payee the cheque is easy. Showing the payee your bank account with money out, or him seeing his with money in, is a strange kind of limbo!!

    Paying a new person, using pin sentry, takes time to set up, whereas a cheque does not.

    “I’ld rather have the cheque!” he says.

    More paper!

    If you say give me your account number and sort code he is reluctant to do so…. at first.

    One’s word is once again as important as
    the written down agreement.

    Less paper!

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