Politicians have unseemly spat in Parliament – about Twitter

Two MPs have been rowing about Twitter in the middle of a parliamentary debate.

Labour MP Robert Flello was discussing a Bill amendment when he referred to point made by Conservative Charlie Elphicke, and accused him of tweeting.

“That relates to the interventions from Charlie Elphicke[ Interruption ]—who is probably tweeting at the moment,” Flello said.

In response Elphicke “indicated dissent” according to Hansard.  How his dissent was indicated is not given in detail, so we can only speculate about rude hand signals.

Nevertheless, whatever he did caught the attention of Flello, who responded: “I have got his attention—marvellous”.

Elphicke sought to bat away any accusations.  He denied tweeting, using the age-old excuse: he was merely “looking up the difference between judicial review and section 13 applications” – which, to be fair, we have all used.

Flello went on to demand that “perhaps the hon. Gentleman should go and use a fully sized computer to conduct some proper research, rather than using a small hand-held device in the Chamber”.

According to Flello, tweeting while in parliament is probably not allowed by the archaic Erskine May Parliament Protocol in any case.

Erksine May probably hadn’t anticipated Twitter back in the mid nineteenth-century. A motion to ban tweeting was thrown out in October. 

However, a spokesperson for the House of Commons told us that changes to parliamentary guidelines meant that use of handheld devices should not be used to breach “decorum”. 

The only hard and fast rule, though, is that MPs are not allowed to engage in a Twitter argument while engaging in a real life one in the chamber, we are told.

But at what point MPs can get told off for tweeting – or playing a sneaky bit of Angry Birds during Prime Minister’s Questions – is unclear.  As the Commons spokesperson rightly told us, “they are expected to know how to behave”.