Japan Diet Speeds up Tech Use in Move toward Digitization

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Takuya Hirai, now the minister for digital transformation, answers a question with a tablet in his hand at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee of the House of Representatives in 2019.

The Diet is moving faster to find ways to use information and communications technology amid Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pursuit of a policy to digitize the government. The Diet members plan to start full-fledged discussions on expansion of paperless systems, the installation of public Wi-Fi and other issues in the ordinary session to be convened in January.

Members of the House of Representatives have been permitted to use tablets in all committees since the recent extraordinary Diet session.

However, use is not approved for matters unrelated to proceedings, and is allowed on the condition that the communications function be turned off during the questions and answers.

According to the lower house secretariat, there are instances when the use of tablets has been approved on a case by case basis on the Committee on Cabinet, and there have been voices from other committees requesting use. At the Committee on Security and the Special Committee on Consumer Affairs, lawmakers have already been seen asking questions while looking at the tablet screen.

The lower house is addressing making question statements and other documents paperless and will consider expanding the scope of the system from the next ordinary Diet session.

The ruling and opposition parties will also discuss methods for handling seals and signatures, and whether to set up Wi-Fi in the Diet.

In the House of Councillors, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Toshiei Mizuochi, the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration, proposed on Dec. 11 that a project team be set up to study ways to promote digitization. The team is expected to start discussions in January on whether to allow use of tablets and expanding the scope of paperless documentation. “As the government moves ahead with digitization, the upper house must as well,” said Hiroshige Seko, Secretary-General for the LDP in the upper house.

Some lawmakers, particularly young ones, have called for debates to be held online as a coronavirus countermeasure. However, a provision in the Constitution calls for lawmakers’ physical attendance, and the issue remains divisive.