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Electronic Voting

House of Commons Commission – in the House of Commons on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

To ask the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what recent assessment the Commission has made of the potential merits of introducing electronic voting.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

To ask the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what recent assessment the Commission has made of the potential merits of introducing electronic voting.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The commission has had no recent formal discussions on the potential merits of electronic voting. Colleagues on the Procedure Committee have examined what practical and procedural changes to Divisions might be necessary in the context of the covid-19 outbreak and I thank them for their work on that. I know that they will continue to keep the situation under review. Any decision to implement electronic voting would need to be agreed by the whole House. The commission’s responsibility for this matter would be limited to the financial and staffing implications of such a decision.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

The SNP has long advocated modernising this place so that votes do not take hours. As a still relatively new Member, I am shocked by the archaic practices that we, as Members, have to undergo in order to vote. Does the hon. Member representing the House of Commons Commission ever see this House leaving the late 19th century?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In my almost 20 years in this House I have probably spent the best part of a week traipsing around the Division Lobbies, exercising my democratic obligations as a Member of the House. It is a week that I am certain I will never get back. Last July, the Procedure Committee began an inquiry into the merits of electronic voting, which was interrupted by the general election in December. So far, no decision has been made to reopen that inquiry, but I encourage my hon. Friend to beat a path towards the Procedure Committee to encourage it to take up the inquiry again. Knowing of his determination, I am pretty certain that he will do so.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Last week, the Leader of the House declined the idea of an increased use of deferred Divisions. Given that we are in a changing landscape, that guidance has changed and, even within this Chamber, we are now self-distancing, will the commission reconsider that position?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The commission is acting with the most up-to-date medical advice from Public Health England. If at any point it was felt that we could not continue with Divisions in their current form, all feasible alternative arrangements will be looked at and put in place. I think my hon. Friend will have noticed just how responsibly this House has responded to the requests for social distancing. We just have to look around the Chamber and observe how we have positioned ourselves. I shall leave Members to form their own view about the wisdom of packing out the cramped Division Lobbies if there are any further Divisions in this House. I note that there has been none this week, and I know that it is the intention of Whips throughout the House to ensure that we will be using the Division Lobbies as infrequently as possible.