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Voting System

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 21 January 2016

Since October 2014 the House service has been investigating means of electronic recording of Divisions, with a view to improving the timely publication of Division lists, making Division data more accessible to the public and easier to analyse, and improving accuracy. There was a trial in the last Parliament and hon. Members will have seen it in practice on Tuesday. Full implementation of tablet recording of Divisions is expected later in this Session.

The voting system in this House is archaic, as exemplified yesterday when well over an hour was spent on four different votes on the Psychoactive Substances Bill. That cannot be a proper use of parliamentary time, particularly when it can be used to debate the substance of Bills. Can we please consider moving forward with a system of electronic voting and look to other Parliaments across the world, not least the Scottish Parliament, which uses it to great benefit?

There is an established tradition in this House. I recognise that hon. Members may have different views, but many Members value the opportunity given by the time during Divisions to see not only each other but Ministers and similar. The number of hours available in this House for scrutiny of the Government and legislation far exceeds that in other Parliaments in this country and, indeed, around the world.

As we move further away from the 20th century and, by extension, the 19th century, when, if ever, does the Deputy Leader of the House see this House moving towards a more reasonable voting system, such as genuine electronic voting? We already have passes.

As I have said, there is a long-standing convention and a lot of Members value the fact not only that we link votes to debates, but that the convention of walking through the Lobbies gives them the opportunity to speak to other people. It is a matter for further debate and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will speak to the Procedure Committee in due course.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that the introduction of iPads to the voting process in the Lobbies is more than enough modernisation for this century?

I have always thought of my hon. Friend as a very traditional man. The other place has been using that technology for some time. It is a useful thing to do and I look forward to the electronic recording of votes being introduced into this place in due course.

I urge my hon. Friend to stick to her guns on this issue. I am sure that far more people visit this Parliament than the Scottish Parliament, and I suspect that most people visit this Parliament to see what we do and to respect our traditions, rather than necessarily to listen to what hon. Members have to say. We should guard our traditions with great care.

I visited the Scottish Parliament as a tourist and found it to be a very interesting building. I did not see a debate while I was there. I agree with my hon. Friend. I value the tradition, as do many other Members.

It is timely that I follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), because, since the election in May, Conservative Members and Ministers have denied this House a vote on exempting carers from hospital parking charges, ensuring that children learn emergency first aid and improving access to low-cost treatments for conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. Does the Deputy Leader of the House believe that the way of voting on private Members’ Bills is undemocratic, looks outdated to the public and needs to change?

I speak as somebody who has taken a private Member’s Bill through the House, which is a unique way to bring in legislation not introduced by the Government. The hon. Lady will know that the Procedure Committee is looking into this matter. Frankly, it is important that legislation is properly scrutinised. The Procedure Committee will come up with recommendations on which the House can further deliberate.

I had the privilege of serving for a year on the Digital Democracy Commission that you, Mr Speaker, established. The commission, which had a majority of lay members, endorsed the principle of walking through the Lobby for the benefits it brings. However, we urged the House to come up with a proposal for electronic voting by swiping smart cards to speed up the process, to ensure our constituents can quickly see how we have voted and to begin to modernise the House. Will the Deputy Leader of the House advise us on what progress has been made on that?

I am not aware of a move to introduce swipe cards, as the hon. Lady suggests, but we believe that introducing tablet recording for Divisions will help to facilitate the provision of the kind of information for constituents to which she refers.