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House of Commons Commission

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 26 October 2017

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Electronic Voting

1. What estimate the Commission has made of the cost of introducing electronic voting in the Chamber. (901425)

3. What estimate the Commission has made of the cost of introducing electronic voting in the Chamber. (901427)

10. What estimate the Commission has made of the cost of introducing electronic voting in the Chamber. (901434)

The Commission has given no formal consideration to the cost of introducing electronic voting. Its responsibility is limited to any financial or staffing implications of any change in the present system, were a change to be agreed by the House. Such a change would normally follow a report by the Procedure Committee, which would, I am sure, welcome representations from the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and his hon. Friends.

While I accept that this is not primarily a matter for the Commission to decide, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that before we spend astronomical sums on refurbishing this place, the Commission should at the very least build in the capacity for electronic voting in the future, should the House at some point decide to move itself into the 20th century before the rest of the world enters the 22nd?

I have set out for the hon. Gentleman perhaps the most effective way in which he could voice his concerns, but an opportunity may well be provided shortly by a contingency Chamber, in which case it would of course be open to the House to decide to implement an electronic voting system if it considered that to be appropriate.

We do read reports about a contingency Chamber. Have any assessments been made of the differing costs of installing voting Lobbies—which I assume would have to include little toilets at the end, in which Members could hide if they accidentally made their way into the wrong Lobby—and simply installing an electronic voting system? Would the latter not be a more sensible use of public funds?

I suspect that we have not yet reached the stage of deciding whether the provision of toilets will be needed for a contingency Chamber, or, indeed, establishing whether any financial assessment has been made of the installation of electronic voting. According to figures produced in past debates, however, it appears that the cost might be up to £500,000.

In the Scottish Parliament, where there is a seat for every Member and voting takes two seconds rather than 20 minutes, electronic voting is very effective. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in this Chamber there were more than 500 votes between 2012 and 2014, which took up more than seven days? Given what is coming down the line with Brexit, does he not think that this is a perfect time to install electronic voting in the House of Commons?

I am aware that electronic voting takes place in the Scottish Parliament, and my personal view is that it is a more effective way of dealing with votes. Members who have not been here as long as I have may not remember that back in 1997 there was an attempt to reform a number of ways in which the House operated. I supported it, but it was blocked by the House.

But is it not the case that there are advantages in going into the Lobby—one can meet colleagues and do things? If we listen to the Scottish National party all together, why do we not go the whole hog? Why do we not just sit at home, watch proceedings on the Parliament channel, and vote on our iPhones?

I did not hear in any of the earlier contributions any suggestion that we should stay at home to do our voting, and I am sure that the SNP representatives here today would not favour that approach either.

As a Minister in the previous coalition Government and now as a Back Bencher, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that one of the advantages for Back Benchers of voting in person is that Ministers have no escape from Back Benchers who want to collar them to raise local and national issues.

I am sure Ministers love meeting the hon. Gentleman in the Division Lobby, and that they have good conversations—although they are probably usually one-way.