Motion to Agree
That the Report from the Select Committee Remote voting and the Code of Conduct (2nd Report, HL Paper 67) be agreed to.
My Lords, this is a short report. It focuses on the single issue of the misuse of the electronic voting system to be introduced into this House with effect from the beginning of next week. Normally, it is impossible for Members to misuse the voting system. They must attend in person, in the Division Lobbies, and be counted by a Teller, or in the Chamber and give their name to a Clerk. Tellers and Clerks recognise them, or certainly recognise someone who is not a Member of the House.
However, there is more scope to misuse a remote voting system. A distinct possibility, which concerns have been expressed about, is that a Member might ask someone to cast their vote for them. It is the view of the Conduct Committee that this should be a breach of the Code of Conduct—that any Member who allows another to vote on their behalf should breach the code. Having someone vote on behalf of a Member should be considered a serious breach of the code, and we propose this amendment to the Code of Conduct accordingly. I beg to move.
My Lords, in normal times a suggestion that your Lordships’ House might move to electronic voting would occasion many days and hours of debate, in Committee and in the Chamber. This Motion is merely a supplementary or consequential Motion to the Motion we passed last week to introduce this revolutionary change with literally zero debate. Having sat through many discussions on minor changes to voting procedure, most of which failed through lack of consensus, I welcome this change, because it is a common-sense change. I congratulate all those who have worked so hard to put it in place so quickly and look forward to taking part in votes on this basis from next week.
We saw in the House of Commons a similar process adopted for a couple of weeks, then dropped. I very much hope that this change will not be dropped with such alacrity and that we will at the very least keep it in place while there are Members of your Lordships’ House who, for health reasons, are unable to attend. There may be arguments for keeping it in place for at least some people permanently, but I suspect that discussions about how we get out of this system will take a lot longer than the virtual lack of discussion about how we got into it. I am very pleased that we are doing this, and I am happy to support the Motion.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I support the report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, and the Conduct Committee, on remote voting. However, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I would be slightly concerned about remote voting in this House in the long term. It is essential for democracy that Members interact with one another in the Chamber and in the House, so that they can crystallise their views and opinions on the issues that come before the House, but I realise that the House has already voted for remote voting, for very good reasons.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, made another point about electronic voting. I was a Member of the European Parliament when there were concerns about and cases of alleged misuse of electronic voting, so the Conduct Committee is right to be concerned about this matter. For that reason, I too support the report.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made by the noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, rightly said that this is a supplemental measure. It is relevant while we have remote voting. I will not comment on whether it should be indefinite or, as it is at the moment, limited to the crisis in intention.