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Call for return of virtual voting after major disruption during Commons division

UK News | Published:

A system to allow MPs to vote remotely online was used a handful of times in May before it was dropped by the Government.

Screen grab from Parliament TV of social distancing measures appearing to be ignored in the House of Commons, after a technology failure forced them to join the “Mogg conga” to vote.

A push for MPs to vote electronically is expected after “human error” caused major disruption during a Commons division.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he would continue to discuss the “use of alternatives” with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg following issues with the pass reader system used by MPs to record their votes.

A system to allow MPs to vote remotely online was used a handful of times in May before it was dropped by the Government.

The current system in the division lobbies stopped working on Wednesday, which forced MPs to queue up, walk through the chamber and pause at the despatch box to announce their name and vote.

This process has been dubbed the “Mogg conga” after it was introduced by Mr Rees-Mogg in place of the electronic voting procedure.

Sir Lindsay told the Commons: “I can inform colleagues that the failure was a result of human error.

“The contractors involved have offered their apologies, and I’m assured that urgent steps are being taken to prevent such a mistake occurring again.”

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Sir Lindsay thanked MPs for “coping so well with the switch” and praised the doorkeepers for their assistance.

He went on: “I note there are alternatives to using this system of divisions we’re currently using, and I will continue to discuss the use of alternatives with the Leader of the House and other members concerned.”

MPs complained of a “total failure” of social distancing during the votes on Wednesday.

Rosie Winterton
Rosie Winterton (Ian Nicholson/PA)

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At one stage, Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton had to warn members to “please observe social distancing and remain a metre apart” after several got bunched up at the doors to the chamber.

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “I have to say it was really unacceptable yesterday and I hope that we can all sit down and talk about one or two of the incidents that happened.”

Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “Well, that is the great thing about being here physically – we had a full back-up plan so we could all get through the lobbies.

“Just think, if we’d all been remote… the business would have fallen, we would not have got the business through the House.

“There’s some cackling from the Opposition benches. The Opposition seem to think that when technology fails, we should add even more technology. Whereas actually good, trusted turning up and saying aye and nay worked extraordinary well.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

SNP Commons leader Tommy Sheppard said: “I think really (Mr Rees-Mogg) ought to be a little less nonchalant in his approach to this because what we presented to the public and the world last night was quite an unedifying spectacle, to be honest.

“The conga-line going through this House involving members, many of whom clearly had some difficulty in social distancing, was not a good example to set.

“And the fact of the matter is that when we did have the remote voting system, it did not fail, it worked perfectly well on every occasion that it was put to the test.

“It is a system that was fit for purpose and as (Mr Rees-Mogg) well knows, the Procedure Committee has recommended that whilst this pandemic persists, we should go back to that form of voting which is not only secure, but is also safe and allows people to vote without coming into proximity with each other.”

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