CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

PARLIAMENT – ELECTRONIC VOTING – 19 December 2000

[Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What plans she has to bring forward proposals on electronic voting in the House.

Mr John Bercow (Buckingham): If she will make a statement on her proposals for electronic voting in the House.

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs Margaret Beckett): It will, of course, be for the House to decide whether it wishes to adopt electronic voting, but the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons has received representations on the matter, and has decided to stage an exhibition on the means of electronic voting. [Laughter.] This will take place in the Upper Waiting Hall in the week beginning Monday 19 March.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Despite the raucous laughter of Opposition Members, I think that an exhibition might be a good means by which Members can educate themselves about the ways in which electronic voting could enable us to waste less time in this place. May I urge my right hon. Friend to do more than stage an exhibition and to ascertain whether she can take action?

Mrs Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is right to say that there are different means by which votes could be recorded electronically. As it was fairly clear from the reaction to the initial report from the Modernisation Committee that members had some doubts and reservations about the different possibilities available, I think that it is important for hon. Members to have the opportunity to take a look and to judge for themselves.

Mr Bercow: The exhibition sounds a truly ghastly prospect. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), does the right hon. Lady accept that the traditional method of voting in the Division Lobbies provides Members with invaluable opportunities informally to approach Ministers and shadow Ministers, to confer with their parliamentary colleagues, to rally support for their chosen causes and, on the extraordinarily rare occasions when he turns up in the House, perhaps even to buttonhole the Prime Minister? Does the right hon. Lady agree that, for those four reasons, she should stand for tradition and resist the Maoist revolutionaries on the Government Back Benches?

Mrs Beckett: Let me gently remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is here for Prime Minister's Question Time more often than his predecessor as a result of the way in which it is now arranged. I have some sympathy with the basic point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the benefits of Members being able to mix in the Lobby when a Division is called. It is my understanding – I was not a member of the Modernisation Committee at the time – that one of the things that caused problems when the House considered electronic voting initially was that some hon. Members were under the impression that it would not be possible to combine electronic means of registering votes with the opportunity to mix that takes place in the Lobby. That is not the case, and that is the premise on which the Committee has discussed the matter. None of that is affected by a study of the means of recording votes, which is what is proposed in the exhibition.

Mr Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): May I from the Labour Benches agree with every word uttered by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr Bercow)?

Mrs Beckett: It is always open to one hon. Member to agree with another.]

Dr Julian Lewis: Do Labour Back-Benchers not realise that by proposing electronic voting they are cutting their own throats? If they want to have so little contact with other parliamentarians that they do not even wish to go into the Division Lobbies to vote in person, why do they not do us all a favour and stop standing for election, to make way for people who want to do a job of work in the House?

[Mrs Beckett: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, who is, of course, a serious parliamentarian, doing his job does not seem to include having the capacity to listen. As I pointed out to the House, it is perfectly possible to introduce electronic means of recording votes, without losing the principle. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr Bercow) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr Campbell-Savours). There is no reason why the two should not be combined. It was not the Government but the all-party Modernisation Committee that made the proposal in the first place, before I was a member of the Committee.]