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Wed, 25 November 2020

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MPs warned of ‘punishment’ if they let someone else vote for them as new virtual system ready to go

MPs warned of ‘punishment’ if they let someone else vote for them as new virtual system ready to go

MPs have already been grilling ministers using the new hybrid set-up.

2 min read

MPs have been warned they will be “punished accordingly” if they use a new virtual system to let someone else cast a vote for them remotely during the coronavirus lockdown.

In a letter to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Karen Bradley, who chairs the Commons Procedure Committee scrutinising the plans, said the system was “now ready for deployment” - and gave a tentative thumbs-up from her group of MPs.

Parliament is already back up-and-running in a ‘hybrid’ form despite the Covid-19 outbreak, with MPs able to question ministers and hold debates through a mix of physical and virtual attendance in the Commons.

But parliamentary officials have been racing to allow MPs to remotely cast votes, a process that normally requires them to physically walk through the Commons division lobbies or pair off with another MP.

Revealing that her committee is “satisfied that the proposed system is suitable” for the Commons to cast remote votes and “satisfied with the assurances it has been given about the security of the system”, Ms Bradley also warned MPs to expect a reprimand if they let somebody else cast a ballot on their behalf.

The new system can, she says, “only be a temporary means to allow Members to cast votes in divisions for as long as the extraordinary conditions which prevent many coming to the Chamber persist” - citing costs which “cannot be justified”.

And she warns: “Members have a personal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system.

“It is highly likely that any action by a Member which led to an authorised person casting a vote in a division would constitute a contempt of the House and a breach of the Code of Conduct, and would be likely to be punished accordingly.”

The backing of the Procedure Committee comes ahead of the latest business statement from Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, with the Cabinet minister expected to update the House on how remote voting will first be used.

Ms Bradley said: “The House of Commons Service and the Parliamentary Digital Service continue to do excellent work to ensure that the House of Commons can exercise its core democratic functions during the extraordinary conditions of this pandemic.”

She added: “The system has been rapidly developed by the Digital Service to meet an urgent requirement of the House. The Committee is satisfied that the proposed system is suitable for use as a temporary measure during the pandemic.
 
“The Procedure Committee will keep the operation of the system under review, and will make a fuller report to the House in due course.”

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