Plan for electronic voting on tablets by MPs will be used to calculate majorities for Lords amendments to bills
MPs will finally embrace 21st century electronic voting for the first time – but only for a limited number of divisions initially.
Tablet computers will be used under controversial plans to introduce ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL) in the wake of Scottish devolution.
The move has been deemed necessary because the House of Commons clerks will be required to count how many English MPs have supported particular measures, as well as how many MPs in total.
At present, the clerks strike out names on printed lists using black marker pens, under a system unchanged for many decades – despite electronic voting in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. It means that constituents usually have to wait several hours to find out how their MP has voted, until Hansard is published on the parliamentary website.
Now tablets will be used to calculate the two separate majorities needed for a Lords amendment to be added to a bill where English MPs will have a veto.
Explaining the switch, Commons Leader Chris Grayling told MPs: “This new double majority system will use a new system for recording votes in the division lobbies. In future, votes will be recorded on tablet computers so it would be possible to give the tellers an immediate tally on whether a measure has a majority of English MPs as well.”
Many at Westminster speculated that tablets – once introduced as part of the EVEL shake-up – would become the norm for any divisions in the Commons.
If so, that will be despite the opposition of many long-standing MPs. One, former Conservative minister Sir Alan Duncan, recently dismissed the idea as “childish” modernisation.
MPs will have a full debate and a vote on the plans for EVEL on July 15, ahead of a likely fast-track introduction from the autumn.
The changes will introduce a separate committee stage for English, or English and Welsh, MPs for bills not affecting Scotland and Northern Ireland. That will allow legislation to be amended without the consent of all MPs in the Commons, although there would be further opportunities to overturn any changes.
The Commons Speaker will decide whether a bill should be treated as English-only, or English and Welsh-only, in a process similar to deciding whether only MPs and not peers should vote on financial matters. All MPs will vote at second reading, in most committees stages, at report and third reading and when considering Lords amendments.
Grayling said: "Today we are answering the West Lothian question. And we are recognising the voice of England in our great union of nations.”
But for Labour, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said the government was cynically seeking to “manufacture” a larger majority by using “procedural trickery”.
Image by Janto Dreijer (self-photographed), public domain via Wikimedia Commons