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Remote voting report published by the Procedure Committee

8 May 2020

The House of Commons Procedure Committee publishes an extensive report regarding remote voting in divisions. The report forms part of the Committee’s ongoing inquiry into procedure under coronavirus restrictions, as the House of Commons continues its rapid adaptation to the challenges of Coronavirus.

The Procedure Committee’s report considers in detail proposals developed by the House of Commons Service to enable remote voting to take place. It comes following a letter on the matter from Committee Chair Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP to the Speaker of the House. The correspondence indicated the Committee’s overall view on the proposals, and was an essential step towards the temporary implementation of a remote voting system.

The full report, “Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: remote voting in divisions”, focuses on the detail and implications of the remote voting system. Some of the key findings from the report include:

  • On 12 May the House will be invited to renew the temporary coronavirus procedures. The Committee recommends that any renewal should be to a date not later than Wednesday 3 June. During this time the operating model for hybrid proceedings ought to be reviewed.
  • The Speaker has substantial power over the operation of the remote voting system. Should issues arise with the system's operation, the Speaker has the power to interrupt and suspend a remote division and to declare a division result null and void and order a re-run. His leave is required before any business may be subject to a remote division.
  • System performance will be monitored in each division. Any issues will be reported to the Speaker, who has the power to suspend a division and to void and re-run a division if system issues have compromised a result.
  • The Committee has been assured of the robustness and security of the system, which is based on an existing platform used by Members. Access to the system is through a single sign-on, validated by multi-factor authentication. The parliamentary Information Authority has taken advice from the National Cyber Security Council on the system.
  • The integrity of the system depends on Members. The remote voting system is not as secure as a system where a Member must vote in a division lobby in person. Until a reliable form of biometric authentication can be introduced over all devices likely to be used for remote voting, the present system is unlikely to be suitable as a permanent replacement for lobby voting.
  • Any attempt to facilitate a non-Member to cast a vote over the remote voting system is likely to constitute a serious breach of privilege and a contempt of the House. Such breaches are likely to be dealt with severely by the relevant committees of the House and by the House itself.
  • The Committee recommends that the Speaker should receive a report on the number of Members not registered on the system before he gives leave for the first business to be designated as subject to a remote division.
  • The Committee has recommended an accelerated launch of the ParliamentNow website, presently in development, which will replicate the content carried on the House's annunciator channel and will provide a distinctive alert for divisions taking place.
  • Proxy voting for parental absence is available under the remote voting system, though Members eligible for a proxy vote may now choose to vote remotely instead. The Committee’s inquiry into proxy voting continues, and may consider the feasibility of proxy voting as a replacement for remote voting as lockdown restrictions ease.

The proposals for the remote voting system represent the first wholly remote proceeding authorised by the House of Commons, and the most substantial change to division practice since the introduction of double-lobby voting in 1836.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:

“The Procedure Committee report, published today, highlights the benefits of remote voting in allowing a core function of the House—scrutinising the Government’s legislative proposals—to continue during the pandemic.

The report also shines a light on the challenges presented by remote voting. The present remote voting system was developed at high speed as a temporary measure for use during the pandemic. Substantial additional infrastructure and development work would be required before it could be considered as a permanent alternative to lobby voting.

The Procedure Committee commends the excellent work of the House of Commons Service and Parliamentary Digital Service in developing the system. We will continue to work with them as we keep the remote voting system, and all other temporary coronavirus procedures, under review in the coming weeks.”

Further information

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