Politics: Voting in Commons may go electronic

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Electronic voting in the Commons could become a reality, the Leader of the Commons, Ann Taylor, told MPs last night. She said the Modernisation Committee was looking into the "feasibility and desirability" of electronic voting, but that it was likely MPs would not be able to use the system if they were outside the chamber or the division lobbies.

Mrs Taylor, opening a debate on the modernisation of the House, said the Government had managed to start reforming Commons procedures, but more work was needed.

The Shadow Leader of the Commons, Gillian Shephard, said the Tories welcomed the general thrust of what the committee was trying to achieve, but stressed that change had to be evolutionary.

Mrs Taylor said: "Once we have spent some time as members here, it's very obvious that there are debates that are not as fruitful and productive and enlightening as they might be."

She added that the Government had already started bringing in draft Bills which could be discussed before formally presented to the House.

Mrs Taylor said some MPs were especially concerned about congestion in the voting lobbies. The Modernisation Committee would be taking evidence on the advantages of electronic voting, but she stressed there had been no decision on whether to introduce it for a trial period yet.

"Any voting should actually take place either in this chamber or in the lobbies ... rather than have some form of remote voting introduced."

As well as examining the "feasibility and desirability" of electronic voting, Mrs Taylor said the committee was looking into the schedule of the parliamentary year, week and day.

She said: "It is impossible to please everyone but what we are trying to do is to devise a system that will allow all 659 members to undertake their jobs in their individual ways that they think is most appropriate to their constituents."

Mrs Shephard said the Opposition had supported the work of the Modernisation Committee but stressed that the Conservatives supported change only if the sovereignty of Parliament was retained.

Earlier in the Commons, during questions about the business of the House, Labour's Harry Barnes (Derbyshire NE) had called for electronic voting.

He said as a "little bald-headed, 60-year-old man, who wears glasses and has false teeth and whose trousers do not match his jacket", he might seem an "unlikely moderniser". But a "modern, technologically up-to-date electoral system" was needed.

Mr Barnes, who has long campaigned for electoral reform, yesterday brought forward a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act to make it easier for the homeless to be included on electoral registers.

Mrs Shephard urged Mrs Taylor to look in the future at the work of select committees, applauding their successes, but warning: "I don't think they should be asked to respond instantly to the political flavour of the moment."

But Mrs Taylor told her that although they could eventually be considered, select committees were "not an immediate priority, not least because I think that most people think they work quite well".