Swipe cards to introduce era of 'smart' voting in Commons

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Under plans being drawn up by the Government, MPs will use computerised smartcards to vote in the House of Commons. If the scheme gets the go-ahead next week, the centuries-old tradition of verbally registering "aye" or a "no" with the clerks will be abolished in favour of a much quicker system.

Under plans being drawn up by the Government, MPs will use computerised smartcards to vote in the House of Commons. If the scheme gets the go-ahead next week, the centuries-old tradition of verbally registering "aye" or a "no" with the clerks will be abolished in favour of a much quicker system.

Under one favoured option, MPs would swipe personalised cards through electronic machines, allowing a vote to be calculated within seconds instead of the 14 minutes it takes at present. The current system entails clerks sitting at desks and using pen and paper to tick off names from lists of the 657 MPs.

Backbenchers have in the past fiercely resisted such reforms because the division lobby, where they go to vote at the end of a debate, is often the only place where they can regularly mix with ministers and shadow ministers. But the Government believes that the "social elements" of voting can be retained by installing a bank of card-reader machines in the lobby.

Electronic voting is one of four key issues to be considered this parliamentary session by the Commons Modernisation Committee, set up by the Government after the last general election to bring Parliament up to date.

The committee has alreadycreated a "baby Commons" in Westminster Hall to allow more debating time for non-controversial topics, as well as abolishing the practice of wearing a top hat to stymie debates.

However, many Labour MPs, particularly the newer intake, believe that it is time to step up the pace of reform and Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House and Chairwoman of the Modernisation Committee, is understood to be determined to see effective change.

Other issues to be considered by the committee include allowing reporters to tape record parliamentary proceedings and reforms to the process of written answers during recess and secondary legislation.

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