Westminster: SDLP's Claire Hanna calls for permanent proxy voting

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

image captionClaire Hanna wants a permanent system of proxy voting but says Parliament should "never become fully virtual"

An SDLP MP has called for the system of proxy voting at Westminster to be made permanent.

Claire Hanna said the Covid-19 pandemic had brought about long-lasting changes to how people work.

She called on Parliament to "follow suit" by making proxy voting and virtual participation permanent features.

Proxy voting allows MPs who cannot attend to nominate another MP to cast their vote.

Writing in The Times on Tuesday, Ms Hanna said MPs deciding their contribution to debates needed to be delivered in person would "not help with the perception of politicians as out of touch nor with the sense of societal cohesion lockdown requires".

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image captionSammy Wilson (left) and Jim Shannon were criticised for travelling to Westminster to attend a debate during lockdown restrictions

She argued that retaining the proxy voting arrangements would also allow MPs to spend more time in their constituencies.

However she added that Parliament would "never become fully virtual, nor should it", saying it was not preferable to the "cut and thrust of debate" in Parliament.

Two Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs were criticised this month for physically attending a Commons debate about lockdown measures, despite advice from the speaker to only attend if "absolutely necessary".

Sammy Wilson and Jim Shannon were among about 30 MPs who sat socially distanced on the benches during the debate.

DUP leader Arlene Foster defended her party colleagues for attending.

The Northern Ireland Assembly also has proxy voting measures in place for MLAs but it has not introduced virtual participation for debates.

The Alliance Party's Kellie Armstrong said she had made a formal request for remote access to proceedings at Stormont.

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