Scotland politics

SNP calls for Commons electronic voting

House of Commons during prime minister's questions Image copyright PA

Electronic voting should be introduced to speed up business in the House of Commons, the SNP has suggested.

The party said electronic voting in the Scottish Parliament - which allows MSPs to vote without leaving their seats - takes "just a matter of seconds".

But it can take 15 to 20 minutes for up to 650 MPs to funnel through the lobbies during divisions in the House of Commons.

The SNP said it was now time to ditch the "antiquated Westminster tradition".

SNP MP Hannah Bardell said the time "wasted" during divisions would have been "much better spent representing our constituents and tackling the issues that impact on their lives".

The Scottish Parliament has used electronic voting since it was reconvened in 1999. A similar system is also used in the Welsh Assembly.


How do MPs vote in the House of Commons?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Divisions in the House of Commons are called by the speaker, John Bercow
  • When a vote is held the speaker in the Commons asks members to call out whether they agree or not
  • If there is no clear result, the speaker calls a division by announcing "clear the lobbies"
  • Members do not have to participate in a debate to be able to vote, and may be elsewhere in the parliamentary estate at the time
  • To notify MPs that a division is taking place, division bells ring and TV screens with a specialised feed display that a division is taking place
  • Members then divide into two separate areas called the Aye and No lobbies
  • As they pass through the lobbies, the MPs have their names recorded by clerks and are counted by tellers
  • Once the lobbies are empty the speaker announces the result of the division. The whole process takes about fifteen minutes
  • If the vote is tied - which is very unusual - the speaker has the casting vote

Ms Bardell said: "Electronic voting has been shown to work in Scotland, Wales and in parliaments around the world.

"But the House of Common's reluctance to modernise its outmoded procedures is part of the reason that parliament is far from family friendly and continues to be considered alien and remote by the public."

Ms Bardell said the UK Parliament could get through much more business if it chose to "live in the 21st century, not the 17th".

'Essential opportunity'

The Livingston MP added: "As we move towards the start of 2016, it's well and truly time to create a modern parliament that is fit for a modern democracy."

The UK Parliament website states that proposals to adopt an electronic means of voting have been been considered in the past.

But it says alternative to the present system did not appear to command any great support among MPs.

It adds: "Many members view the procedure of voting in person through the lobbies as an essential opportunity to speak to or lobby senior colleagues".