HC Deb 17 July 2001 vol 372 cc148-9
42. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

If he will bring forward proposals to introduce electronic voting to the Lobbies of the House. [2623]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

In the last Session, the Modernisation Committee conducted a survey of Members' views on electronic voting. A majority of hon. Members who responded were against such an innovation.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Cook

Including the hon. Gentleman. I shall discuss with the Modernisation Committee whether there would be any value in revisiting the issue in this Parliament, but such a major change could not proceed without substantial support.

Mr. Thomas

I thank the Leader of the House for his response and pay particular tribute to the reforming zeal that he has shown on taking up his new post, especially in the announcements that he made last night. What estimate has he made of the time that we waste voting in the Lobby? The devolved Administrations in these islands vote in minutes whereas we take hours. Has he made any estimate of how much extra time we would have to scrutinise, for example, Select Committee reports or the Executive if we voted in an alternative way? We could keep a Lobby a day for the Lobby junkies, but time could also be freed up for scrutiny in the House. Incidentally, we could also get rid of the abomination that is deferred voting. Will he reconsider?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to go to the heart of the debate, which is whether electronic voting would permit quicker voting. There would be a time saving. It is also important to bear in mind the fact that the eight minutes that are required to enable Members to attend before the Doors are locked represent the majority of the time taken for Divisions of the House. Unless it were proposed that those eight minutes should themselves be reduced, electronic voting would save three or four minutes per Division at most. That is not without significance in itself, but it must be weighed against the fact that most Members when last asked wanted the present system, not electronic voting. The final decision must be for the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why a majority of the House has continually argued the case for voting in the manner that we do is that, although it takes 15 minutes, it enables Members of Parliament to put Ministers and Cabinet Ministers under scrutiny when we have not been able to find them during the rest of the week?

Mr. Cook

I am very familiar with the principle that my hon. Friend enunciates. I assure him and the House that all electronic voting systems that were considered in the last Parliament required the personal presence of the Members voting. For example, if we were to introduce smart cards, all Members would have to go through the Aye or No Lobby, although they might be able to go through more quickly. There is a balance to be struck.