Remote voting scrapped by MPs despite 'farcical' queue looping around parliament
Chaotic scenes emerged from parliament today as MPs were forced to queue up to cast their votes after virtual proceedings were dropped.
The government had previously been using a hybrid system since the end of April, allowing MPs to either contribute to proceedings in person or over Zoom. Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg then insisted that they return to physical-only activity, claiming that the ability to scrutinise had been diminished.
In bizarre scenes, MPs were then forced to stand in line for more than half a kilometre as they voted for whether or not remote voting could continue to take place. Many of them took to social media to share photos of the queue stretching out of the Commons chamber, looping around Westminster Hall, through the yard and out onto the main road, before going back inside.
Each person had to maintain a two-metre distance between themselves and others, while some opted to wear face coverings as they entered the Commons. Many said they waited between 30 to 50 minutes to complete each vote, of which there were three today.
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Writing on Twitter, Labour MP Jess Philips described the queues as an ‘absolute farce’. She said: ‘Just rejoined the queue for the second vote and have a committee starting in 20 minutes, no way this will be done in 20 minutes.’
Scottish Lib Dem Wendy Chamberlain added that she was stuck ‘in a loop in the tunnel between Portcullish House and Westminster’. She later added: ‘It was hoped this form of voting would take 30 mins. Alistair Carmichael and I are still in Westminster Hall…’
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw then shared a picture of the social-distancing rules being broken by a lack of queue space around an escalator. He wrote: ‘No social distancing at all at bottom of Portcullis House escalator as MPs get stuck in a log jam with the queue stretching back to the bottom of the still moving escalator with MPs still pouring down. An absolute disgrace!’
Some MPs also appeared confused at the new voting procedures, with several attempting to exit the chamber via the wrong door, despite being told by the Speaker earlier which way to go.
DUP MP Jim Shannon initially walked up to the ‘noes’ column, before correcting himself and walking through the ‘ayes’ section, while Tory Stephen Crabb voted on the wrong side twice, to huge laughter from others inside the Commons.
The amendment to keep remote voting had been moved by Conservative Karen Bradley, who chairs the Procedure Committee. Despite the difficult queuing, it was defeated by 242 votes to 185, following a 46-minute division.
MPs then later approved the government’s motion to only allow them to vote in person by 261 votes to 163, majority 98.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who had been forced to shout instructions to MPs during the voting, said the queuing system would remain as it is the ‘only method that is compatible’ with government-set requirements and those from Public Health England.
Rees-Mogg said he would table a motion on Wednesday which would enable MPs unable to attend parliament on medical grounds to take part in certain proceedings, including questions, urgent questions and ministerial statements.
Earlier today he said: ‘The stop gap of a hybrid parliament was a necessary compromise during the peak of the virus, but by not being here the House has not worked effectively on behalf of constituents.’ He added that he expects ‘teething problems’ with the new voting system, adding it will be ‘some time before our proceedings are fully restored’.
He previously stated that ‘voting while enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice’ and said a physical presence in the Commons ‘is the heart of what parliament is about’.
For Labour, shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz questioned if Rees-Mogg was ‘living in another universe’ as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, while Bradley said the current arrangements for a physical parliament are ‘far from optimal’.
Caroline Nokes, Tory chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, had previously branded the proposed measures ‘discriminatory’, adding: ‘Instantly a number of groups with protected characteristics are excluded, those who are pregnant or new mothers.
‘Older members might be advised not to come here via public transport. The underlying health conditions of either members or their families are to be frank none of our business, but they will be excluded.’
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