SNP anger over cash spent on EVEL voting system

Kirsty Blackman, SNP MP for Aberdeen North. Picture: PA
Kirsty Blackman, SNP MP for Aberdeen North. Picture: PA
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THE SNP was last night angered that taxpayers’ money has been spent on new a House of Commons electronic voting system that will incorporate English Votes for English Laws (EVEL).

The cash spent on the new system came in an answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Kirsty Blackman, the Aberdeen North MP.

Ms Blackman asked the House of Commons Commission, the body which runs the Commons, about plans to update the current system that still sees MPs vote by funnelling down “Aye” or “Nay” lobbies.

The answer showed the House of Commons decided to spend £5,000 on developing software to count the MPs electronically, along with £4,900 on iPads last year (2014/15).

The answer also revealed that a further £1,700 was spent on adapting the £5000 software to record “double majorities”.

The parliamentary answer said: “The work on the project is not yet complete, but the total amount spent to date in 2015/16 is £6,700. This includes £5,000 for purchasing tablet devices and £1,700 to modify the software to enable the tablets to provide the results of divisions taken under the proposed ‘double-majority’ system.”

Achieving a double-majority is a key part of the controversial EVEL proposals, which have been drawn up in an attempt to resolve the fact that Scottish MPs can vote on legislation that only applies south of the border.

Under the EVEL plans, if a bill is English-only it will have an extra amending stage with only English MPs involved and then require a double majority of both English MPs and all UK MPs to pass.

The Conservatives have said EVEL will answer the West Lothian Question, posed by the former Labour MP Tam Dalyell who pointed out that devolution would lead to Scottish MPs being able to influence English legislation while English MPs would have no say over matters devolved to Scotland.

The plans are opposed by SNP MPs, who have abandoned their long-held principle of not voting on English matters since the General Election. EVEL is also opposed by Labour and the Lib Dems, who claim it will undermine the UK.

Ms Blackman said: “The Tories’ EVEL proposals are in complete disarray and as can be seen from the UK government’s humiliating backtrack, faltering when challenged by MPs.

“It must then be asked why taxpayers’ money has already been spent on adapting software – which was only purchased last year at a cost of £5,000 to the taxpayer – to ensure Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs’ are locked out of certain votes. If the Tories’ EVEL proposals are successful passed by the Westminster Parliament, Scottish MPs will be given a second class status.

“Whilst it is not the largest sum of money to be wasted by the Westminster establishment, it speaks volumes about their attitude towards Scotland and the rights of our democratically elected representatives.

“This waste of cash really hits home when you consider the Tories’ just passed a budget – supported by Labour inaction – that is attacking working families and the most vulnerable in society.

“It is clear to see that the priorities of the Westminster establishment are more focused on protecting their own interests than serving the people they are meant to represent.”

A Commons spokesman said: “The House service made a small adaptation to the work already undertaken, at a modest cost, to ensure a system was in place promptly if the House decided to implement the new standing orders.”