‘Kilometre queue’ for MPs to vote branded ‘farcical’

Suggestions that MPs could be asked to form a queue up to a kilometre long to vote now that ministers have forced an end to the hybrid virtual parliament have been attacked as “farcical”.

The House of Commons will continue to observe social distancing measures, with no more than 50 PMs allowed in the chamber at the same time
The House of Commons will continue to observe social distancing measures, with no more than 50 PMs allowed in the chamber at the same time

The Commons will decide tomorrow on new regulations requiring MPs to be on the parliamentary estate to take part in votes, despite concern at the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg tables a motion setting out the requirement that prevents virtual voting from resuming.

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The government's motion requires the need for voting in person at the Palace of Westminster and that MPs must follow Public Health England guidance.

The mechanics of voting would then be left down to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to set out, with MPs having to avoid the narrow division lobbies.

He has described a single file of MPs snaking through Parliament as a "supermarket queue" that will lead through the centre of the chamber and to the dispatch box.

But critics have raised concerns that the plan will discriminate against shielding politicians, while MPs representing rural constituencies - particularly in Scotland - have warned they will struggle to travel to and from Westminster every week during lockdown.

Some Conservatives including Harlow MP Robert Halfon, who is shielding due to an underlying health condition, have indicated they will vote against the plans.

Members of the Commons Procedure Committee are understood to be preparing an amendment, backed by a number of Tories, that would force ministers to preserve remote electronic voting.

The Electoral Reform Society said: "If this goes ahead, it is beyond a farce. It is unacceptable when there is currently a safe, secure and speedy option for voting available: remote/digital voting. MPs have already used it, and it works.

"Since some MPs are shielding and are not safe to travel in person, these plans - if confirmed - pose a real threat for democratic representation and political equality."

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SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “What the UK Government is doing this week is farcical.

“They must come to their senses and allow all MPs to participate by continuing with the hybrid arrangements.”

The House of Lords is developing a new online voting system for peers which is expected to be ready by the middle of the month.

A House of Lords spokesman said: "We're developing rapidly a brand new, secure online voting system for the House of Lords.

"Peers will be able to vote at the touch of a smartphone screen or on a laptop or other device."

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