Remote voting in the House of Commons will likely be “sub-optimal” but any alternative would mean reduced scrutiny of the Government during the coronavirus crisis, MPs have said.
A report by the Commons procedure committee warns the move will not be as secure as voting in person and should remain temporary until biometric authentication can be introduced.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle paved the way for MPs to vote electronically so parliamentarians do not fall foul of social distancing rules amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
The report published on Friday says the move away from MPs walking through the division lobbies in person is the “most substantial change to division practice since the introduction of double-lobby voting in 1836”.
“The committee accepted that these measures would be highly likely to be sub-optimal and unlikely to improve upon the presence of all Members being physically present in the House,” the review said.
“However, the alternative to allowing for virtual participation would be much more limited participation and scrutiny than is available under the present temporary arrangements.”
The system’s “integrity” depends on MPs and “the care they take” over access to the system, it continues.
“The remote voting system is not as secure as the present arrangements for divisions, which rely on a member presenting in a division lobby in person,” the MPs wrote.
“Until a reliable form of biometric authentication can be introduced over all devices likely to be used for remote voting, the present system is unlikely to be suitable as a replacement for lobby voting.”
But the Speaker has “considerable power” over the system and is able to suspend a division and declare the result “null and void and order a re-run”.
MPs were warned by the committee that any attempt to help a member of the public vote “is likely to constitute a serious breach of privilege and a contempt of the House”.
“Such breaches are likely to be dealt with severely by the relevant committees of the House and by the House itself,” the report said.
Committee chair Karen Bradley said the remote voting system had been “developed at high speed as a temporary measure for use during the pandemic”.
“Substantial additional infrastructure and development work would be required before it could be considered as a permanent alternative to lobby voting,” the MP added.
The committee recommended that any renewal to the system should be no later than June 3.
Currently up to 50 MPs are allowed to attend the chamber in person while up to 120 contribute from their constituencies via Zoom.