Tory MP: ‘What happened to electronic voting? It worked perfectly well’
Member of Procedure Committee James Gray encourages parliament to consider ‘innovations offered by the latest technologies’
Credit: House of Commons/PA Archive/PA Images
A long-standing Conservative MP has urged parliament to urgently consider which technological innovations adopted during the pandemic could help it function better long into the future.
James Gray, who has represented the North Wiltshire constituency since the 1997 general election, said that, before the pandemic is over and business as usual – theoretically – resumes, parliament should review the measures it has implemented over the past year. Failure to do so “risks a blind return to the old ways”, Gray said, in a piece written for PublicTechnology sister publication The House Live.
The MP revealed that he had recently “surrendered the last vestiges of my independence as a tireless scrutineer of Her Majesty’s Government” in allowing his party’s deputy chief whip to vote in the House of Commons as his proxy.
“What happened to electronic voting?,” he said. “It worked perfectly well, and at least it kept us involved with debates. The proxy system has removed that last degree of engagement.”
Gray serves on the House of Commons Procedure Committee that scrutinises the practices and operations of parliament. He said that he hoped the committee, alongside speaker of the house Lindsay Hoyle and the Commons Commission would undertake “urgent work on what we would like parliament to look like when the crisis eases”.
Such work should include considerations of the structure of the parliamentary day, Gray said, as well the role of urgent questions, and the possibility of forming a new House Business Committee. As much as anything, it should also consider how technology could support parliamentarians in the future.
“Would a wholly virtual parliament, including electronic voting, not give MPs more engagement and anyhow be easier to reform once the pandemic is over? Now is the moment when we should be turning our attention to what kind of Commons we want to see,” he said. “Should proxy voting be extended for all sorts of reasons beyond new parenthood which was the only justification before lockdown; should remote participation in debates become the norm; are speakers’ lists so convenient for busy MPs trying to plan their days, that that trumps the consequences for proper parliamentary debate?”
He added: “Let’s decide what we want, what is best for parliamentary scrutiny and legislation. Otherwise we risk just stumbling into it.”
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