Ministers face mounting backlash over scrapping electronic voting from next week

Danielle Sheridan
Robert Halfon warned elderly and vulnerable MPs forced to stay home will be rendered 'parliamentary eunuchs' - Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Ministers are facing a mounting backlash over the decision to scrap electronic voting from next week amid claims that elderly and vulnerable MPs forced to stay at home will be rendered “parliamentary eunuchs”. 

With Parliament due to return on Tuesday next week, the Government is set to put forward proposals for alternative voting arrangements after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ruled that the traditional division lobbies were unsafe. 

However, the plans do not include electronic voting, meaning that those MPs still unable to resume their normal functions due to coronavirus would effectively be disenfranchised while social distancing remains in place.

The decision has enraged MPs from across the Commons, with more than 50 writing to the procedure committee which oversees Commons’ business to oppose the planned return of Parliament.

The letter, which was written by Labour MP Geraint Davies, warned that making MPs “walk through each other’s breath in a 1.3 kilometer procession to vote is an act of gross irresponsibility”.  

He said there was the possibility that MPs also risked bringing coronavirus back to their constituents. 

Should MPs return to parliament

Meanwhile Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons education committee, claimed that while he believed Parliament should return in a “phased and deliberate manner”, the Government’s proposals were “democratically unjust” and denied those affected the ability to be a “proper legislator”.

“What is absolutely not right, and democratically unjust, is, if those MPs are self-isolating, shielding or sick and have to stay at home – then these very MPs will become the metaphorical equivalent of parliamentary eunuchs,” he wrote in The House magazine. 

Mr Halfon told The Daily Telegraph: “Parliament should return to set an example to the nation but that does not mean denying those who can’t come back the vote.” 

Last week Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Lichfield,  warned that “until the pandemic weakens and the Government is able to change its instruction to work from home if you possibly can, Parliamentarians should set an example and do just that”. 

However Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, told this newspaper that “other people are now starting to go back to work, we can’t say we are too scared to go back, we are leaders not followers, we have to get on with it”.

“Voting in the House of Commons is part of the process of how it works,” he said.

“You go into the voting lobbies, you talk to people, the front bench can talk to their MPs, it’s a massive meeting point, it’s important to continue that and not be semi-detached pressing buttons away from parliament.

“If you rebel against the party line you should be able to physically demonstrate that, you go through a different lobby, and just sitting at your desk doing it is too casual.”