Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Written Evidence

Letter from Ann Coffey MP (M5)


  Programming, when originally proposed by the Modernisation Committee, was supported by Members who believed that this would give some predictability to business and enable them to plan better in response to conflicting demands on their time.

  At the moment the votes are predictable on a 2nd Reading, on an opposition day or on any other business which is concluded at the end of the day. For other business on which there can be votes, although timed on the Order Paper, there is unpredictability as statements and urgent questions can change the timing of business. Members will not have this information in advance.

  Report Stages mean a running whip. Even when there are "knives" there is often uncertainty about whether there will be a vote. In such circumstances it is difficult to effectively manage time.

  To overcome this I would propose that we look at a set time each day when votes will be taken which would be called the "decision time".

  I would propose that Members would go through the Lobby once and record their votes for the main business and any consequential motions.

  This would be fairly straightforward for most business, however, it is the report stages of bills that are the most difficult as although many amendments are called not all are voted on. If we are to have a voting time at the end of business then we need to know by the decision time what amendments are to be voted on in order to print the voting paper. There are serious practical difficulties with this, particularly if we use a paper system as we do for deferred divisions. There are also difficulties with 2nd Readings and other straightforward business if Members wish to keep debate, vote and result together although I would point out that deferred voting has not had the dire consequences predicted by some.

  Instead of having a paper division the alternative would be to vote electronically in the Lobby.

  The advantage of this would be that information about amendments to be called for a vote could be transferred immediately to the terminals in the Lobby and there would not need to be any delays for information to be printed and for the tellers to announce the results.

  This would necessitate the separation of Report Stage from 3rd Reading which could take place the next day. This already happens in the Lords.

  The Committee did agree in its last Report to look further into e-voting particularly as technology has moved on since the committee last considered the subject.

November 2006

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