68.Elections for House posts, such as chairs of select committees, are typically undertaken by paper ballot physically cast in a specified location such as a committee room during a specified period. Members on parental absence who have nominated proxies for voting in the Chamber can ask their proxies to cast votes on their behalf in these elections, but no other form of proxy or remote voting is presently possible.
69.The Committee foresaw the potential requirement for arrangements for remote balloting of Members unable to attend the House in the event of an election for a select committee chair post during coronavirus restrictions. In her letter to the Speaker of 6 April, the Chair identified the “significant risk” that a ballot held under current rules would disenfranchise Members unable to be present at Westminster “to an extent which must put the validity of the outcome in doubt.” She recommended that work be commissioned urgently on a system to allow a form of remote voting in an election to fill any vacancy which occurs during the emergency period, and recommended that temporary orders be drafted to put the system in place should it be required.
70.In response to the Chair’s letter, the Speaker commissioned the necessary work from the House Service. The Chamber Business Team has now indicated the arrangements which are proposed to be made to allow for remote balloting for a temporary period: should the House approve them, they are to be used in the first instance for elections to vacancies for the chairs of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Committee on Standards, both expected to be announced in 21 April.
71.Under the present conditions it is clearly necessary to arrange for remote balloting for elections to select committee chair posts, to enable as many Members as possible to participate and to reduce the incentive for Members to attend the House simply to vote in these elections.
72.The Committee commends the work which has been undertaken to arrange remote balloting for elections to fill two select committee chair vacancies. We recommend that the House make a temporary order to enable the ballots to be held as planned. As with other temporary modifications to procedure, the order must be strictly time-limited.
18 Letter from the Chair of the Committee to the Speaker dated
Published: 21 April 2020