COVID-19 proceedings: voting

Staff trail pass-reader voting in division lobbies

Under current arrangements, divisions in the House of Commons take place in the division lobbies and MPs register their votes using a pass-reader, maintaining social distancing throughout the process.

In response to the pandemic, remote voting was introduced in the House of Commons as temporary arrangements to enable remote participation were extended on 12 May 2020. These temporary arrangements expired on 20 May 2020 and most MPs returned to attend the Chamber physically from 2 June 2020.

Following their return, the House of Commons agreed to end remote voting. Voting arrangements were adapted so that social distancing could be observed, and MPs were required to form a queue and file through the Chamber. This increased the length of time that divisions took.

On 16 June 2020, the Speaker announced that the House would implement a pass-reader system for registering MPs' votes in the division lobbies.

How does the pass-reader voting system work?

There will be two pass-readers in each of the division lobbies, enabling four MPs to vote at the same time while maintaining social distancing in line with public health guidance.

When a division begins, MPs should go to Westminster Hall and join one of two queues (whichever is shortest).

As MPs pass through the required voting lobby (either 'Aye' or 'No') they should tap their pass on the pass-reader to register their vote. MPs should then leave the lobby immediately and not congregate in the area surrounding the exit.

If any MP has problems registering their vote, they should inform the Teller and then send an email to the Public Bill Office informing them of the way they wish to vote.

On 16 June it was announced that each division would last 25 minutes, at which point the doors would be locked.

In an announcement by the Speaker in the Chamber on 24 June, the duration of a division was reduced to 18 minutes, though the Speaker has the right to extend this period if required.

What do the Tellers do?

Tellers are MPs that have been appointed to verify the count during a division. There are two Tellers assigned to each division lobby.

Once the division has finished, a Teller from the winning side will come to the Despatch Boxes in the Chamber to announce the result.

Proxy voting

Proxy voting was introduced on 29 January 2019 as a twelve-month trial to enable MPs to cast a vote on behalf of another MP who was absent as a new parent. In January 2020, the House of Commons agreed to extend the trial period for six months.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the House of Commons also agreed to extend the proxy voting scheme on 10 June 2020 to include MPs who are unable to attend Westminster for medical of public health reasons related to the pandemic.

On 20 July, the House agreed to extend the proxy voting trial to 28 September 2020.

MPs who wish to vote by proxy must register to do so and must identify who will cast their vote for them.

Find out more about the proxy voting scheme.

How are proxy votes cast in the pass-reader system?

Proxy voters voting the same way as their proxy

In a division, if an MP is voting the same way as the MP/s they are also voting on behalf of, they should tap their pass on the pass-readers to register their own vote.

They must then inform the Teller in the same lobby that they are also casting a vote on behalf of another MP or MPs (making clear how many MPs they are voting on behalf of).

Immediately afterwards, the MP voting on behalf of another should email the Public Bill Office to let them know that they have done so. They should clearly state which MP/s they have voted on behalf of an which division they refer to. 

Proxy voters voting the opposite way to their proxy

If an MP is voting the opposite way to the MP/s they are also voting on behalf of, they should register their own vote first by tapping their pass on the pass-reader in the lobby they wish to vote in.

They must then re-join the queue to pass through the other lobby (without registering their pass) and inform the Tellers that they are voting on behalf of another MP or MPs (making clear how many MPs they are voting on behalf of).

Immediately afterwards, the MP voting on behalf of another should email the Public Bill Office to let them know that they have done so, indicating clearly that they voted the other way.

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