MPs cast first ever remote votes in Commons Chamber

12 May 2020

On Tuesday 12 May, the first ever remote division in the House of Commons took place. In this historic first, MPs voted remotely on a motion on a General Debate on Covid-19.

Motions on General Debates

Motions on General Debates – which usually take the form “this House has considered the matter of….” – are not generally voted on. However in order to ensure the new online system works effectively, MPs voted on this motion remotely from around the country.

The voting system uses the existing online MemberHub, which MPs currently use for tabling parliamentary questions or early day motions. MemberHub can be accessed by MPs on any device and uses single sign on and multifactor authentication to ensure it is secure.

Voting process

The Member in charge of an item of business (eg a motion, or a piece of legislation) may designate it for remote division and this designation will be listed in the Order Paper. 

The Speaker’s provisional determination on whether a remote division is required will be announced at the start of business for the day, and a final decision will be made when the end of that particular item of business is reached.

When a division is called, MPs will receive a notification by text and email. The division bells will be sounded on the Parliamentary Estate as usual, and MPs will have 15 minutes to cast their vote.

All votes will be cast remotely, and results will be collated using the existing system used for physical divisions, where names are recorded on laptops in the Division lobbies.

Announcement of results

Once the division is concluded, the Speaker will move on to the next item of business while the result of the vote is checked. Once checks are complete, officials will pass the outcome of the remote division to the Speaker, who will make an announcement in the Chamber as soon as possible. Results will subsequently be published on the CommonsVotes app as usual.

As with standard divisions, staff will be on hand to oversee the division, with technical experts available to assist in the unlikely event that problems arise. The Speaker, as he currently does, has the power to extend the time for a division, or to cancel and re-run a division if this is necessary to do so.

Any essential staff working on site in Parliament will be adhering to strict social distancing measures.

Further information

Image: PC/Jessica Taylor

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