MPs fear they are ‘putting their health at risk’ by voting in person


MPs feel they are “putting their health at risk” by voting in person, a senior Tory MP has said.

To vote MPs march through two division lobbies either side of the Commons chamber to indicate if they are voting aye or no.

Since June, in a bid to improve social distancing, they have had to touch their electronic passes on a reader in the narrow corridors to reduce the risks to parliamentary staff and increase the space between MPs as they vote.

However, despite this, Karen Bradley, Tory chairwoman of the Commons Procedure Select Committee, said MPs are worried about a lack of social distancing when voting.

The former cabinet minister told the Commons: “There are many, many members who feel they are putting their health at risk in order to take part in a division that they really do want to be part of.”

In April and May, short-lived hybrid proceedings allowed MPs to vote remotely using a phone or computer.

After a brief spell of a “roll call” being taken in the chamber in June, which led to scenes of MPs snaking around the parliamentary estate – dubbed the “Mogg conga” – MPs now vote using their passes in the lobbies.

Former Tory Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the narrowness of the lobbies made social distancing difficult and urged steps be taken to improve the situation.

She said: “I am concerned about the fact that we’re not able really to socially distance in a properly fit way and I would love us instead of using our passes in the lobbies perhaps using them in Westminster Hall where it would be much easier for people to remain apart from each other.

“Because we do have bottlenecks. It’s very difficult for the doorkeepers to keep us all away from each other when there’s a bottleneck when you’re filing through the lobby.”

Tory former minister Sir Edward Leigh said it was “absurd” that MPs packed into the lobbies to vote and suggested more pass readers be installed throughout the parliamentary estate for voting.

He said: “When it comes to the safety of members, I agree this is completely absurd what we’re doing.

“Here we are (in the chamber) totally socially distanced. I’m not allowed to go just one step further to my colleague…”

He then edged toward Tory MP Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Mon) who recoiled out of his way.

Sir Edward added: “And then we wander through this lobby and we’re all crowded, we’re all chatting to each other.

“Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that we could perhaps have another voting terminal in that lobby or we could have voting terminal out there (gestures to Central Lobby) or we could have a voting terminal in Westminster Hall, or we could even have one in Portcullis House?”

Tory former minister Mark Harper called for MPs to be able to participate via video link in debates on legislation.

Currently, MPs can only participate remotely in scrutiny proceedings – such as ministerial question times and statements.

He said: “I do think for those who can’t be here we ought to look at a way of allowing them to participate in the legislative process, because as the Prime Minister said this week – and I think he’s right – we’re in this for the long haul, this isn’t a short, tiny period.

“I think we could be operating under these procedures well into next year at the earliest and I think we need some measures that enable all colleagues to participate fully in the business of the House.”

MPs later approved a plan to extend proxy voting during the Covid-19 pandemic until November 3 and introduce a permanent system of proxy voting for MPs with a newborn child, childcare issues or a newly adopted child.