MPs in backlash over 'Alton Towers' queueing system for Commons votes

2 June 2020, 15:27

By Megan White

MPs have criticised the Government after they were ordered to return to Westminster to vote despite a virtual system being in place.

Politicians returned to the House of Commons on Tuesday to vote on a motion to end virtual voting put forward by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Hundreds of MPs queued to enter the chamber in what was described as being like something from the Alton Towers theme park, to vote on whether future motions would require in-person voting even though an online system has already been implemented.

There appeared to be much confusion as MPs entered the House to vote, with many unsure of what they had to do and where.

MPs defeated an amendment to restore remote voting during the Covid-19 pandemic by 185 votes to 242, majority 57.

MPs later approved the Government's motion to only allow them to vote in person by 261 votes to 163, majority 98.

Conservative former minister Mark Francois initially gave his name as former Labour minister Ed Balls before casting his no vote.

Tory MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough) appeared to impersonate a pirate as he repeated his 'aye' vote, saying: "Aye.... aye aye!"

Casting his vote one place before Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Labour MP Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) said: "Kevin Brennan, voting aye in the Mogg shambles."

Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard branded the system “ridiculous” and said it was “bad for democracy.”

The Prime Minister is facing a revolt from senior Tory MPs who oppose the system.

Robert Halfon is among the senior Tories who say the move will turn individuals into "parliamentary eunuchs".

Warning: The below video contains strong language

The chairman of the Education Select Committee accused Mr Rees-Mogg and his superiors of lacking empathy, and displaying a "tough luck, we don't care" attitude.

Mr Halfon, who said he was advised not to return by his GP, is backing moves to allow digital voting to resume in amendments to Mr Rees-Mogg's motion led by Conservative former Cabinet minister Karen Bradley.

The chair of the procedure committee's move is backed up by Caroline Nokes and Julian Knight, the Tory MPs who chair the women and equalities, and the digital, culture, media and sport committees, respectively.

In a video posted on Twitter showing where the queue was laid out, Mr Pollard said: “Just behind me is where hundreds of MPs are going to be doing the Mogg Conga later.

“We’re going to be queuing, it’s going to be like queuing for a ride at Alton Towers that just turns out to be a bit s**t.

“This is a terrible way of doing things, it deprives people of their MPs being able to make decisions for those MPs who are being shielded.”

He continued: “It reinforces the message that you need to be able-bodied to be an MP, that we’re not living by our values of extending those who are elected to categories of people who are traditionally underrepresented, disabled people being one of those.

“It is depriving people of their voice in Parliament, it’s bad for democracy.

“There’s a solution which works perfectly well which is the online voting system, and I’m afraid the Government has taken the wrong call here. This is going to be ridiculous later.

“Of course we’re being told to avoid crowded places – I’ll film a video later to show you what this place will look like with hundreds of people in.

“This is ridiculous, but this is what the Government is making MPs do. Utterly, utterly ridiculous.

“It’s this type of nonsense that erodes confidence in the Government’s ability to handle the crisis, and they need to think again and fast.”

Labour MP Jeff Smith also added: “Rees-Mogg’s bizarre airport style queue system around parliamentary estate for voting later - when MPs could vote perfectly well by clicking a button on our computers. (We’ve done it before and it works fine).”

Mr Rees-Mogg told his ConservativeHome podcast that he was planning to introduce measures to allow shielding MPs a way to play a limited role in Commons proceedings.

He said the changes were necessary because legislation was on a "go slow" due to constraints on committees operating, with only around a third of the usual level of legislative activity.

"We would simply not have been able to deliver on the manifesto if we had not brought Parliament back," Mr Rees-Mogg said.

Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons he would table a motion on Wednesday which would enable MPs unable to attend Parliament on medical grounds to take part in certain proceedings.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was forced to draw up plans to allow MPs to safely vote on the proposals in person on Tuesday, but he has called on the Government and Labour to agree on a safe compromise.