Westminster Diary: Welcoming a hybrid Parliament, but we need remote voting

Daisy Cooper MP is adjusting to the new hybrid Parliament.

Daisy Cooper MP is adjusting to the new hybrid Parliament. - Credit: HM Government

Welcome to my Westminster diary. Each week, I’ll be giving a behind-the-scenes take on what life is really like as a new MP. From jeering and bobbing, procedures and prayers, I’ll be lifting the lid on the mother of all Parliaments. Think ‘The Thick of It’ not ‘House of Cards’! - Daisy Cooper, St Albans MP

Parliament took the historic step to become a “hybrid” Parliament, with some MPs taking part physically from the Chamber and some taking part virtually, using the video-conferencing facility Zoom.

On Twitter, political correspondents live-tweeted the historic firsts: the first MP to ask a question from their sofa, and the first MP to lose out on asking a question because his broadband cut out. The prize for the first great Zoom disaster however, went to a member of the Welsh Assembly who forgot to mute his microphone before launching into a sweary tirade about a colleague.

Jokes aside, the virtual participation of MPs in Prime Minister’s Questions improved it hugely. There was no jeering, no booing. Important questions were asked, and MPs listened studiously and courteously to the answers. I was however alarmed to see that someone had decided that, “to maintain continuity and tradition”, the symbolic Mace should still be placed on the table whenever the House is sitting. To think that a mace-bearer should be deemed a key worker during a pandemic is baffling to say the least. I just hope – with every bone in my body – that those members of staff don’t contract COVID-19 from needlessly travelling into work.

Having had my own ‘sound and visual check’ with Parliament, I hope to make my own foray next week, having put my name into several ballots to quiz Ministers.

One thing that is still missing is a voting system. Parliament has approved a motion to bring in remote voting but a workable system has not yet been developed.

Instead, Parliament is relying ever more heavily on the ‘usual channels’: behind-the-scene conversations between the whips of all political parties to obtain co-operation and ensure as much business as possible can be dealt with.

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I myself spoke to a Minister to ask if he would be willing to make public assurances on a particular Bill, given that we wouldn’t be able to push amendments to a vote.

Cross-party cooperation on this level is welcome, but without the ability to vote, such co-operation is limited to so-called “non-contentious legislation.” But what happens when one person’s ‘non-contentious legislation’ becomes another’s line in the sand? If remote voting doesn’t become a reality soon, we might just find out.

You can contact Daisy at daisy.cooper.mp@parliament.uk