Greens: Parliament e-voting would save £30k per week

The Green Party has proposed a reform of processes in the House of Commons, including replacing the current 'division bell' system with electronic voting via handheld devices

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, published a report on Friday calling for an end of 'time-wasting' parliamentary processes such as the division bell, in favour of a new electronic system.

The division bell is used to call MPs to vote in the House of Commons. When it sounds, MPs have eight minutes to get from their offices to the appropriate lobby in Parliament. According to Lucas, this process — taking into account queuing time in the lobby — takes an average of fifteen minutes. In the last parliament there were 1,200 votes, Lucas said, and an MP who voted 85 percent of the time would have spent more than 250 hours queuing to vote.

"At a time when the political process is struggling to regain its legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the public, it is more vital than ever that Parliament can demonstrate that its work is efficient, transparent and accountable," Lucas wrote in her proposal. "Now is the time to shake off the image — and in some cases, the reality — of the 'old boys' club, and to move Westminster into the 21st century."

Lucas proposed that an electronic handheld device could be used to collect votes in the chamber and lobbies. She suggested that switching to an e-voting system could save each MP 1.5 hours per week. Based on a 40-hour week and the average MP's salary of £65,738, she said, this would equates to a saving of more than a £30,000 per week across all 650 MPs.

Based on estimates cited in the report from interactive event technology company IML, the system would cost around £400,000 if an existing electronic keypad voting system was used. However, a Green Party spokesperson told ZDNet UK that a company such as IML would "be likely to design a bespoke solution for Parliament, so any costs at this stage are being used only as a guide".

The proposal also outlined that, for security reasons, the e-voting technology would need to be restricted to only function within clearly defined spaces such as the chamber and voting lobbies.

"For some, there is an understandable desire to hold on to traditional ways, but an appeal to custom cannot justify the waste of time involved with the Commons' archaic voting process," Lucas wrote. "The time votes will be held is often totally unpredictable. On most sitting days there is at least one vote and there can be four, five or more votes in a day. On the days with multiple votes, all the time spent slowly filing through the 'aye' and the 'no' lobbies, could be spent actually scrutinising legislation, meeting constituents or dealing with some of the hundreds of communications that MPs receive each day.

"Compare this to the European Parliament where all the votes are done at once at a specified time, known in advance, at the click of a button," she added.