No evidence of bullying in fracking vote, says Commons Speaker

Tense scene in the voting lobby: Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted this image as the fracking vote was taking place.

Are we all greatly reassured by the words of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle?

He seems to think that the words of one Conservative MP are enough to prove that nobody was bullied into backing the government during a controversial vote on fracking a couple of weeks ago, that ended up bringing down Liz Truss’s government.

According to a BBC report,

Labour MP Chris Bryant said he witnessed “clear bullying” in the division lobby of the House of Commons during the vote on 19 October.

But one Conservative MP, Alexander Stafford, rejected the claims, saying he had a “frank and robust conversation” with members of the government outside the voting lobbies but “nothing more”.

Sir Lindsay told MPs: “… While some members thought that physical contact was being used to force a member into the lobby, the member concerned has said very clearly that this did not happen.”

I can’t say I’m convinced.

The impression I had was that both Jacob Rees-Mogg and Therese Coffee had been accused of manhandling Tory MPs – plural – into supporting the then-government’s line that fracking should be allowed to resume in the UK. Relying on the words of just one member – referring to what happened to them alone – seems very poor evidence-gathering indeed.

Perhaps it isn’t important now. Truss is out of Downing Street and the new administration under Rishi Sunak has said that fracking will not resume after all.

But if we can’t trust that investigations of wrongdoing in Parliament are thorough and fair, then what should we think of any such matters in the future?

Looking to the future, it seems clear that the archaic voting system at Westminster, in which members physically walk through lobbies, has had its day.

The devolved governments in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all have electronic voting systems.

To prevent even the suggestion of physical bullying, it’s time the same system was introduced to the Houses of Parliament.

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