Commons Twitter account banned from tweeting vote results


The House of Commons Twitter account has been banned from tweeting the results of votes after Tory MPs complained it was breaking impartiality rules when one tweet went viral, the Guardian has learned.

Set up in 2012, the Commons account has been used to inform the public about procedures and policies of the House, share information about upcoming events and debates, and post the outcome of divisions.

One tweet in July was retweeted 17,500 times before being deleted, as a response to pressure from the parliamentary Conservative party which led to a crackdown.

During the passage of the trade bill, intended to pave the way for post-Brexit trade deals, the Commons Twitter account shared the outcomes of votes on amendments and new clauses: a 326-263 defeat for a clause relating “to parliamentary approval of trade agreements”, and approval without division for amendments about “sharing information and ministerial functions relating to trade”.

The descriptions were taken from the explanatory statement written by the MP who proposed the motion, and the tweet about new clause 17 was no different. That clause, the tweet said, was “intended to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK”, explaining that it had been defeated 340 votes to 251.

The defeat allowed Labour to argue that Conservative MPs had voted against protecting the NHS from overseas control. The tweet itself was a key piece of evidence, which is why it gained 5,000 likes and almost 17,500 retweets in less than 24 hours.

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That drew the attention of Tory MPs, who were bombarded with questions from constituents about why they had voted against such protection. The day after, MPs from the party made a complaint to the clerk of the House, the politically neutral civil servant who oversees the work of the support staff, including the social media team.

They argued that the tweet was in breach of the Commons’ requirement for impartiality. By the end of the day, the Commons team had deleted it and posted an apology. “We would like to clarify that the description was taken from the explanatory memorandum provided by the proposer, it was not the House’s summary of the new clause,” the apology read. “This lead to concerns about how our impartiality was perceived and has therefore been deleted.”

Since then, the Commons Twitter feed has stopped sharing the results of votes in the House. Engagement with the feed has dropped sharply: a link to education secretary Gavin Williamson’s statement about university students was liked, retweeted and replied to by fewer than 20 people.

In a statement, a Commons spokesperson said: “Division results are updated in the dedicated CommonsVotes app as soon as possible after the vote. We are aware that numerous commentators already provide analysis of division results, and believe that our responsibility is to provide the result itself as speedily as possible.

“Parliament has also recently invested in a number of new ways of keeping the public updated on parliamentary business and division results, including further development of Parliamentlive.tv and ParliamentNow, and we regularly link to these from our Twitter account to keep followers updated.”

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