On 1 February 2018, the House passed the following resolution:
That this House believes that it would be to the benefit of the functioning of parliamentary democracy that honourable Members who have had a baby or adopted a child should for a period of time be entitled, but not required, to discharge their responsibilities to vote in this House by proxy.
The Procedure Committee has considered how the House’s decision in principle might operate in practice.
The resolution was brought to the House by Harriet Harman MP and was supported by members of the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, which has been considering recommendations in The Good Parliament, an independent report making recommendations on how to make Parliament more representative and inclusive. The Representation Group has made proposals in line with The Good Parliament’s recommendations to allow Members absent from the House by reason of maternity, paternity or adoption to vote by proxy in House proceedings.
Current arrangements between the parties allow Members to be absent from attending the House through ‘pairing’, whereby a Member is matched with a Member from the opposite side of the House, with both Members agreeing not to attend particular votes. The Committee heard from a number of witnesses that these arrangements are considered inadequate for new parents, because there is no transparency about the reason for a Member’s absence. As a result, new parents who do not attend votes in the House because they are on maternity or paternity absence have been subject to unfair and unjust criticism.
The Committee has heard that representation of women in the House has consistently failed to reflect the gender balance in the population. In evidence, the current arrangements for voting in the House have been cited among the reasons women have been deterred from standing for election to Parliament and from pursuing political careers. It was put to the Committee that a guarantee of a recorded proxy vote would send “a strong symbolic message” to those of childbearing age that support is available to those combining the work of a Member of the House of Commons with early parental responsibility.
The Committee now makes recommendations on how a non-compulsory scheme for proxy voting might operate in the House, as foreseen in the House’s resolution of 1 February, and proposes consequent changes to the House’s Standing Orders. Its proposals recommend that the scheme shall operate under the authority of the Speaker, who will certify the appointment of a proxy.
The Committee has proposed a scheme for consideration by the House which, if adopted, and subject to the restrictions set out below, will be available for use in divisions on all public and private business in the Chamber as well as in deferred divisions and in ballots for the election of the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and select committee chairs. The scheme is capable of being varied: the House may decide that a proxy voting scheme should only apply to business on Mondays to Thursdays (that is, not to divisions on private Members’ bills on Fridays), or that it should apply to Government business only.
The Committee has determined that proxy voting would be incompatible with the following:
The Committee considers that participation in a proxy voting scheme should not be compulsory, and that eligible parents are entitled to vote in person or to be paired under existing arrangements if they wish.
The House is often called upon to decide matters which have serious consequences for others. The Committee is confident that those entitled to a proxy vote will bear the reputation of the House in mind in choosing whether to take up their entitlement or to vote in person in highly significant divisions, such as on whether to commit troops to armed conflict.
Should the House agree to the introduction of provisions for proxy voting, the Committee intends to review proxy voting arrangements within 12 months.
Published: 15 May 2018