Proxy voting and parental absence Contents

1This inquiry

The resolution of the House of 1 February 2018

1.On 1 February 2018 the House of Commons adopted 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”.1

The resolution was adopted without a vote, following a debate on a motion, taken in backbench time, proposed by Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP.

2.No opposition to the proposal was voiced in the debate, in which 32 Members participated. The absence of recorded opposition in the Chamber indicates that there was general support across the House for the proposition outlined in the resolution of 1 February, although we understand that support in the House is not unanimous. We have examined how the House’s decision in principle might work in practice, and report below our recommendations on how a form of proxy voting might be implemented by the House.

3.The issue of whether proxy voting should be made available to Members who are new parents was raised in “The Good Parliament” report, published in July 2016.2 This report made a number of recommendations which it was claimed had “the potential to make the membership of the House more representative; enable Members to be more effective in their parliamentary work, both individually and collectively; and to enhance the representational relationship between the British public, Members, and the House of Commons as an institution”.3 The report stated that “to become a truly inclusive institution, the House of Commons must accommodate and facilitate both the pregnant woman Member and co-parenting and caring MP” rather than relying on informal arrangements made within political parties.4 It recommended that the matter should be remitted to the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, a body the Speaker had agreed to convene to consider the recommendations in the report.5 Members of the Reference Group both sponsored and participated in the debate on baby leave on 1 February.6

The inquiry

4.The Leader of the House wrote to the Chair on 30 November 2017 to indicate that the matter had been discussed in the Reference Group, which had determined that proposals for what is termed ‘baby leave’ ought to be given effect through a resolution of the House.7 She considered that any decision to implement the proposals “should be based on a sound argument”, and invited the Committee’s views.

5.The remit of this Committee is to advise the House on its practices and procedures in its public business. Once the motion proposed by Harriet Harman had been scheduled for debate by the Backbench Business Committee we decided that, should it pass in the affirmative, we would launch an inquiry into a means of implementing the House’s decision on the merits of proxy voting and ‘baby leave’.

6.The inquiry was announced on 1 February, the same day that the House adopted the resolution. The stated purpose of the inquiry was to examine:-

i)whether a formal system of voting by proxy is required to implement the House’s resolution, and

ii)if so, how such a system should operate.

7.We requested written evidence on the following terms of reference:

How a system of proxy voting might operate in the House of Commons:—

What the practical requirements of appointing a proxy would be:—

How a proxy vote would operate:—

How proxy voting is managed in other legislatures (a) in the UK (b) in other Westminster-based systems and (c) under other parliamentary systems.

8.We received 12 written submissions to the inquiry, including a paper on more general issues around absent voting, prepared by the Clerk of the House at the request of the Committee in the last Parliament and resubmitted to this Committee. We held four oral evidence sessions, at consecutive Committee meetings between 7 and 28 March, with the following panels: Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, sponsor of the 1 February motion, and Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee; Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, and Hannah Bardell MP; David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons; Jo Swinson MP, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats; Pete Wishart MP, SNP Shadow Leader of the House; Valerie Vaz MP, Shadow Leader of the House; and Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House. We also held informal discussions with past and present members of Whips’ offices from the three largest parties. We would like to thank all individuals and organisations that contributed to this inquiry.

1 Votes and Proceedings, 1 February 2018, item 5

2 Professor Sarah Childs, The Good Parliament (July 2016)

3 Ibid, p 6

4 Ibid, p 20 (Recommendation 12)

5 The Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, chaired by the Speaker, was first convened in November 2016. Further information on the work of the Group is available at, accessed on 8 May 2018.

6 The current membership of the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, is listed at, accessed on 8 May 2018.

Published: 15 May 2018