Proxy voting and parental absence Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Is proxy voting required for ‘baby leave’?

1.On 1 February the House determined that the present system of pairing does not properly cater for the specific circumstance where a Member, while otherwise able to undertake the functions of a Member of Parliament, has to be absent from divisions for a defined period of time by reason of maternity or paternity (whether by birth or adoption). It resolved that this is an issue to be addressed through procedural change, rather than by private arrangements between Members. Many consider that it is not appropriate for absences on such grounds to be dependent on a positive response to a request for a pair, no matter how accommodating the whips are prepared to be to such requests. (Paragraph 36)

2.Members are office-holders and cannot take leave from the responsibilities of their offices in the same way as those in paid employment can take statutory maternity leave. The House has resolved to adjust its procedures and practices so as to provide that presence in the House to vote is not necessary for a defined period, and absence in consequence of birth or adoption is not dependent on securing leave. (Paragraph 38)

3.If the House is to enable such an adjustment, we recommend that its scope should be broadly equivalent to statutory provision for maternity and paternity leave. (Paragraph 38)

4.In order to implement the decision in principle which it took on 1 February, the House will have to establish proxy voting arrangements to allow Members absent from the House by reason of maternity, paternity or adoption, to cast a vote in a division by proxy for a defined period. (Paragraph 42)

Operation of a proxy voting scheme

5.We recommend that proxy voting ought to be available to new mothers, new fathers and adoptive parents. (Paragraph 44)

6.The resolution of the House of 1 February 2018 expressly recognised that if proxy voting were available to new parents it should not be compulsory. We strongly agree. (Paragraph 62)

7.Voting is in every case a personal decision for a Member, who is responsible to constituents for the exercise of a vote. Similarly, the entitlement to a proxy vote, and to its use, will be personal. There will be circumstances where eligible Members consider it is not appropriate to use proxies. In such cases they are free to be ‘paired’ or to vote in person. (Paragraph 63)

8.We recommend that the House consider three options for the categories of business where proxy voting may be used:

a)Decisions on all items of public and private business;

b)Decisions on all items of public and private business taken on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; or

c)Decisions on all items of Government business (that is, all orders of the day on Government bills and all motions moved by a Minister of the Crown). (Paragraph 68)

4.We recommend that no vote shall be cast by proxy in any division on a motion ‘That there shall be an early parliamentary general election’ pursuant to section 2(1) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. (Paragraph 72)

5.We recommend that votes cast by proxy shall not be reckoned for the purposes of ascertaining, under Standing Order No. 41(1), whether fewer than forty Members have taken part in a division (Paragraph 75)

6.The House ought to determine, when deciding on a standing order to implement any scheme for proxy voting, whether it considers that proxy votes ought to be counted in reckoning the majority for any closure motion on categories of business where proxies may be used (Paragraph 77)

7.There is an inherent risk to the House’s reputation of Members away from the House casting votes as if they are present in the Chamber and actively following debates. For example, it would be unthinkable, in our view, for a motion on committing military personnel to armed conflict to be carried on the basis of proxy votes. We are confident that Members will bear the reputation of the House in mind when choosing whether to use a proxy vote, and weigh this factor in their decision making. (Paragraph 83)

8.We consider that a proxy ought to be able to cast a vote for an absent Member in deferred divisions and in elections for the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and select committee chairs. (Paragraph 85)

9.We strongly recommend that the Selection Committee shall not appoint a Member registered for a parental absence proxy to a general committee on a Bill or on delegated legislation. (Paragraph 86)

Implementation and review

10.We recommend that changes to Standing Orders be put to the House for decision at the same time as this report is debated. (Paragraph 90)

11.Should the House agree with our Report, and agree to make the necessary changes to Standing Orders, we recommend that the scheme be brought into force with immediate effect, to operate under the Speaker’s authority. Changes to the scheme ought to be agreed by the House. (Paragraph 91)

12.We recognise that there is pressure in the House for an early decision. We therefore intend to review any arrangements introduced and to report on them within 12 months of their introduction (Paragraph 92)

Published: 15 May 2018