Proxy voting: review of pilot arrangements Contents


1.Since January 2019 the House has been piloting a system of proxy voting, whereby under certain circumstances Members are eligible to have their votes cast in divisions by another Member standing as a proxy.

2.The pilot was introduced for an initial period of 12 months, whereupon it would expire if not renewed, extended or otherwise replaced. The Procedure Committee in the 2017 Parliament, which had reported on the feasibility of introducing a proxy voting system in May 2018, was charged by the House with reviewing the system before the end of the 12 month pilot period.

3.In November 2019 the House was dissolved for a general election and our predecessors’ work on the review, initiated in September 2019, ceased. On 16 January 2020 the House agreed to a Government motion prolonging the pilot for six months, to 28 July 2020.

4.This Committee was appointed on 2 March 2020 and held its first meeting on 4 March. At that meeting we resolved to continue the review opened by our predecessors. In the aftermath of the substantial extension of proxy voting to allow for absences for reasons connected to the coronavirus pandemic, we sought and secured an extension of the pilot by two months, to 28 September 2020.

5.This report is our response to the commission from the House. In it we review the operation of proxy voting generally, as it has applied to parental absence and as it has applied to absences necessitated by the pandemic. We make a general recommendation as to its desirability, and make a number of proposals for changes to the current system of proxy voting, largely informed by the experiences of colleagues past and present who have experienced the pilot.

6.Our predecessor Committee’s review of proxy voting for parental absence received 11 pieces of written evidence, and the Committee took oral evidence from two users of the scheme, Luciana Berger, then MP for Liverpool, Wavertree and Tulip Siddiq MP.1 Our review received a further 7 pieces of written evidence. We took oral evidence from Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP and Darren Jones MP, Rt Hon Mrs Maria Miller MP, and Professor Sarah Childs and Sam Smethers, representing the Centenary Action Group.2 This report has also been informed by the oral and written evidence to our ongoing inquiry into procedure under coronavirus restrictions.3 We are grateful to all those who have contributed to our inquiry.

Proxy voting for parental absence

7.On 1 February 2018 the House debated a motion brought forward in backbench time by Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP:

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.4

The motion was agreed to without a division, and with no voices raised against it in debate. It therefore became the settled position of the House.

8.The Procedure Committee in the 2017 Parliament immediately launched an inquiry into the practical implications of establishing a scheme of proxy voting for parental absence along the lines endorsed by the House. In May 2018 the Committee issued a report which found that proxy voting for parental absence was procedurally feasible, and recommended the current proxy voting scheme as a means of implementing the House’s resolution.5

9.In January 2019 the House endorsed the Procedure Committee’s report and approved temporary modifications to standing orders to allow a proxy voting scheme to operate. The House also empowered the Speaker to give effect to a detailed scheme providing for Members to vote by proxy under certain circumstances once it had been approved by the leaders of the three largest parties represented in the House. The scheme was brought into force on 29 January 2019, the day after the House’s decision.

Extension of the pilot to coronavirus-related absences

10.As a consequence of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the UK, the House has adopted a number of temporary practices which have enabled it to continue its work under the restrictions which have governed public and private life in England and across the UK since the end of March. We have already reported on the proposals to introduce several of these measures.6

11.On 12 May the Leader of the House announced the Government’s intention not to renew the temporary orders made on 22 and 23 April. These had established so-called ‘hybrid’ proceedings, whereby Members were able to participate in proceedings in person in the Chamber and remotely via videolink under strict parity of treatment. They had also allowed for a system of remote voting in divisions via mobile phone, tablet or other digital device instead of voting in person through the lobbies.7

12.These temporary orders lapsed during the Whitsun adjournment. On 2 June the House rescinded its resolution of 22 April stipulating parity of treatment and made provision for physical divisions to resume in the Commons Chamber under social distancing conditions, the division lobbies having been declared unfit for normal use during the pandemic. Members unable to travel to Westminster, either because they were following public health advice and shielding at home, or because caring or other responsibilities restricted their ability to travel away from their constituencies, were thus unable to participate in divisions (or indeed any proceeding of the House).

13.On 3 June the Prime Minister announced the Government’s intention to revise the proxy voting scheme to allow proxy votes for ‘shielding’ Members only.8 The House authorised this change on 4 June, and subsequently amended the provision to allow a proxy vote to any Member unable to attend the House for a coronavirus-related reason. An amended proxy voting scheme was brought into effect on 10 June, and the first proxy votes under the additional provision were cast on 17 June.

Our review

14.We have sought to evaluate how the proxy voting arrangements have worked in practice. This includes evaluating the procedural framework for proxy voting contained in the temporary order of 28 January 2019, together with the detailed arrangements for administration of proxy voting contained in the scheme signed by the Speaker and party leaders.

15.We examine whether the experience of the pilot has demonstrated that proxy voting has in principle been “to the benefit of the functioning of parliamentary democracy”, and how the arrangements have operated in practice, both under the scheme as originally envisaged and under the recent extension of proxy voting for coronavirus-related absences.

16.It will in practice be for the Government to propose to the House any amendments to standing orders which might establish proxy voting on a more permanent basis, and to propose a text to govern in detail the operation of any scheme. The decision on whether to establish any system to succeed the pilot arrangements rests with the House.

1 The oral and written evidence received by the Committee in the 2017 Parliament (HC (2017–19) 134) is published here:

2 The oral and written evidence received during this inquiry is published here:

3 Oral and written evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into procedure under coronavirus restrictions is published here:

4 Votes and Proceedings, 1 February 2018, item 5

5 Procedure Committee, Proxy voting and parental absence, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 824.

6 The reports of the Committee’s inquiry to date into procedure under coronavirus restrictions in the 2019–21 Session are: Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: proposals for remote participation (First Report, HC 300); Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: remote voting in divisions (Second Report, HC 335); Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: the Government’s proposals to discontinue remote participation (Third Report, HC 392), and Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: the Government’s proposal for proxy voting for shielding Members, (First Special Report, HC 429). The Government response to the first three of these reports has been published as the Committee’s Second Special Report of Session 2019–21, HC 565.

7 A system of remote voting was authorised for use on 6 May 2020 and first used on 12 May 2020.

8 HC Deb, 3 June 2020, col. 839

Published: 10 September 2020