Proxy voting: review of pilot arrangements Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Proxy voting for parental absence

1.Our overall evaluation is that the system of proxy voting for parental absence has benefitted the House and the broader objectives of parliamentary democracy, by making the House a more inclusive place for new mothers and fathers. We recommend that provision for proxy voting for parental absence be made in the standing orders of the House, subject to the recommendations made in this report. (Paragraph 25)

2.The requirement to produce certificates of pregnancy or adoption to demonstrate eligibility for a proxy vote has proved onerous. The experience of the pilot demonstrates that the requirement is unnecessary. It is difficult to think of a situation where a Member would consider it feasible or advantageous to misinform the Speaker and the House about impending parenthood in order to secure a proxy vote. (Paragraph 28)

3.We recommend that any permanent scheme providing for proxy voting for parental absence should not have as a condition of eligibility a requirement to produce a certificate of pregnancy or a matching certificate. Members who meet the eligibility criteria for the scheme ought to be required to self-certify. (Paragraph 29)

4.We recommend that any future arrangements for proxy voting by Members should include provision for any Deputy Speaker to certify eligibility for a proxy vote, under the Speaker’s authority. (Paragraph 32)

5.Once the present temporary arrangements for proxy voting for public health reasons has ended, the Committee will examine whether, and how, eligibility for proxy voting might be extended to other categories of absent Member, should it be demonstrated that the support in the House for such measures merits such an inquiry. (Paragraph 37)

6.We recommend that in any permanent arrangement for proxy voting for parental absence the notification requirements are changed to provide that a certificate relating to a proxy vote which is issued on a day on which the House does not sit shall have effect as if it had been published in the Votes and Proceedings for the previous sitting day, and shall be published in the Votes and Proceedings for the next sitting day. (Paragraph 42)

7.We recommend that the maximum duration of eligibility of a proxy vote for maternity absence should include a period of up to four weeks before the due date, together with a period of no more than six months commencing on the due date or the date of the birth, whichever is the later. (Paragraph 46)

8.We recommend that a Member who is a new father, partner or second adopter ought, when certifying eligibility for a proxy vote, give the date of birth or adoption. Any permanent scheme for proxy voting for parental absence ought to provide that eligibility for a proxy vote for new fathers, partners or second adopters ceases six months after the stated date of birth. (Paragraph 48)

9.We have had no representations from Members seeking modification of the proxy voting entitlement to allow the sharing of parental leave of a partner who is not a Member. Should circumstances change to the extent that Members begin to require this degree of flexibility in proxy voting arrangements, it would be possible to amend the proxy voting scheme to provide this facility without further reference to the House. We would if necessary be happy to advise on how this amendment might be achieved. (Paragraph 53)

10.We recommend that, under any permanent proxy voting scheme to be established by the House, the information contained in every proxy voting certificate issued under the Speaker’s authority ought to be made available on a dedicated page on the Parliament website. (Paragraph 64)

11.Any permanent proxy voting scheme should be amended to clarify that a Member may nominate only one proxy at any one time. (Paragraph 66)

12.We recommend that under any permanent system of proxy voting for parental absence the House Service should issue a proxy voting card to each Member carrying a proxy to aid confirmation that the Member is carrying a proxy vote. (Paragraph 69)

13.We recommend that any proposed standing order ought to provide for eligibility for a proxy vote for reasons related to complications in or associated with childbirth. (Paragraph 74)

Proxy voting for public health reasons

14.We encourage all colleagues participating in self-certifying arrangements to familiarise themselves thoroughly with the obligations entailed in self-certification. (Paragraph 87)

15.Should proxy voting for medical and public health reasons relating to the pandemic be continued beyond 28 September, we recommend that the processes for self-certifying for the purposes of virtual participation and for proxy voting be aligned. (Paragraph 88)

16.We recommend that proxy voting for public health reasons relating to the pandemic continue for as long as public health guidance or statutory provisions in any part of the UK has the effect of restricting the ability of Members to travel to Westminster. The House’s provision in this respect ought to take into account guidance and statutory restrictions in effect in all four nations of the UK and the statutory imposition of “local lockdowns”. (Paragraph 94)

17.We recommend that the Leader of the House conduct urgent discussions through the usual channels to ascertain the current position in respect of Members prevented from attending the House for public health reasons. This will facilitate the design of eligibility criteria which are appropriate to current requirements and sufficiently flexible to take future changes in restrictions in all four nations into account. (Paragraph 95)

18.The current system for recording votes in divisions appears to be the best available given the will of the House and the facilities and resources available. Effective operation of that system, particularly in relation to proxy votes, relies significantly on the cooperation of Members, and in particular on the prompt and accurate submission of names of those voting by proxy so that accurate division lists can be compiled swiftly. (Paragraph 99)

19.The present infrastructure supporting the pass-reader division system is barely adequate, especially in respect of proxy voting: significant development work is required to establish a system which provides sufficient support to the House’s existing system for recording and publishing the outcome of divisions. (Paragraph 108)

20.The present system of proxy voting for coronavirus absences, as it is required to be operated under the current system of lobby voting, is barely adequate, is potentially unreliable and imposes disproportionate administrative burdens on staff. We recommend that the system be reviewed and replaced as soon as a more reliable alternative which is acceptable to the House can be found. (Paragraph 111)

21.We also have significant concerns about the current system of lobby voting under physical distancing, which potentially increases the risk of virus transmission between Members. (Paragraph 112)

22.In our view, the system of remote voting used in May was a more effective means of handling divisions in the House under conditions where the division lobbies could not be used in the traditional way and where a large number of Members were unable to attend for public health reasons. We recommend that the remote voting system be reinstated as a means of conducting divisions for as long as the division lobbies are unavailable for use in the traditional way. (Paragraph 113)

23.In any event, should coronavirus conditions be reimposed in a way which again prevents attendance at Westminster on a substantial scale, the House ought to consider conducting divisions by the electronic remote system previously developed. (Paragraph 114)

Technical amendments required

24.We recommend that any standing order making permanent provision for proxy voting for parental absence should not exclude votes on motions under section 2(2) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 from the scope of that provision. (Paragraph 121)

25.We recommend that any standing order making permanent provision for proxy voting for parental absence should, in addition to the provision in the temporary Order of 28 January 2019, provide that proxy votes may be exercised in any election for the position of Chair of the Backbench Business Committee under Standing Order No. 122D. (Paragraph 123)

Published: 10 September 2020