Proxy Voting Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Proxy Voting
John Bercow Excerpts
Monday 28th January 2019

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Leader of the House
Mr Speaker Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 10:17 p.m.

We now come to motion 6 on proxy voting, which we will debate together with motion 7. Before I call a Whip to move motion 6, I should inform the House that I have selected amendment (d) to motion 7, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). The amendment will be debated together with the motions. I am referring to amendment (d), appertaining to miscarriages.

At the end of the debate, I shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings. I hope that this is helpful to colleagues. First, I shall put the Question on motion 6, after which I shall call the Leader of the House to move motion 7 formally, and then the hon. Member for Shipley to move his amendment (d) formally and put the Question on that—the Question on amendment (d). Finally, I shall put the Question on motion 7, either as amended or, as the case may be, in its original form on the Order Paper.

I should make it clear that if amendment (d) is agreed to, I shall ensure that the additional requirement relating to miscarriage is incorporated into the pilot scheme and duly authorised as soon as possible. I must emphasise that this would not delay the immediate implementation of the scheme in the form that has been made available in the Vote Office. I call the Leader of the House to move motion 6.

Andrea Leadsom Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Andrea Leadsom) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 10:18 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House:—

(1) reaffirms its resolution of 1 February 2018 on baby leave for Members of Parliament;

(2) endorses the Fifth Report of the Procedure Committee, HC 825, on Proxy voting and parental absence;

(3) accordingly directs the Speaker to prepare a pilot scheme governing the operation of proxy voting for Members absent from the House by reason of childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child, pursuant to the recommendations in the Committee’s report, this resolution and the temporary Standing Order (Voting by proxy for parental absence);

(4) directs that a scheme prepared in accordance with this resolution and the temporary Standing Order (Voting by proxy for parental absence) shall be signed by the Speaker and the leaders of the three largest parties in the House before it is published, and that it shall enter into effect for a period of 12 months when the Speaker takes the chair on the sitting day after the day of publication;

(5) directs that any amendment of a scheme in effect by virtue of paragraph (4) above shall take effect when the Speaker takes the Chair on the sitting day after a proposal signed by the Speaker and the leaders of the three largest parties in the House is published; and

(6) directs the Procedure Committee to review proxy voting arrangements within 12 months of the commencement of a scheme established by virtue of this order.

This debate follows much discussion of the issue of baby leave and the use of proxy voting over the past year. I would like to start by thanking all Members from right across the House who have helped to bring us to this point. In particular, I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and his Committee for their helpful and rapid response to last February’s debate. Their report has provided the means for us to implement these changes and to demonstrate how Members are helping to bring Parliament into the 21st century.

I also thank the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). They have both been strong champions of proxy voting and have consistently supported and promoted the many issues that affect women in this place.

I pay tribute to the collaborative way in which you, Mr Speaker, have worked with the Clerks to ensure that, should these motions pass, the proxy voting scheme can be operational from tomorrow. I am grateful to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the SNP’s Westminster leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), for quickly reviewing and authorising the details of the scheme that is the subject of this evening’s decision. Over the past year we have seen two full debates, a Select Committee inquiry, three urgent questions and many other deliberations in the House on this issue, and in my opinion quite rightly, too. Throughout that time, we have seen strong support for the changes before us today.

I am sympathetic to the issue that the amendment seeks to address. A miscarriage is a distressing time for any individual to have to go through. However, those suffering such distress may well prefer to do so in private, via the anonymity of the pairing system rather than the transparency of a proxy vote, during what is always a personally devastating period. Whether the amendment is passed is ultimately a decision for the House.

Break in Debate

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 10:30 p.m.

Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), I should just mention that the shadow Leader of the House referenced Professor Sarah Childs, and I wish to record that the great professor is watching over us.

There will be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke has generously signalled to me that she intends her speech to be shorter than that, but she has up to five minutes.

Mrs Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) - Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 10:31 p.m.

May I start by offering my congratulations to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on the arrival of her son? I am sure that we would all want to send our best wishes to her.

I will also begin by referencing a certain Professor Sarah Childs, because it was her report in 2016 that concluded that the House of Commons had in the past “lacked the institutional will” to address issues of representation and inclusion. I am sure that Professor Childs will join us today in recognising that things have changed and we have started to consider these matters in a great amount of detail. I pay tribute to the Leader of the House and the Mother of the House, who have done so much on this issue, as well as the Chair of the Procedure Committee and many more who have made today’s events possible.

May I gently suggest to Members that while we can be celebratory, we can also challenge ourselves to do much better? Members have to take responsibility for the modernisation of this place. The piecemeal approach that we are taking to modernisation has driven many of the amendments to the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), although only one of them has been selected. We need to be better at shaping our vision for the future of what this place should be in totality, rather than simply focusing on one issue at a time. We need to make sure that we do not exclude anybody from standing for election to this place because of their gender, disability, race, religion or sexuality. As an organisation, we have not yet grasped the bigger role that we have to play in picking up the picture that was so eloquently painted by Professor Sarah Childs in her report, which has also been discussed in “The Good Parliament” guide and at the Speaker’s Conference in 2010.

Mr Speaker, you have had a pivotal role in driving forward change in this place, but your enthusiasm for change cannot completely take the place of Members’ support for that change. We cannot simply do this in a piecemeal way. We need to ensure that important questions such as that raised in the intervention of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford)—whether the measure should be extended to people with other caring responsibilities, particularly for terminally ill family members—are answered before we go much further. If we want a more representative Parliament, with people who have real-life experience, we have to be able to accommodate the needs of that group and we need to encourage those people to join us.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated publicly that the House of Commons may well be in breach of its public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The Women and Equalities Committee believes that we have a role to play in providing more scrutiny of the way in which the House of Commons proceeds on equality issues, so I am pleased to tell the House that we have decided to set up a Sub-Committee to look specifically at the scrutiny of equality in this place—yes, holding ourselves as parliamentarians to account over every aspect of the working of this place so that we turn those wonderful words into practice not just in the future, but now. That is a hugely important part of our job. We are the custodians of the future not just for British business and British institutions, but for Parliament itself. We have to live up to those expectations and deliver now.

Break in Debate

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD) Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 10:45 p.m.

It is obviously a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who gave a characteristic speech. I recall my suggestion during the urgent question, when I said that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) might be seeking a pair for this evening and I thought the hon. Gentleman might have been up for that, but he is here instead. What I would say is that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while I disagree with much of what he said, there are none the less some good suggestions for progress in some of the amendments he has tabled.

I am delighted to be here for this debate, as I am that we having this debate and that we have this very good news. I again thank the Leader of the House for her dogged work behind the scenes, those from the Procedure Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee, and of course the Mother of the House and everybody who has helped to make this happen, which is so important.

I am particularly happy that, tomorrow, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn will be able to vote by proxy. I think she is probably still awake—she has a small baby, so I reckon she is still awake right now—so I would just say, “Tulip, we are so happy for you. Tomorrow, enjoy little Raphael and making sure your constituents are represented at the same time.” Indeed, I hope that this will go on to be useful for other hon. Members. I know that, with the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and for Fareham (Suella Braverman), many more babies are due to be born, and I think this is going to be a really positive step.

One thing I did agree with the hon. Member for Shipley about was the importance of fathers. In the urgent question last week, I was particularly moved by quite how many men stood up and talked about their experiences as dads and MPs, and about the guilt that they feel. I do hope, given that this is a pilot, that that is an issue we can return to as soon as possible. I just think it is not right in the 21st century for us to leave men out of this and say that two weeks is enough; it is not. Dads are incredibly important, which is why we introduced shared parental leave and why we should make sure this applies to men as well.

The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment, which seems to command support, about miscarriage, which is also incredibly important. I am fortunate in that I have not experienced miscarriage, but we have heard from hon. Members who have. However, I have had scares involving heavy bleeding. In fact, on one occasion when I was pregnant with Gabriel, I was in the House in the evening, I had just had something to eat and we were due to be voting late on Brexit, and that was when I started to bleed heavily. Anyone who has been pregnant will know how that feels: even though it is not uncommon, the fear strikes that something is going wrong, particularly in the first trimester.

I telephoned my midwife, who advised me to go to accident and emergency, and I went across the bridge to St Thomas’s. It became clear that, by the time I was seen, I was going to miss the vote on Brexit, so I had to contact my Chief Whip and, in doing so, tell him I was pregnant. I had not announced it to anybody yet, so it was not necessarily the circumstances in which I wanted to do that. I was kept in overnight as it happened, and I had a scan and everything was fine—do you know what, I was so delighted that that was the case—and the rest of the pregnancy was good, but that is a not uncommon experience. It is not one where a proxy vote would necessarily made a difference, but I share that because these are the types of experiences that people have when they are pregnant.

I know there will be so many other experiences like that that others have had, which is why a modern workplace ought to be able to accommodate and understand the types of things that people are going through. Of course it did not help that I inevitably received criticism from constituents for not having voted in that Division. I said that I was unwell, but that was not good enough and people still said that I should have been there. If someone has not announced she is pregnant, and in particular if she is worried about having a miscarriage, she really does not want to suddenly tell the world about it.

I hope that we will in future be able to extend this provision to other categories. My right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) has spoken movingly about his first time in Parliament when he was caring for his terminally ill first wife, and others have had similar experiences. In the future, bereavement and other circumstances should be covered, so that this place can be a genuinely modern Parliament.

Mr Speaker Parliament Live - Hansard

It would help if colleagues could shorten their speeches somewhat, but I am guided by colleagues.

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I will follow your advice to keep it brief, Mr Speaker. Indeed, this is not an obviously family-friendly time to have this short debate, although as the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said, many a new mother may be awake doing an evening feed.

I support the motion. I know that women all around the Chamber have been waiting for this moment, to receive the reassurance that when their time comes to give birth, they will not have to worry about coming into vote or about pairing arrangements. There will also be women watching this debate who will at some time in the future follow in our footsteps and want to know that Parliament is a family-friendly place to work, and that it is possible to come here and be a parent—a good parent. I am often asked by women thinking of standing for Parliament, “Does it work?” I say emphatically, “Yes. It does work to be a Member of Parliament and a mother, it does work to be a Member of Parliament and a father.”

I say that, but my children are a little bit older—they are six, eight and 10. I cannot imagine what it would be like having a baby as a Member of Parliament and thinking that you might have to go in to vote. Of course, as others have said, we have the pairing system, and that has worked well for many people, but it is not foolproof. It does leave you with a level of uncertainty and it also means you cannot represent your constituents in the way you would like. The time has come to move on, and we have the proxy voting proposals that have been worked through carefully so that we can have this pilot.

I, too, feel that the proposals do not go far enough. I would like to see us doing more for dads beyond the two-week period. I have spoken to colleagues who have come in to vote in the weeks that their wives were giving birth, not knowing whether they would be able to get back in time for the birth. I remember when I was in the three weeks leading up to my due date asking my husband not to travel for work, because you never know when the baby will come.

Break in Debate

James Frith (Bury North) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 11:10 p.m.

rose—

Mr Speaker Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 11:10 p.m.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Bury North, I must emphasise that I want the Leader of the House to have the chance to wind up the debate no later than 11.14 pm.

James Frith (Bury North) (Lab) Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 11:13 p.m.

I am delighted to add my voice to the call for proxy voting. Just two months into my new job as a Member of Parliament, my wife gave birth to our fourth child, Bobby. As a relatively new MP and a modern dad, I expected a modern Parliament, but, 36 hours after our son’s arrival, I had to be here on a heavy three-line whip. My wife and I were in the delivery ward facing an early inducement, as Nikki had a high-risk pregnancy and gestational diabetes. The knowledge that that process would last for days and would quite possibly clash with the vote, and my need to be present for both, brought an edge to the room that was frankly unhealthy. The fact that such a dilemma reached the delivery suite demonstrates, I hope, what an inflexible parliamentary process we have, and why this place must change.

Last night, over dinner, in anticipation of my speech this evening, my wife admitted that she had had a cry with the midwife about it. It seems that without modernisation, our fundamental role as MPs serving our towns must be pitted against our fundamental role in life as husband, wife, mum or dad. Parliament is steeped in tradition, but at times it seems impossible to move. We cannot deny the force of the arrival of life, thank goodness, although I suspect that otherwise some might try.

A work-life balance is an important attribute for every workplace, including Parliament, and that should include remote or proxy voting in special circumstances. The issue is raised in “New Brooms”, a book produced by the Fabian Society, which includes contributions on reform from 10 of my Labour colleagues from the 2017 intake. Tonight marks an important step as we think about how to implement ideas for reforms that speak to the country—as my colleagues have said—and strengthen our democracy, make Parliament more effective for those whom we are sent to represent, and make our place of work resemble those that the people we represent would recognise.

The urgency of the need for reform has never been starker than in recent times, with a minority Government, knife-edge votes and a breakdown in some of the traditional agreements such as pairing. There is too much process and not enough product here. Daily life for the many will not improve while we shuffle about with such reforms. This place needs to be better and work better for those whose lives we are here to make better, and so to be best for our towns and country. Proxy voting can be the first through the gate in the next generation of reforms to this Parliament, and I give it my full support—as a dad.

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Andrea Leadsom - Hansard
28 Jan 2019, 11:13 p.m.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (James Frith). What a fantastic way to end our debate: a speech about the importance of dads. Sometimes there is something on which we can all agree, and the importance of dads is one of them.

I share the pleasure of many Members at the fact that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) will—we hope—be able to use the first proxy vote tomorrow. It may be the first time since the 19th century, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned, but it certainly will not be the last. This is fantastic news for Parliament, and it is something that we can all get behind in our attempts to make ours a modern workplace to which more people from more diverse backgrounds, of different ages and at different stages in their lives, will feel proud to come to represent their constituents.

I hope that all Members will support these motions, and prove that when we really get together we can do great things.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House:—

(1) reaffirms its resolution of 1 February 2018 on baby leave for Members of Parliament;

(2) endorses the Fifth Report of the Procedure Committee, HC 825, on Proxy voting and parental absence;

(3) accordingly directs the Speaker to prepare a pilot scheme governing the operation of proxy voting for Members absent from the House by reason of childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child, pursuant to the recommendations in the Committee’s report, this resolution and the temporary Standing Order (Voting by proxy for parental absence);

(4) directs that a scheme prepared in accordance with this resolution and the temporary Standing Order (Voting by proxy for parental absence) shall be signed by the Speaker and the leaders of the three largest parties in the House before it is published, and that it shall enter into effect for a period of 12 months when the Speaker takes the chair on the sitting day after the day of publication;

(5) directs that any amendment of a scheme in effect by virtue of paragraph (4) above shall take effect when the Speaker takes the Chair on the sitting day after a proposal signed by the Speaker and the leaders of the three largest parties in the House is published; and

(6) directs the Procedure Committee to review proxy voting arrangements within 12 months of the commencement of a scheme established by virtue of this order.—(Andrea Leadsom.)

Proxy Voting (Temporary Standing Order)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

Voting by proxy for parental absence (Temporary Standing Order)

(1) A Member may, by reason of absence from the precincts of the House for childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child, arrange for their vote to be cast in accordance with this order by another Member acting as a proxy (a proxy vote).

(2) A proxy vote may be cast:

(a) in a division in the House, in Committee of the whole House, or in any legislative grand committee, in relation to the business specified in paragraph (3) below;

(b) on business specified in paragraph (3) below recorded in a division under Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions), and

(c) in a ballot cast in an election under Standing Order No. 1B (Election of Speaker by secret ballot), Standing Order No. 2A (Election of the Deputy Speakers) and Standing Order No. 122B (Election of select committee chairs).

(3) Subject to paragraph (4) below, a proxy vote may be cast on all public and private business of the House.

(4) No proxy vote shall be cast in a division on any motion in the form specified in section 2(2) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

(5) No proxy vote shall be reckoned in the numbers participating in a division for the purposes of (a) Standing Order No. 41(1) (Quorum), and (b) Standing Order No. 37 (Majority for closure or for proposal of question).

(6) A proxy vote may be cast only if the Speaker has certified that the Member for whom the vote is to be cast is eligible under the terms of this order and the Resolution of the House of Monday 28 January and if that certificate, including the name of the Member nominated as a proxy, has been published in the Votes and Proceedings.

(7) A vote cast by a proxy shall be clearly indicated as such in the division lists published under the authority of the House.

(8) This Standing Order shall lapse upon the expiry of the proxy voting scheme established under the terms of this order and the Resolution of the House of Monday 28 January.—(Andrea Leadsom.)

Amendment made: (d), after paragraph (7) insert:

“(7A) The Speaker may also make provision for the exercise of a proxy vote for Members who have suffered a miscarriage.”—(Philip Davies.)

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered,

Voting by proxy for parental absence (Temporary Standing Order)

(1) A Member may, by reason of absence from the precincts of the House for childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child, arrange for their vote to be cast in accordance with this order by another Member acting as a proxy (a proxy vote).

(2) A proxy vote may be cast:

(a) in a division in the House, in Committee of the whole House, or in any legislative grand committee, in relation to the business specified in paragraph (3) below;

(b) on business specified in paragraph (3) below recorded in a division under Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions), and

(c) in a ballot cast in an election under Standing Order No. 1B (Election of Speaker by secret ballot), Standing Order No. 2A (Election of the Deputy Speakers) and Standing Order No. 122B (Election of select committee chairs).

(3) Subject to paragraph (4) below, a proxy vote may be cast on all public and private business of the House.

(4) No proxy vote shall be cast in a division on any motion in the form specified in section 2(2) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

(5) No proxy vote shall be reckoned in the numbers participating in a division for the purposes of (a) Standing Order No. 41(1) (Quorum), and (b) Standing Order No. 37 (Majority for closure or for proposal of question).

(6) A proxy vote may be cast only if the Speaker has certified that the Member for whom the vote is to be cast is eligible under the terms of this order and the Resolution of the House of Monday 28 January and if that certificate, including the name of the Member nominated as a proxy, has been published in the Votes and Proceedings.

(7) A vote cast by a proxy shall be clearly indicated as such in the division lists published under the authority of the House.

(7A) The Speaker may also make provision for the exercise of a proxy vote for Members who have suffered a miscarriage.

(8) This Standing Order shall lapse upon the expiry of the proxy voting scheme established under the terms of this order and the Resolution of the House of Monday 28 January.

Mr Speaker Hansard

The Leader of the House signalled this, but for the avoidance of doubt and the sake of clarity, following the decision of the House on motions 6 and 7, as amended, I wish to make a brief statement.

As has already been alluded to during the debate, the pilot scheme that I am directed to prepare has been signed by myself, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party. The scheme, colleagues, will be published this evening and will therefore indeed have effect from tomorrow.

I also confirm that I expect my first certificate of eligibility to be published in the Votes and Proceedings for today, enabling a proxy vote to be cast tomorrow.