Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Committee calls for proxy voting scheme for parental absence to be made permanent
The House of Commons Procedure Committee publishes its extensive report on proxy voting in the House. The report follows a detailed inquiry by the Committee reviewing the pilot arrangements ahead of the expiration of the pilot scheme later this month.
The Procedure Committee’s report closely assesses the practical operation of the scheme, considering the duration and scope for eligibility of proxy votes under the pilot and the administrative arrangements, including Speaker certification and the practicalities of casting proxy votes.
The review also considers the impact of COVID-19 on the scheme, and how proxy voting use has been extended to MPs unable to attend at Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The full report, “Proxy Voting: review of pilot arrangements”, gives the considered view of the committee and makes recommendations to the House on how to proceed with proxy voting. Some of the key findings from the report include:
- The Committee finds that proxy voting for parental absence has been “to the benefit of parliamentary democracy”, to quote from the February 2018 resolution of the House which first endorsed the principle.
- Throughout its evaluation the Committee heard no arguments against the principles of proxy voting for parental absence, and encountered no fatal flaws in that scheme’s operation.
- The Committee recommends that the House make permanent arrangements for proxy voting for parental absence, taking into account some technical modifications to the pilot which the Committee consider would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme.
- The current provision for proxy voting for pandemic reasons was hastily added to the existing pilot following the discontinuation of remote voting. It will expire on 28 September. The Committee recommends that a proxy voting facility for Members subject to coronavirus restrictions should continue, though very careful consideration ought to be given to the design of eligibility criteria.
- A Member who has certified for a proxy vote or virtual participation on a specific day is not eligible to participate physically in any proceedings on that day. Members are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the obligations arising from their self-certification.
- Overall, the Committee finds that the temporary arrangements which have had to be put in place for physical divisions under the pandemic are less than satisfactory. A majority of Committee members believe that the system of remote digital voting which was in use in May 2020 was a more effective way of handling divisions in the House under the current exceptional conditions, and ought to be reinstated to replace the current temporary system.
- The Committee is unanimous that if lockdown conditions are reimposed in a way which prevents substantial numbers of Members from travelling to Westminster, the House ought to consider reverting to remote voting.
- At this stage the Committee has not come to a view on whether proxy voting ought to be available in other circumstances: for instance, where an MP is seriously ill or has significant caring responsibilities. Once the proxy voting facility for coronavirus reasons has been ended, the Committee will consider whether eligibility for proxy voting ought to be extended to other categories of absent MP, if there is enough support in the House for the proposal to be given further consideration.
Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Chair of the Procedure Committee, said:
“The Procedure Committee report, published today, strongly recommends that proxy voting for parental absence is made permanent. Proxy voting is a vital tool which empowers MPs who are new parents to represent their constituents as fully as possible.
“Establishing proxy voting for parental absence on a permanent basis will greatly benefit parliamentary democracy in general and the House in particular.
“Our Procedure Committee report also calls for proxy voting for Members subject to coronavirus restrictions to continue, though careful consideration must be given to the eligibility criteria for this facility once the current scheme expires at the end of September.
“The proxy voting system for coronavirus absences was rushed in hurriedly and without proper consultation. The pilot was never designed to handle proxy votes on the scale we have seen. It has been bolted on to a physical voting system which itself is sub-optimal.
“Despite the commendable work of the House Service, the physical voting system has numerous and significant challenges in terms of social distancing, and in efficient and accurate recording of vote results. That is why today’s report recommends a return to the temporary system of remote digital voting for as long as the division lobbies cannot be used in thetraditional way.
“The Committee will continue to review House procedure and practice during the pandemic as the situation evolves.”
A 12 month proxy voting pilot scheme was initially approved by the House on 28 January 2019.
Following the dissolution and early general election in 2019, combined with the changes to House proceedings on account of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, the House extended the pilot to give the Committee time to complete this review.
The inquiry was significantly expanded earlier this year to consider proxy voting for absences due to the pandemic, and the report makes recommendations on this issue as well as on the current temporary system of physical divisions used by the House.
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