Proxy Voting

Part of Scallop Fishing: Bay of Seine – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:44 pm, 13th September 2018

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. When individuals seek to exercise their right to vote, we have to decide whether proxy votes should be allowed on all votes or just certain votes. For example, what if an individual is absent because they are on maternity or paternity leave and an important private Member’s Bill comes up on a Friday? We know that few Members attend such debates on Fridays, even though everyone has the right to do so, so should proxy votes apply on those days? Equally, what happens if the appointed proxy says, “I’m not going to be in the House that day.” There could therefore be unintended consequences for private Members’ Bills.

Similarly, Thursdays tend to be Backbench Business days. Debates are not always well attended, and the motions rarely lead to votes, so should proxy votes apply to Backbench Business debates, which can be quite different, perhaps relating to matters of conscience, for example? We also have debates that are definitely matters of conscience when party Whips do not apply at all, such as House business debates. Should we allow proxy votes in those debates? We can allow that provided that there are clear, explicit instructions from the individual who is on leave to their proxy, but that could lead to issues of transparency. A proxy could vote for a new mother at home in the way that they expected her to vote, but it could turn out that she did not want her vote cast in that particular way. That would be embarrassing for the individual Member and for the proxy.

We should therefore proceed with a degree of caution. If we introduce proxy voting, it should apply to all Government business, particularly to Second Reading debates and those that are programmed and quite clear. I have a concern about, for example, Report stages or Committees of the whole House. Will a mother with a new baby be considering how to vote? The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire laid out the problems that a new mother can face. Will they be following the debate and instructing their proxy to vote? We could be voting half a dozen times in an afternoon. We need to make sure that proxies vote in the right way on these issues. We should be cautious about these particular circumstances.