Proxy Voting

Part of Scallop Fishing: Bay of Seine – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 3:59 pm, 13th September 2018

I want to start by paying tribute to the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, not only for the work that she has done on this but for the point that she made earlier about Mr Rees-Mogg. One of the things I have been reflecting on this afternoon is the idea that because we are officeholders and Members of Parliament, we are different. Given what we saw yesterday, I think that members of the general public sometimes forget that although we are officeholders and Members of Parliament, we are also human beings. Far too often, that is lost from folks’ consciousness.

I rise to speak partly to back up some of what James Frith said, and I also want to speak as a father. I had no intention of being here today. I have mentioned before in the House that I am an expectant father. My wife and I are expecting our second child, and her official due date is 21 October. However, this has been a complex pregnancy, as was the case with our now three-year-old son, and my wife has now been taken in for a C-section the day after tomorrow. So for me, proxy voting is incredibly personal. I know, now that we have been given the business of the House, that the Agriculture Bill will have its Second Reading in the first week back after the recess, but I will not be here to vote on that Bill.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—and he is a friend—Patrick Grady, who is also my Chief Whip. I went to him at the beginning of this week and said to him, “Patrick, I won’t be able to be here in the first week back after the recess.” It will not be a simple case of my daughter being born and coming out of hospital. When my son was born, he ended up in intensive care for two weeks, followed by a week in the special care baby unit. Men normally get two weeks’ paternity leave, and on occasion such as those, they have to go straight back to work before their child has even come home, so I am grateful to my colleague for allowing me to be slipped that week.

I have sat through this afternoon’s debate feeling incredibly frustrated by the fact that this issue has been kicked into the long grass time after time. Justin Madders touched very nicely on the question of English votes for English laws. As a Scottish nationalist politician, I have views on that subject, but what we noticed when English votes for English laws were introduced was that the Government had no problem at all bringing forward the necessary changes to Standing Orders. We did not have to have countless debates on the general principles involved. When the Government decided that they wanted English votes for English laws, they came up with the changes to Standing Orders and put the measures in place. There were a hell of a lot of unintended consequences, but it was good enough for the Government to bring in those changes at that point, and I believe that it is good enough for them to bring forward proxy voting now.

Perhaps the reason that I am annoyed and a bit emotional today is that proxy voting will not help me on this occasion. There will be no proxy voting in place when I miss that first week back, and I will not be here to vote on the Agriculture Bill or on any other matters that come up that week. I say to the Leader of the House that there is consensus among Members of Parliament on this issue. There was consensus on 1 February this year. I sat in that debate knowing that we were expecting a baby later in the year, and I went home and told my wife that it looked as though we were going to get proxy voting. I knew fine well that my child would probably be in intensive care for two or three weeks. The reality is that if we had gone full term to 21 October, Parliament would have been back in session and I would have missed countless weeks here. At the time, I said to her, “It’s okay, we will have proxy voting.” It is sheer luck that we will be in recess for the vast majority of the time that I need to be away from here. My message to the Leader of the House today is crystal clear. There is a clear consensus in the House today: get on with it.