Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Proxy Voting

Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 9:47 pm on 28th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 9:47 pm, 28th January 2019

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 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.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:18 pm, 28th January 2019

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;

(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 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 Mrs Miller, and the Mother of the House, 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, 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.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The proxy voting in the motion is voluntary—it will not be compulsory for somebody to take a proxy vote. If somebody wished to keep such a matter private, they would still be able to under my amendment. It would just mean that if somebody wished to take advantage of proxy voting after they had had a miscarriage, they would be able to do so. I am not sure that it would breach a confidentiality if the person concerned did not want it to.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in the point he makes. I think I just acknowledged that myself.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

I am pleased to hear that the Leader of the House is sympathetic to the amendment on miscarriage. As somebody who suffered a miscarriage during the 2015 general election, I think it would have been physically impossible to have come into Parliament to vote at that time. Could the amendment extend to male colleagues, who are often there to support their partners at times of miscarriage? We perhaps do not often talk about the role of the expectant father in such cases.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am very sympathetic to all the proposals around the sadness of miscarriages. Having had two myself, I have some personal experience of the matter. Nevertheless, I draw all Members’ attention to the fact that we are here to debate and agree proxy voting for baby leave, subject to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, on the basis of a pilot scheme. The Procedure Committee will come back to this issue at the end of the one-year pilot scheme, when there will be an opportunity for all Members to put forward their views.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I note that amendment (a), tabled by Philip Davies, has not been selected for debate, but does the Leader of the House not agree that, whether it is considered in the pilot or afterwards, looking after a partner who is terminal is an equally valid reason for getting a proxy vote?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady makes an important point. As I say, we have debated the issue in this Chamber on a number of occasions, which is why we plan to focus on a pilot scheme. Towards the end of the one-year pilot, we can look again at whether the issue should be restricted to baby leave or expanded.

I acknowledge that Members have wished to bring in slightly different or additional changes to our voting system, but I definitely do not think that anyone could accuse us of having rushed into the reforms we are proposing. Members will, I hope, be reassured that bringing in proxy voting as a pilot scheme means that any outstanding issues can be addressed during the 12-month review.

Let me reiterate that ensuring that every baby has the best start in life has been a personal priority for me for many years. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that this Government do all they can to allow new parents to spend that vital early time with their babies. I am therefore delighted to be able to bring forward these motions, and I urge all Members to support them.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:25 pm, 28th January 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward the motions and for listening to the concerns of hon. Members by expediting this particular process.

Mr Speaker, you will recall that you commissioned the report “The Good Parliament”, from Professor Sarah Childs—she is actually listening to the debate—way back in 2016. She cited the issue of proxy voting and said that that would make this a good Parliament. We have had two debates and two urgent questions on the matter. The House expressed a view in favour of establishing a system of proxy voting when my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman first secured a debate in the House on 1 February 2018, so we are moving quite quickly—it has taken a year to get the system into gear.

As I set out from the Dispatch Box on 18 July and 13 September 2018, and on 22 January 2019, the Labour party supports the principle of proxy voting for parental absence. I, too, thank Mr Walker and members of the Procedure Committee for taking evidence and producing its report “Proxy voting and parental absence” on 15 May 2018.

The Committee recommended that the scope of the scheme

“should be broadly equivalent to statutory provision for maternity and paternity leave.”

That was similar to the Clerk of the House’s memorandum, which identified

“caring responsibilities limited to mothers of young infants” to cover a category of Member who might qualify for a proxy vote.

The motions are about the implementation of proxy voting for Members absent by reason of childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child. The scheme is not, at this stage, intended to be extended to other reasons for being away from the Chamber. The Procedure Committee’s report flagged up the fact that the Parliaments of Australia and New Zealand also have this process—the two processes work in slightly different ways, but they work nevertheless.

I will not go into individual cases, but it is clear that a system of proxy voting for parental absence should be in place as soon as possible. The breakdown in the pairing system and Members having to vote while heavily pregnant have made this a necessity, and it is right that there can be such certainty. Right hon. and hon. Members want to cast their vote and want that recorded. The Leader of the Opposition, who is committed to a modern Parliament, has signed the certificate. I am pleased to say that he was the first of the three main party leaders to do so. I pay tribute to the Clerk of Divisions and Elections, who managed to get the certificate ready to be signed by you, Mr Speaker, in the first instance.

I think that it is helpful to set out what actually happens. To get a proxy, Members can either provide a certificate of pregnancy or a matching certificate to you, Mr Speaker. No further validation is necessary. The maximum duration of a vote by proxy is six months for the biological mother of a baby, or for the primary or single adopter of a baby or child, and two weeks for the biological father of a baby, the partner of the person giving birth, or the second adopter of a baby or child. Eligible Members will need to specify in writing to you, Mr Speaker, the dates on which the absence shall begin and end within these maximum durations, and name the Member who has agreed to carry her or his proxy vote. You, Mr Speaker, will issue a certificate and cause it to be entered in Votes and Proceedings. Members can change who their proxy is, end their period of proxy voting earlier or cast a vote in person by providing a written notice to you, Mr Speaker, as soon as possible, or, at the very latest, by the end of the previous sitting day.

Members casting a proxy vote in a Division will inform the Division Clerk at the appropriate desk and the Tellers at the doors of the Lobby. Members can cast their vote in one Lobby and the proxy in the other, and may cast a proxy without casting their own vote at all. The result of Divisions in Hansard, both online and in its printed edition, will note votes cast by proxy, including the Member who cast the proxy vote. I know that one hon. Member has already signalled to you, Mr Speaker, that she intends to cast her vote by proxy, and she will be able to do this at the end of today, certainly in time for tomorrow’s votes. The new system is set out very clearly and I thank the Clerks for drawing it up.

If the House agrees to motion 6 and the temporary Standing Order, will the Leader of the House confirm—although I think that she has done so already—that the system of proxy voting will be in place by tomorrow? Will she also outline the timeframe for the Procedure Committee’s review and confirm when the clock starts ticking on that review? I hope that it is from today so that we have the full 12 months for it. It is right that this House accommodates everyone who wants to carry out their caring responsibilities. Members who work hard to fulfil their duties on behalf of our constituents deserve always to have their voices heard in our good Parliament.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Just before I call 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.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 10:30 pm, 28th January 2019

May I start by offering my congratulations to 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 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 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.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 10:34 pm, 28th January 2019

It is a pleasure, as always, to follow Mrs Miller. I very much look forward to her continuing work on and interest in this issue. If anybody can drive through this agenda, it is her and her Committee.

We very much welcome the motions and hope that this will be the very last word on the tortuous process of delivering proxy voting in this House. It is almost unbelievable that it has taken so long. It is almost a year since the first debate, when the House expressed a will and a view that proxy voting should be a feature of our voting arrangements. I have no reason to doubt the Leader of the House’s commitment to this; in fact, I know how solid her commitment is. She has been very sincere and championed this through the House in the course of the past year. I just hope that she has managed to get her Whips Office fully on board with all this now. I really hope that there will be no other kickback from any Whips Office in this House and that we are able to properly deliver this.

As we have heard, the Procedure Committee was charged with bringing forward a solution and designing a way in which that could happen, and that has been duly discharged. I, the Leader of the House, you, Mr Speaker, and the shadow Leader of the House—she has promised to be my proxy if I ever require one, but I gently say to her that I do not think that is going to be necessary—all gave evidence to the Committee. The motions practically replicate everything that was suggested and recommended by the Committee, and this is the way forward.

It has to be said, however, that it has taken a couple of crises for us to get to this position. The first involved Jo Swinson and the breaking of the pairing system back in July last year, and then there were the terrible and appalling events around Tulip Siddiq, who had that dreadful experience with voting a couple of weeks ago. Let us not kid ourselves that there has been only natural and good-natured progression, because it has taken a couple of such incidents before this has happened.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have to get past the point where we are making policy as a result of being shamed? We had to be shamed into doing this. There were so many debates, and the Leader of the House herself said that she might look at it when we moved out of this place while it was being refurbished. A lot has changed since then, and it is great to see progress, but we cannot let things continue like this.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I totally agree. We should make proper plans and make sure that we have the right arrangements in place. I do recall those comments by the Leader of the House, but I will be kind to her—I think that she has played a part in ensuring that this is delivered and made a reality, along with many Members.

We have to conclude that the pairing system has totally and utterly failed this House. The 19th-century “nod and a wink” approach that we had to deal with such arrangements really now has to come to an end. We never, ever trusted the pairing system. We have never participated in any pairing arrangements during my time in the House—almost 18 years—and they must be totally and utterly abandoned.

It is welcome the fact that the motions have been debatable—that was the right way to go. When these proceedings were first proposed last week, there were concerns that somebody might attempt to vote the motions down or talk them out. I welcome the amendment tabled by Philip Davies. I used to gently chide him when he was a new Member, calling him “Dinosaur Jr”. He is now a fully-fledged member of the dinosaur community, but his interest just goes to show that even dinosaurs may change their horns. I accept, in the sincerest way, that he has now come forward as a fully-fledged, proper member of the community of change in this House. We will support his amendment tonight.

It is great that Professor Sarah Childs is with us tonight, because it was her report that first set out some of the agenda items we needed to look at. We have to make this place a good Parliament. We have to address some of the byzantine ways in which we do our business in this House. I go on and on about the voting Lobbies. They are now thoroughly dangerous and we have to do something about them properly, so let us start to look at that. This is a good start. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford has already signed the certificate. We will now get this process in place and I welcome it very much.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 10:39 pm, 28th January 2019

Thank you for selecting my amendment (d), Mr Speaker. There seem to be two things that we need to concern ourselves with today. The first is whether we agree with proxy voting, and the second is whether we agree with proxy voting on the terms in the motion.

I am rather sceptical about proxy voting for a number of reasons, not least that if debates in this place never changed anybody’s mind or made better legislation, we would have to question why we bother having them at all in the first place. That is a clear part of our role as MPs. What Ministers say at the end of a debate can affect a Member’s vote. Reassurances from Ministers can make a Member take a different line, and that has happened on many occasions.

I am also sceptical because I am not entirely sure that this will deal with the lack of trust in the pairing system. What if the proxy votes the wrong way? What if there is a breakdown in communication? What if the designated proxy is unable to vote, for some reason? This does not mean that there will be none of the same problems with proxy voting as there are with the pairing system. We should not believe that this will be a flawless system. Given that the will of the House is clearly that we should have proxy voting, it is surely incumbent on us to try to make the rules as best we can, and this motion is lacking in a number of areas.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I do not share my hon. Friend’s scepticism, but I do share his attention to detail, and that is lacking in his amendment. He will know that my private Member’s Bill dealing with stillbirths is going through the House of Lords at the moment. I hope that his amendment would extend to women who have suffered stillbirths, who would not be covered by the definition of miscarriage at the moment.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I accept his support in that spirit. If we are going down the route of proxy voting, we have to make sure that it is fair for people in every circumstance. That is the point I want to make. That is why it is important that people who have a serious illness, who are not covered by the motion, are included. Why is the primary carer of someone who is seriously ill less deserving of a proxy vote? Why is someone whose close relative has died less deserving of a proxy vote than those mentioned in the motion? People who have suffered a miscarriage should equally be covered, and I hope the Government will accept my amendment.

We have to look at why fathers and mothers are being treated so differently. The Women and Equalities Committee report, “Fathers and the workplace”, which I think was a unanimous report of the Committee, said that limiting the statutory period to two weeks for fathers is

“particularly inadequate in certain specific circumstances, such as where the mother or baby is ill or has been born prematurely.”

I agree with that report of the Committee, on which I serve. Members of the Committee seem to have been distinctly lacking in arguing for that to be included in the terms of this motion, despite recommending that every other organisation in the country should abide by it. They seem to think that it should not apply to the House of Commons but should apply to every single other organisation.

We have to look at where proxy voting applies, and I hope the Procedure Committee will consider all these things. I do not think that proxy voting should apply to private Members’ Bills, for example, which it does in the motion. Hardly anybody turns up for private Members’ Bills, so it would be rather absurd that someone who never turns up for them on Fridays and never had any intention of doing so will all of a sudden be able to vote in proceedings on them.

The Report of Bills is not really suitable for proxy voting. You might recall, Mr Speaker, that there are sometimes 200 amendments tabled to a Bill on Report in different groupings. We do not know on the day of the vote which ones will be selected for debate or which ones will be voted on. How on earth can a Member give an informed opinion on 200-odd amendments that day when they do not even know which ones are being voted on and which ones will be selected for debate? We should be very wary about extending proxy voting to the Report of Bills.

I must say that there is something distinctly lacking in one of the motions compared with the one in the Procedure Committee report. The Government have missed out one key plank, which I have sought to reinstate, of the report’s proposed motion. It states:

“The Speaker may make provision for the exercise of a proxy vote insofar as it is not provided for in this Order.”

That had in mind something like miscarriages, which is why I have tabled amendment (d).

Equally, the Procedure Committee report says:

“There is an inherent risk to the House’s reputation of Members away from the House casting votes as if they are present in the Chamber and actively following debates. For example, it would be unthinkable”— the word “unthinkable” is underlined in the report—

“for a motion on committing military personnel to armed conflict to be carried on the basis of proxy votes.”

Yet that has not been excluded from the motion on proxy votes: sending troops to war will still be covered by proxy votes, despite the Procedure Committee saying that that would be unthinkable.

I hope that the Government will accept my amendment (d) as a modest step forward in trying to make this procedure fairer to everybody, irrespective of their circumstances, and I hope that the Procedure Committee will look at all these matters in the round when this comes up for review.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 10:45 pm, 28th January 2019

It is obviously a great pleasure to follow Philip Davies, who gave a characteristic speech. I recall my suggestion during the urgent question, when I said that 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 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.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 10:50 pm, 28th January 2019

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 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.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

Just as a point of information, we should be mindful that there will be women who will be married to, or have partners who are, women so the impact will be not only on fathers, but on mothers whose wife or partner is giving birth.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I completely agree, and in fact I was trying to make sure I used broad enough language.

We must make sure that we are thinking of dads and, in future, two weeks may prove not to be long enough. We must also think in the future about people who are seriously ill or have caring responsibilities for someone who is seriously ill. That is very much for the future. Let us get on with what we can do now. I fully support the introduction of proxy voting now.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East 10:53 pm, 28th January 2019

My baby was born on 14 April 2017, and four days later the Prime Minister made the announcement outside No. 10 that she was going ahead with a snap election, contrary to what she had said before Easter. Nothing can really legislate to prevent a general election from being called when someone is in that position, but we were perhaps overly optimistic about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

From July to December 2017, I was absent for the vast majority of votes in Parliament. I came in for a handful of votes, and I want to take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to both Whips Offices. There has been some airing of the problems that others have had in this debate, but some people are new to the party as I do not remember them taking part in the two debates and several urgent questions we have had. There is a bit of what-aboutery going on.

Let me clear about why pairing is not enough. I want the right to have a baby and be able to represent my constituents. That is the simple answer. A second part of the answer is that some of us are suffering and have suffered reputational damage just for daring to have a baby and wanting to be a Member of this House. I was branded by a national newspaper as having the second-worst voting record in Parliament. I was not asked before the publication of the article why that might be the case, so I did not have a right to reply. My hon. Friend Lucy Powell was branded as one of Britain’s laziest MPs in one of the tabloids, although it did print an apology.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood

The hon. Lady and I were on the same Select Committee. Does she believe that being on maternity leave ought to be recognised for those serving on a Select Committee? I, too, was attacked by people locally for looking as though I was missing when I was simply on maternity leave.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East

We have to think about all these issues. I think the Leader of the House has made the right decision to pilot the scheme on the basis of the detailed recommendations of the Procedure Committee, but we do need to look at these issues. We were lucky, being on the same Select Committee. In a way we paired each other on many votes, but that was just a coincidence. We need to think about other roles in the House, but let us not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

For me, any system is better than pairing. For example, a proxy voting system that does not let me express an opinion on a Friday, when I probably would not be here anyway, is fine thank you very much. A proxy voting system that says if we vote on military intervention I would have to come in and I would not have a proxy vote on that occasion is also fine by me, thank you very much. Anything that is better than having my name trawled through the mud because I have been off for six months and nobody has asked me why is a move in the right direction. We have to iron out some of the difficulties in the pilot, which will take place for a year. I do not think for a minute that after the pilot this progress will be rolled back. I hope it will advance.

I would like to say something about the role of fathers. We have legislated in this Parliament for shared parental leave. The Procedure Committee looked at that in its recommendations. In the pilot, we are going to have six months for mothers and two weeks paternity leave for fathers. Once we have had this pilot, we should look at extending it. It is a crying shame that so few dads take up shared parental leave. If an hon. Member were to take that leave and set an example, it would send a very strong signal to dads out there that it is culturally and financially okay to do so. I know there are many barriers preventing dads from taking up leave. As an aside, I would like to thank my husband for taking shared parental leave early, so that he could help me to fight an election campaign. I also thank his employer for letting him do so at short notice. We made use of it and I urge other dads to do the same.

Finally, I would like to say huge thanks to you personally, Mr Speaker, for your commitment to this, to the Leader of the House, to the shadow Leader of the House, to the Chair of the Procedure Committee and all its members, to the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, and, above all, to my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, who pushed this issue when it was not a popular thing. People were saying, “What about this, what about that and what about the other?” My right hon. and learned Friend, the Mother of the House, with her characteristic determination, just went through with it and kept on going. She has brought so many people on board. Tonight, we are sending a strong signal to young women up and down the country that they can be an MP and combine that with being a parent, so please come and stand. Sending that strong signal is what tonight is all about.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 10:58 pm, 28th January 2019

I commend the Leader of the House and Ms Harman for pursuing this proposal. I also commend Tulip Siddiq, who is not with us but will perhaps be the first gainer from it.

This proposal is overdue. Unlike my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller who wants radical change quickly, I am an incremental reformer of the House because reform of the House has unexpected consequences. This proposal, however, is overdue. It is overdue because pairing is obsolete. As Emma Reynolds made plain, in today’s politics being absent is not good enough. Whatever the real reasons, the public will not forgive us for not being there, so it is absolutely necessary that we put this measure in place and keep it after the year is up. I have no doubt that that will be the outcome.

There will be issues, some of which my hon. Friend Philip Davies raised. His concerns are not always popular in the House, but some of them are real. Quorum will be a serious issue on Fridays and so on, so we must deal with that. I agree entirely with his amendment on miscarriage. That should go nem con, as it were. He raised the issues of serious illness, irrespective of who the Member is, of being a primary carer for somebody who is seriously ill, and of the death of a close relative. The public will see it as necessary that we address those issues to maintain the fairness of this proposal. It is important that, in the public eye, we maintain the view that this is a fair and sensible proposal. I say to the Leader of the House that, although there will be a one-year review, I hope we will look at those issues before the year is up.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Like my right hon. Friend, I strongly support these proposals. To support the immediate point he is making, two years ago today is the day that I went into hospital, and as some Members know, I was in a coma for 11 days, during which time I missed the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which attracted the kind of criticism that Emma Reynolds referred to. Although it is difficult to know quite how I could have appointed a proxy in those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must ensure that, when people are ruled out of participating in parliamentary affairs, they can still represent their constituents?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important, in this context, that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater—that is a terrible metaphor, now that I think about it. The simple truth is that we must retain our ability to do our job in a way that the public accept is fair, sensible and effective.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

My right hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. Having three children, I fully support this move to help with maternity, but I want to make the case for people with relatives who are seriously ill or have died. At the moment, it is unbelievably stressful, because one has to wait to be with that person to see whether somebody on the other side of the House is also in the same boat so one can be paired.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

That is the last intervention that I will take, Mr Speaker, because I will finish in about 10 seconds.

This is a massively important issue and I hope we will carry it nem con tonight, but we must understand that this will not be the end of the reform. It will lead to a series of reforms that are right and proper for this House and will improve our Parliament.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree 11:03 pm, 28th January 2019

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate. It is heartening that so many colleagues from both sides of the House have waited until 11 pm to participate in this important and historic conversation. There is a historical perspective on this. Members may not be aware that until 1868, according to “Erskine May”, Members had the opportunity to have a proxy vote in the House of Lords, and there were also proxies in our medieval Parliament, so in fact we are reinstating an age-old tradition.

To bring us back to the present day, it is just a few weeks until the arrival of my second child. A colleague said in jest that I am sitting here in self-interest. Let me be very clear that this change cannot come quickly enough for my constituents and for what we can and should be doing on behalf of the country.

If this motion does not pass tonight, I will continue to do what I did last time. When I had my first child, I came back to the House for some urgent votes. Colleagues might recall seeing me sitting in the Lobbies breastfeeding my baby when they were less than three or four months old. I did so until 11 pm one evening in the Tea Room. That is not the best environment for a new-born, although I would do it again if I had to. At this critical juncture for our country, it is important that no Member on either side of the House should have to make that choice and be here only for certain votes.

I echo the point that colleagues have made about the example we set. We legislate for maternity and paternity rights, and in 2019 we should be leading by example. The fact that we rely on an informal pairing system that depends on the Whips is not acceptable. I also echo the important point made by my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds. I did an interview on television earlier, although I will not embarrass the presenter who made this just about mums. As has been said, this is not just about mothers; it is about dads, too, and I hope that after this year-long trial we can make further strides to extend it beyond the two-week paternity leave—important though that is—to cover shared parental leave. Having secured that in the House, we should be leading by example and having it here too.

In conclusion, I thank the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, your good self, Mr Speaker, and the Procedure Committee for being impatient that this has taken so long. There have been steps on the way that have urged it along. We should not have to choose between our responsibilities as Members of Parliament and our responsibilities as parents. The two really can go hand in hand. If we are serious about making this a place that welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds and about encouraging people to consider standing for public office, and particularly if we are serious about addressing the gender imbalance we still see, this move will make a really big difference. I hope the House supports it tonight.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 11:06 pm, 28th January 2019

As Government Chief Whip, I had responsibility for managing the pairing system, so it is a matter of some regret to me to listen to Jo Swinson, as I have done previously, and talk about her experiences and how she and other Members lost confidence in the pairing system. I would rather that confidence had been regained, but given that it has clearly not been, these proposals are welcome and I support them. I also welcome what the hon. Lady and others said about extending the provisions to cover shared parental leave. We have legislated for that arrangement for those outside the House; it seems to me that, if we are making provision inside the House, we should do so on that basis.

My final point is a note of caution. Perhaps this is to be built into the review mechanism, but transparency cuts both ways. I listened carefully to what Emma Reynolds said about the criticism she received for not appearing to be doing her job when she was quite properly absent from the House, but I would caution that pairing can sometimes be valuable in allowing Members to be absent for reasons they do not wish to be transparent about. I listened to my hon. Friend Mike Wood explaining his absences. If a Member is ill, they may wish to be transparent about it, but often Members cannot be here because of family circumstances—children, parents or other family members—and we should be conscious of the need to enable them to be absent in a way that does not force either them or their family members to put into the public domain the reasons for their absence.

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

It is important to stress that no one has to take a proxy vote; it will always be voluntary, and Members could continue with the pairing system. Like other Members, when I was on maternity leave, the campaigning group 38 Degrees emailed my constituents and said, “Where was Rachel Reeves?” The answer was I was on maternity leave with a very young baby, but it did not bother to check its facts. Many of my constituents thought I had just not bothered to turn up.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

The hon. Lady’s experience just confirms what I have thought for many years about 38 Degrees and the way it campaigns against Members. I have always found that robust pushback and setting out the facts to my constituents have been very helpful. I take her point seriously. I would caution only that as we look at the results of the pilot, we should bear in mind that there are many circumstances in which colleagues may need to be absent, sometimes for reasons that they do not wish to share, and that no one in any other workplace would ever have to make public. I want us to ensure that we do not implement a system that makes it more difficult for people to keep private things that should remain private.

Just in practical terms, if the pairing system is to work, we need enough colleagues who are not here to be available to pair with. The hon. Lady was right to say that no one would be forced to use the proxy voting system, but if we end up with proxy voting it will become increasingly difficult for pairing to proceed, and colleagues may therefore find that they are forced to use the system in circumstances where they do not wish to draw attention to the fact that they are not able to be here. That is the only cautionary note that I wanted to add to the debate. I am very supportive of the specific proposals.

Photo of James Frith James Frith Labour, Bury North 11:10 pm, 28th January 2019

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.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:13 pm, 28th January 2019

I am delighted to follow 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 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 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.


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;

(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.)