Proxy voting was first introduced for new parents in January 2019 under a year-long pilot scheme developed by the Procedure Committee. The original pilot scheme was extended twice in 2020. Also in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, eligibility was widened to allow MPs affected by the pandemic to use a proxy vote.

Voting by proxy

On 23 September 2020, the House agreed to make permanent arrangements for proxy voting, for MPs who were away from Westminster because of childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child or where there had been complications relating to childbirth. The decision followed a review, by the Procedure Committee, of a pilot scheme it had developed.

On 12 October 2022, the House made permanent changes to Standing Order No 39A which governs the proxy voting scheme:

  • It removed the condition that proxy votes were available only if MPs were absent from the precincts of the House.
  • It amended how complications relating to childbirth, miscarriage or baby loss were included.
Pilot arrangements for serious illness or injury

In addition, the House agreed to extend temporarily the scope of the scheme to include serious long-term illness or injury as reasons for eligibility for a proxy vote. The extension was to operate from 17 October 2022 to 30 April 2023.

The Procedure Committee was directed to review the operation of the temporary extension for illness or injury by 17 March 2023. It recommended it should be retained on an “ongoing basis” (PDF). However, it said that MPs should not apply for proxy votes if they intended to be on the parliamentary estate when divisions took place.

A further temporary extension, until 30 June 2023, was approved, without debate, on 26 April 2023.

The Procedure Committee reaffirmed its views that MPs should normally not be on the estate if they hold a proxy vote. The Leader of the House has tabled a motion to extend the pilot arrangements on this basis, until the end of the current Parliament. The Scheme will be altered from 11 September 2023 to reflect the Committee’s proposals.

The Scheme

The Proxy Voting Scheme has been published on the parliamentary website. It allows a proxy vote to be cast in any division in the House, except for the purposes of counting a quorum or for allowing the closure. Proxy votes can also be exercised in secret ballots for electing a Speaker, Deputy Speaker, select committee chair or chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

Proxy votes can only be cast if the Speaker has issued a certificate confirming that the MP is eligible.

Proxy votes are indicated in division lists published by the House.

Widening eligibility

Even before the pilot arrangement was put in place, some MPs suggested that proxy voting be allowed in other situations, such as serious illness or bereavement.

The permanent scheme, when it was introduced, in September 2020, did not change the criteria.

In September 2021, the Procedure Committee launched an inquiry to consider whether eligibility should be broadened.

In June 2022, the Procedure Committee reported (PDF). It found widespread support, from those who gave evidence to the Committee, to include serious long-term injury or illness within the scheme. However, the Committee concluded that before any changes were proposed, the House should be asked to express its opinion on the principle of whether the scheme should be extended. It also recommended any extension should be piloted first.

As noted above on 12 October 2022, the House agreed to pilot (until 30 April 2023) an extension of the scheme to cover serious long-term illness or injury.

The Procedure Committee published its review of the illness and injury pilot (PDF) on 16 March 2023. The Committee recommended the House should retain serious long-term illness and injury as reasons for a proxy vote “on an ongoing basis”.

The Leader of the House has proposed that the pilot be extended until 30 June 2023. In its response to the Committee’s March 2023 report (PDF), the Government supported the Committee’s view that proxy voting should be permanently extended to cover serious long-term injury and illness. However, the Government asked the Committee to revisit recommendations it made about absence from the precincts.

Should MPs be absent from the precincts to qualify for a proxy vote?

When the House first agreed the permanent Standing Order on proxy voting, it specified that MPs were eligible for proxy votes “by reason of absence from the precincts of the House”.

It was possible for an MP to suspend a proxy vote to participate in proceedings but notice was required.

The Procedure Committee noted that absence had not been a condition of the initial proposal for “baby leave”. However, it explained why a proxy vote was being used.

Removing the requirement for absence from the Standing Order could have detrimental effects. The Committee concluded (PDF):

The House could provide greater flexibility to Members with a proxy vote if it removed ‘absence from the precincts’ from Standing Order No. 39A. This could, however, introduce pressure on Members to participate in proceedings at short notice and would be of most benefit to Members based relatively close to London who wished to participate in an Urgent Question or Statement, for which suspension of a proxy vote with notice is impossible. The House should consider these points carefully.

When the Committee reviewed the operation of the illness and injury pilot, it also returned to the question of absence from the precincts (PDF).

The Committee said that the principle of proxy voting and its implementation were agreed on the basis that a MPs would be using proxy votes because they could not be present on the Estate. It believed that “the presumption of absence is a principle to which the House should return”. It did not believe it was necessary to put “absence” back into the Standing Order but it should be “captured in the Scheme”.

The Government expressed concern that these recommendations could have unintended consequences (PDF) and asked the Committee to revisit them.

On 8 June 2023, the Chair of the Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley, wrote to the Leader of the House to report the Committee’s views (PDF). She reaffirmed the Committee’s view that MPs should generally not be in Westminster if they are exercising a proxy vote.

The Committee accepted there may be exceptions but suggested that generally a hospital consultant should confirm an MP cannot attend Parliament. Special arrangements could be made if an MP is attending Westminster as part of their recovery.

The Committee also said, like ‘parental proxies’, proxy voting for illness or injury was a temporary measure and the maximum duration should be seven months.

The Committee suggested a final further extension of the pilot to allow its proposals to be implemented and to allow MPs who needed a consultant’s notes to obtain them. Time limits would apply from the formal introduction of this scheme.

As noted above a motion has been tabled to extend the pilot and implement these arrangements as of 11 Spetember 2023.

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