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 are away from Westminster because of childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child or where there have been complications relating to childbirth. The decision followed a review, by the Procedure Committee, of a pilot scheme it had developed.

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 or in any legislative grand committee, 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.

Should eligibility be widened?

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

The permanent scheme, when it was introduced, 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.

A debate was scheduled to take place on 15 September 2022 but parliamentary business was suspended following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Proxy voting and the pandemic

Temporary arrangements were made for MPs to vote remotely during May 2020. But from the beginning of June, the Government encouraged all Members to participate in proceedings in the House. Initially no provisions were made for MPs who were shielding, isolating or caring for someone else as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to participate in proceedings from 2 June. On 2 June 2020, the House agreed that Members had to be on the Parliamentary estate to participate in divisions.

Disquiet was expressed about these provisions and the Leader of the House said that he had not ruled out extending proxy voting to those who were shielding.

On 4 June 2020, the House agreed to a Government proposal that proxy voting should be available to Members who were “at high risk from coronavirus for reasons that they are either ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or ‘clinically vulnerable’”.

Members had expressed concern that this did not go far enough and an Emergency Debate, granted on 4 June, was held on 8 June 2020.

On 10 June, the House altered the eligibility for proxy votes to those Members who were “unable to attend at Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic”.

On 16 June 2020, the Speaker made a short statement on these arrangements. He confirmed that MPs with proxy votes should not be participating in physical proceedings while they had a proxy vote in operation.

The arrangements for proxy voting during the pandemic initially piggy-backed on the pilot scheme, meaning they would expire on 28 July 2020. In line with the extension of the pilot scheme, this expiry date was extended to 28 September 2020.

When the proxy voting scheme was made permanent, on 23 September 2020, the House agreed that proxy votes should be available to MPs who were not at Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic. Thereby extending temporary arrangements that had been in place since June 2020, until 3 November 2020.

These temporary arrangements were further extended in October 2020, to continue until 30 March 2021. From 3 November 2020, MPs who were present in Westminster were allowed to have a proxy vote. These arrangements were extended to 21 June 2021, on 25 March 2021; and then extended for a final time to 22 July 2021, on 16 June 2021.

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