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Votes by proxy: how could it work in practice?

3 min read

Earlier this year MPs backed a resolution proposing a system of proxy voting the Commons in cases of parental absense. Charles Walker, the chair of the Procedure Committee, sets out how these proposals can be taken forward in practice

This week the Procedure Committee published a report advising the House on how a system of proxy voting could be introduced that would allow Members to appoint a proxy for Commons votes during their absence from the House after the birth or adoption of a child.

Formal proxy voting has not been part of the House’s practice. However, the House resolved on 1 February that proxy voting in the circumstances outlined above would be desirable. Our report does not give an opinion on the merits or not of proxy voting. It does, I believe, outline a workable way forward – thanks in large part to the contributions we received from Members and expert witnesses.

Firstly, our report makes it clear that participation in a proxy voting scheme should not be compulsory, and that eligible parents are entitled to vote in person or to be paired under existing arrangements if they so wish.

We recommended that if a scheme were to be approved by the House it should operate under the authority of the Speaker, who will certify the appointment of a proxy. And to ensure transparency, we urge that the names of MPs taking up their eligibility for a proxy vote, and the name of the MP acting as a proxy, should to be published.

Broadly speaking we recommend that Members can vote by proxy in all divisions on all public and private business in the Chamber as well as in deferred divisions and in ballots for the election of the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and select committee chairs.

However, we say that proxy voting ought not be used for votes on motions to call an early parliamentary general election, nor for when deciding whether the House is quorate. And Members should bear the reputation of the House in mind in choosing whether to take up their entitlement to a proxy vote in highly significant divisions, such as on whether to commit troops to armed conflict.

It is for the House to decide whether proxy votes should be counted when deciding whether there is a sufficient majority (100 in favour) for a closure of debate, and whether proxy voting ought to be restricted to voting on Mondays to Thursdays only, or restricted to votes on government business.

Finally, we have suggested that any scheme implemented by the House will be reviewed by the Procedure Committee after 12 months of operation.

So what are the next steps? To implement a scheme of proxy voting will require a resolution of the House and a change to Standing Orders.

It is customary for the Leader of the House, in the first instance, to arrange for debates on motions introducing changes of this kind to House of Commons practices and procedures.

I hope we will not have to wait too long for the House to debate the introduction of these arrangements.

Charles Walker is chair of Procedure Committee and Conservative MP for Broxbourne


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