James Sunderland speaks on behalf of the Chair of the Procedure Committee in support of a motion to extend proxy voting in Parliament to MPs suffering long-term illness or injury.
I am of the view that what cannot be said in five minutes is probably is not worth saying at all, so I will be brief, but it is incumbent on me to speak on behalf of the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), for whom I have the highest admiration, having been a member of her Committee since entering Parliament three and half years ago.
We know that proxy voting is a formal arrangement that allows Members who are absent on baby leave to have another Member register a vote on their behalf, but there have been repeated calls to review the process, and rightly so. Following the Procedure Committee report on the extension of eligibility for proxy voting to include serious long-term illness and injury, the House agreed to a pilot scheme, which ran earlier this year. It was successful, and the Committee was directed to review the operation of the pilot and make a report, which we have done. Since then, as we know, the Government have tabled the motion to give effect to some of the recommendations made by the Committee in its report and in its subsequent letter to the Leader of the House in June.
If I can, I will make the key proposals completely clear. First, the Procedure Committee recommended that the House extend eligibility for proxy voting to include serious long-term illness and injury on an ongoing basis. If passed, this motion will have effect until the end of this Parliament, but it is subject to wider review.
The new arrangements will require a note from a hospital consultant, rather than a GP. That is because we think that resetting the expectation at a level where a Member has required hospital care or is under the care of a consultant is about right. Occupational health will now play a role in the initial review of notes provided, seeking further information if necessary. That is important because Mr Speaker is ultimately responsible for making the call, and he needs assurance from a professional body to do that. A proxy vote for illness or injury will be allowed for a maximum of seven months, although it can be extended in certain circumstances and certification will remain with the Speaker.
I think what we are discussing today is reasonably clear, and I am happy to support the motion. The pilot has been useful and I am pleased to have been part of it as a member of the Procedure Committee. In recent months, Members have been able to exercise their vote when they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to do so, so it is a positive thing.
The proposals bring this place into line with human resources arrangements in other locations. We are a modern employer; we have to be a modern employer and we have to befit the role a modern employer plays. The proposals also allow discretion and privacy, which are important. The ability to register a proxy vote enables those who have a good medical reason not to come on to the estate to maintain their privacy and keep that reason from becoming more widely known. This is about doing the right thing as a good employer, and of course it is subject to review.