Written evidence from the Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society
Proxy voting and pairing
1. The Electoral Reform Society welcomes this consultation. The Society supports putting proxy voting arrangements for baby leave on a permanent footing. This is an important step in improving the accessibility and representativeness of Parliament. Consideration of extending this on grounds of ill-health is welcome: no one should feel forced to attend in person when it is both unnecessary and potentially detrimental to their health to do so.
1.1 It may also be in Parliament’s and members’ interests to formalise the process of pairing, and where possible publish pairing arrangements. This could help avoid damaging breaches of trust (as on the Trade Bill 2017-2019), and the pressure to attend that comes with any lack of confidence in the arrangements.
2. During the current coronavirus crisis, we support the roll-out of remote voting. We welcome the Commons authorities’ commitment to making this work.
2.1 Whether through proxy voting or online voting, what is paramount is that all voters are represented, and that members and their staff can feel safe. The ERS supports a rapid roll-out of remote voting for both MPs and Peers, digitally where possible and secure. This is an urgent matter of scrutiny, representation and safety. We hope all parties work together to make it happen.
2.2 Unfortunately the changes we saw before the recess were not fit for purpose – leaving attendance solely to frontbenchers, or those who take the difficult decision to attend in person. Lengthy divisions in the present climate put members and their staff at considerable risk. The next step towards a virtual Parliament must be getting to grips with ensuring all MPs (and indeed peers) can vote remotely.
2.3 We understand the concerns over not being able to engage with ministers in the lobbies, therefore it is worth trialling new ways for backbenchers to engage with ministers in this time – including virtual one-to-ones or ‘surgeries’ with relevant ministers.
3. In the short term, the Commons must modernise quickly to ensure all voters are represented in divisions. Voters’ voices must not be diminished when life-changing decisions are being made every day. This is a matter of both public health and democracy. We are pleased to see the Commons rise to this challenge.
3.1 After this crisis, we hope that the proxy voting system can be permanently established, within a clear and trusted framework. Doing so will move the Commons further towards being a fully inclusive and accessible workplace.
About the Electoral Reform Society
The Electoral Reform Society is the UK’s leading voice for democratic reform. We work with everyone – from political parties, civil society groups and academics to our own members and supporters and the wider public – to campaign for a better democracy in the UK.
Our vision is of a democracy that is fit for the 21st century, where every voice is heard, every vote is valued equally, and every citizen is empowered to take part. We make the case for lasting political reforms, we seek to embed democracy into the heart of public debate, and we foster the democratic spaces which encourage active citizenship.