Written evidence submitted by the Centenary Action Group (PVX 08)

The Centenary Action Group (CAG) is a cross-party campaigning coalition convened by Helen Pankhurst and represents over 100 activists, politicians and women’s rights organisations. CAG was established in 2018, 100 years since some women gained the right to vote, to eradicate the barriers that prevent a diverse range of women from taking part in the decisions that affect their lives by enabling collaboration, joint action and campaigning within the women's rights sector to remove barriers to women’s political participation. Member’s include Fawcett Society, Pregnant Then Screwed, Muslim Women’s Network, Girlguiding, Action Aid, 50:50 Parliament and women’s groups from each main political party.


Since the 2019 general election there are more women in Westminster than ever before. But the landscape is changing at a glacial pace. There are 220 women MPs – just over a third of the green benches. At this rate, it could take another 45 years or nine general elections for parliament to have equal numbers of men and women.

Parliamentary practices like unpredictable hours and lack of maternity leave have resulted in a ‘motherhood gap’ in Parliament. In 2016, 45 percent of women MPs did not have children compared to only 28 percent of male Members.[1] This changed slightly following the 2017 general election - 39% of female MPs having no children in comparison to 30% of male MPs[2]. Moreover, the available data also suggests women are more likely to enter politics once their children are significantly older. The average age of the MP’s eldest child when they first entered Parliament was 15 years old for women and 11 years old for men.[3] The ‘motherhood gap’ underlines historical messages about motherhood being incompatible with public life. It is just to take steps to ensure that all citizens feel, and are treated, equally.

Centenary Action Group welcomes the new Speaker's commitment to making sensitivity to the necessity of breast feeding in the Chamber, and we hope that this marks an ongoing commitment to the House to ensuring a gender sensitive parliament.

Parliament must be accessible to parents. A failure to do so will have a disproportionate impact on women. A formal and transparent system of proxy voting would provide this and would guarantee the right of MPs’ constituents, and parents, to have their voice and vote recorded in Parliament. Centenary Action Group welcomes the fact that previous oral witnesses to the Committee were hugely supportive of proxy voting.

By making proxy voting permanent, parliament can take a small but symbolic step in mitigating the gendered division of childcare and how it acts a major barrier to women’s involvement in political life, especially women from a lower socio-economic background.



Executive Summary

  1. Proxy voting must be made permanent: this report demonstrates the need for the current temporary provisions of proxy voting to be made permanent for both men and women. It highlights both the importance of the British Parliament to serve as a global example, as well as the need for our legislative body to increase its diversity to reflect the society it serves.
  2. Proxy voting needs to be improved further: Centenary Action Group also notes the shortcomings of the current mechanisms in place within the pilot proxy voting scheme. While the pilot scheme demonstrated the importance of proxy voting, it also shed light on the weaknesses of the current system. Improvements of such weaknesses, namely procedural issues and the length of proxy voting must be reflected within a permanent policy.
  3. The introduction of other policies such as provisions for locum MPs should be given further consideration to make Parliament work more effectively for parents and carers.


  1. Why we need proxy voting to be made permanent


1.1  It will increase diversity in Parliament

In the past, several women MPs have been accused of being lazy or attacked for not voting when they are taking baby leave. In 2013 The Sun newspaper branded Lucy Powell MP Britain’s second laziest MP”[4], as it was recorded that she had abstained from several votes. What was not mentioned is that the reason she didn’t vote was because she was on baby leave. Such treatment of women MPs deters other women who want to have children from coming forward, as they feel that they may be forced to choose between being a mother and a member of parliament. Making proxy voting permanent would serve as a signal that there is no inherent contradiction between the two and encourage more women to put themselves forward for election.

1.2  Parliament as an example for others

What signal does it send to the rest of the country or the world if our Parliament, which is supposed to serve as an exemplary symbol, does not have a formal system of leave for mothers and fathers? Both New Zealand and Australia have incorporated proxy voting into their respective democracies[5] and provide excellent examples of how the British system can also incorporate proxy voting into its parliamentary system. Moreover, through proxy voting, male Members of Parliament are encouraged to take paternity leave, which sets an example for the rest of the country. Otherwise, it implies that the right to parental leave is not fundamental to all working parents.[6] The British Parliament serves and must continue to serve as a global example of parliamentary democracy that promotes diversity and inclusiveness. It cannot do so without demonstrating a true commitment to parental leave that ensures women are not forced to choose between being a mother or a Member of Parliament.  


1.3  Constituents continue to feel represented and heard – no one (MP or constituent) is compromised


A formal and transparent system of proxy voting for maternity leave, as recommended in Professor Sarah Childs’ Good Parliament Report[7], would guarantee the right of MPs’ constituents to have their voice and vote recorded in Parliament, without putting parents in the unreasonable and unrealistic situation where, in order for their constituency to be represented, they must return to work after very little time following the birth or adoption of their child[8].


Under the proxy voting system, MPs will have autonomy over their votes. Proxy voting will not stop MPs from being able to rebel against their own party. Even whips can 'rebel' on behalf of their proxies. 

Permanent proxy voting would make Parliament fit for the 21st Century and strengthen our democratic institutions.


  1. The system can be improved further


2.1  Procedural issues with applying for proxy voting under the current system

The notification of current proxy voting is not fit for purpose. Under the current scheme, at least one sitting days’ notice must be given to activate a proxy vote. However, this fails to consider both the unpredictability of the Parliamentary timetable and when babies arrive.[9] A 2013 study for instance found that just 5 percent of births happened on their due dates.[10]

Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch MP has recommended that both the suspension and renewal of proxy votes should be made automatic, as this would avoid the technical burdens of having to apply under a narrow time frame when votes are only speculative.[11]

2.2  The current (6-month) length of the proxy voting period must be extended to 52 weeks

Proxy voting should be extended to 52 weeks to reflect statutory maternity leave. As stated by Ellie Reeves MP, women are less likely to stand for Parliament if maternity provisions are considerably worse than the workplace standard. [12] Furthermore, the length of the proxy voting period severely impacts expectant mother’s health as they must choose between their health prior to giving birth and time spent with their baby postpartum.

2.3  The current proxy voting system does not cover all votes

Currently, proxy votes do not apply for confidence motions and votes on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act[13]. Given the political importance of such votes, it is vital that MPs who take baby leave are not excluded from such votes.


2.4  The current rule is silent on whether a proxy MP may be changed

A permanent proxy voting system must allow for a change of proxy in the event that the nominated proxy MP is also absent. Otherwise, parent MPs are disadvantaged through no fault of their own[14].


  1. Other changes to make Parliament work better for MPs who are parents or carers


3.1  Shared parental Leave

Parliament needs to reflect the real world in which parenting is a valued role and this applies to men as well as to women. Shared Parental leave provisions should be in place for both men and women, as this will challenge the pervasive stereotype of women are primarily responsible for childcare, which makes life in the workplace harder for women.

3.2  Collect data on parents in Parliament

Professor Rosie Campbell and Professor Sarah Childs have collected data on parents in parliament to highlight the persistence and concerning issue of the motherhood gap. This data is needed to measure progress and identify continuing issues. Centenary Action Group recommends that the House conducts (in house) a third parents in parliament survey.

3.3  Locum MPs

There is currently no parental leave in place for MPs to ensure that they access cover for the work that they do outside of the constituency. Parental leave is also essential to ensure that constituents do not have reduced representation whilst an MP is on parental leave. There is no formal or automatic IPSA process of securing cover for parental leave and, as highlighted by Stella Creasy MP, the contingency process is not fit for purpose. 

Centenary Action Group urges the Procedure Committee to commence a consultation on automatic access to funding for a locum cover should an MP be taking parental leave. The current system is forcing new parent MPs to choose between their child and their constituents.



the UK Parliament should be showing global leadership and be on the forefront of progressive, family-friendly working policies by introducing proxy voting for baby leave. The introduction of permanent proxy voting for baby leave would be a small, but symbolically important step.



[1] Childs, S., (2016) “The Good Parliament” Available at: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/news/2016/july/20%20Jul%20Prof%20Sarah%20Childs%20The%20Good%20Parliament%20report.pdf

[2] Results of the 2017 parenthood survey carried out Campbell and Childs with the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, see: Campbell, R. & Childs, S., (2018). “Where’s Mum? She’s in the House – Parents in Parliament”. PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group. Available at: https://psawomenpolitics.com/2018/10/01/wheres-mum-shes-in-the-house-parents-in-parliament/

[3] Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs (2019) Where’s Mum? She’s in The House – Parents in Parliament

[4] MP Lucy Powell responds to 'lazy MP' Sun newspaper list (2013). BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-25382695

[5] Childs, S., (2016) “The Good Parliament” Available at: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/news/2016/july/20%20Jul%20Prof%20Sarah%20Childs%20The%20Good%20Parliament%20report.pdf

[6] The Fawcett Society (2019) Written Submission to Gender Sensitive Parliament (House of Commons) inquiry

[7] Childs, S., (2016) “The Good Parliament” Available at: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/news/2016/july/20%20Jul%20Prof%20Sarah%20Childs%20The%20Good%20Parliament%20report.pdf

[8] The Fawcett Society (2019) Written Submission to Gender Sensitive Parliament (House of Commons) Inquiry

[9] Ellie Reeves (2019) Written Submission to Proxy Voting: Review of Pilot Arrangements Inquiry

[10] Khambalia, Amina & Roberts, Christine & Nguyen, Martin & Algert, Charles & Nicholl, Michael & Morris, Jonathan. (2013). Predicting date of birth and examining the best time to date a pregnancy. International journal of gynaecology and obstetrics: the official organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.

[11] Kemi Badenoch (2019) Written Submission to Proxy Voting: Review of Pilot Arrangements Inquiry

[12] Ellie Reeves (2019) Written Submission to Proxy Voting: Review of Pilot Arrangements Inquiry

[13] Kemi Badenoch (2019) Written Submission to Proxy Voting: Review of Pilot Arrangements Inquiry

[14] Chloe Smith (2019) Written Submission to Proxy Voting: Review of Pilot Arrangements Inquiry