Jo Swinson on the lack of urgency to change Parliament’s voting system

Jo was understandably furious when her pairing arrangement with the Tory chair, Brandon Lewis, was violated. She spoke about the experience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday evening.

According to the Express and Star, she said:

The mechanism of pairing is outdated and just doesn’t work.

We need a different system, which would be proxy voting, so that when you had an MP that was on parental leave, they would entrust another MP of their choice to vote on their behalf.

This is something that the House of Commons actually discussed earlier this year, and one of the committees went away and did a lot of work on how technically that could work, and produced some motions that parliament could vote on.

But those changes have been “kicked into the long grass” by the Government.

What’s most frustrating is that this was something which there was a possibility for there to be a solution before all of this happened, that the Government had deliberately said ‘we don’t think that’s necessary yet, it’s not urgent, so we’ll just kick it into the long grass – we won’t have this vote, this discussion.

Even now, they’ve tabled a debate on proxy voting for September, but that’s not going to be a debate where we actually change the procedure, so that will kick it on to another three months later.

It’s the lack of urgency to actually make the change, coupled with the Government not making the existing system work properly, that’s so frustrating.


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  • I think a compelling reason to not allow proxy voting is that one of the founding principle of parliament is that of debate. I would like MPs to attend the debate on a bill, and listen to the arguments on both sides before they vote. I’ve had my mind changed on many occasions after listening to a good debate, and am sure not all MPs think they know it all and have pre-decided their view even before the debate has happened. I appreciate many people view parliament as tribal and with plenty of donkey voting (there is a lot of this), but it hasn’t always been, and there are dozens (but sadly not hundreds) of very thoughtful MPs who do actually consider the things that are being voted on. I fear proxy voting will only further encourage such tribalism and detachment from the thinking behind the voting process

  • Frank Bowles 25th Aug '18 - 9:27am

    James, the pairing system already allows MPs to miss votes and it is an insufficient mechanism to allow MPs their legal rights to be on parental or special leave. Relatively few MPs attend most debates, as they have many other things to do, and they can follow debates in their offices on Parliamentary TV. If proxy voting is made more widely available is a question for Parliament but it is a must when MPs have a legal right not to be there.

  • Drew Tinsley 25th Aug '18 - 4:31pm

    Good point about debate James, but what’s alternative do you suggest, pairing seems not to work (possibly confidently). Frank also makes a good point about MPs don’t have to be in chamber for debate anyway and frequently aren’t! This seems to be a good counter for James’ point about MPs being present for debates, they don’t have to properly listen and perhaps don’t (good way to catch-up on sleep). But like Frank said what about those legally absent; so any other suggestions?
    I have one (possibly two) to add to proxy voting – make debate attendance compulsory (and second jobs illegal for MPs).

  • Is this a case where perhaps MPs should “take back control” of their own processes from the executive?

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