An MP who was wheeled into the Commons to vote on Theresa’s May’s Brexit deal after postponing a Caesarean section has welcomed plans to allow new parents to nominate other members to vote on their behalf.
Labour MP and new mother Tulip Siddiq said a one-year trial of proxy voting for new mothers and fathers in the House of Commons was a “momentous and overdue” change.
Mrs Siddiq was pushed into Parliament in a wheelchair two days before she gave birth so she could vote on the Brexit deal earlier this month.
Responding to an urgent question, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs they will have the chance to approve the pilot on Monday January 28.
She said: “I profoundly believe that all new parents should be able to spend uninterrupted time with their new baby.
“This is vital for both the physical and mental well-being of parents and babies.
“So I absolutely assure the House, I am absolutely committed to making progress on the issue of proxy voting and I am truly delighted to be able to confirm to the House today that a substantive motion on proxy leave in the case of maternity, paternity and adoption has been tabled today for the House’s agreement on Monday 28 January.”
Ms Siddiq tweeted as she nursed newborn Raphael on Tuesday: “Watching the Urgent Question with Raphael who, at just six days old, is delighted to have been mentioned in Hansard, due to the historic introduction of #ProxyVoting in the House of Commons.
“A really momentous (and overdue) change that I welcome.
“I first raised #ProxyVoting after my election in 2015 (see EDM) and was told: ‘don’t try and change rules in the Commons, nothing will change’.
“Well today the rules have changed and new parents will soon be able to cast votes for their constituents.”
In the Commons, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire), who tabled the urgent question, welcomed the pilot scheme but said it was “overdue”.
She said: “I thought things were pretty bad when, back in June, in the heatwave, I was 10 days past my due date – but the Government’s response to the House’s instruction to introduce proxy voting gives a whole new meaning to the word overdue.
“It’s shameful that last week (Tulip Siddiq) was put in the invidious position of having to try to make a choice between potential health risks to her baby and whether or not her constituents could have their voice heard on the biggest issue of our time. Nobody should be put in that position.”
Objecting to the accusation from Conservative MP Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) that Ms Siddiq had delayed her Caesarean unnecessarily to “make a point” on Brexit, Ms Swinson added: “Some have suggested she was just trying to make a point and I think that is disgusting.
“She was put in an impossible position and she made a choice and the judgment that comes from all corners to parents making choices like this and all sorts of others is out of order and I think we should respect the choice she made.”
Ms Swinson pointed out that she herself had been the victim of outdated Commons rules to deal with MPs who cannot be physically present to vote, with only a “pairing” system relying on trusting opposition MPs to abstain on votes.
She said: “It is the Government’s own fault that we’re in a situation where pairing is entirely discredited as a mechanism for pregnant MPs and new parents to discharge their responsibilities.
“I was nursing my two-week-old baby in July when I found out that the person I was paired with had voted anyway, and not voted all day – no, no – he had voted in just the two divisions that happened to be very close.
“So, forgive me if I’m a bit sceptical over the assurances we were given that this was a genuine mistake, because, frankly, the Chief Whip’s behaviour … the result of that was cheating my constituents out of their voice on one of the biggest issues of our time – Brexit.”
Mother of the House, Labour’s Harriet Harman said: “It is 31 years too late for me, but I can say today I am absolutely delighted about this, it’s really important. There are many babies…on all sides of the House who are in the offing at the moment.
“They are blissfully unaware of the Brexit debate but these Brexit babies can’t wait, so I’m delighted we are going to get on with it.”
She added: “I too was Leader of the House and failed to get this through, so whoever succeeds in these long decades of progress, these baby steps into the 21st century, all power to your elbow.”