It's an outmoded system that makes life harder for MPs who are parents, pregnant or unwell. So why isn't parliament moving on?by Marie Le Conte / January 16, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit has done many things to our political discourse—most of them bad. A bleakly amusing one is that it keeps shining a light on odd and outdated bits of parliamentary procedure.
Take the case of Jo Swinson last summer. The Liberal Democrat MP had recently given birth and was due to be “paired” with Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis on a knife edge vote, meaning that he would not go vote either, thus cancelling out her absence. He did vote in the end, and chaos ensued.
This brings us to what happened this week, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq postponing her caesarian to be in the Commons for the Meaningful Vote, and why it happened: Siddiq said she no longer trusted the pairing system.
“We urgently need a better system for women who are heavily pregnant or MPs who are seriously ill”, said Labour MP Diana Johnson. “In any other workplace this would not be tolerated.”
“I fully understand that the role of an MP is a unique one but new ways of treating MPs with decency and compassion, as we would expect for our constituents, is long overdue.”
It did not have to go this way; over the past year, MPs have debated the idea of proxy voting twice, but things are yet to change. This is partly because Westminster has a lot on its collective plate at the moment, and partly because a wider discussion needs to be had about voting in Parliament.
After all, the current system is laughably antiquated; whenever the division bell rings on the estate, MPs have precisely eight minutes to leg it to the lobbies, then have to loiter for a while.
Each vote takes around 15 minutes, and there are a lot of them; according to research by the Institute for Government, MPs spent just under 48 hours in divisions between June 2017 and June 2018.
This doesn’t feel like the best use of parliamentarian’s time, but there are reasons why voting still works this way. In a place where there are few official rules and most processes are dictated by…