Several MPs are voting by proxy as they cannot be bothered to travel to the House of Commons, a former minister has suggested.
Conservative Sir Edward Leigh, a devout Catholic and president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, claimed the “great majority” are using the proxy system for “convenience” rather than because of medical or other reasons connected to the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures were introduced earlier this year to allow MPs to nominate a colleague to cast a vote on their behalf if medical or public health reasons prevented them from attending the parliamentary estate.
The criteria for a proxy vote include if an MP is self-isolating, if they are based in an area subject to a local lockdown, childcare responsibilities or public transport issues.
Sir Edward, the MP for Gainsborough, told the Commons: “This whole system has now been corrupted. There are huge numbers of Members of Parliament who have proxy votes.
“I don’t actually believe the great majority of them are actually shielding or are medically ill or anything else.
“I think it’s just for convenience.
“Really this shows the creeping danger of what’s going on.”
He added: “If you want to vote in virtually all circumstances you should just take the trouble and just turn up here.”
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, also a devout Catholic, replied: “I hope (Sir Edward) is wrong in saying people are abusing the system because I think we have to have a system that works on trust.”
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “It is a fairly broad definition because the circumstances are changeable and to some extent unknowable and it seems only fair to allow members, on their own say so, to say to Mr Speaker that they feel they are in such a position that they need a proxy.”
Sir Edward intervened: “Why do we see some people who have a proxy vote one week and here the next week, or we see they have a proxy vote but are wandering around the corridors?
“I’m sorry, we all know this is being abused and I want the Leader of the House to give a firm commitment that he will not have this creeping corruption into our procedures.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said MPs with a proxy vote must not appear in the chamber, adding they should also not be in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster.
“If they can be here they ought to be voting in person and I feel that any member who behaved in that way would not be behaving within the spirit of the temporary standing order,” Mr Rees-Mogg added.
His remarks came as MPs debated extending proxy voting during the Covid-19 pandemic until 3rd November and considered a permanent system of proxy voting for MPs with a newborn child, childcare issues or a newly-adopted child.
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper later disagreed with Sir Edward’s assessment, telling the debate: “I do not believe that there are significant numbers of members in this House…who don’t want to be here.
“My experience is Members of Parliament work really hard to get to this House and they want to be here.
“I certainly love my constituency and I love being at home but I wouldn’t trade it for being here, but we do have to recognise there are many colleagues (who cannot be here) either because of their own health, shielding responsibilities, there are a variety of reasons.
Picture: Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough. (House of Commons/PA).