When I first became an MP, I enjoyed making a lot of short videos explaining how Parliament works and some of the strange quirks of the place.
I was a schoolteacher before I was a Member of Parliament and I think it was probably the educationalist in me bursting to get out.
I spent the first couple of weeks walking around getting lost around all the corridors, so it was a little like starting your first week at secondary school. I also got told off for filming as apparently you aren’t supposed to do it without getting permission first! Oops.
Some of the unusual things I would be asked about included how the seating arrangements work in the Commons chamber, why during the morning prayers MPs turn away from each other and face the wall, and why Parliament’s cloakroom has the name of the constituency on the peg rather than your own name.
More importantly though, one question I have been asked recently is how proxy voting works in the House of Commons.
Traditionally, MPs vote in areas called lobbies. These are located either side of the Commons Chamber and there is one lobby for ‘AYE’ votes and one lobby for ‘NO’ votes. Usually, the lobbies are great places to speak to Ministers and this gives MPs an opportunity to raise issues which are important to their constituencies.
After each vote is called, a bell will ring and MPs have a limited number of minutes to decide which lobby they wish to cast their vote in.
After this time expires, the doors to each of these lobbies is locked, so if you don’t arrive in time you can’t vote, or if you are stuck in one lobby you can’t then change your mind! Votes can be called at any time, so sometimes MPs have to rush across the estate from other meetings or committees they may be involved in.
At times it can be quite a crush.
With the onset of Covid, a socially-distanced queuing system was developed whereby the time for voting was extended. This caused very long queues out of the building (imagine there are 650 MPs and sometimes you could have seven or eight different votes in a row) and was at times impractical.
Another system was then introduced called proxy voting. This enabled MPs to nominate an individual to vote on their behalf. This individual could potentially have proxy votes for many MPs at the same time.
An MP informs the proxy which way they wish to vote and the proxy will cast it on their behalf. The proxy does not decide which way the MP votes. Some MPs will be working from home and others will be on site in Westminster. Even MPs in Westminster have asked for their votes to be cast by a proxy.
So as we look towards the end of Covid restrictions, I’m looking forward to things returning to normal in those busy lobbies – but in the meantime proxy voting is just common sense.