MPs have voted in favour of allowing MPs who have recently become parents to nominate a colleague to cast their votes in parliament under a new system of “baby leave”.
Senior Labour and Conservative members Harriet Harman and Maria Miller had brought a proposal to modernise the way the House of Commons accommodates new mothers and fathers.
It was passed by acclamation on Thursday after no one opposed the motion to give new parents in the House a proxy vote.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, said the government was in favour of the idea but expressed reservations about introducing the concept of proxy voting into the Commons, where MPs have to vote in person.
The Commons procedure committee will now have to come up with firm proposals for MPs to adopt.
Earlier, Harman told the Guardian: “There are over 200 women now and many are young women. There are always parliamentary babies in the pipeline and we need to sort out a system.
“We need to get on with it. There are two more babies in the offing, more as time goes on and it is long overdue that we deal with this. So, I’m looking to the house to give a real mandate to the procedure committee to get on with implementing it.”
Harman and Miller, who is the Conservative chair of the women and equalities select committee, argued that MPs who have young babies are confronted with an outdated system.
Currently MPs who want time with newborn babies ask parliamentary whips for “a pair” – under which system it is agreed that an MP from the opposing party will also miss any votes. Harman will argue that this means the “vote to which their constituency is entitled is not cast”.
That has led to social media campaigns criticising MPs for not voting on important issues or newspapers drawing up voting “league tables” that portray the politicians as lazy.
Lucy Powell, who was elected to Manchester Central in a 2012 byelection when she was 14 weeks’ pregnant, said she faced media criticism because it was not understood that she had taken time off as maternity leave.
She said the Sun had branded her Britain’s second laziest MP because it looked at her voting record and didn’t realise she was on leave. “They had to issue a full apology,” she said. Powell returned to Westminster when her baby, Tom, was four months old.
Under the proposals, politicians would be able to choose an MP to vote by proxy, but Harman made clear there would be no requirement to do that. Moreover, MPs could still request a pairing, and the issue would not affect pay.
In a briefing note, Harman and Miller said: “We set rules for people outside the house to take maternity, paternity and shared parental leave, and yet we ourselves have no system.”
The modernisation drive came after Harman warned against parliament portraying what she called the “Rees-Mogg model” of fatherhood. Labour’s former deputy leader hit out at the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, accusing him of being a “deadbeat dad” and a poor example to fathers. She criticised him after he said he was no “modern man” and had never changed a nappy following the birth of his sixth child, Sixtus.
Harman said: “What model of fatherhood do we want parliament to portray? The ‘Rees-Mogg model’ or the modern father who – as well as the mother – is involved with a newborn?”
Miller told the Guardian: “Introducing proxy voting for new parents is a small step towards bringing the House of Commons into the 21st century. It isn’t enough by itself and needs to go hand in hand with more significant reform.”