Politicians told to get back to work as majority have not voted in person for months

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Commons - Jessica Taylor/AFP 
Commons - Jessica Taylor/AFP

MPs are being urged to set an example to the rest of the UK and return to the House of Commons as figures show that nearly 600 of them have all but given up voting in person.

Analysis by the Telegraph of Hansard last week found that 595 out of 650 MPs were no longer voting personally and had asked a proxy - normally a party whip - to do it for them.

Proxy voting is meant to allow MPs to cast a vote on behalf of an absent member. However senior Conservatives believe that some MPs are abusing the system by returning to the Commons but allowing their proxies to vote for them so they can get home early.

One said: "Members of Parliament need to be back in Parliament holding the Government to account. Not shouting from the sidelines. It is time to switch the Zoom off and get back to work, and set an example."

The number of proxies has soared after the Government dropped a requirement that proxy voting only apply because MPs "themselves are at high risk from coronavirus for reasons that they are either 'clinically extremely vulnerable' or 'clinically vulnerable'". It replaced it with a statement that MPs will be able to cast proxy votes if they cannot attend "for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic".

It means that Boris Johnson and other ministers - even though they might be in Whitehall - no longer have to come to the Commons to vote in person.

Last Tuesday’s Hansard report shows that one Government whip - Stuart Andrew MP - controlled the votes of nearly the entire Conservative Parliamentary party - 330 out of 364 Tory MPs.

Sir Charles Walker, vice chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs and chairman of the Commons Administration committee, said some MPs were popping into the Commons and going home without voting.

Sir Charles said: "I entirely understand during the height of the pandemic and the lockdowns why proxy voting was desirable - we wanted to minimise the number of people on the estate.

"But as the nation starts returning to work, I think it is important that Members of Parliament are in step with their constituents.

"One of the things that concerns me most is colleagues returning who are physically present in the House but choosing to remain on proxy as it means that they do not need to stay perhaps later into the evening to vote, they can get home early.

"That is something we need to address. If you are on the premises of the House of Commons you should be voting in the House of Commons."

Just seven MPs out of 650 are said never to have appointed a proxy and insisted on voting in person.

Last September Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh claimed the "great majority" of MPs were using the proxy system for "convenience" rather than because of medical or other reasons connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Edward said: "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."

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg 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."

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