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Speaker accuses government whips of blocking commons baby leave reforms

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow reads the result of a vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal in the House of Commons, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday January 15, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire

By Richard Wheeler and Dan O'Donoghue, Press Association Political Staff

John Bercow was embroiled in fresh Commons clashes with ministers as he accused the Government of blocking proposals to allow MPs on baby leave to vote by proxy.

The Speaker said there had been a "lamentable failure of leadership" to introduce changes to allow a colleague to register a vote on behalf of an MP absent on maternity or paternity leave.

His remarks came after Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said pregnant Labour MP Tulip Siddiq came to the Commons to vote on the Brexit deal despite pairing arrangements being offered, which means someone from the other side would not have voted to prevent an unfair advantage.

Mrs Leadsom added she was "extremely concerned" about the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn's welfare and wished her "all health and happiness" with her new baby, adding: "I do personally wish that she would follow the advice of her doctors."

Ms Siddiq delayed a Caesarean operation to attend Tuesday's Brexit deal vote in a wheelchair.

She was also "nodded through" in Wednesday's no-confidence motion in the Government, which allows an MP to be counted as having voted without passing through the division lobby although they must be present on the parliamentary estate.

Mr Bercow told the Commons: "The Government whips' office is blocking progress on this matter, but let's hope some progress will be made before too long."

After some Tory MPs, including business minister Claire Perry, expressed their frustration at his remarks, the Speaker added: "That's the situation, that's the reality, that's the evidence, it's very clear, there's no doubt about it."

Mr Bercow earlier highlighted concerns over the pairing system, in a nod to the Government breaking an arrangement with Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson while she was on maternity leave during a crucial Brexit vote last summer.

He also noted the Commons has twice debated and supported proxy voting in circumstances of baby leave, and said it is "imperative" for action to follow.

Mr Bercow said: "The House has spoken and change must happen. It is a lamentable failure of leadership thus far that it has not done so."

SNP MP Hannah Bardell (Livingston) said she was "fed up" of hearing excuses from Mrs Leadsom about why proxy voting and electronic voting has not been introduced, adding: "For goodness sake this is the 21st century."

Mrs Leadsom said she is "listening very carefully" and explained MPs have raised the need for colleagues with long-term illness, family emergencies and other issues to be accommodated under proxy voting - which others have said they would not support.

She said: "What I'm seeking to do is provide a solution that can command the support of the House."

Mrs Leadsom defended the approach used for Ms Siddiq before reiterating: "I absolutely hope that she will take her own medical advice and not come into this House unnecessarily."

SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart also called for action on the voting arrangements, saying: "Tuesday night was really, really awful.

"Cramped conditions no better than a cattle wagon for Members of Parliament to vote in.

"What does it have to take before we decide to do something about this, does somebody have to give birth in a division lobby before this is tackled seriously?

"Get shot of these ridiculous arrangements for voting in this House."

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