In a historic change MPs have voted to introduce a new system of proxy voting in the Commons to help politicians on parental leave.
Abandoning the much-criticised “pairing” system, the new rules will allow an MP to nominate a colleague to vote on their behalf, rather than having to physically attend parliament themselves.
The change will be subject to a one-year trial after MPs backed it without a division, and will be in place in time for Tuesday’s crunch vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
It comes after Labour MP Tulip Siddiq felt she had to postpone a Caesarean section in order to vote on the PM’s deal earlier this month.
Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader who pushed for the changes to be made, said: “I profoundly believe that all new parents should be able to spend uninterrupted time with their new baby,” she said. “This is vital for both the physical and mental well-being of parents and babies.”
Conservative Andrea Jenkyns told of the “guilt” she felt as a mum to a newborn and having to “drag a three-week-old baby across the country” in order to vote.
“I lost count of the number of times I was called at the last minute to come and vote. I recall one occasion when I jumped on a train, baby in tow, voted, and got back to Yorkshire at 11 o’clock at night, only to receive a call saying that I needed to be back the next day,” she said.
Before the change, parliament operated a “pairing” system where if an MP from one party was unable to vote, an MP from the opposing side would agree to abstain in order to cancel out the numbers.
But the informal agreement was at risk of being undermined, and the issue was hotly debated after the Conservatives were accused of breaking it during a series of crucial votes on Brexit.
During a Commons debate last week, proxy voting won cross-party support.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson, who recently had a baby, welcomed the move but warned it did not go far enough.
“We have waited long enough for this change. Modernising the House of Commons is a slow and laborious process – frankly, it is often quite like childbirth – so let us get on with it,” she said.
Swinson was a victim of the former system, after the politician she was paired with, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, still voted. He has since apologised for an “honest mistake” by whips.
Labour’s former acting leader Harriet Harman joked the change had come “31 years too late” for her, but was an important step.
“There are many babies of members on both sides of the House in the offing. They are blissfully unaware of the Brexit debate, but these Brexit babies cannot wait, so I am delighted that we are getting on with it,” she said.