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Shadow Disabilities Minister Says Commons Return Is Discriminatory

May 26, 2020

The shadow disabilities minister has claimed she is being discriminated against by the government’s decision to end the virtual parliament and suggest MPs return to Westminster in person.

Vicky Foxcroft, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is shielding on government advice as she takes immunosuppressant medication, said she would not be able to vote in person when parliament returns after the Whitsun recess.

Instead she will be asked to “pair” with an opposition MP so that neither cast a vote, thereby cancelling each other out.

She also has significant concerns that she will not be able to take part in bill committees because no video provision will be made.

The leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has said he expects MPs to return on 2 June because the temporary hybrid system that allowed members to dial in by video-link is not allowing full scrutiny or lawmaking to take place.

Foxcroft, who holds Lewisham Deptford for Labour, said: “I am being disenfranchised from being able to contribute to parliament. As shadow disabilities minister I know people are feeling cut off and naturally I have a lot of important matters that I want to raise about this very matter.

“Right the way through this crisis disabled people have been discriminated against. They need to be at the heart of decision-making and not just an after-thought. They need to be a consideration right from the start of policymaking. The very fact the shadow disabilities minister is being disenfranchised from parliament is yet another example of poor policymaking.”

Rees-Mogg has said he is continuing to work with Commons authorities to find ways for MPs to contribute to proceedings. On voting, he told MPs on Wednesday that if people wanted to make an argument for the longer term about remote voting, they were entitled to do so, but it was “an argument for another day”.

Foxcroft, 42, who was diagnosed last year, said it took her a lot longer than other people to heal and there were knock-on effects from having a low immune system. For example, a common cold can last up to four weeks.

Her health could be seriously endangered if she was to contract coronavirus, and like other people with certain conditions she has been asked to shield herself until 30 June. However, MPs are expected back in just over 10 days’ time.

The Conservative chair of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, who has cerebral palsy and osteoarthritis, said the request for MPs to return to Westminster and end the hybrid parliament was effectively “euthanising’ some members from the Commons.

Foxcroft said online voting had been a vital tool for people in her situation and there was no reason for it to be abandoned.

From 2 June, any divisions will require MPs to pass through the lobbies with a two-metre distance between them. To avoid people bunching together to file past the clerks, they will be ticked off remotely by clerks using a video screen.

The Commons is expected to publish a risk assessment of how parliament can return at the end of next week.

Only MPs are being asked to return because their work is deemed essential. Their staff can remain working from home.

A Commons spokesperson said: “The Speaker continues to be very sympathetic to those who need to stay at home because they are vulnerable, shielding or have caring responsibilities, and continues to represent the views of those MPs affected to both the leader of the house and chief whip.”

Foxcroft said that throughout the pandemic there had been concerns about the way disabled people have been treated, from access to online food shopping to the significant cost of personal protective equipment they are supplying for the people who look after them.

The government has said councils have dedicated Covid-19 helplines designed to offer emergency support, and the Cabinet Office Disability Unit regularly engages with a wide range of disabled persons charities and organisations.

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