Making the virtual parliament permanent for MPs who need it would open up Westminster to more disabled politicians
The hybrid parliament with a fixed speaking list, clear and transparent timings and no ‘bobbing’ up and down waiting to be invited to speak has been liberating, writes Daisy Cooper MP. | PA Images
The benefits of in-person parliament are clear, but virtual measures would be more welcoming for disabled MPs, MPs that travel many miles to Wesminster and also those with caring responsibilities.
As an MP with a hidden disability, the pandemic has unexpectedly levelled the playing field for me in my workplace - the House of Commons.
I’m not saying that the Westminster authorities have suddenly evolved to smoothly accommodate disabled people, or anyone with a long term health condition, but the introduction of the virtual parliament has really made a big difference.
No sprints to vote at the drop of a hat; no more the endurance test of sitting in the chamber for hours on end, or waiting for evening votes without knowing when you’ll be able to attend to medical needs.
The hybrid parliament with a fixed speaking list, clear and transparent timings and no ‘bobbing’ up and down waiting to be invited to speak has been liberating.
Virtual measures have gone a long way to open up parliament like never before
This has not just helped MPs with disabilities but also MPs that travel many miles to Wesminster each week and those - often but not always women - with caring responsibilities or single parents.
Virtual measures have gone a long way to open up parliament like never before.
Our MPs are now seen as less remote and facing the same challenges as families everywhere - juggling work, home schooling and caring responsibilities from their kitchen tables or front rooms.
Yet there remains a visible lack of diversity amongst our elected representatives, not least the shocking lack of disabled voices. 20% of the population are disabled. More than half of these 14 million people are women. Yet, less than 1% of the UK and Scottish parliaments’ representatives are disabled.
By simply allowing more flexibility in the way parliament operates, parliament would start to look more welcoming to more people who want to take an active part in our political life.
I am not advocating that virtual proceedings should take the place of in-person parliamentary business. The benefits of in-person are clear. But it should be permanently available as an option for those that need it.
Centenary Action Group’s new report ‘The Remotely Representative House’ shows that adopting modern technology on a permanent basis would make the House of Commons more welcoming for those working there but also be more in tune with the needs and interests of British voters.
Parliament has been given a once in a generation opportunity to bring the House into the 21st century. Now MPs must think of the long-term gains for UK democracy and seize the moment to evolve.
Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans.