Parliament ‘urgently exploring’ remote tech options after MP with cancer excluded from debate

Written by Eleanor Langford and Kate Proctor on 18 November 2020 in News

Tracey Crouch was unable to join a debate about breast cancer – for which she is currently being treated

Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/PA Images

The Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that he will work to change the parliamentary rules and expand the use of virtual contributions after an MP with cancer was excluded from a debate on the disease.

Former minister Tracey Crouch (pictured above) — who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer — said she was “disappointingly unable to participate” in a Westminster Hall debate on breast cancer because of a ruling by the Commons leader.

Rees-Mogg said the issue was down to a lack of equipment, telling MPs last week that “broadcasting facilities were already being fully utilised" when Westminster Hall debates recommenced in October. 

“So, it wasn't an issue then of whether we wanted to do it or not, it simply wasn't an option,” he added.

He would later announce on Twitter that he had been "urgently exploring how we can support additional virtual participation in the Commons despite capacity constraints and hope to bring forward a motion soon”,

Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, said that Rees-Mogg had contacted her on Saturday about the plans.

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The announcement, however, did not meet the approval of Labour MP Harriet Harman – who served as Commons leader from 2007 to 2010 – who said that members more should be able to attend.

Earlier, current shadow leader of the house Valerie Vaz said she had written to her counterpart, arguing that the exclusion of Crouch would have been unlawful under employment law in another workplace situation.

In the letter, seen by PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, she said the “outrageous situation” was a “direct result of your discriminatory policies and repeated refusal to give MPs a chance to agree a fair and better system”.

“Legal advice obtained by the shadow solicitor general, Ellie Reeves MP, has shown that if MPs were ‘employees’, then the current rules would likely amount to discrimination on grounds of disability, age, sex and/or pregnancy under the Equality Act,” she continued. “This is not a matter of party politics, but one of fairness. No one should be discriminated against or prevented from contributing in parliamentary debates because of their personal circumstances during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The technology exists and has already been successfully used earlier in the year, furthermore a system of virtual participation is being used in the Lords.”

Vaz went on to suggest a potential “compromise” in which the speaker could allow selected MPs who are physically unable to attend parliament to take part in debates.
The hybrid parliament was introduced in April at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but MPs were encouraged to return to the Commons in June and were only allowed to participate remotely in certain events.

Members are able to put questions to ministers by video link and vote by proxy, but are not allowed to participate in general debates in the Commons or in Westminster Hall.

Several MPs had openly criticised the current system including Labour MP Chris Bryant, who said it was "appalling that Tracey Crouch is excluded from a debate on breast cancer – because she's recuperating from cancer – by Jacob Rees-Mogg rules".

His party colleague Rosie Duffield agreed, writing on Twitter that the situation was “infuriating, ridiculous and wrong on every level”.

And, writing for The House magazine, Harman said that “shutting out MPs who are ill, disabled or far from Westminster is prime macho strutting”.

“Treating someone who’s having chemo as a non-person is disgraceful. If you feel up to participating in your work, you should be supported in doing so - not shut out.” she said.


About the author

Kate Proctor is political editor and Eleanor Langford is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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