Westminster Diary: Three cheers for common sense
PUBLISHED: 11:00 18 June 2020
Welcome to my Westminster diary. Each week, I’ll be giving a behind-the-scenes take on what life is really like as a new MP. From jeering and bobbing, procedures and prayers, I’ll be lifting the lid on the mother of all Parliaments. Think ‘The Thick of It’ not ‘House of Cards’!
The week was marked with three wins for common sense. First, MPs agreed to extend proxy voting, normally only allowed for MPs who are new parents, to any MP unable to attend Westminster for medical or public health reasons related to
This followed the row last week where all MPs who were shielding or without childcare were going to be excluded from taking part virtually. Now the government has backed down, those MPs will be able to vote by proxy and participate in debates virtually.
But there was one anomaly left: MPs who are carers. The government persisted in its refusal to let them participate remotely.
The Speaker granted my party an emergency debate. In it, the Leader of the House emphasised that those who care for shielders can leave the house. He seemed unaware that many of the usual care support systems used by these MPs when at Westminster are simply unavailable because of COVID-19.
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Indeed, this is precisely the case facing one of my colleagues who, for the last two weeks, has been forced to choose between caring for his disabled wife or representing his constituents.
Thankfully, by the end, common sense seemed to have prevailed a second time with a commitment to “look very seriously” at extending online participation and voting rights to MP-carers.
Third, in a bizarre twist of fate, it appeared that the Leader of the House - who had fought so vociferously against digital modernisation - might have inadvertently moved Parliament closer to digital voting.
MPs noticed that electronic card reading machines had quietly appeared in the voting lobbies. We learnt that in an apparent bid to avoid repeating the hugely embarrassing “conga queue” of voting MPs, new plans were being drawn up to let MPs vote by beeping their parliamentary passes.
Needless to say there was a little bit of mickey-taking towards the Leader of the House or ‘the honourable member for the 18th century’ as he is commonly known.
Having spent the best part of 10 days trying to restore the right of all MPs to take part and vote in parliamentary proceedings we braced ourselves for the torrent of legislation the government said it was so impatient to push through.
But to no avail. MPs were presented with just a few technical pieces of legislation that largely went through ‘on the nod’.
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