Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, on 2 June 2020.
I have a great deal of support for the view of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that debates held in this place without intervention are sterile and that we are failing to scrutinise the Government adequately. However, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I have to endorse the comments of the shadow Leader of the House: these measures do not just look discriminatory—they are discriminatory.
Instantly, a number of groups with protected characteristics are excluded. Those who are pregnant or new mothers, or older Members, might be advised not to come here via public transport. The underlying health conditions of either Members or their families are, to be frank, none of our business, but they will be excluded, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has been. I appreciate the lengths to which Mr Speaker has gone to ensure that we have adequate arrangements for queuing, but how suitable are they for people with disabilities, including hidden disabilities?
Covid has too often been described as a great leveller, in that anyone can catch it—we saw that from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—but its unequal impact is well documented. Older people, men, those from BAME backgrounds and those with underlying health conditions now have a very stark choice: stay at home and play no part in proceedings, losing your right to cast your vote on legislation, or come here and expose yourself and your family to greater risk.
I absolutely accept that this House is not our employer, but good employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that workers with disabilities and health conditions are not substantially disadvantaged. By taking away the ability to vote remotely, we are substantially disadvantaging those people. I would argue that the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) are, in fact, a reasonable adjustment, and for that reason I will be supporting them this afternoon.