Ministers are preparing to vote tomorrow (Tuesday 2 June) on a return to work plan for MPs, which Thompsons Solicitors has found to be discriminatory - if they were considered employees.
The government’s insistence on ending the current ‘hybrid system’ means that where MPs have a disability and are therefore ‘clinically vulnerable’ or ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ it is likely that they would be discriminated against on grounds of disability. Such insistence would also be likely to discriminate on grounds of age, sex and/or pregnancy.
The current hybrid arrangement, means up to 50 MPs can be present in the Chamber to allow for social distancing, and 120 more can join in the debate and all vote remotely. But ending this will mean that those who fall into the above categories won’t be able to participate.
The decision has been met with a backlash from MPs, including shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves, who asked Thompsons for its legal guidance on the situation.
Under the Equality Act 2010, the decision to reconvene a ‘normal’ Parliament would be considered indirect discrimination against older MPs, those with disabilities, women with childcare responsibilities and pregnant women. It would also be likely to amount to discrimination ‘arising from disability’ and a breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the context of disability. There will also be situations where, for example, an alternative childcare provider should (following government guidance) isolate or shield.
But MPs are not considered ‘employees’ for purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
Richard Arthur, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “By choosing deliberately to ignore the needs and circumstances of MPs with protected characteristics, a significant number of whom will fall into the clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable categories, the government is discriminating against those MPs.
“While this may not be in breach of the legislation - because MPs are not considered to be employees – it is nonetheless clear discrimination, which should not be tolerated in parliament.
“The most obvious step would be to continue the current hybrid arrangements. This would not stop those MPs who are able to attend to do so, but it would lessen its discriminatory impact on those who should not.
“Our legal view is that those who are standing up against these plans are right to do so in order that their constituents can continue to have a voice.”
Advice to Shadow Secretary General Ellie Reeves was prepared by Richard Arthur of Thompsons Solicitors and Professor Michael Ford QC.