The speaker of the House of Commons must “take a stance” on calls for new laws that would allow candidates to stand jointly for election as job-share MPs, according to the disabled president of the Liberal Democrats.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton spoke out in frustration at the lack of progress in pushing for a measure that should lead to more disabled people and more women in parliament.
She said: “There is still a structural problem in the way the Westminster bubble thinks about the role of an MP, and until the speaker takes a stance on it – because it’s got to be non-political – we are unlikely to make progress. But we will continue to fight for it.”
Both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have endorsed the idea of job-share MPs, and the Lib Dems included it in their last general election manifesto.
Baroness Brinton (pictured) said: “We are in favour of job-sharing for MPs. We are in favour of it for more than just women.
“We are very clear that job-sharing for MPs is very important for people who have disabilities.”
She points out that the Speaker’s Conference, which reported in 2010 and was chaired by John Bercow, the speaker, did not mention job-share MPs in its 71 conclusions and recommendations, despite making a string of other recommendations for increasing parliamentary representation from under-represented groups including disabled people.
And she said there had been “considerable debate” on the issue in parliament since 2010.
The high-profile nature of that debate was further heightened by the election of Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley as job-sharing co-leaders of the Green party this summer.
Bercow will look again at issues around the diversity of parliament this autumn when he chairs a Commons reference group on representation and inclusion.
That group will consider The Good Parliament, a report written by Professor Sarah Childs, from the University of Bristol, and published in July.
Childs’ research saw her “embedded” full-time in the House of Commons for eight months, with an advisory board chaired by Bercow.
But her report makes no mention of job-sharing MPs – despite a high-profile court case in July 2015 in which two Green party activists argued that they should have been allowed to fight a seat jointly at the general election – apart from a footnote to a brief point made in one of its appendices.
That footnote says that she will be publishing a pamphlet on job-sharing MPs, which she says will be published later this autumn.
A spokeswoman for Bercow said in a statement that it was “well known that the speaker is keen to increase diversity within the House”, but she added: “It is not for a speaker – who in order to chair proceedings in the Commons impartially must remain neutral – to either advocate for or argue against legislation on this or any other matter.”
She said that the issue of job-sharing MPs “may be a proposal that the group chooses to examine in further detail”.
But she declined to ask Bercow whether he would ensure the issue was discussed by the reference group.
Childs declined to say why there was no discussion of job-sharing in her report, whether Bercow had any influence over its content as chair of the advisory board, or whether she would ensure that her pamphlet was passed to the reference group when it was published.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, which campaigns for MPs to be allowed to job-share, said: “Disability Politics UK is looking forward to reading Professor Childs’ pamphlet on job-sharing for MPs.
“With a new prime minister who is a self-proclaimed feminist, we hope that there will be progress on this issue.
“With the boundary changes leading to a reduction in constituencies, job-sharing could help MPs by enabling them to share seats.
“It could lead to a more diverse Commons, and help us get more disabled and women MPs.”