Last month (March 2017) Dawn Butler made history by becoming the first MP to use British Sign Language (BSL) to pose a question in the House of Commons. She asked whether the Government would give BSL a legal status alongside other recognised languages. As Ms Butler said in a subsequent article :
We need to make parliament representative of wider society. One important part of this is to make parliament as open and accessible as possible.
Representation Means More Than Voting and Consultation
This is a crucial point. Vital in any inclusive political system is the ability for all groups in society to be represented and influence every aspect of Government policy, not just be called into committees when the members feel like it! Inclusion means having an input in the formulation of policy in the first place rather than being limited to commenting and voting on the agendas of others. In a review of political representation of women and BME communities Karen Bird quoted researcher Melissa Williams:
“…the only hope that marginalised group presence will have a lasting effect on policy outcomes is that decisions are based not only on the counting of votes but also on the sharing of reasons.”
The same argument, of course, applies to any other community group. But consider the figures. In the current House of Commons (April 2017) between 2 and 5 MPs are considered physically disabled, depending on the criteria applied. Yet to be representative, on even the more narrow of definitions of diability, there would need to be 65 MPs.