The Liberal Democrats have become the first of the three main political parties to accept all of the disability-related recommendations of a committee set up to increase the diversity of MPs.
The Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation made 71 recommendations aimed at increasing the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
Recommendations include calling on parties to produce regular online reports on the diversity of their candidates, setting targets for the diversity of their MPs for 2015 and 2020, and publishing clear access policies and campaign documents in alternative formats.
The report also recommended setting up a ring-fenced scheme to support disabled candidates, and another fund to help disabled MPs make reasonable adjustments to support their constituency work, as well as organising mentoring or “buddy” schemes to match up first-time disabled candidates with seasoned MPs.
The Liberal Democrats said they were “happy to accept all of the recommendations” from the report that relate to disabled people, and already offered documents in alternative formats and a buddy scheme, which includes places for disabled candidates.
The Conservative Party said it would respond to the recommendations “in due course”, but already offered mentoring for candidates, including those who were disabled.
It also said it would set up a £1 million access to public life fund, which would meet extra costs of disabled candidates for public office, including Parliament and local councils. Reports suggest the money would be spread over four years.
A Labour Party spokesman said its disabled members group was considering the report and the party’s national executive committee would “listen to their recommendations before giving a final response”, although he said the party already ran a mentoring scheme and “ensures all the national party’s campaign literature complies with accessibility guidelines”.
A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said it welcomed the report but would respond formally “in due course”.
She said the government was introducing an amendment to the equality bill to force political parties to report on the diversity of their candidate selections.
Meanwhile, the government has again signalled it is willing to remove a law that discriminates against MPs with mental health conditions.
The Mental Health Act states that MPs who are sectioned under the act for at least six months must lose their seats, but the Speaker’s Conference said the law should be repealed.
Now justice minister Michael Wills has described the current situation as “clearly untenable” and said the issue should be discussed by a select committee.
His comments were welcomed by Mark Harper, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, who originally attempted to change the law through an amendment to the equality bill last year.
Harper said: “Parliament needs to be able to lead the way in breaking down the stigma and prejudice faced by people with mental health problems, and that is very difficult when these outdated laws are still in force.”
28 January 2010