MPs say more disabled candidates must fight general election


An influential committee of MPs has called for political parties to select a “significantly” higher proportion of disabled people to fight winnable seats at the next general election.
The historic Speaker’s Conference – the first for more than 30 years – is chaired by the Commons speaker, and aims to find ways to increase the number of disabled, female and ethnic minority MPs.
Its interim report says parties should take advantage of the high number of MPs retiring at the next election.
It says each party should select “a significantly greater proportion” of disabled candidates to fight seats where one of their own MPs is retiring than at the 2005 election, as well as ensuring “significantly” more candidates in such seats are from an ethnic minority and at least half are women.
So far, about one in seven MPs is standing down, and their parties have yet to announce candidates for 40 of these 89 seats.
But the report says parties must show leadership, as they have been reluctant to nominate disabled people, women and ethnic minorities to winnable seats.
The report calls on each party to produce a report by 12 October, describing which candidates identified as disabled people, and how candidates were selected, as well as their gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Each party should also appoint an officer to support disabled candidates’ access requirements.
The report says increasing diversity would make the Commons “more just, legitimate and effective”, following the “unprecedented public anger” about MPs’ expenses, and would be a “very practical way” for parties to show they “sincerely wish to change the culture of politics”.
The full report, due later this year, will deal with issues such as parliament’s culture and procedures.
Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, strongly welcomed the report and added: “A legislature that better reflected our lived experiences would lead to greater mainstreaming of disability equality and better policies across the board.”
RADAR called for the repeal of laws that say MPs must lose their seats if detained under mental health laws for over six months; a review of selection processes to ensure they are inclusive and accessible; leadership development programmes for disabled people; and funding to help disabled candidates meet access requirements.
Abigail Lock, head of advocacy and campaigns for Scope, said the report was a “compelling call to action”, and public demand for “wholesale change” at Westminster provided a “unique opportunity” to boost the number of disabled MPs.
16 July 2009