New bill raises prospect of job-sharing disabled MPs


A new private members’ bill that would allow MPs to “job share” for the first time would make it easier for disabled people to stand for parliament, say campaigners.

The Labour MP John McDonnell’s representation of the people (members’ job share) bill had its first reading in the Commons this week, and has secured cross-party backing.

The bill would allow two people from the same political party to stand for a parliamentary constituency as a joint team and would open up the possibility of becoming an MP to many disabled people who might not be able to cope with a full-time role.

Among those backing the bill is the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation, which reported two years ago on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

Other supportive MPs include the Green MP Caroline Lucas, Conservative MP Robert Halfon and Jon Cruddas, the influential MP who is heading Labour’s policy review.

McDonnell told MPs this week that disabled people’s organisations had “expressed the view that there are some people whose particular conditions mean that, although they wish to serve as MPs, they physically would be unable to do so on a full-time basis”, while groups representing women and carers had made similar points.

He said job sharing was now a reality “in virtually every walk of life” and that the Commons “should not be the last bastion standing against a measure that could increase access for women and, in particular, for carers and people with disabilities”.

But the Conservative MP David Nuttall said the idea was “outrageous” and that “a parliament made up of Tweedledees and Tweedledums would open up a constitutional can of worms”.

He said: “The proposal starts off as a politically correct attempt to increase diversity, but ends up as a potentially dangerous attempt at constitutional meddling that would break the historical link between an MP and their constituency.”

Although campaigners have been calling for the law to be changed to allow job share MPs since the 1990s, the latest push has come from Disability Politics UK, a group of disabled campaigners.

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, who herself attempted to stand as a job share parliamentary candidate at the last election and helped shape the bill, and has also set up a petition to call for a change in the law, said such legislation would “help us get more disabled MPs into parliament”.

She said the move was particularly important because there had been “such a lot of legislation that has severely affected disabled people, particularly under the coalition”, but there were only a small handful of disabled MPs able to speak in Commons debates from their own lived experience.

Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, who is also backing the bill, said: “Policies approved by parliament need to be informed by first-hand experience of the lives of the people they affect.

“That is why the House of Commons needs to be more representative and to have more disabled MPs.”

The bill’s second reading is expected next week.

22 November 2012