The leaders of the three main political parties have signaled that they are prepared to take action to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs.
Prime minister Gordon Brown, Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg were giving evidence to the historic Speaker’s Conference, which aims to find ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
Of the three, Clegg spoke most clearly about the barriers facing disabled candidates.
He said he believed there were no “systematic barriers” of discrimination against disabled people within his party, but the problem was that not enough candidates from all minorities were coming forward to be considered.
He said this was because parliament was “off-putting” to potential MPs, with no crèche and no proper access for disabled people.
And he said disabled candidates do not receive financial support for reasonable adjustments in the workplace while they fight their seat, as they would in a normal job.
He said about five per cent of selected Liberal Democrat candidates were disabled people, and many were fighting winnable seats.
The prime minister said Labour recognised disabled people faced barriers in seeking selection, such as access, and “in some cases finance and prejudice”.
Responding to a question from the disabled Labour MP Anne Begg, the conference vice-chair, Brown said “only 2.5 per cent” of Labour candidates have self-declared as disabled people.
He said: “We must therefore try to remove whatever barriers do exist – and I recognise that some of them have to be financial, as well as access, mobility and everything else – to representation.”
He said new laws could be considered “if necessary” to make parliament more representative.
The Conservative leader, David Cameron, failed to mention disabled people in his long opening statement, unlike the other two leaders, but he later suggested, in answer to a question, that his party was considering setting up a fund to support disabled candidates.
He said: “On the issue of disability, and the costs of overcoming disability to be a candidate, I think there may well be a case, and we are looking at this, whether there ought to be some specific fund [for]people with disabilities who want to overcome the problems and be a candidate.”
The conference’s final report is due to be published later this year.
20 October 2009