The Labour party has refused to say if it will take any action to support a newly-elected disabled MP who has been prevented from taking part in some House of Commons debates because of access barriers.
Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week how Labour’s Jared O’Mara had been unable to attend a couple of debates in the Commons chamber because there were no seats free and he cannot stand for longer than five or 10 minutes.
O’Mara (pictured, centre), who was elected for the first time in Sheffield Hallam last month, told DNS last week: “There has been a couple of times where I have not been able to get a seat and so I have not been able to attend.
“The thing is with the Commons chamber, it is 650 MPs but there’s not 650 seats, so for busy events… there’s not enough seats for everybody. It’s ridiculous in this day and age.”
The story caused outrage among many on social media, with Twitter and Facebook users branding it “shocking”, “grotesque”, “ridiculous”, “appalling” and a “disgrace”, while another said the Commons was “not a seat of #democracy unless everybody can sit in it”.
Another said: “The thought of a disabled MP with nowhere to sit during a Commons debate takes my breath away.”
But one disabled person, who said he previously worked in parliament, was critical of O’Mara.
He said on Twitter that the MP could obtain a “prayer card” from a member of Commons staff, which he could use to reserve a seat for the remainder of that day if the chamber was likely to be busy.
When asked what steps it was taking to ensure that O’Mara was able to take part in the work of parliament whenever he needed to, a Labour spokesman said in a statement: “Parliamentary authorities should take the concerns of Members of Parliament with disabilities seriously and make every effort to ensure they are able to carry out their jobs effectively.”
Asked whether this meant it was taking no action to support O’Mara to address this access issue, the party had failed to reply by noon today (Thursday).
The House of Commons refused to comment last week on the issue of seating in the chamber.
It said instead that it “aims to provide a positive, inclusive working environment where people are valued for the skills and experience they bring to work, whilst being representative of the society they serve”, which means “making parliament more accessible, diverse and free from discrimination and meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010”.