The Conservative party appears to have backed out of a cross-party agreement to publish reports on how many parliamentary candidates are disabled people.
The proposal was a key recommendation of a cross-party “conference” headed by the speaker of the House of Commons, which aimed to increase the number of disabled, female and ethnic minority MPs.
All three main parties backed proposals to produce regular reports on how many of their parliamentary candidates – including those who are not selected to stand for parliament and those who do not become MPs – are disabled, female and from an ethnic minority.
The proposal to publish reports on the diversity of candidates was also backed by an amendment to the government’s equality bill.
But in the final Commons discussion on the bill, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, said that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour agreed that – because of difficulties in identifying disabled candidates – “it probably makes sense to start off with reporting on gender and ethnicity”.
He added: “We can see how that works and whether it drives the necessary change before we consider reporting in other areas.”
But a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “I am not sure where he has got his information from, but categorically it is not true for the Liberal Democrats. We will definitely be monitoring disability.”
And Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference, said both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were already collecting such data and neither had raised any objections to reporting on disability.
She said: “I think the Tories are backtracking now. It does concern me. It is concerning simply because we have a long way to go.”
Begg pledged that, if re-elected, she would focus on helping to correct the “enormous” historical imbalance in the number of disabled MPs.
She added: “In terms of gender and ethnicity we seem to have made big strides, but I think we have got a long way to go with disability. Where gay people were in 1992 is probably where disabled people are now.
“If I get back in then those are the kind of issues I am going to pursue from the perspective of the disabled person in a way I have never done before.
“When the political parties select the next cohort of candidates [after the election], we have to make sure they are from more diverse backgrounds.”
No-one from Mark Harper’s office was available to comment.
8 April 2010