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Disabled People: Elections

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018

We are undertaking a programme of work with disability organisations to help political parties better support disabled candidates. In the meantime, to ensure that support is in place for the local elections next year, we have launched the £250,000 EnAble fund, which is an interim fund to support disabled candidates.

In May, my right hon. Friend made a commitment to work with political parties to help support disabled candidates. Can she give a further update on how that work is going?

We are making good progress. We have met a number of political parties and disability organisations, including Disability Rights UK and Mencap, and those meetings will continue into the new year. It is very important that political parties support all candidates; by sharing good practice and doing this work in a much more methodical way, I hope that all political parties will be able to do so in the coming years.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right that political parties must play their part in allowing more people with disabilities to run for office. During the Ask Her To Stand campaign, Members took it upon themselves to invite women into the House to be able to understand its functions. Does she think that it could be an option to consider inviting disabled constituents into this place, as well as council chambers and devolved Administrations, so that Parliament can become more open? People could then get a better understanding of this place and not think of it as some sort of isolated institution that they could never possibly serve in.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. We should be doing that, and I encourage all political parties to do so. People who support various political parties are looking at replicating organisations such as Women2Win, which we have in the Conservative party, and at what further support and schemes can be put in place to encourage people from a whole range of backgrounds and situations to be able to run for office. We need to make the Chamber a much more diverse place.

We do not just want disabled people to stand for election; we want them to be elected to this place, yet this workplace here takes so little account of disabled people’s needs. Would it not be better to have more predictable working hours and voting patterns, similar to practices in other Parliaments, to encourage more disabled people to stand for election and to help all Members with caring responsibilities?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember previous conversations I have had with you, Mr Speaker, in a former role I held. It is not just the practice here; it is actually the fabric of the building. With the refurbishments, we have an opportunity to ensure that anyone who has the talents to come and work here is able to do so. I know that hon. Members, including some who are sitting on the Government Front Bench today, have disabled people working in their constituency offices very successfully, but when they have tried to allow people to work in this building, it has proved impossible.

Merry Christmas to all, when it comes. I would particularly like to thank you, Mr Speaker, on behalf of the all-party group for disability, for expanding your internship programme to ensure that people with disabilities gain experience of working in this House and overcome barriers to politics. What more can be done to use this type of excellent leadership to promote internships for people with disabilities internationally?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to pay tribute to Mr Speaker for the internship programme, which has been very successful and is very much appreciated. I hold the Women and Equalities brief alongside my role in the Department for International Development. That provides an opportunity, because there is huge synergy between what we in the UK are doing to meet our own global goals and meeting our responsibility to the developing world. The work initiated by the global disability summit is gathering huge pace and momentum around the world to enable other countries, whether through new legislation or sharing best practice and ideas, to make progress for their own disabled communities.