Charity voices anger after MPs ‘mocked Tory with disability’
Paul Maynard canvasses in Blackpool in April 2010. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
A disability charity today rebuked MPs amid claims that Paul Maynard, a Conservative MP with cerebral palsy, had been mocked by members of the opposition during a Commons debate.
Pressure mounted on the Speaker, John Bercow, to investigate after Maynard – who was elected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys in May – told the Times on Saturday that some Labour MPs were “pulling faces” at him in apparent mimicry of his disability as he delivered a speech in October, which he said had been one of the hardest things he had done in his life.
“They were constantly intervening, trying to put me off my stride, which may be just normal parliamentary tactics,” said Maynard, who previously served as an adviser to the defence secretary, Liam Fox, and as a speechwriter for William Hague. “But some were pulling faces at me, really exaggerated gesticulations, really exaggerated faces.”
He added: “Only they know for certain whether they were taking the mick out of my disability. But it felt like it.”
Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said the conduct was “disappointing” and showed how much work still needed to be done to support people with disability in public life.
“Paul Maynard’s election to parliament is a positive step forward in combating the under-representation of disabled people in public life,” Hawkes said.
“Disabled people have a big role to play in enriching our political debate, but they experience a wide range of barriers that prevent them from getting involved, including negative attitudes and assumptions about their capabilities and the inaccessibility of buildings, processes and information.
“We are delighted that the coalition government has supported Scope’s call for more support to help disabled people into public life. But the disappointing behaviour of some MPs in the House of Commons itself shows there is still a lot of work to be done.”
It was claimed today that the Speaker was poised to investigate the incident, but his office was not returning calls this morning.
The equalities chief, Trevor Phillips, put the ball in Bercow’s court following the report, which he said had made him “physically sick”.
Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said Maynard’s account of the incident, which happened during a debate on the abolition of the child trust fund, was “shocking”.
Phillips told The Andrew Marr show it was up to the Speaker to act, saying: “I felt physically sick when I read about it.
“If that had happened in a football ground, the people doing the mocking him would have been on CCTV and they would have been whipped out of the ground and not let back in. That’s one for the Speaker to look at as part of his drive to increase diversity.”
Maynard’s office said the Conservative MP would be making no further comment on the matter.
Other MPs confirmed that the incident had taken place, calling into question the sometimes aggressive nature of the Commons and the issue of greater diversity in parliament.
On his personal website, Maynard describes his cerebral palsy as “very mild” and says it does not especially affect the way he lives.
He adds: “It probably affects the way some people see me, and there will always be people who write you off because of it – but I’ve never let them stop me.”
He was also diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 22. He said the diagnosis was “a shock” and forced him to give up alcohol.
Some critics claimed more fuss would have been raised had the incident involved a Labour MP with a disability being mocked by Tory MPs.
The Labour MP Tom Harris told BBC Radio 5 Live that MPs would not have deliberately mocked somebody for having a disability, saying: “There is not a single member of the House of Commons or any party who would deliberately attack or criticise or mock anyone for a disability.”
Harris, who was not present at the time of the incident, said he understood people were jeering until they realised there was “another issue”.
He said: “Nobody knew about Paul’s disability. If anyone did know about it and still made fun of him that is absolutely appalling and unforgivable.”
He said that, in the period after the election, the atmosphere in the House was at “fever pitch”.
And he said it was in the nature of the Commons that anybody who made a long deliberate pause – as Maynard had done before speaking – would have been made to “pay the price”.
The office of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was approached for comment, but did not return calls.
Sources : Guardian-Health