Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

6  Tackling supply-side barriers

Barriers to access for disabled people

167. We heard a great deal about the barriers which face people who have experienced injury, illness or disability who wish to take part in politics. In this section we discuss these barriers and what might be done to reduce and even remove them.

168. When we talk about injury, illness and disability we mean a wide range of impairments, including:

·  long-term illnesses or serious injury;

·  impairments that affect mobility;

·  impairments that affect the senses, such as blindness or deafness;

·  communications impairments such as stammering;

·  mental health impairments; and

·  learning disabilities.

169. We do not believe in what has been described as the "medical model" for thinking about disability, which considers that the key obstacles encountered by disabled people in everyday life are posed by the welfare or medical situations of those individuals. In recent years many of the traditional assumptions about the lives and capabilities of disabled people have been challenged. The impact of impairments varies considerably from person to person, but disabled people make adjustments, for example successfully overcoming the impact of fluctuations in energy levels by skilfully managing their workload. Today there is general agreement that the best way to support the independence and inclusion of disabled people lies in tackling the barriers that society puts in their way. This is sometimes known as the "social model" for thinking about disability: it has been accepted as the basis for government policy, and is the basis for several of our recommendations in this chapter and the next.

170. This point was made very well in the 2005 report of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit on life chances for disabled people.[145] This summarised the barriers they face as:

·  barriers caused by people's attitudes;

·  physical barriers such as the design of the built environment;

·  barriers resulting from policy design and delivery which fail to take disabled people into account; and

·  barriers linked to lack of empowerment, as a result of which disabled people are often not listened to, consulted or involved.

171. The report concludes that:

    The cumulative effect of these barriers is to marginalise disabled people from the mainstream of society and the economy. Removal of these barriers is key to empowering disabled people, and giving them the opportunity to exercise their responsibilities as citizens—in the home, in the community and in the workplace.[146]

The Strategy Unit identifies four major areas of life for disabled people where particular barriers still need to be overcome: independent living, early years and family support, transition to adulthood, and employment. The navigation of complex modern society and public services can be a challenge for anybody; the added barriers which confront disabled people can severely limit and compromise their life chances. The "structural" barriers that, from the early years, shape society's and disabled people's own expectations deter far too many disabled people from even beginning to consider a life in politics.


172. Because of these barriers there is "a significant untapped pool of talent"[147] among disabled people. This applies as much to politics as to other aspects of life. For one thing, the number of disabled MPs does not reflect the proportion of the population that has an impairment.

173. At a local level the figures for elected offices are better, but they are still disappointing. While there is a fairly high proportion of disabled local councillors—in 2007 disabled councillors made up 13.3% of the total—many of them appear to have age-related conditions which may well have developed years after first election; the Councillors Commission said that 'younger disabled councillors are notably absent from most council chambers.'[148]

174. Public bodies offer an alternative option for people who want to get involved in public life. Being appointed to, and serving on, a public body can help people to learn the skills needed to run for and achieve elected office, including public speaking. While service on a public body is a valuable contribution in itself, for disabled people as well as others public appointments can be a good way of taking the first step towards elected office. Yet the Cabinet Office calculates that only 5% of all public appointments are held by disabled people—a clear under-representation.[149]


175. Disabled people can find their life chances restricted by public attitudes towards them. The general public often wrongly assumes that people with impairments are not able to perform in the workplace as well as others, or indeed to play a full part in life generally. There can be an assumption "that disabled people are passive … which can result in a lack of self-belief".[150] John Knight of Leonard Cheshire Disability described the "bumps"—obstacles that can corrode the confidence of disabled people :

    [disabled people] generally live against a backdrop of having to get over that bump, and it can be a small bump or a big bump, depending on who you are talking to, of people not actually seeing our abilities before they see our disabilities. That can be terribly corrosive and depressing in terms of how we see ourselves and what we strive for.[151]

176. One outcome of this lack of confidence, at least for those with a condition that is not always obvious to others, is said to be the temptation for people to "hide" their disability. Leys Geddes of the British Stammering Association said that:

    the problem with stammering is that the condition is extremely variable … Because you are not quite sure how it is, or how it is going to be, it is easier to hide it. … because if you expose the disability, it diminishes you in the eyes of others.[152]

We were told that there were "a number of deaf and hard of hearing people in Parliament, and in politics, but they are not particularly open about it, perhaps because they feel they cannot be."[153]

177. We heard about 'referred prejudice': this is the tendency of parties to assume that disabled people would find it difficult to get elected, for instance, because there is perceived to be public reluctance to vote for them.[154] Disabled people themselves often feel that they will find it hard to make an impression. However there is no evidence that disabled people are less likely to be elected than others, once they get through the selection process. In fact in some cases an apparent negative—such as a disabled person's reliance from time to time on assistance from family and friends—can become a positive when treated by the selectorate as evidence that a person is able to build a team to get things done.


178. Lack of self-confidence would be a big obstacle to progress in most careers. But self-confidence is especially important for success in public life, and above all in politics. Those who have overcome the obstacles are aware of the size of the task. They include one of our witnesses, Chris Holmes, who lost his sight at 14, and became both a highly successful swimmer in the Paralympics and a Commissioner for the Disability Rights Commission. He has personal experience of political parties—particularly the Conservatives—and of the selection process. He told us that, despite his success, he believed there were plenty of barriers in the way of ambitious disabled people:

    I do not think any of us should be surprised that there are not many disabled people in Parliament, in the sense that if you look at the boardrooms, senior civil service or any part of society, there are not that many disabled people at the top level of anything.[155]

179. The shortage of disabled people at the top means there is a lack of disabled role models in most parts of public and political life. The Labour Party Disabled Members' Group (LPDMG) was encouraged by the success of the paralympians, and called for similar role models to come forward in public office.[156] The election of substantial numbers of disabled MPs was something that the Equality and Human Rights Commission saw as very important:

    The danger of being identified purely by one characteristic is a pressure that a lot of members from under-represented groups face. As constituency MPs and individuals with their own interests and passions it is clear many members are unhappy to be labelled; the gay MP, the MP who is a young mum, the MP who uses a wheelchair or the black woman MP. The solution to this is clearly to reach critical mass across Parliament so these characteristics aren't unique. [157]


180. Attitudes are crucially important because they influence how other barriers are tackled. Many of the biggest barriers for disabled people are physical and practical. Disability discrimination legislation requires "reasonable adjustments" to be made for disabled people in many aspects of life in the UK, in private, public and the third sectors, and the number of bodies subject to the law has been expanded in recent years. A number of existing regulators and public bodies have to take account of access and inclusion in their work. There is, for instance, the role assigned to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to take the lead in bearing down on discrimination. In order to do this, EHRC has regulatory responsibilities of its own and must provide, for example, reliable advice and guidance on how to comply with the disability laws on access and discrimination.

181. But many physical and other practical barriers to access for disabled people still exist, right across the country, in all sectors. Buildings are not always adapted for wheelchair users. Braille versions of documents are not always readily available. While the law has been widened and strengthened, the experiences of disabled people do not always appear to have improved proportionately. Our evidence suggests that this is certainly the case in respect of the practical provision made by national and local government, and Parliament, for meeting the needs of disabled people.


182. We found that many disabled people are deterred from any sort of involvement in politics or public life by problems at the most local level, with their councils. Local authorities play an important role along the pathway to politics, but they do not always make it easy for disabled people to get involved.

183. Local councils and other "public authorities" were explicitly brought into the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which initiated the Disability Equality Duty and states that

    It is unlawful for a public authority to discriminate against a disabled person in carrying out its functions.[158]

The Act goes on to say that

    it is the duty of the authority to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, for it to have to take

to make sure that its premises do not place

    a disabled person who is a member of the authority at a substantial disadvantage, in comparison with members of the authority who are not disabled persons, in connection with his carrying-out of official business.[159]

So councils have a double responsibility to provide the right environment for disabled people, both as public bodies who have to obey the general law on discrimination and reasonable adjustment, and specifically towards their elected members.

184. According to several of our witnesses, local authorities do not always do what is required of them. The Labour Party Disabled Members' Group (LPDMG) for instance told the Conference:

    Many local government offices and officers are not fully aware of their obligation to ensure the office of being a Councillor is fully "accessible" in the real sense of the word. Under the legislation there should be procedures ready for all types of access to information and offices, buildings and all amenities accessible but there seldom is.[160]

185. The Councillors Commission, reporting in 2007, said that some local authorities were failing to make sure that practical help for disabled councillors—such things as sign language interpretation at official meetings, induction loop systems and accessible meeting rooms—was available and publicised. They said that few authorities had appointed officers responsible for making sure help was in place.[161] We also heard that disabled people can find it difficult to negotiate public transport to attend meetings.

186. Our own experience of Speaker's Conference meetings held in local authority premises was generally good. For example, buildings in Manchester, Leeds and Cheltenham were well adapted for wheelchair users and facilities for signing were generally available. We found all the support we needed from council officers. However, it is clear that not all councils match the best, either in providing good public access or in helping disabled councillors do their job.

187. Funding provided through the Access to Work scheme is a possible source of financial support for councillors but Scope, the disability charity, told us that some authorities failed to make use of it. They said that it was not really certain that "the scheme is available to sitting Councillors as it currently seems to operate on a council by council basis with some Councillors receiving support while others are denied [such support]".[162]

188. We also believe that this issue brings up an important principle. The responsibility for making adjustments to buildings lies with the organisation for which or in which they work. We believe scarce cash-limited Access to Work funds—intended for use by individuals—should not be used by councils to fund core legal requirements—such as action to make reasonable adjustments to buildings. Making such adjustments is a key part of being a good employer and complying with the law.


189. As we have noted, political parties are key to involvement in political life. Very few people get into Parliament, or onto their local council, without support from one party or another. But we found that disabled people who want to get involved in political parties find a number of barriers in their way. Some witnesses suggested that political parties were not working hard enough to make politics more accessible for disabled people. For instance, Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of RADAR, told us she believed that "there has been less positive action, less specific work, by political parties on disability than there has been in relation to race and gender."[163]

190. This is despite explicit legal duties aimed at ensuring that political parties and other groups remove barriers and encourage disabled people to become involved. In the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act there are sections prohibiting "associations of persons" with more than 25 people from discriminating against disabled people. Political parties are considered to be associations for this purpose. The law is clear; there should be no discrimination against disabled people who want to take part in politics.[164]

191. Chris Holmes said he was concerned at the lack of practical support from the parties for blind and partially-sighted people who wanted to play a part in politics, or even to understand political issues as informed citizens. He noted that in the 2009 European elections in the UK:

    only the Green Party offered the option of a Braille manifesto. The Conservatives had audio files for their manifesto on their website, but other than that, for a blind person, if they wanted to engage in politics, see what the parties are offering, … [it was] incredibly difficult at that stage, purely through very, very simple and straightforward barriers which would be very easy to overcome.[165]

192. It would be unfair, however, to suggest that political parties are not trying to tackle the barriers to access for disabled people. Party headquarters are aware of the need to increase access, and Abigail Lock of Scope was able to praise the work that some of the central party organisations have been doing to increase access for disabled people.[166]

193. In many ways the main issue is not the policy laid down by party headquarters. The key to fair chances for disabled people in political life is access to local party meetings and events. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 applies to all private clubs and other associations with more than 25 members—meaning that many if not all local branches of parties have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. These legal requirements are not intended to be burdensome for small branches; the Government has stated clearly that associations "will only ever be required to do what is reasonable and may take into account factors like the resources of the club."[167]

194. The Labour Party Disabled Members' Group (LPDMG) has produced a guide and an associated handbook which are intended to help constituency parties understand their legal duties to avoid discrimination and make adjustments, and to underline the general need to use and promote best practice; the guide and handbook were endorsed by the Party at national level.[168] These publications contain a range of suggestions covering physical access arrangements, communications issues such as signage and the availability of induction loops for people who use a hearing aid.

195. Despite backing from senior people in the central party, the LPDMG General Secretary, Janet Kirk, believed that the recommendations in the guide were not always implemented by local Labour parties. She told us: "I go round the constituencies advocating this and asking them to use it, [the LPDMG guide] … but unfortunately, I do not think it is used as much as it should be, and although the Labour Party have made it a policy document, they do not seem very keen on actually impacting it, and actually making sure that constituencies are adhering to it."[169]

196. Our evidence suggested that this difference between central and local attitudes was not confined to the Labour Party. Abigail Lock of Scope said that there was often a divide between the access policies announced by central parties and the approach taken by some local party bodies:

    "there is a real disconnect that often exists between … the central party, and their work promoting diversity, and what is actually going on on the ground, when disabled people are going for selection and election … We had [a case of] a wheelchair user who was told, because you could not go out door knocking, you could not possibly be a candidate. The parties often are putting off disabled people right from the first stage."[170]

Although the financial demands of the legislation are modest, it is understandable that local parties would prefer to spend their limited money on campaigning. It is hardly surprising that, as the Labour Party Disabled Members' Group told us, "many disabled people are so used to not having their access needs met that they don't even ask". [171]

197. It is therefore fortunate that good organisation can overcome some of the financial problems. The LPDMG handbook for instance contains a number of ideas which could help, if taken up by the parties, including branches joining together to buy a shared induction loop for small meetings. The handbook suggests that branches who use premises that are not their own might consider "informing the owners of the venue of their obligations under the DDA"; in almost all cases local parties will meet in premises which must by law make reasonable adjustments already. It also suggests that room bookings should be changed if the original venues are not suitable for wheelchair use—a way perhaps of using the power of the purse to encourage better access.

198. Scope, which has carried out detailed survey work on disability and participation with each of the three largest Westminster parties, urged that all parties should have "a more strategic approach to disability policy" for their central party organisations, but should also recognise "the pragmatic nature of local party politics". This would mean, we believe, better central planning to provide the materials and facilities needed by disabled people—such as campaign documents produced in Braille and in language that is more understandable and accessible for all. It would also mean better guidance on access to meetings for local parties, bearing in mind the inevitable shortage of cash. LPDMG suggested to us that the principles contained in their guide

    should be undertaken by all political parties … thus ensuring that any disabled member of the public who wants to involve themselves in politics by attending their parties' meetings or organisations can be assured that they will be able to enter and be fully involved from the start.[172]

199. We do not doubt that party leaders are sincere when they say that they want better access for disabled people. We recognise that they may be finding it difficult to make sure their policies are carried out at a local level where it matters. Nevertheless the shortage of funds must not be an excuse for local parties failing to make proper arrangements for disabled people to play their part in politics.

200. In our interim report we recommended the appointment for each party of "a named party officer responsible for supporting the access requirements of disabled candidates."[173] We now urge the parties to take the next step.

201. We believe that all political parties should make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in party activities, initially by setting out a clear policy on access. At national level, this would mean for instance making sure that campaign documents are produced in Braille and other formats, that websites are easy to use for people with sight impairments, and that BSL interpretation or speech-to-text technology is available at major events.

202. But there also needs to be a realistic policy for local parties, encouraging co-operation and making the best of the limited money available. The ideas and practical suggestions set out in the guide and handbook produced by the Labour Party Disabled Members' Group would form a good basis for this policy, for all political parties.

The costs of candidacy

203. We heard a great deal of evidence about the high cost of parliamentary candidacy, and the problems this poses for groups that are currently under-represented. There are different classes of costs relating to parliamentary candidacy. Initially there are costs relating specifically to the task of being selected by a local constituency to stand as their official candidate (prospective parliamentary candidate, or PPC). Once selected, there are the further costs of campaigning at a by-election or general election for the support of the wider electorate. These are costs which are recognised by the parties and by outside bodies such as the Electoral Commission as being required by the electoral process. In addition, however, for most candidates there will be the cost of sustaining and building a candidacy between selection and the formal start of the election campaign. This period can last several years and the costs to the candidate, both in financial and personal terms, can be considerable.


204. The formal costs for someone who is seeking to be selected as a parliamentary candidate seem relatively small. The Scottish National Party said that "potential candidates are only charged a nominal £10 for the assessment procedure, and … many candidates will spend under £100 in total".[174] The Ulster Unionist Party said that the cost was "minimal",[175] while the Liberal Democrats told us the average selection cost for Liberal Democrat candidates is £178.[176] Similarly, the official costs of campaigning for a general election are considered to be relatively low, partly because the political parties may offer support in certain circumstances.

205. While the reports of the parties themselves suggest candidacy is largely inexpensive, a survey of Conservative candidates in 2006 estimated the cost of candidacy to the individual at £41,550 over an electoral cycle (from the start of a Parliament to its dissolution, normally a period of 4 to 5 years). Candidates we spoke to ourselves thought that this was a reasonable calculation for the costs arising through the process. Individual candidates told us that they estimated their expenses at approximately £10,000 per year which, over a four or five-year electoral cycle, would come to roughly the same amount.

206. The difference between the official and unofficial accounts of candidate expenditure reflects the highly variable and often hidden financial demands which may arise for any candidate. In addition to the relatively small costs which may be involved in attending formal selection panels and meetings, expenses can include:

·  Party membership fees;

·  Whether the candidate has to travel a long distance between the constituency and their home, and how often that journey is made;

·  How easy it is to travel around the constituency (by bike, on foot, by bus or by car);

·  Whether the candidate has to find somewhere to stay in the constituency, away from home;

·  Whether the candidate has to pay for childcare or other caring cover while away from home;

·  Whether the candidate feels that they have to move themselves and their family into the constituency; and

·  The ways in which the candidate seeks to communicate with the selectorate (for example, by personal visits, by telephone canvassing, direct mail or, reportedly, by DVD).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that candidates still feel obliged to contribute to local and national party fundraising, for example by attending functions, buying raffle tickets, etc.

207. In addition to actual expenditure a significant part of the total may be the cost of lost income, if the candidate has to take unpaid leave from work, reduce their working hours or even give up their job in order to spend time in the constituency.

208. Much of the expenditure above is not formally required for a candidate to be selected by a constituency. In practice, however, the competitive nature of the selection process and the expectations of constituency parties mean that candidates who wish to succeed have to invest considerable time and money in order to make their case. For example, one candidate told us that she took four months leave of absence from her job in order to live in the constituency and get to know the local 'selectorate'. In that four months she met every member of the local party (which numbered more than 200 members) between three and seven times to discuss their concerns. We have heard of several cases where a potential candidate has felt that they had to move themselves and their family to a constituency in order to demonstrate their commitment.

209. Many people from under-represented groups will be disadvantaged by these demands. Women, people from BME communities and disabled people are more likely to be in low paid employment, in receipt of benefits such as Incapacity Benefit or without any income. This would also be true of working-class men. People in this position will simply lack the resources to make frequent trips to a far-off constituency. Anyone with caring responsibilities is likely to find it difficult to travel away from home on a regular basis and it can be equally difficult to move and resettle an entire household.

210. The candidates we spoke to insisted that they accepted these costs, and believed that the goal of becoming an MP was worth the expense. Many of them however noted that they were relatively fortunate in having a supportive family, a reasonable income and/or a job which enabled them to work around the constituency's demands. Concern was expressed that the costs would deter others who did not have that support, particularly if they were faced with contesting a series of elections over many years, to build a reputation, before being successful. We have heard anecdotal reports of candidates accruing significant debts and being forced to give up the contest because they simply could not afford to go on.

211. The party leaders told us of their concerns on this issue. The Prime Minister, speaking as Leader of the Labour Party, told us that he recognised candidacy was "more difficult for people who have family responsibilities" and he was "sure that [his] party was trying to deal with these issues." David Cameron MP, the Leader of the Conservative Party, agreed that the cost of candidacy "is a problem and if anything it is getting a bit worse" although like the Prime Minister he believed that local candidates would not experience such severe financial demands as those who had to travel away from their homes and families. Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, acknowledged the "personal financial costs" but also spoke of the time costs which affect candidates: these are discussed further in paragraphs 221-230 below.

212. None of the leaders had an answer to these problems. The Prime Minister reminded us of the creation of voluntary support schemes within the Labour Party: Emily's List, which provides financial and other support to women candidates; Dorothy's List, which provides support to LGBT candidates; and, most recently, Bernie's List, which supports candidates of BME origin. Emily's List provides grants to candidates to assist with specific campaigning needs such as leaflet production, telephone bills or dependent care. These grants are currently capped at £350 which, while helpful, still leaves the candidate potentially with many thousands of pounds to find. David Cameron said that the Conservative Party had helped individual candidates "on one or two occasions".[177] The Liberal Democrats told us that the "relative lack of funds available to the Liberal Democrats means that candidates will tend to contribute more to their campaign costs than may be the case in other parties—especially if they are seeking to win."[178] They also noted the potential significance of lost earnings but added that it was not possible to quantify the costs involved. All political parties should place a ceiling upon the expenses which candidates can incur during any single selection process.

213. Several witnesses suggested to us that a fund, called by one witness a "Democracy Diversity Fund", should be established: this would be administered independently by the Electoral Commission and would support the parties in their identification, training, development and mentoring of talented individuals who might not otherwise be able to fulfil their potential as parliamentary candidates. Part of this fund could be used to provide bursaries to candidates who can "show that they are strongly committed but would struggle with the economic costs";[179] the amount given in this way to any political party over the course of an electoral cycle could be capped.

214. We support the suggestion of a Democracy Diversity Fund which could be drawn upon by local political parties to support the work of developing talented individuals from under-represented groups and also to provide bursaries to individuals who would otherwise be unable to sustain the costs of candidacy. There must be strong controls in place to make sure the money is not abused and therefore the scheme's effectiveness and propriety should be regularly evaluated by the Electoral Commission, in reports which should be laid before the House at least once every Parliament. The Electoral Commission should consult the Equality and Human Rights Commission when evaluating the scheme.


215. While candidates from under-represented groups generally need financial support, we heard a considerable amount of evidence that the financial barriers facing disabled candidates were particularly high and acted as a considerable deterrent. For example a deaf candidate may have to meet the costs of a British Sign Language Interpreter or a candidate with a mobility impairment may need to use more taxis than a non-disabled candidate.

216. There is also another side to this mismatch; the necessary extra spending has to be borne by candidates who are often poorer than other candidates. Disabled people, said the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, were on average "twice as likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to be out of work and significantly less likely to go on to further and higher education."[180] Equality 2025, a network of disabled people which advises the Government on how to achieve disability equality, noted another barrier to Parliament in the funding of social care. Because social care funding "packages" only operate in a single geographical area, many disabled people are unable to move around the country, which limits the area in which they can be candidates.[181] While assistance to those in employment and to MPs can be provided through the Access to Work scheme, it is not available to candidates.

217. Scope has suggested that an "Access to Public Life Fund" should be established to level the playing field for disabled candidates. This would help to meet the cost of reasonable adjustments during campaigns and would operate in the same way (and using the same offices) as the Access to Work scheme. Candidates could apply directly to the fund for assistance with, for example, help with the costs of employing a BSL interpreter during the selection processes, and support with the extra costs of travel or accommodation, for example the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus, or staying in an accessible hotel room rather than at a party member's house. It would be funded from public money and guidance on who should be eligible would be drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions, the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Electoral Commission.[182]

218. Scope has provided a detailed explanation of how the scheme might work setting out, for example, case studies, including how paying for additional transport and accommodation costs might help a candidate. Scope accepts that useful data on disability is in short supply, but calculates that "an initial fund of £500,000 [should] be made available over two years, with take-up monitored to provide a more robust data set that can be used to determine future levels of funding."[183]

219. Scope itself raises some questions about the idea of the Fund, saying that it should be used to "level the playing field between disabled and non-disabled candidates" and not to provide "unfair political advantage".[184] There would have to be agreed rules on how the fund would be divided between the parties and what would happen with independent candidates. But such questions should not be an excuse for inaction.

220. There is overwhelming evidence that shortage of money and the necessity of additional expenditure to support disabled people through candidacy, make finance a particularly significant barrier to elected office for disabled people. Disabled people should be able to fight for parliamentary seats without having to face the complicated financial barriers that confront them at present. This is not a question of political advantage, but a simple matter of achieving just representation.

221. We therefore believe that the Government should urgently consider, as part of the Democracy Diversity Fund, a ring-fenced scheme to support disabled parliamentary candidates. This scheme for disabled candidates should use as its model the Access to Public Life Fund which has been proposed by Scope. The scheme should be devised and operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, and should be administered in the same way as the Access to Work scheme.


222. We have discussed the need to ensure that there is no further narrowing of the paths to Parliament. In particular, Membership of the House must not become the sole preserve of those with a private income; there must be room for people with full-time jobs to campaign if they are selected.

223. A measure which could help to reduce the burden on candidates would be for the Government to legislate to give approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees the right to request a reasonable amount of unpaid leave during working hours and/or a right to work flexibly for the purposes of campaigning. Such provisions exist already under the Employment Rights Act 1996 for employees who undertake various forms of public service such as being a member of a local authority, a police authority or a prison monitoring board; some employees are also permitted time off for trade union duties under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Extending similar rights to approved prospective parliamentary candidates would affect only a relatively small number of individuals and businesses, but might be sufficient to protect candidates on low incomes from having to resign their posts completely. This would also, symbolically, recognise that the action of standing for election, whether or not the candidate is successful, is an essential part of our democratic process and of public benefit.

224. Extending this measure further, the Government should legislate to enable approved prospective parliamentary candidates who are employees to take unpaid leave, rather than resigning their employment, for the period from the dissolution of Parliament to election day (this period is called the 'short campaign' in Electoral Commission documents). This again would affect only a small number of individuals and businesses, but might remove a barrier from those on low incomes who would find it difficult to stand for election if they had to abandon their source of income to do so. Sir John Rose, the Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce, told us that, as part of its drive for corporate social responsibility, the company had defined being a parliamentary candidate, or a parliamentary candidate's agent, as a civic duty. The company gives candidates on its staff up to two weeks paid leave immediately prior to the election, while agents may take up to three weeks unpaid leave immediately prior to the election. Other civic duties for which the company grants leave include service on certain public bodies, and service as a local councillor. In the three years since the company began to monitor the take-up of leave for civic duties in 2007 it has seen the number of staff requesting such leave—for service across the range of public duties—rise from 58 to 171.[185]

225. We recognise that, in the first instance, making such leave unpaid protects employers from any suggestion that they may be improperly financing a political campaign. In the long term we would like the Government to move to a position where candidates are entitled to receive a grant from the state equivalent to the minimum wage for the period sometimes known as the short campaign.


226. Becoming a prospective parliamentary candidate can be hugely demanding on the individual. Once the selection campaign is won, local activists will frequently look to the new candidate to take on a leadership role within the constituency. This may involve living in the constituency or being present in the constituency throughout the week, attending meetings during the day and in the evening, carrying out administrative work at home and participating in party social events at the weekend. The candidate may feel under an obligation to make a substantial donation to local campaign finances, or to the general finances of the local party. The greater the expectation of the local party that the seat can be won, the higher its expectations of its candidate are likely to be.

227. The work of the PPC is essentially unpaid voluntary work, with the prospect—but no certainty—of their position becoming formalised at some future point if they were to win at the election. At the same time as seeking to meet the demands of the local party, the candidate may have to hold down a paid job in order to support themselves and their family. The candidate's partner and family also will have reasonable expectations of time and attention from the candidate. The candidate may not initially have a network of close friends in the constituency to whom they can turn for advice and support. Our attention has been drawn to several cases where candidates, both male and female, have resigned their candidacies because of the strains which the combined pressures of work and the constituency placed upon their relationships with partners and children, particularly younger children.

228. In many such cases it is likely that the pressures placed upon the candidate by the constituency are unintended. Many activists are retired and the demands of the workplace and of young children are not at the forefront of their minds. As local parties are themselves voluntary organisations, individual activists may request assistance or support from the candidate without anyone formally managing or co-ordinating these demands. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, which has carried out some research into these issues, described a failure of some local parties to appreciate that their candidates are "not campaign robots" but people with complex and demanding responsibilities to juggle.[186]

229. It was suggested to us that some of these difficulties could be avoided by clarifying for both the candidate and the local party, at the point of selection, what demands upon the candidate would be appropriate, and what would not. These would vary depending upon the nature of the seat, and how 'winnable' the central party deemed it to be. We endorse the suggestion that each central political party should consider drawing up statements of expectation setting out the role, and the reasonable demands which may be made, of both prospective parliamentary candidates and local party associations in different types of seat. Like any professional job specification such a statement could be used at the local party level to specify campaign priorities and could be subject to regular review by an independent assessor.

230. We also believe that first-time candidates, in particular, would benefit from the establishment of formal mentoring schemes and/or 'buddy systems' which can provide pastoral support and independent advice on issues arising within the constituency.

231. Regional or central party officials should also consider whether further training support might be beneficial to candidates who have limited experience of formal management, team building and leadership roles.


232. Many individuals in under-represented groups lack the confidence to put themselves forward as candidates. A number of witnesses suggested that an effective way of building individuals' confidence is to provide them with training and increase their contact with current elected representatives. For many people, some element of this confidence-building experience can be gathered through joining, and being active within, a local political party. Some individuals, however, may benefit from a more structured, and intensive, process such as internship or mentoring.


233. Many Members of Parliament already make internships—an extended period of work experience—available in their Westminster and/or constituency offices, but access to these opportunities is limited.

234. The difficulties for people interested in accessing internships are:

·  The number of opportunities available at any time is limited;

·  They may not be widely advertised;

·  Access may be restricted to a particular group, for example, university students; and

·  They are frequently unpaid.

In consequence, the individuals who tend to benefit most from internships tend to be those who have existing contacts within Westminster (which enable them to find out about openings), those who can stay with family or friends within a reasonable travelling distance from Westminster (i.e. within London and the South East) and those who have sufficient financial backing to enable them to work and perhaps live in London, unpaid, for a number of weeks. Many of those with whom we are concerned live on low incomes and the cost of an internship is therefore a significant barrier.

235. Disabled groups in particular were keen to suggest to us that internships at Westminster should be made more widely available. They argued that creating opportunities for disabled people to act as interns would not only give those people valuable work experience and raise their expectations, but would demonstrate to the disabled community the importance of engaging with politics; it would also help to increase disability awareness amongst politicians and others within Westminster, and challenge their assumptions about what disabled people can achieve. [187]

236. Evidence about the value of such specialised internship programmes was provided by Transport for London (TfL). TfL told us that different parts of its organisation offer internship programmes designed specifically to address under-representation of particular groups in its workforce, including those from BME backgrounds and disabled people. Two of its divisions, London Underground and Surface Transport, run programmes for unemployed disabled people which offer placements lasting between eight weeks and six months. Rather than creating specific roles for interns, the Surface Transport programme places disabled people in currently vacant positions within the organisation: after six months the intern can apply for the vacant post. TfL claims that its working environment is thus enhanced for all staff.[188] The use of vacant posts rather than additional roles is attractive, as it potentially gives the participant the benefit of a defined role as well as a salary. In order to make the use of vacant posts feasible, however, a participant would realistically have to commit to a fairly long period of work so that they could make an effective contribution.

237. Members of Parliament are individual employers of their own staff teams. Within these small teams vacancies can arise fairly frequently through resignation or extended leave such as maternity leave. We believe it should be possible for each Parliamentary party to maintain a list of individuals from under-represented groups, perhaps nominated by stakeholder organisations, who might by this means be notified of internships and temporary vacancies arising in Members' offices. All reasonable adjustment costs for the successful applicant should be funded for the duration of the appointment. We invite the political parties to work with stakeholder organisations to establish how this can best be done.


238. A further way to make the role of an MP less distant from other people is to use work shadowing, or mentoring, for those who aspire to be candidates. A mentoring programme, during which an individual meets and follows an MP for a fixed number of days over an extended period, may be a more suitable option than internship for many people, particularly those with caring responsibilities, or those who are in employment. Mentoring provides a less intensive experience than internship but, if sustained over a period such as two years,[189] can offer people the opportunity to learn a lot about public life, and, by building a relationship between an aspirant candidate and their mentor, do much to support the candidate and build their confidence. Witnesses including the National Federation of Women's Institutes told us that mentoring can be particularly beneficial to women, who are likely to lack confidence in their own abilities and who may, because of family commitments, have missed out on opportunities for formal training in the workplace.[190]

239. Some witnesses said that there was a risk in concentrating mentoring and shadowing schemes exclusively on high-profile high achievers and on Parliament alone, because confidence had to be built up gradually, and small steps were important. Liz Sayce of RADAR called for publicity for

    a range of role models at different points and levels in the system. Not everybody is going to think: oh, I could be a Secretary of State. But they might think: perhaps I could be a councillor. Then, once they are a councillor, they might think: actually, maybe I could be a local MP.

Any mentoring scheme should take into account the need to encourage involvement in public life at all levels, from local community organisations to Parliament itself. It should also ensure that people from under-represented groups gain experience of constituency activities, which form such an important part of a Member's work.

240. We heard from Operation Black Vote and the National Assembly for Wales about the success of shadowing/mentoring programmes which have been run in Cardiff and Westminster to promote participation from within the BME communities. For example, in 2007-08 Operation Black Vote (OBV) and the National Assembly for Wales ran a very successful AM Shadowing Scheme which encouraged BME individuals to engage in the political process by shadowing Assembly Members (AM) from all the main political groups. The Assembly is now operating, along with the Welsh Local Government Association and other partners, a pilot mentoring/shadowing scheme for a wider range of under-represented groups. This scheme, called Step Up Cymru, involves both Assembly Members and local councillors mentoring people from under-represented groups and encouraging them to get involved in active citizenship, especially in their local communities. This seems a practical and measured approach and Step Up Cymru may well turn out to be a good model for something similar across the UK.

241. We believe that there is scope for the development of a UK-wide scheme similar to the Step Up Cymru mentoring scheme, but with a strong Westminster element. This could bring together elected members at all levels of government to provide opportunities for people from under-represented groups to find out about their work. The initial aim might be to encourage involvement in community groups, but it should also give encouragement to those who might wish to become candidates for elected office at local and national level or be appointed to a public body.

Unacceptable conduct in campaigning

242. Concerns were raised about negative personal campaigning in local areas. While campaigning should focus upon party policies, and the effectiveness of different candidates, we are aware that on occasions activists and candidates may mount personal attacks on specific candidates by commenting on, for example, their family life, their racial background, their sexual orientation or their state of health. At the extreme, a local election candidate in London was jailed in 2007 for publicly accusing a competing candidate who was homosexual of being "a paedophile with a 16 year old boyfriend".[191] Derek Munn of Stonewall told us that "there have been instances of unacceptable homophobic behaviour by activists and candidates in all the political parties and we would not single anybody out".[192]

243. Such behaviour and such comments are completely unacceptable. The task of ensuring they do not happen is, unfortunately, extremely difficult. Where allegations are made very publicly, as in the 2007 case, or where they are made in writing, prosecutions may be mounted. Most cases, however, are more likely to hinge upon what is said on the doorstep, where there are few witnesses. In these other cases, the task of enforcement will rest mainly with the parties themselves.

244. This is an area where strong leadership will be needed from the parties, both nationally and locally. Candidates will have to join with the leaders to state unequivocally that they will not tolerate campaigning based on personal attacks. Derek Munn pointed out that at previous elections the parties have made such statements in relation to racist campaigns. The parties should each draw up a formal code of conduct for campaigning. This should make clear that campaigning is unacceptable where it seeks to undermine a candidate by reference to his or her family life, racial background, sexual orientation, health status or disability. It is for each party to decide how it will respond to any breaches of the code. These codes of conduct should be in place in time for the 2010 general election.

145   Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, Improving Life Chances for Disabled People, January 2005 Back

146   Ibid. Back

147   Ev 7  Back

148   Representing the future-The report of the Councillors Commission-December 2007, p. 13  Back

149   http://www.equalities.gov.uk/media/press_releases/harman_action_to_improve_dive.aspx Back

150   Ev 150  Back

151   Q298 Back

152   Q301 Back

153   Q297 Back

154   Ev 10  Back

155   Q297 Back

156   Ev 105 Back

157   Ev 135 Back

158   Disability Discrimination Act 2005 s 21 B Back

159   Ibid. s 15 C Back

160   Ev 105 Back

161   Representing the future-The report of the Councillors Commission-December 2007, p. 90 Back

162   SC106 Back

163   Q13 Back

164   Disability Discrimination Act 2005 s 21 F Back

165   Q297 Back

166   Q305 Back

167   Department for Work and Pensions, The Disability Discrimination Act: Fact sheet 3: Private Clubs 2005 Back

168   Improving accessibility: A Handbook for Local Parties. Labour Party Disabled Members' Group Back

169   Q327 Back

170   Q299 Back

171   Ev 105 Back

172   Ev 105  Back

173   Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Interim Report, Session 2008-09 (HC 167-I), para 22 Back

174   Ev 224  Back

175   Ev 230  Back

176   Ev 227  Back

177   Q455 Back

178   Ev 227  Back

179   Ev 124  Back

180   Ev 181 Back

181   Ev 149 Back

182   SC106 Back

183   Ibid Back

184   Ibid Back

185   SC107 Back

186   Q463 Back

187   Ev 233 Back

188   SC87 Back

189   Ev 52 Back

190   Ev 19 Back

191   Ev 220 Back

192   Q360 Back

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