Equalities chief condemns abuse of disabled MP

Equalities chief Trevor Phillips told today how MPs who mocked a colleague over his disability made him feel "physically sick".

Mr Phillips said the abuse of Tory MP Paul Maynard, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was "shocking". He said the MPs would have been banned had they been caught on CCTV at a football match.

But the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said he would not be intervening in the Top Gear race row, sparked after presenter Richard Hammond referred to Mexicans as "lazy" and "feckless".

Mr Phillips told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I am not going to get hot under the collar about schoolboy provocation which frankly is organised so that we can get in to a ruck and sell more DVDs for Jeremy Clarkson.

"Jeremy is rich enough. I don't need to get in to that. I am bothered about what he said. It's juvenile, it's vulgar, it's unacceptable but that's for broadcasters and columnists to argue about. It's not for the law."

He told Marr: "We need to deal with more serious things. The other issue that you dealt with is the Paul Maynard MP problem, where he was obviously being mocked, according to his account, by other Members of Parliament.

"That to me is shocking. 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 whipped out of the ground and not let back.

"That's one for the Speaker (John Bercow) to look at as part of his drive to increase diversity."

Mr Maynard was elected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys last May.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Maynard accused Labour MPs of "pulling faces" at him in an apparent mimic.

He said: "They were constantly intervening, trying to put me off my stride, which may be just normal parliamentary tactics.

"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."

Other MPs confirmed that the incident had taken place, during a debate about the abolition of the child trust fund last October.

The incident calls into question the sometimes highly aggressive and confrontational nature of the House of Commons. It may also undermine efforts to increase diversity in parliament.

Mr Maynard, 35, has not named his tormentors, but a Labour party source told the Mail on Sunday the behaviour of some MPs was "disgusting", describing them as a "pack of hyenas".

Labour's Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) told the newspaper he was one of a number of MPs told by the party's whip David Hamilton to "calm down" during Mr Maynard's speech.

He added: "I do remember Mr Hamilton coming over to me. He certainly told me to stop being rowdy. But I have never attacked anybody - even in a half-joking way - about disability, race or ethnicity."

A spokeswoman for Commons Speaker John Bercow said "discrimination or abuse towards any Member on any grounds is not acceptable".

She added: "Debate in the House of Commons chamber should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and robust but dignified discussion."

On his personal website, Mr Maynard describes his cerebral palsy as "very mild" and says it does not especially affect the way he lives.

But he acknowledges: "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 diagnosed with epilepsy too when he was 22, an event he says which was "a shock" and forced him to give up alcohol.

Labour MP Tom Harris earlier told BBC Radio 5 Live MPs would not have deliberately mocked somebody for having a disability.

He said: "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."

Mr Harris, who was not present at the time, 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 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, like Mr Maynard did before speaking, would have been made to "pay the price".

Mr Phillips said Sky was right to dismiss football pundit Andy Gray after he and presenter Richard Keys were caught making sexist remarks off-air about football official Sian Massey. Keys subsequently resigned.

Refuting suggestions his Commission was no longer he needed, Mr Phillips told Andrew Marr: "Somebody has got to enforce the laws. My slogan for this is we want people to do the right thing when we are not in the room but they have got to know we are outside the room ready to step in.

"There's been a change. Sky: they did the right thing on the Andy Gray, Richard Keys thing but we didn't have to ring them up. They did the right thing. We are in a different place where we can be more proactive, preventative. That's our job."

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