Maitland is rebuked for misleading MPs: Speaker says Tory's conduct over disability Bill was below standards of House. Colin Brown reports

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THE SPEAKER of the Commons yesterday delivered a rebuke - unprecedented in recent times - to Lady Olga Maitland for misleading the Commons over her role in helping to block a Bill on rights for the disabled.

In a further embarrassment to the Government, Lady Olga, the Tory MP for Sutton and Cheam, was told by Betty Boothroyd that her conduct in the Commons 'fell below the standards that the House is entitled to expect from its members'.

The Speaker said: 'I strongly rebuke her for her conduct on that occasion.' After being admonished before a packed chamber, Lady Olga told MPs: 'In the light of your statement may I give an unreserved apology to you and this House.'

Her apology came as the protests continued against the Government over its efforts to kill the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. There will be renewed protests today in the Commons at the Government's failure to provide more time for the Bill to go to the House of Lords.

Lady Olga, a loyal supporter of John Major, helped to slow down the progress of the Bill by tabling amendments. She denied they had been drafted by officials, but Nicholas Scott, the minister for the disabled, later admitted they had been drawn up by parliamentary lawyers.

The Speaker told MPs that when she was challenged by Labour MPs about the amendments, Lady Olga had retorted: 'I would like to make it abundantly clear that I raise my own amendments. I sought consultation but it would be totally unfair to suggest they came from any other source.'

Miss Boothroyd said Lady Olga had written to her 'to say she was anxious to accept personal responsibility for the amendments in her name and she did not intend to imply that they had not been drafted by others in the first instance'.

The Speaker went on: 'I cannot accept that the words, 'it would be totally unfair to suggest they came from any other source', did not amount to a denial that the amendments had been drafted by others. At the time she volunteered her disclaimer, the House had already been told that the amendments had been drafted by parliamentary counsel.

'Her statement did not so much mislead the House as it exasperated it.' Mr Scott has already apologised to the House for misleading MPs after admitting the amendments had been drafted by officials, but was cleared by the Speaker of allegations of lying to the House, over earlier denials.

However, Mr Scott is still facing demands for his resignation, which intensified last Friday when, in effect, he talked the Bill out.

The Government believes the Bill, to outlaw discrimination against the disabled at work and in public areas, would be too costly. John Major has promised government action to deal with some of the campaigners' concerns.