Maitland 'did not consult disabled group': Claim over blocking of Bill denied

LADY Olga Maitland, the former newspaper gossip columnist turned Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam who played a leading role in blocking the disability Bill, was yesterday accused of misleading her own constituents as well as MPs.

When pressed in the debate two Fridays ago, she claimed to have consulted disabled groups in Sutton before voicing her opposition. Not so, maintained the Sutton branch of Mencap, in a letter to the MP released yesterday.

Even worse, the charity wrote, 'apart from assurances that you would support the Bill, the executive committee of Sutton Mencap has no recollection of any discussions relating to your proposed amendments'.

Disabled activists yesterday demonstrated outside the Commons by dragging themselves along the pavement after being refused access by attendants unless they remained in their wheelchairs. Meanwhile, Ann Clwyd, the Shadow Employment Minister, who criticised Lady Olga during the debate and produced the Mencap letter, said her behaviour 'has been nothing short of a public disgrace'.

Ms Clwyd said Lady Olga 'should apologise to the House for her actions, and also explain to disabled people in her own constituency and throughout the UK why she acted in this disgraceful manner'.

The prospect of an embarrassing apology to the House appeared to be inching closer with the announcement from Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, that she had demanded an explanation from Lady Olga over her behaviour.

In the debate on the measure - which would have guaranteed equal rights for the handicapped - Lady Olga tabled numerous wrecking amendments and spoke at length to ensure it ran out of time. When challenged by MPs, she claimed the amendments were her own work - something that was later contradicted by Nicholas Scott, the minister for the disabled.

Soon afterwards, she went to Malawi to monitor that country's general election. But so incensed was the Speaker, it emerged yesterday, that she took the unusual step of tracking her down and writing to her there. Lady Olga has until tomorrow to respond.

Lady Olga was unavailable for comment.

Protest crawl, page 7

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