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UN Convention on Disability Rights

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2008

Today the Government have responded to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report “A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities”, that the Government should ratify the UN convention on disability rights and the optional protocol without further delay or provide clear unambiguous details of any specific impediments to immediate ratification.

The response makes it clear that the UK does not ratify any international treaty until it is in a position to ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with its obligations. In addition, the European Community is, for the first time, a party to an international human rights convention and this will inevitably affect the ratification timetable. Given the duty on member states to co-operate with the Community, the UK would wish to take into account the European Commission’s proposal for Community conclusion of the convention, which is still awaited.

Article 33 of the convention on disability rights is an unusual provision in UN human rights conventions. Article 33 requires states party to the convention to establish national monitoring arrangements, and the Government have wished to properly consult the equality and human rights commission and the devolved Administrations about these arrangements. These consultations are continuing.

Ratification will be in respect of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part of this process has required the devolved Administrations and Government Departments to check their legislation, policies, practices and procedures against the convention’s provisions. This has inevitably taken some time. However, this phase of the work is now over and we are considering carefully the emerging findings. Our aim remains to ratify the convention by the end of this year.

The current position is that the Ministry of Defence has indicated that there is a need to enter a reservation in respect of service in the armed forces, consistent with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended (DDA) and Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown are excluded from the DDA’s employment provisions to preserve their combat effectiveness. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK includes a range of provision, including mainstream and special schools which will require an interpretative declaration, and that there will also need to be a reservation in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way from their home. The Home Office has indicated that there may be a need to enter one or more reservations or declarations in respect of immigration, nationality and citizenship.

There are also a number of areas where we are continuing to explore whether there are any compatibility issues which may result in the need for an interpretative declaration or reservation. These are: measures relating to the exercise of legal capacity; aspects of mental health legislation; choice of place of residence; and cultural services (interpretive measures).

With regard to the optional protocol, the Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people and the Committee attach to this issue. The Government is carefully considering its position as part of the convention ratification process in the light of the ongoing review by the Ministry of Justice of a similar optional protocol relating to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.