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UN: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to implement the United Nations charter on disability rights.

My Lords, the convention on disability rights was formally adopted by the United Nations on 13 December. The Government wholeheartedly support the convention, which provides for full enjoyment by disabled people of their human rights. Government departments and devolved Administrations are now checking the UK’s legislation, policies and practices against the obligations in the convention with a view to us being among the first to sign and ratify the convention.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that the Minister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire, and her colleagues have played a vital role in these early days of the convention? But as only 45 countries out of 192 have their own specific legislation on disabled people, the very great likelihood is that many countries will not sign, certainly not all of them. Will the British Government seek to persuade reluctant countries to sign, especially Russia and China, neither of which has so far said that it will sign, and the United States, which has said that it definitely will not sign, which is deplorable and damaging?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend’s kind comments about my honourable friend Anne McGuire MP and I take the opportunity to pay tribute to him for his enduring commitment to disabled people. I agree that the rights of disabled people are an issue in every country. The convention has the potential to touch the lives in a positive way of in excess of 600 million disabled people and it is important that as many states as possible ratify it. The FCO will work with DfID and DWP to encourage other states to prepare for ratification and implementation of the convention and the FCO has already announced a worldwide lobbying campaign to this end. DfID’s aid relationship with partner Governments is already based on a shared commitment to human rights and it funds a wide range of NGO work in this direction. DfID will explore more targeted ways to support implementation of the convention across the world.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that the way in which rights are ensured for disabled people varies greatly according to their disability. Does he also therefore agree about the importance of implementing the convention rights flexibly and in a manner which takes account of the diversity of disabled people’s needs—for example, for specialist as well as mainstream provision and support in education and employment where that is appropriate? Will the Government ensure that in the implementation and monitoring process they consult not only pan-disability groups but also impairment-specific organisations, such as the one I have the privilege of chairing, which are best placed to advise on the application of the convention for their constituents?

My Lords, I acknowledge the expertise of the noble Lord in this area. We do not believe that there is anything in the convention that would prevent the flexible approach he seeks. There is no doubt that disability organisations of all descriptions will have an important role to play in monitoring the way the convention is working and in advising government. Disability organisations will, of course, be able to make submissions to the treaty monitoring body.

My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that any expertise we have in the field of implementing disability rights will be made available to all our partners in Europe and further afield? Do the Government have any strategy for making sure that our best practice is put out and the best practice of other places is brought in?

Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. Indeed, it was the case during the creation of the convention. The UK has been at the forefront of the negotiations associated with creating the convention. Along the way it has consulted widely, not only with NGOs within the UK but on a European basis, and already has policies, practices and funding in place where it has supported these issues across the world.

My Lords, much of the implementation of the provisions of the charter is likely to rest with local authorities. How do the Government plan to provide funding for this?

My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, at the moment the UK is looking at the legislation, policies and practices to see the extent to which it meets the obligations of the convention. We do not anticipate that huge changes will be necessary for us to be able to sign up to the convention. Obviously funding is already in place for what local authorities do.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who will know from the memorable debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, that the call for a UN convention originated in Rehabilitation International’s Charter for the Third Millennium, backed by the disability organisations of 124 countries worldwide.

Is he aware of the Prime Minister’s endorsement of the charter as,

“the basis of a global consensus on priorities for at least the next decade”?—[Official Report, Commons, 25/3/02; col. 618W.]

And can we be assured that the RI charter’s recommendations as a whole—not least those relating to disabled people in the poorest countries—will now be addressed with due priority and renewed urgency?

My Lords, I am aware of my right honourable friend’s endorsement of the Rehabilitation International Charter for the Third Millennium. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Morris for the leading role he played in this matter and for his long-standing campaigning on behalf of disabled people.

It is worth quoting one of the charter’s paragraphs, which says:

“Scientific and social progress in the 20th century has increased understanding of the unique and inviolate value of each life. Yet ignorance, prejudice, superstition and fear still govern much of society’s response to disability. In the Third Millennium, we must accept disability as an ordinary part of the varied human condition”.

The charter called on member states to support the promulgation of a UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities as a key strategy to achieve these goals, and this has now happened.