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Disabled People: UN Convention

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further action they have now taken regarding ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the parliamentary process for the ratification of the Optional Protocol.

My Lords, we ratified the convention on 8 June. Our focus is now moving to implementation, including awareness-raising, monitoring and reporting. We will be working with disabled people, their organisations and the equality and human rights commissions to explore how we can take this forward. I am pleased to say that we started the parliamentary process for ratification of the Optional Protocol on 22 June 2009, and hope to conclude this before the Summer Recess.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and to Jonathan Shaw and Anne McGuire for their unswerving commitment to ratification of both the convention and the Optional Protocol. Does my noble friend accept that implementing them will succeed in proportion to the involvement of disabled people and their organisations at every stage of the process? Can we be assured of adequate resourcing for the implementation plan? Finally, by when does he expect your Lordships’ House to have an opportunity to debate this historic development?

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for all the work that he has done over so many years for the cause of disabled people. I agree that successful implementation will be achieved through a partnership approach that brings together Government, disabled people and the commissions that form the independent element of the monitoring and reporting framework. The convention is not owned by a single element of this partnership, and we will make a success of it if we work together.

On the issue of resources, because of where we are starting from, the UK is well placed to implement this convention and it will not be necessary to require the investment of substantial new resources, but we are not complacent about what happens next. We will look to maximise the impact by making the best use of the resources that are available. There are no current plans for a debate, although the Welfare Reform Bill involves some of these issues and we will be debating it again this afternoon, but I am sure that this House will keep the Government on their toes. There are numerous ways in which we could engender a debate, which would be very welcome and a healthy thing to do.

My Lords, when will the Government’s reservations to Article 12.4 be reviewed, given that they have indicated that a review system of legal appointees should be introduced?

My Lords, as the noble Lord has mentioned, we entered a reservation with regard to mental capacity issues. We did that because, although we have a system in place where people can be supported and appointed to receive benefits on behalf of others, we do not have a formal review procedure. We need to do that to be compliant with the convention but, as we have stated and made clear, we intend to introduce that system. Regrettably, it cannot be done overnight because a number of people are involved with this; it could take some two years. However, we are intent on removing the reservation as quickly as we can.

My Lords, the first step is to let disabled people know about the important ratification of this treaty. Do the Government have any proposals to let disabled people know, not just through the organisations but more broadly? After all, sadly, not everyone listens to “Today in Parliament”.

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. Part of implementation, which we have an obligation to do, will be to ensure that we promote the convention. Our plans are to do so through the normal channels—the commissions and the vast and rich network of stakeholders who engage with us on disability issues—and that is the most effective route to get those messages out there.

My Lords, does the implementation involve the devolved Administrations? If so, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that those Administrations are fully up with the ratification?

Yes, my Lords, this is UK-wide and must involve the devolved Administrations. Under the convention, there was an assumption that there would need to be one focal point appointed nationally. That will be the ODI. It will certainly need to engage with the commissions in each of the devolved Administrations as a key route to involving them in this process.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that he has replied with respect to one of the four reservations that the Government made—the only one that a number of outsiders, myself included, thought was even faintly justified? He has not replied about the other three reservations; there was a widely held view that they were not justified. Will he give a commitment that the Government will be actively reviewing those reservations and that they will withdraw them as soon as their justification—which is quite remarkably thin—is demonstrated no longer to exist?

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the characterisation of the justification as thin. We have certainly said that we would review the liberty of movement reservations within 12 months. The noble Lord will be aware that we debated the reservation in respect of the Armed Forces recently. That reservation is necessary because in our other domestic legislation the Armed Forces are not subject to the employment conditions of the Disability Discrimination Act. For as long as that remains the position, it is absolutely technically right that a reservation is maintained in respect of the convention. Otherwise, there would be a mismatch between the convention and our domestic legislation.

The declaration and reservation on education will always be kept under review, but for as long as there is the assumption—if that is what it is—that the convention would prohibit special schools, there will be the need to maintain an interpretive declaration. Our system of education recognises the importance of mainstream schools, but also that there should be an element of choice and special schools for those who need them.

My Lords, the Government intended to ratify this convention by the end of last year. Had they done so, this country would have been among the original 12 members of the United Nations monitoring committee. Now it is six months later and, although there are six more places up for grabs, I understand that none can be filled until 80 countries have ratified the convention. What is the Minister’s prognosis of the UK getting one of these places?

My Lords, I am not sure what our chances of success are. The most important thing is that, whoever does it, there is an effective monitoring operation in place at UN level. It is our responsibility as a national Government to make sure that we liaise with the monitoring operation by reporting to it, as we are required to do, within two years to demonstrate how we are effectively implementing the convention domestically.