The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We welcome the Minister's statement that the Government accepts the clear benefits of ratification of the Convention. The findings of our recent inquiry on the rights of adults with learning disabilities showed that although UK law and policy on the treatment of adults with learning disabilities takes a human rights based approach, the day to day experiences of people with learning disabilities are not so positive. Ratification will send a strong signal to all people with disabilities in the UK, and abroad, that the Government takes equality and the protection of their human rights seriously. We look forward to seeing more detail about how, in practice, the Government proposes to ensure that the UNCRPD will play an important part in policy formation. (Paragraph 22)

2.  We are concerned that there has been limited active engagement by the Government with disabled people and their groups. While we understand that discussions have taken place between the Minister and his predecessor, officials and disabled people and their organisations, it appears that these discussions were largely at the instigation of the groups themselves and based on relatively little open information. As the ODI acknowledges in its supplementary evidence, these discussions are not a substitute for consultation. We are disappointed that, although drafts of some proposals for reservations were available in June and July, these were not published in response to our August request for further information and that the Minister has since been reluctant to place drafts in the public domain. There would be clear benefits in consulting people with disabilities and their organisations on whether or not reservations to the UNCRPD are necessary. In our view, these would include increased confidence on the part of disabled people in the Government's approach. In addition, open discussions with the people most affected by the potential reservations and interpretative declarations may help persuade Government that they are unnecessary. If, after consultation, Government consider that reservations are appropriate, it will be in a better position to address individual objections and concerns during parliamentary scrutiny. (Paragraph 30)

3.  We consider that progress towards ratification of the Convention by the UK has so far lacked transparency and has unfortunately alienated disabled people and their organisations. This is unacceptable in the light of the clear Convention commitment which the Government intends to make to the involvement of disabled people in the development of policies and laws which affect them. This approach undermines the previous role that the UK Government has played in championing equality for disabled people and their leading role in negotiating the terms of the UNCRPD. (Paragraph 34)

4.  Although the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) has adopted a coordinating role in Government on ratification of the UNCRPD, it is unclear exactly what this role has been. The evidence which we heard from the Minister for Disabled People suggests that each Department has been asked to forward its concerns and a "wish list" of reservations to the ODI. Collective responsibility means that the Minister must defend the need for reservations publicly, but it is unclear whether anyone within Government has ever scrutinised these departmental requests to ascertain if they are strictly necessary, or seriously challenged their compatibility with the Convention. In the light of the lack of transparency that has accompanied progress towards ratification, we consider that this approach is unsatisfactory. (Paragraph 39)

5.  We are extremely disappointed that the Minister has failed to meet the Government's original goal of ratification by the end of 2008. We are particularly concerned that this failure means that the United Kingdom has not been involved in the establishment of the monitoring mechanisms for the Convention from the outset. We welcome the Minister's acknowledgement that the United Kingdom need not wait for ratification by the European Community before proceeding to ratify. (Paragraph 44)

6.  We recommend that the Minister publish the current text of each of the reservations and interpretative declarations being considered by the Government without delay to allow full consultation to take place with disabled people and their organisations. The publication of these drafts and the reasons for the Government's concerns before the proposals for ratification are laid before Parliament should not unnecessarily delay progress towards ratification. Even allowing for a 4-6 week period for consultation, the Minister's target of Spring 2009 should be achievable. The Government has discovered, since May 2008, that a number of interpretative declarations or reservations are not needed. A further period of open scrutiny may persuade the Government that its position on the remaining proposals for reservations, developed in isolation, has been unduly cautious. (Paragraph 48)

7.  We share the view of the EHRC that ratification of the Convention ought to take place as soon as possible. Significant delay by the United Kingdom will undermine its standing in the international community, may reduce its ability to participate in the further development of the monitoring mechanisms for the treaty and may undo some of the positive and encouraging developments in the Government's perception as a leader in the campaign for policies and laws which enable disabled people to live independent and equal lives. However, we consider that the number of reservations currently being considered by the Government may send a negative impression to the other State Parties to the Convention and to disabled people in the United Kingdom. (Paragraph 49)

8.  Whilst we welcome the new goal set by the Minister of ratification by Spring 2009, we would be extremely disappointed if ratification were to proceed without any further opportunity for consultation and scrutiny by disabled people and their organisations. (Paragraph 50)

9.  The proposal that the UK make at least the same number of reservations to the Convention as all 43 existing State Parties combined is extremely worrying. It sends a stark message to other signatories to the UNCRPD that the UK is concerned about its content. Without clear justification having been provided, this proposal understandably shakes the confidence of disabled people in the UK in the Government's approach to the Convention. We consider that the Minister's explanation that it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to consider the position of other State Parties to the Convention rather misses the point of our comparison. (Paragraph 52)

10.  In addition to the publication of its draft proposals for reservations and interpretative declarations, we also recommend that the Government should publish the outcome of its own review of the compatibility of domestic law and practice with the requirements of the Convention. This would assist with more detailed scrutiny of the Government's approach to ratification of the Convention. The Government should be able to explain clearly why it considers that UK law and administrative practice currently complies with the requirements of the Convention. (Paragraph 57)

11.  We welcome the Government's decision to conduct an open consultation on its response to the House of Lords decision in Malcolm. We do not share the confidence of the Government that the judgment does not create difficulties for the compatibility of existing domestic anti-discrimination law with the requirements of the UNCRPD. At the very least, this change in the law means that the UK is less likely to meet its obligation under Article 5 of the Convention to prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability, to guarantee to persons with disabilities equal and effective protection against discrimination on all grounds and to promote equality, eliminate discrimination and take appropriate steps to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided for people with disabilities. We welcome the Government's decision to bring forward a new settlement for the protection of people with disabilities from discrimination in the forthcoming Equality Bill, and to remove the implications of the Malcolm judgment. We will examine these proposals during our scrutiny of the Bill. (Paragraph 63)

12.  It is disappointing that we have now asked three Ministers, including the Home Secretary for information about the Home Office policy in respect of the UNCRPD and we still have no clear answers about the Government's proposals for immigration and citizenship reservations, in relation to the right to free movement without discrimination on the basis of disability or other parts of the Convention. It is particularly worrying that the Home Office approach appears to be based on a desire to insert a 'catch all' provision to cover as yet undetermined future policy proposals. This approach would be an entirely inappropriate way for the UK to approach a new set of positive international obligations.(Paragraph 70)

13.  No detailed proposals for reservations or interpretative declarations to the right to education have emerged during our inquiry. We welcome the decision of the DCSF to provide us with a memorandum about its proposals but, despite this additional information, we do not have adequate information about the Government's position or its proposals to determine whether any reservation is necessary or compatible with the spirit of the Convention. We recommend that when the draft text of any reservation or interpretative declaration is published, that it is accompanied by a full explanation of why the Government considers that it is necessary and compatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. This should include a clear explanation of the Government's view that current law and policy should not be amended to allow the UK to ratify the Convention without reservation. (Paragraph 80)

14.  We share the doubts of the EHRC and other witnesses over whether the continued exemption of the armed forces from the application of the DDA is justified. We agree with the Minister that the forthcoming Equality Bill will provide a timely opportunity for the Ministry of Defence to consider whether its position is now outdated. It would be unfortunate if reservations were entered to the Convention which were quickly proved unnecessary as a result of a positive reform in domestic law. We recommend that the Government now consider, against the background of its commitments in the UNCRPD, whether an amendment to the DDA might be included in the forthcoming Equality Bill to remove the exemptions currently enjoyed by the armed forces. If the Ministry of Defence consider that the exemptions continue to be justified, we would expect the Government to provide supporting evidence for its position. (Paragraph 88)

15.  We have inadequate information to reach a firm conclusion on the necessity for each of the reservations being considered by the Government. However, in the light of the evidence we have received and the detail we have seen, we share the doubts of many disabled people's organisations that any, or all, of the reservations or interpretative declarations currently being considered by the Government are both necessary and compatible with the object and purpose of the UNCRPD. (Paragraph 90)

16.  If the Government now considers that reservations are necessary, it must provide clear justification for its position and its view that the reservations or interpretative declarations are permitted. We are concerned that the Government's proposals imply an outdated approach to equality for disabled people, proceeding on the premise that reservations are needed in order to maintain the Government's current policy, rather than examining whether the current policy is appropriate or compatible with the goals of the Convention. This defensive approach is in stark contrast to the Government's goal to achieve equality for all disabled people by 2025. This approach, in our view, could have been avoided through the adoption of greater transparency and by providing the opportunity for closer scrutiny of the Government's concerns. (Paragraph 91)

17.  If the Government decides to proceed with its proposals for reservations to the Convention, other States may be able to challenge the reservations, as incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. Some witnesses told us that reservations being proposed were liable to challenge, particularly in respect of the concerns of the DCSF and the proposals for reservations in respect of the right to education. We consider that it would be premature for us to express a firm view on the compatibility of any proposals with the object and purpose of the Convention. We recommend that together with publishing the draft text of any proposed reservations, the Government provide a clear explanation of its view that they are compatible with the object and purpose of the UNCRPD. (Paragraph 92)

18.  We consider that the benefits of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UNCRPD are reasonably clear. The UK has led the field in pushing for the acceptance of the Convention and advocating the rights of people with disabilities to equal treatment. We have received evidence that the right to individual petition is considered an essential part of participation in the Convention by disabled people and their organisations. In addition, we consider that the participation of the UK, from an early stage, in the interpretation of the Convention and the development of its monitoring mechanisms would be valuable not only for disabled people in the UK, but for the ongoing development of the Convention at an international level. In any event, should the European Commission proceed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, we could end up with the absurd situation that disabled people in the UK could take their cases to the UN, but only in relation to areas of law or policy where the EC had exercised competence, not purely domestic legislation or administrative action. In the field of equality and non-discrimination this is likely to leave a limited area where the UN monitoring mechanism would not apply. We recommend that the Government undertakes to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol at the same time as it ratifies the Convention. (Paragraph 98)

19.  As we have outlined above, we are concerned that the role of the ODI in relation to the process of ratification has been unclear. We consider that the focal point for the implementation of any international Convention should assume the responsibility for ensuring that the Government is taking all steps necessary to comply with the UK's international obligations. This requires a strong presence with clear influence across Government. Monitoring compatibility cannot be left entirely to the domestic independent mechanism, in this case, the UK's equality and human rights commissions. Government must assume a positive role in its approach to compliance. Article 33 of the UNCRPD, in our view, will not be satisfied by anything less. (Paragraph 101)

20.  If the ODI is to act as the focal point for the implementation of the UNCPRD, we call on the Government to ensure that the Office has the full cooperation of all departments in its endeavours to ensure that the UK complies with its obligations and that equality, respect and dignity for people with disabilities are mainstream concerns throughout all areas of Government. This must include provision for effective coordination with the devolved assemblies at a high level and, if necessary, the designation of separate focal points. (Paragraph 102)

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