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

Memorandum submitted by TUC


  1.1  The TUC represents 58 trade unions with six and a half million members working in all sectors. The TUC has a democratic representative structure enabling disabled workers to express their views and to advise the TUC on all aspects of policy relating to disability.

  1.2  The TUC supported the process of drafting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through involvement in the advisory group of disabled people who took part in the negotiations leading to its completion, and welcomed it as an historic milestone in the establishment of human rights for disabled people around the world. The UK Government's early signing of the Convention was welcomed. The Government's commitment to ratify the Convention by the end of 2008 is of great importance but the attachment of reservations is neither useful nor necessary.

  1.3  We therefore urge Ministers to ratify the Convention and the Optional Protocol without reservations as soon as possible.



  2.1  The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a step of enormous significance for disabled people everywhere, including in the UK. The rights it enshrines, and the message it sends out by its very existence, represent the first global recognition of the human rights of a very large number of people characterised most often by exclusion and/or second-class status. The Convention's approach to disability is rooted in the understanding that disabled people should be equal members of society with the same human rights as all others, not that they are to be seen as passive objects, recipients of charity with all that entails in terms of status and popular attitudes. In that critical respect, the Convention matches the UK Government's vision, expressed in the objective of achieving equality for disabled people by 2025—a vision shared by the TUC. The adoption of the means to achieve this ambitious objective must, logically, form part of the practical plans for implementation and in that respect too the TUC believes that the UK is among a small number of states that have taken the lead in introducing the material steps necessary (in most but not all policy areas) to advance towards disability equality. The consequence of this leading role ought to be recognition of the importance of setting an example to other states.

  2.2  Specifically, many positive steps have already been taken over the last decade with the several improvements to the Disability Discrimination Act, and the commitment given to maintain and improve current levels of legal protection against disability discrimination through the Equality Bill. In addition, it is understood that the Government will act to reverse the retrogressive impact of the House of Lords decision in Malcolm, and the TUC will respond positively to the forthcoming consultation on this question. In all these areas, the UK Government has shown a continued understanding of and commitment to the vision laid out in 2005 and reflected in the 2025 target date.

  2.3  But the question of perception is of great importance. Whereas early UK signature of the Convention sent out a powerful message to disabled citizens that their government recognised and supported its message of inclusion, equality and human rights, a much greater significance attaches to ratification. There is already disquiet that while 37 states have ratified the Convention to date, including several in Europe, the UK is seen to delay and to consider reservations. The Minister's existing commitment that ratification will take place before the end of December is most welcome, but it is a matter of concern that either this date might be delayed, or else that it will be met, but that in the process, reservations or interpretative declarations will have been appended that give a different message to disabled people in this country: the message that yes, the UK believes you have human rights like everyone else, but unlike disabled people in other states, the UK declines to recognise them in some areas.

  2.4  Further, the signal that early signature sent to other countries that they too should support the Convention would be undermined if the UK delayed further, or placed conditions upon, its ratification. This would represent a retreat from the vision of equality for disabled citizens both in terms of perception, but also in terms of reality. It is also not necessary.


  3.1  The TUC understands that the Government is considering either reservations or interpretative statements in several areas as a result of requests from departments. It further understands that following detailed consideration, several of these have been withdrawn or recognised not to be needed. For the reasons advanced above, the TUC view is that no reservations or interpretative declarations should be attached to ratification.

  3.2  Article 46 of the Convention allows states parties to fulfil their obligations under the Convention over time. Therefore the only possible reason for requiring reservations would be a determination that the UK does not intend, even over time, to comply with all the obligations of the Convention. If that were true, the conclusion is that the UK should not have become a party to the Convention at all, as it must be the case that signing it indicated an acceptance that some of the obligations thereby assumed must lead to changes in law or practice within the UK. The Convention itself states (article 46(1)) that reservations incompatible with the "object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be permitted". However, if (as the TUC believes) that is not the starting point for the reservations, but rather that certain current laws and practices do not comply with Convention obligations, then it would appear that the UK is adopting an extremely conservative approach, quite in contrast to numerous other states parties including many that are in a similar position to the UK that have decided that they can ratify the Convention without reservations.

  3.3  It is understood that a reservation is wanted in respect of the armed forces. The TUC has long stood by the position argued previously by the Disability Rights Commission, and now by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, that the current legal blanket ban should be removed.

  The critical point in this argument is that even without the ban the armed forces would not be compelled to recruit any person who was not capable of doing the job. Ratifying the Convention without reservation would still not lead to the armed forces being required to recruit personnel not able to meet the requirements of the job. However, it is also evident—if only from the reported fact of numbers of service people apparently retained after disabling accident or injury—that there are many jobs within the armed forces that do not require full active service fitness and capability.

  The TUC believes that the call for this reservation may originate in a conservatism comparable, historically, with the similar ban on employing lesbian, gay or bisexual people. The MOD supported that ban at the time although there have been no reports of any of its argued bad consequences having transpired subsequent to its removal.

  3.4  The other significant area, where interpretative declarations are sought, concern education and the commitment in article 24 (2a) that "persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system" and that (article 24(2b)) "Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive |education|.", because of the continued existence of special schools. It is understood that discussion is ongoing with the DCSF over why such declarations are necessary, given the allowance for progressive implementation allowed by Article 46.

  The TUC was involved in the consultations that led to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. This legislation affirmed that the overriding objective was to achieve inclusive education for disabled children, while recognising that for a small minority a specified range of circumstances might require education through segregated (special) schools. However, the long-term objective was understood to be the achievement of comprehensive inclusive education. Apparently, reaching that point was dependent on sufficient resources being made available.

  Therefore there is no need for Interpretative Declarations around these articles, given compliance with the commitment to inclusive education as the means to achieve it become available.


  The Optional Protocol offers the means for individuals to seek redress under the Convention and the TUC supports UK citizens having the means to enforce the rights that the Government has signed up to. Not to ratify the Protocol at the same time as the Convention would also signal a retreat from the principles underlying both.


  The word limit precludes explaining the TUC concern over the Government's involvement of disabled people in the current process.

  The appointment of the EHRC as an independent monitoring body for the Convention is welcome.

29 October 2008

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