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The issue was raised of the compatibility of domestic law with the convention, and of the reservations with the convention. The UK’s approach, and I make no apology for it, is not to ratify any international treaty until it can ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with the obligations that it has accepted. That is why government departments and the devolved Administrations have compared their policies, programmes, practices and procedures with the convention’s requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, asked about the Government’s views on the compatibility of domestic law and practice with the terms of the convention. The Government took account of the requirements for reservations to be compatible with the object and purpose of the convention when considering the terms on which we were proposing to ratify, and we set out our rationale in the Explanatory Memorandum.

The noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Maclennan, asked about compatibility with the convention and what these reservations mean. The UN convention allows for the making of reservations and interpretative statements so long as they do not defeat the object and purpose of the convention, so this is specifically provided for. We have considered the reservations and interpretative statement that the UK will be entering, and we are satisfied that they do not defeat the convention’s object or purpose.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Unfortunately, the Explanatory Memorandum does not tell anyone, article by article, how domestic law already complies. There is nothing in it that says that, nor is there anything in any other government document. The Joint Committee has asked not for the fruits of two years of interdepartmental discussion but for a short document that says, “Article 13 is already covered in UK law by Section so-and-so of the Commonwealth so-and-so and the Disability so-and-so, while Article 14 is covered by so-and-so”. That is what one needs to answer, for example, my noble friend Lord Maclennan’s question. Unless we have that, we cannot tell how it is that the Government are saying that legislation is not necessary in order for ratification. It is important that the public should know where existing law gives full protection and, therefore, where it is unnecessary to legislate further.

On the broader questions about review, I am sure the Government will realise that Parliament will be reviewing all this during the Equality Bill debates. It

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may therefore be in less than a year that the Government will be compelled by Parliament to withdraw some of it—but that is another point.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: On that latter point, I am well aware that the Equality Bill is now with us and I have no doubt that several noble Lords will be actively engaged on that, pressing some of the points that they have raised today.

I understand the point that the noble Lord is making about the quest for some form of document that lists all the UK provisions and matches them against the convention. I doubt whether that would be a short document; rather, I imagine that it would be extensive. That does not necessarily argue against it being produced, but the fact that we are supporting the signing and ratification of the convention, given our starting proposition, means that that work has been undertaken, although I accept that it has not necessarily been fully visible.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am very grateful. I am not asking for new work to be done, nor am I asking for revelations of all the old work that has been done. All I am asking for is a summary of the work that has already been done. It does not matter whether that is in short form or long form. There is no reason why that should not be disclosed in a convenient form so that the public are well informed. That is all we are saying. I hope that can be done.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I shall certainly take that away and raise it with colleagues to see whether we can do more on that front. I can see that that would be helpful.

I wish to pick up on the point that several noble Lords raised about whether new rights derive from the convention. The convention sets out what was considered by those negotiating it to be a list of existing rights applying to disabled people. These are general rights and the convention allows for those ratifying it to take into account provisions in their own legal systems, so long as in doing so, as I said a moment ago, they do not defeat the object and purpose of the convention. Therefore, national differences can be accommodated.

Issues were raised about consultation, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that we are not ashamed of these reservations. We have tried to explain their purpose. There is no hidden agenda here. However, I recognise that many groups with whom we have worked actively and fully are disappointed, which is a shame.

It has been suggested that the Government should have consulted more about their proposals and that they should have consulted on the justifications for and precise terms of the reservations and interpretative declaration that they propose. However, the Government made clear in May 2008 that at that time they were considering reservations and/or interpretative declarations in respect of service in the Armed Forces, education and immigration, and were continuing to explore whether there were any compatibility issues that might result in the need for an interpretative declaration or reservations in respect of measures relating to the exercise of legal

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capacity, aspects of mental health legislation or choice of place of residence, and interpretative measures in respect of cultural services.

A further update on the position was provided in the response to correspondence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights in the autumn and in the Minister for Disabled People and the South East’s evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in November 2008. Ministers and officials have had meetings with a number of stakeholders. The Explanatory Memorandum on the convention, laid before Parliament on 3 March, provided a detailed explanation of our proposals for ratification and the rationale behind those proposals. This information was circulated widely, and this and other information has been placed on the website of the Office for Disability Issues. Information has therefore been in the public domain for some considerable time.

Looking forward, the Government recognise that it is essential that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the future implementation of the convention—for example, through participation in the monitoring and reporting processes that will be developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked what we were doing to promote the convention around the world. The UK is active, both at home and abroad, in promoting the convention. Overseas the FCO supports local NGOs to promote awareness of the issues covered by the convention and is supporting the work of the Council of Europe in promoting the UN convention among member countries that have not yet signed and ratified. The Department for International Development has made positive efforts to integrate disability into development practice and has, for example, provided country office staff with practical advice on how to engage with disabled people as part of poverty reduction efforts.

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I am conscious that there are probably some issues that I have not fully covered but I think we have a process going forward to pick those up. I assure noble Lords that we will consider the views that have been expressed today, together with those expressed by the JCHR and others, before we make a final decision on how to proceed to ratification. Specification of the convention is a step that moves us closer to ratification, and ratification is the immediate objective and the end of a detailed process. Equally importantly, it will be a beginning of the implementation of this important convention when it comes into force within the UK. I look forward to us embarking on that journey.

Motion agreed.

Disabled People (JCHR Report)

Copy of the Report

Considered in Grand Committee

7 pm

Moved by Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I thank everyone for taking part in a most memorable debate. I have already spoken to the Motion, and I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7 pm.

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