MPs and peers today strongly criticised the government for failing to adequately explain its delay in ratifying a key United Nations treaty on disability rights.
Although the UK was one of the first to sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – in March 2007 – the government has since dragged its feet over full adoption.
In November last year disabilities minister Jonathan Shaw admitted that the UK would miss its deadline to ratify the convention by the end of 2008 and pushed the date back to spring 2009.
The delay has been due in large part to a number of departments proposing “reservations” over certain aspects, which would enable them to opt-out of implementing the provisions.
In today’s report, parliament’s joint select committee on human rights said that the ratification process had “lacked transparency” and that the ministers had failed to properly explain or justify their proposed reservations.
Disabled people alienated
The report also warned that disabled people had been “alienated” due to a lack of consultation over the reservations and that significant delay over ratification could undermine the UK’s standing in the international community.
Committee chair Andrew Dismore called on the government to immediately publish details of the proposed reservations and to push ahead with ratification without delay. He said: “We are particularly disappointed at the trouble we and disability organisations have had getting information about the large number of legal exceptions the government wishes to make to this convention, and at the delays in ratifying it.”
The committee also called for the Office for Disability Issues to be given a stronger role in co-ordinating the ratification process and scrutinising the proposed reservations.
It is understood that the UK is considering at least four reservations, the same number as has been lodged by the other 42 signatory countries combined. In addition, a number of “interpretative declarations” are being considered, including in respect of the right to education.
The convention obliges its members to root out disability discrimination, combat negative stereotypes, guarantee freedom from abuse and exploitation and promote equal rights for disabled people.