A coalition of disability bodies has voiced its disappointment after the government confirmed it would opt out of parts of a UN disability rights charter when it ratifies the treaty.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, disability minister Jonathan Shaw said the government would bring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law with reservations in four areas.
These cover serving in the armed forces, special schools, immigration health screening and aspects of the benefits system (full details below).
In response, the United Nations Convention Campaign Coalition – a group of 33 organisations including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Radar – said that the reservations would “undermine the protection of disabled people”.
Scope’s director of policy and campaigns, Ruth Scott, added: “We are disappointed that the government is still intent on entering a significant number of reservations on key areas of the convention, including education, immigration and defence.”
Ministers were due to ratify the convention last year, but plans were put on hold when several government departments indicated that they wished to lodge opt-outs.
Spring target for ratification
Shaw said the government’s ambition was to ratify the convention in the spring.
He told MPs that the reservations have been included in an explanatory memorandum and command paper on the arrangements for ratification, published by the government this week.
Shaw said: “The UK does not ratify any international treaty until it is in a position to ensure that it can implement the provisions and therefore comply with its obligations.”
The government also signed up to the convention’s ‘optional protocol’ last week in a step welcomed by campaigners.
Right to challenge rights breach
The protocol allows disabled people to take a complaint over a breach of their rights directly to the UN once the UK’s internal procedures have been exhausted.
Reservations proposed by the UK government:
- Exemption of personnel in the armed forces. This follows the decision to exempt naval, military or air force personnel from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 “to preserve their combat effectiveness”.
- Consideration of special schools. The government says that there are some circumstances where a disabled child might be better educated at a specialist provider located outside their local community.
- Immigration health screening. This reservation would preserve the government’s right to introduce wider health screening for applicants entering or seeking to remain in the UK. The government argues this would be necessary in the event of a global health emergency.
- Substituted decision making. Article 12.4 of the convention requires a “regular review” by an independent authority or judicial body when decisions are made on behalf of a person. The Department for Work and Pensions says that there is currently no review system for people appointed to claim and collect benefits on behalf of another person due to that person’s lack of physical or mental capacity, and that as a result it would be in breach of the convention.