MPs criticise government’s tactics on UN convention


MPs and peers have criticised the government’s approach to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The parliamentary joint committee on human rights attacked the “wish-list” approach to the convention taken by government departments seeking to protect existing policies.

The government wants to make reservations – or opt out of parts of the convention – in four areas: education, immigration, defence and benefits.

MPs and peers on the committee had already criticised the government’s failure to hold a consultation on the proposed reservations.

In their new report, they said that most of the evidence they received had related to the article on the right to education.

The government has said it wants to clarify that the UK’s education system should include both mainstream and special schools.

But the report said the government risked sending “a confused message” to disabled people about its commitment to an inclusive education system, although it accepted there might be a need for a reservation because of the convention’s own “lack of clarity” around inclusive education.

The committee repeated its call for the government to remove the exemption of service in the armed forces from its proposed equality bill and then reconsider the need for a reservation in that area in the convention. (The government later confirmed that the exemption had remained in the bill.)

And it called on the government to abandon its proposed reservation on immigration, which it said was “both unnecessary and inconsistent with the object and purpose of the convention”.

The committee agreed that the government’s reservation on benefits was necessary, but only until it introduced a way to review those who are appointed to collect benefits on behalf of disabled people.

The joint committee concluded: “If the government cannot be persuaded that reservations or interpretative declarations are unnecessary, ratification should take priority over lengthy and futile discussions which would only serve to delay the participation of the United Kingdom in this important international agreement.”

But it criticised the government’s approach as “unduly cautious”.

The United Nations Convention Campaign Coalition, an alliance of 31 disability organisations, again called on the government to ratify the convention in full.

Rosemary Bolinger, a trustee of Scope, a coalition member, said: “Today’s report from the joint committee echoes our concerns that the government’s proposed opt-outs are unnecessary, vague and in some cases in conflict with the spirit of the convention.

“Every day thousands of disabled people are being denied basic rights such as equal educational opportunities, equal access to life-saving medical treatment and access to justice.

“We call on the government to demonstrate its commitment to disabled people’s human rights and set an example to the international community by ratifying the convention in its entirety.”

Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, said: “As we move towards ratification, the government will consider the views that the committee has expressed, and will respond to the committee’s specific recommendations in due course.”

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