My Lords, the Government consider that good progress has been made towards negotiating a UN convention on disability rights. At the last meeting of the committee tasked with drawing up the convention, a second reading of the text was completed. The chair of the committee has now published a further text which will form a good basis for discussions at the next meeting.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. How do Her Majesty's Government intend to respond to the concerns expressed by disability organisations, such as Disability Awareness in Action, that have been deeply involved in the development of the convention? They said that the latest draft appears to reduce human rights entitlements for disabled people. It cites the lessening of rights to liberty and security of the person in Article 14, and freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse in Article 16, as two examples. Can the Minister assure the House that his officials will do all they can to ensure that the convention does not result in a lessening of disabled people's entitlements to human rights?
My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that officials in my department—who have been working very hard in the negotiations, particularly during the presidency because negotiations as far as members of the EU are concerned are being led by the EU—have met frequently with organisations concerned with the rights of disabled people. The current position is that we think that the draft text put out by the chairman is an improvement but that there is some way to go to ensure that the convention gives disabled people full and equal access to all existing rights. We will continue to work with disabled people on those matters.
My Lords, before this country could ratify the convention we would have to ensure that our domestic legislation is compatible with the terms of the convention. Given the record of this country on disability legislation, in which this House has played a particular role, we hope that it will not be too challenging to ensure that all our laws are compatible. None the less, it is always helpful to have external monitoring of performance in this country. Equally, the benefit of this country ratifying such a convention is that it is part of a worldwide movement. The more countries that ratify the convention, the better the position for disabled people throughout the world will be.
My Lords, do the Government agree that if we want to encourage the ratification of this convention, we should take positive steps to encourage people to follow us? Do they also agree that we should make sure that, in respect of our biggest future public event, the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the Olympic Delivery Authority, at the very least, matches the duties that are placed on public bodies under the last version of the DDA?
My Lords, that goes somewhat wider than the Department for Work and Pensions, but I would be delighted to pass that comment on to the appropriate people.
My Lords, many disabled children are not registered. Their citizenship is often denied, together with access to education and healthcare. Can I ask my noble friend whether he supports the inclusion in the convention of an obligation for all states to ensure that children with disabilities are registered?
My Lords, we do not support the inclusion because the obligation to immediately register all children at birth already exists under the convention on the rights of children. We want to be very careful about duplicating in a convention what is already in another convention, and therefore confusing countries. However, on the principle of whether registration is a good thing, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government ensure that disabled children will be fully protected from abuse and that their rights to inclusive, fully supported education will be upheld?
My Lords, the current draft of the convention includes an obligation to take measures to protect persons with disabilities from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse. We understand that the meaning of "all persons with disabilities" includes children. The draft convention also includes obligations to ensure that all persons with disabilities have equal access to inclusive education and that they receive the educational support they require. I assure the House that the Government fully support the inclusion of those obligations.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, across the developing world, only 2 per cent of disabled children have any education at all? In this country disabled children in special schools do not have the same educational opportunities as those in mainstream schools. Can he make sure that the convention upholds the right of disabled children to a fully supported inclusive education if that is chosen?
My Lords, the Government certainly support the inclusion of specific obligations in the convention to ensure that every child has an equal right to an inclusive and quality education. We also support the ability of parents to exercise choice in relation to the specific issue about special schools or mainstream schools.
My Lords, my noble friend is aware of my role in chairing, for Rehabilitation International, the World Planning Group, which drafted the original call for a UN convention. Is he aware how widely the Government's support for this highly important venture is appreciated; and will he now call for renewed vigour in expediting and concluding the debates in New York on terms acceptable to the organisations of disabled people?
My Lords, perhaps I may first pay tribute to my noble friend for his inspirational leadership in this area. He presented the Charter for the Third Millennium to the Prime Minister in July 2000. There is no questioning the fact that that has been pivotal in helping us make progress. On when agreement is likely to be made on the text of the convention, my understanding is that there will be a meeting on the chairman's text over the next three weeks in New York. There is likely to be a further meeting in the summer, and the chairman hopes that agreement can be reached in the autumn—although experience in relation to work on conventions suggests that we should not take that as being absolutely certain. However, officials in my department, who are leading negotiations for the UK Government, will do everything they can to ensure that everything is done as speedily as possible, although in the end we have to make sure that the terms of the convention are acceptable to this country.