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My Lords, this Government are committed to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to using it as a driver to achieve equality for disabled people. The Office for Disability Issues is co-ordinating implementation, monitoring and reporting across government and the devolved Administrations to ensure that they are aware of the need to take the convention into account in developing policies, and that they involve disabled people and their organisations in doing so.
In thanking the Minister for his reply, I recognise the huge resource challenge we all face and I welcome the Government's commitment to ensure that fairness is at the heart of any financial decisions that will be made. In light of the recent announcements around welfare reform, including incapacity benefit and disability living allowance, and the possibility of a delay in implementing the Equality Act, can the Minister assure the House that every step is being taken to make sure that spending cuts do not impede the implementation of the UN convention and that full equality impact assessments are carried out so that the impact on disabled people is actively and appropriately considered?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her informed questions, which I know come from her interest in and passion for equality issues. I can assure her that we will treat this convention with great seriousness and will push ahead to make sure that it does not slow down. Next July, we are due to report on progress in this area. We will be pushing to make sure that we do so to time. I can also assure her that in our welfare reforms we will look precisely at making sure that those who need support the most continue to receive it.
My Lords, one-third of disabled people live below the official poverty line, which does not measure the additional costs of disability. Under the UN disability convention, the Government must promote the right of disabled people to an adequate standard of living and social protection. Will the Government's review of the disability living allowance and, more importantly the recent closure of the independent living fund to new recipients breach that obligation?
My Lords, when we look at our obligations under the convention, we are clearly looking at a journey towards complete equality for disabled people. It would be naive to claim that within one bound we shall produce total equality. This has been a long journey, which started many years ago. We are committed to press on and make sure that as we move ahead we produce greater equality and improve the lot of disabled people steadily as the years progress.
The Minister's assurances are welcome, but how do the Government explain the reservations that they have made? It is not so much the question of individual reservations, but the cumulative effect of all four of them. It gives the impression that the British Government are not interested and certainly are only lukewarm towards the issues covered by the four reservations to the convention. How does the Minister square that?
My Lords, we have four reservations on this convention, and there are two ways of looking at that. A large number of countries have signed-145 of them, and 87 have ratified. We have taken this convention with great seriousness and looked through the implications of applying it, rather than looking at it as a purely aspirational matter. Of those four reservations, we are working extremely hard to ensure that we can remove two of them.
My Lords, when we are dealing with disability matters we tend to pass a lot of legislation, then have to go back and pass legislation again on the same subject. Have the Government decided whether we have the legislative framework to enact the United Nations convention? If we do not, when will it be in place? May we know as soon as possible?
The United Nations convention is not a matter of law in this country or in Europe. It is a convention that holds us to account on our performance, and on which we report back to the UN. We will do that in July.
My Lords, Article 28 of the convention promotes the right to an adequate standard of living. Elsewhere, the convention requires that all activities must include the participation of persons with disabilities. How have persons with disabilities been involved in the decisions in the Budget that show, in table 2.1 of the Red Book, that £360 million in 2013 and then over £1 billion in 2014 will be cut from the disability living allowance?
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had a chance to welcome the noble Lord to these Benches. As he points out, part of the convention says "nothing about us without us", and we take that seriously. We will go through the normal Budget processes in terms of ensuring that equality and human rights issues are dealt with.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the European Parliament is currently considering a draft regulation on the rights of passengers on bus and coach transport. Will he assure me that the British Government will support the inclusion in this regulation of stronger rights for disabled people in line with Article 9 of the UN convention, particularly with regard to the provision of assistance and accessible information?
As I said, my Lords, we are determined to implement this convention. We have four reservations, but transport is not one of them. We will be implementing it in as proportionate a way as we can.