Lord Shinkwin’s speech – Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill – Committee Stage

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of my Bill, and I thank sincerely and in good faith the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for her amendment, which I not only accept but welcome as a logical extension to a logical Bill. It is a Bill that brings the law as it currently applies to disability before birth into line with how your Lordships’ House has already ensured that the law applies to disability after birth.

 

The amendment is about the impact of my Bill. But it is a simple, wonderful truth that I owe your Lordships’ House so much because of the impact of legislation that it has already passed. Without your Lordships’ House, a commitment to disability equality would never have been enshrined in law. Noble Lords will know that noble giants such as Jack Ashley and Alf Morris, with both of whom I had the privilege of working and whose spirits I invoke today, led the fight to outlaw disability discrimination. All my Bill does is to carry on their noble work, because it would allow us to outlaw disability discrimination where it begins—at source before birth. It is simply unfinished business. The amendment would help because it would measure the Bill’s impact on disabled children, their families and carers, and on the provision of support services.

When I think about the incredible role that strong women—women such as my own mother—play in the lives of their disabled children, anything that supports families and carers after birth and, crucially, on diagnosis before birth is welcome. Moreover, it stands to reason that such support services, be they provided by the state, charities, parents’ organisations or disabled people’s organisations, should be included in an impact review so that people can learn and disseminate best practice and, where necessary, ensure that improvements are made.

An impact review is important—but so too is how such a review is conducted. It is vital that, in keeping with the disability equality spirit of my Bill, any review of its impact should not only involve disabled people but, in my humble opinion, should be led by them. What a powerful statement it would make about the importance of disability equality, which your Lordships’ House has done so much to champion over so many years, if the chair of the review was a wheelchair user or, indeed, anyone suitably qualified who has a disability, and if the majority of the review panel was also disabled. Why not? It would be logical.

I readily admit that maths was never my favourite subject at school—but even I can see from the trends in abortion on grounds of disability that the writing is on the wall for people like me. People with congenital disabilities are facing extinction. If we were animals, perhaps we might qualify for protection as an endangered species. But we are only human beings with disabilities, so we do not.

In accepting this helpful amendment, I close with one thought. Our Paralympians represented their country in Rio with pride. What was the essential qualification for them competing at Rio? It was their disability. The country which applauded their success is the same country whose law regards that essential qualification for going to Rio—disability—as a reason they should die. How is that fair, right or logical? It is none of those things, which is why today I reflect on the remarkable impact that laws passed by your Lordships’ House have had on my life as a disabled person. It is why I ask myself: how could I not have faith in our common humanity? How could I not have faith in the truth that there is more that unites than divides us? And how could I not believe that your Lordships’ House will be true to itself and continue its noble fight for disability equality by passing this Bill?