Lord Shinkwin calls on the Government to back his Private Member’s Bill

Lord Shinkwin’s comments to the Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Act.

I welcome the Government’s stated commitment in paragraph 4 of the preamble to their response to improving attitudes. I also welcome their restated commitment to take steps to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the clear acknowledgement that such a commitment means that all government departments need to consider what the convention says when developing a policy that affects disabled people, including, in the case of the UN convention, disability before birth. This is particularly important because I am concerned that one department, the Department of Health, may be in breach of at least the spirit, if not the letter, of that convention as it relates to disability before birth. If this excellent report is to have a lasting impact and if we are committed to equality, we must allow disabled babies to have a future to enjoy equality. At the moment, many of them do not. The sad, shocking fact is that a diagnosis of disability in the womb means all too often that they are lucky to make it out alive.

Disability discrimination may have been outlawed after birth 21 years ago, but for disability diagnosed before birth, discrimination remains enshrined in 2016 in the law of our land. Take Down’s syndrome, for example. Some 90% of Down’s syndrome diagnoses result in termination, and that figure is likely to increase if the Department of Health approves the National Screening Committee’s recommendation that a test be introduced to make it even easier to identify Down’s. It is one thing to eradicate disability discrimination—and this excellent report powerfully shows the way forward on that. It is an entirely different thing to eradicate disability itself through termination. For that is what is happening, and not just on grounds of severe handicap, to use the terminology of the legislation—not that severity justifies discrimination. The Department of Health’s own figures for 2015 record that 11 terminations were carried out for cleft lip and cleft palate, which are easily rectifiable conditions.

I say to the Minister in good faith that, if the Government want to prove their commitment to tackling discriminatory attitudes, let them back my Private Member’s Bill. Let them make the time available so that my Bill completes its passage through your Lordships’ House and so that MPs, as the people’s elected representatives, have a chance to debate and vote on removing disability as grounds for termination.

The speech is also available from Hansard Online.