Lord Shinkwin gives an overview of his motivations for bringing forward the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill to the House of Lords during the Queen’s Speech debate on 19th May 2016.
My Lords, I am excited about the commitment in the gracious Speech to tackling the barriers to opportunity and to laying the, “foundations for educational excellence in all schools, giving every child the best start in life”.
Communicating the message that it is possible to be young, gifted and disabled is fundamental to building a one-nation society in which disability discrimination is consigned to history. That does not mean tokenistic excellence just for disabled pupils and students. It means expecting and demanding more of them so that intellectually talented disabled children are singled out, encouraged and supported to excel. As the Prime Minister said in his inspiring speech on life chances in January, it means a new way of thinking. Surely, as the Government seek to halve the disability employment gap—a worthy goal—building employers’ confidence in disabled people means ensuring that when they want to recruit the best, they can be confident that talented disabled job applicants are more than equal to the challenge.
For me, a one-nation society is one that does not discriminate on account of disability—a society in which disability equality is a consistent reality. My commitment to disability equality and my appreciation of the remarkable record of your Lordships’ House in advancing disability equality have informed my introduction of a Private Member’s Bill on the issue. It concerns an area where, unbelievably, the diagnosis of disability carries a death sentence. Partly because of your Lordships’ House, discrimination on the grounds of disability after birth is outlawed. Yet today legal and lethal discrimination on the grounds of disability is allowed up to birth by law. It is illegal for an unborn human being to have their life ended by abortion beyond 24 weeks, but if they have a disability their life can be ended right up to birth by law. Where is the consistency, the justice or the equality in that? If anyone thinks such obvious discrimination is acceptable, I respectfully invite them to imagine the outcry if the same were applied to skin colour or sexual orientation. Such discrimination would rightly be regarded as outrageous.
To be a Member of your Lordships’ House is to be a Peer, an equal. Yet, for as long as this discrimination is allowed by law and remains on the statute book, how can I, as a severely disabled person, reasonably be expected to regard myself as an equal? The recent excellent report on the Equality Act 2010 and disability produced by an ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships’ House shows that this House is equal to the challenge—equal to the noble task of righting this wrong, of advancing disability equality once more, and of building one nation in which disability discrimination is consigned to history. Surely if life chances are to have meaning, if every child is to have the “best start in life”, as the Prime Minister quite rightly wishes, disabled children must first be given an equal chance to live.