Lord Shinkwin is a Conservative peer.
Were you at the recent Conservative Party conference? Perhaps you followed it in the media? Do you remember the bit in Jeremy Hunt’s speech when he told the hall that there were some pretty impressive growth rates he wanted to share with them? Do you remember the precise figures – the 85 per cent increase in the number of terminations on grounds of disability after 24 weeks between 2008 and 2015; the 68 per cent increase in the number of terminations on grounds of disability over the last 10 years (up from 1,916 to 3,213 between 2005 and 2015) and the 43 per cent increase in the number of terminations for Down’s Syndrome over the last five years?
Of course, the Health Secretary didn’t announce such awful statistics. Why would he? It’s hardly in the interests of the eugenicists in the Department of Health for the party faithful to know of the horrific discrimination on grounds of disability being perpetrated in our name. In fact, I hope, for his own good, that his officials are keeping him and his Ministerial colleagues in the dark – that actually he does not know the figures
But just suppose he did. I wonder what he would be telling the Prime Minister if she, or one of his colleagues, happened to mention at Cabinet my Private Member’s Bill on disability equality before birth, whichis due to be debated in the Lords this Friday.
Maybe he would dismiss it: “Oh, don’t worry about Lord Shinkwin. He’s only one of the most severely disabled peers in our Parliamentary Party. The fact that William Hague appointed him to the National Disability Council to advise the Government on implementing our Disability Discrimination Act – and that he served as your deputy when you were Chair of the Conservative Disability Group, Prime Minister – simply shows he hasn’t got a clue. Let’s ignore him. No, much better, let’s patronise him.”
“Indeed, I already have. Do you know that he wrote to me in March, asking that I meet with him and people with Down’s Syndrome to discuss their grave concerns about a new screening test which will make it even easier to search for and destroy babies with Down’s (90 per cent of those currently detected are aborted), and that I ignored it?”
“Then when he tabled his Private Member’s Bill in May to bring the law into line with our own anti-disability discrimination legislation, I dispatched a junior Minister to have a quiet word. Do you know, Prime Minister, he actually had the gall to write to you as a leadership candidate with some questions about his Bill? But don’t worry. One of my Ministers wrote back on your behalf, ignoring his questions and patronising him with the standard, ‘I hope this is helpful…’ line.”
“But unfortunately, he just won’t shut up. He’s already mentioned his Bill twice in the House – in May and September – so it’s not as if he hasn’t made us aware. He’s even asked us to back his Bill. Imagine! Maybe we should patronise him some more. Why should Friday be a complete car crash? It’s only the Lords, after all – and it’s not as if our Party’s ever had any trouble with disability issues. Prime Minister, you look concerned…”
I wonder why she would. Perhaps because as someone whom I know hates discrimination, she might notice the hazard lights flashing, and appreciate the significance of the choice confronting our Party. The choice is stark: does the party of opportunity, the party which introduced the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) stay true to itself and accept the anti-prejudice logic of the law it implemented 21 years ago?
Or does it instead continue to allow discrimination on grounds of disability to be enshrined in law? Does it delude itself that a section of the law (s1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967) that provides for abortion right up to birth simply on grounds of disability – as opposed to up to 24 weeks if no disability is detected – is somehow not disability discrimination? Or does it accept that such blatant discrimination, which only last year saw 11 babies aborted for cleft lifts or palates, has no place in twenty-first century Britain?
The fact is that the change proposed by my Bill is modest and reasonable. It neither comments on the ethics of abortion nor affects materially a woman’s right to choose. Indeed, it would not prevent a woman, whose baby had been diagnosed with a disability, procuring an abortion up to 24 weeks on grounds of the impact on her mental health, for example.
What it does do is bring abortion law into line with a landmark piece of anti-discrimination legislation, the DDA, of which our Party should be proud. My Bill asserts that we are all equal, that institutional, legal and lethal discrimination on grounds of disability is as abhorrent and unacceptable before birth – when it starts – as it is after birth. The Prime Minister is right: we need to build a Britain for everyone. That includes people like me, whose disability would make me a prime candidate for abortion. I hope she and her Ministers understand that I have a duty to speak out, and on Friday I will.