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Lord Monson: I totally lack the medical expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. However, can we be absolutely certain that acceptance of Amendment No. 10 could not jeopardise the health and well-being of other employees in the long term?
When AIDS first hit the headlines the Government, in an attempt to avoid panic, fell over themselves to try to convince the public that AIDS could only be transmitted by sexual contact or infected needles. However, latterly there have been one or two cases which cast doubt upon that and there are indications that it can also be transmitted in other ways. The medical profession constantly change their minds, often in a dramatic fashion. A prime example is asbestos. Some 25 years ago asbestos was considered to be God's gift to mankind. One could hardly find a doctor in the entire country to criticise the stuff. Now we know very differently. Therefore, one has to be careful and ensure that one does not rush into something precipitately at the possible expense of the health of other employees.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I wish to support this group of amendments and particularly to reinforce the arguments made by the noble Baroness in introducing them and by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, about the need to reinforce the position of HIV and AIDS on the face of the Bill.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness made points about the unique position of people with HIV infection and AIDS in terms of the specific discrimination which has been shown to them because of their condition. It is also worth reminding the Committee that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said at Second Reading, people with symptomatic HIV with AIDS can still make a significant contribution. Although, as we have heard, there is considerable confusion about the nature of the precise definitions of HIV and AIDS which arises all the time as more is known about the condition, we are certainly sufficiently into the world epidemic to know that people can be HIV positive and infected with the virus and still appear to be well and be capable of working for at least a decade after their infection can be diagnosed.
Despite the pessimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, about the Government's response to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, I still believe that it is worth discussing those amendments in terms of the specific condition of HIV and AIDS, as well as the other conditions which she mentioned such as multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 suggest that the good practice which many employers in this country already exhibit should be enshrined in statute. I believe that that good practice has only occurred because there have been
Perhaps I may take a few moments of the Committee's time to describe one initiative. It was developed when I was director of the National AIDS Trust. It was specifically related to the issue of the employment of people with non-symptomatic HIV illnesspeople whose diagnosis was known to them and to their medical advisers, but might not have been known to their employers or anyone else involved with them. The scheme was devised precisely to make more open the discussion of HIV infection and the recognition that it could be a condition which, although with obvious long-term serious implications, did not necessarily impair someone's ability to work at the time of diagnosis or indeed for perhaps a decade after, as I have described.
The National AIDS Trust, with the support of the Department of Employmentthe honorary chairman of the initiative was and remains the right honourable Sir Norman Fowlerput together a group of substantial plcs, among them, for example, GEC, IBM, J. Sainsbury, National Westminster Bank, Marks and Spencer, Glaxo Holdings, and so on, with the idea that they would sign an explicit employment protocol which demonstrated their intention not to allow an HIV diagnosis to become any form of impairment to employment. The constituents of an equitable HIV/AIDS employment policy to which they all signed as members of the initiative states explicitly that,
The fact that many companies of large, substantial and influential nature in our industrial world felt it important to provide that policy indicates the need to reinforce good practice in this field. Good practice exists. However, if we were to give the provision statutory force it is more likely that such good practice would spread.
Perhaps I may underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. Many of the people included in the category of those with HIV, compared with many other disabling conditions, are of relatively young age. They should have a lot of working life and creativity before them. Discrimination towards them is particularly wasteful and costly to the taxpayer, especially if people who are simply identified as being HIV positive are thrown on the dole. I support the amendment.
Lord Addington: The noble Baroness is absolutely right in her approach. The disease is not only of long term incubation, but also a killer of the young, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, said. This provision should be on the face of the Bill. It is a growing problem and one which will become worse.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: I hope that this legislation will educate people about the needs and problems of people with disabilities. Having an infectious virus within one's system must be a disability. One of the greatest problems for people with HIV must surely be the attitudes of some who fear infectious conditions. Will it not help to educate the public if reference to HIV is included in the Bill?
The Bill could be in force for 20, 30 or 40 years. Twenty, 30 or 40 years ago none of us had heard of HIV. If we include this provision on the face of the Bill, are we in danger of limiting the discrimination legislation to a disease about which we know now but not one which might crop up? We could have another type of diseaseI hope and pray not. A few weeks ago we had a scare about the Ebola virus in Africa.
My concern is about putting on the face of the Bill a provision which restricts the legislation. I prefer to see some reference on the face of the Bill to any other disease of a nature which could cause discrimination. I recognise that there has been discrimination about HIV. I know that good employers have made every effort to stop it. However, in the workplace there has been discrimination between junior employees; it does not necessarily take place at the top of organisations. However, I am not sure that it is right to tackle the issue in this Bill. I state that as a word of warning.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: The point is surely not that putting this provision on the face of the Bill limits the Bill, but that if, for example, in years to come, with luck and with hope, medical science deals with the issues of AIDS, or cancer (which is also on the face of the Bill), the provision might well fall into desuetude. That does not preclude the provision being on the face of the Bill now when we confront a real issue.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that if the Government are given regulation-making powers, it is comparatively easy to change these matters in the future when the need arises and the House agrees.
However, with regard to the amendments put forward by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, Schedule 1 paragraph 7 deals with the question of people with progressive conditions. We recognise that there is a need to protect people where the effect of the condition is not yet substantial but is expected to be so in the future. That is why the Bill specifically includes people with progressive conditions as soon as there are any effects on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. However, we do not believe that it would be right to include people with conditions which may remain latent, possibly for a considerable number of years.
Members of the Committee have argued that people with HIV infection are discriminated against. That is not the issue here. The Disability Discrimination Bill is designed to protect people who have, or, as a result of accepting my earlier amendment, have had, an actual disability. It is not a general anti-discrimination Bill nor a general health discrimination Bill. If we extend it to cover people who may develop a disability at some unspecified time in the future we will undermine the effectiveness of the Bill by creating uncertainty about who is covered. I am advised that as medical knowledge advances it may be possible to arrest the development of HIV infection so that it does not progress beyond the asymptomatic stage in a normal human lifetime.
I suspect also that if one reads the press reports of 10 or 15 years ago, it will be seen that perhaps the asymptomatic stage was prophesied to be a great deal shorter than it has turned out to be. At present the asymptomatic stage usually lastsI say "usually" because we are dealing with issues which vary from person to person10 to 15 years during which time people, although infectious, feel perfectly well and are able to work and, quite rightly, as a number of noble Lords have said, should work. The amendments categorise as disabled people anyone who was found to have a progressive condition at whatever point that condition is identified. We cannot accept that people whose condition has no effect whatsoever should be counted as disabled or covered by the Bill.
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