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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I should declare an interest when supporting the amendment because I work for an organisation which provides all the things listed in paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 53. I do not want to speak of the experience of my own organisation. However, I should like to give an example. A friend wished to take a group of children from a Church of England Children's Society home to a pantomime in Morecambe. The booking, for some 30 children, was turned down on the grounds that a number of them might be mentally disabled and therefore liable to make a noise during the performance. I was somewhat surprised because at a pantomime children are supposed to enjoy themselves and make a noise.
I can also give an example from some time ago when I worked as a surveyor for a firm in Kent selling property. The owner of a property refused to sell it to MENCAP because he was friendly with his neighbours and thought they would object to having people with a mild mental disability living in the same street.
There is discrimination against organisations which work for and with people who have disabilities of all kinds. We cannot allow discrimination against organisations of that kind because that is a roundabout way of discriminating against disabled people. It is obviously against the spirit of the Bill.
Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will accept the amendment as it stands or, if it needs to be improved, that he will accept it on the basis that he will arrange for it to be improved in another place.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for spoiling his weekend. I was a little disturbed when I realised that we would table amendments on Friday. We tried hard to prevent that happening but consultation on the important issues covered by the amendments in my name has taken some time. It is important that we get the amendments right. I understand that some amendments were tabled by other Members of your Lordships' House yesterday, so I was not the last offender in terms of tabling late amendments. I hope that the explanations that we provided with the material we sent to the noble Lord, were helpful.
I listened with some sympathy to the difficulties which noble Lords have described. However, I am afraid that the solution in front of us in the form of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is not acceptable.
During its passage through Parliament my ministerial colleagues and I have emphasised that the Bill is concerned solely with discrimination against disabled people. It cannot be seen as a solution for all those who
The definition used in the Bill is clear. The people we intend to cover are those who have, or had, a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. As I have said on a number of occasions, those are people who are disabled in common-sense terms.
Although we are extending protection to a wide range of people, a line has to be drawn concerning those the Bill is intended to cover. That is not easy. American experience demonstrates that tremendous problems can be caused by involving groups with what may be only marginal connections to disability. Those problems include a large backlog of complaints, great uncertainty among employers and service providers, and groups rightly intended to be excluded from the Act managing to complain by claiming, for example, that they have a reputation of having a disability.
Similar problems would be caused by extending the Bill's coverage to third parties. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is intended to do just that by making unlawful less favourable treatment of a service provider on the grounds that he or she provides employment or services to disabled people.
We should be clear that there are some situations in which a disabled or able-bodied third party is so closely linked to another person that it will not really matter which receives the service. Discrimination against either will be actionable by the disabled person. An example is parent and child situations. We discussed those during previous stages of the Bill. For example, in the case of a mother and baby where either the mother or the child is disabled, a refusal to serve one of them on the grounds of disability would be a case of actionable discrimination. If, say, the mother is disabled and needs information in an accessible format from a clinic about medical treatment for her child and the clinic refuses to provide the information in an accessible way it is the baby's health which will suffer, but it will be the disabled person who has been discriminated against.
I listened to the example given by my noble friend Lord Swinfen about access to the pantomime. That case probably falls within the category I have mentioned in this part of my speech. I can reassure my noble friend that denial of access to a pantomime for disabled children would certainly be covered by the Bill, because the children would have been denied a direct service by those who refused the booking on their behalf. The amendment before us today goes a good deal wider than those circumstances to cover instances where there is not a direct service relationship between the provider
To return to the amendment in front of us, any attempt, however well intentioned, to introduce provisions which would widen the scope of the Bill to include those who are merely associated with disabled people or deal with them in some way would damage the Bill and dramatically reduce its effectiveness. Employers, business and the public at large will accept that a change in attitude and approach to their dealings with disabled people is necessary and, indeed, overdue. I expect them to respond positively to provisions which are couched in terms of what is reasonable, as they are in the Bill. However, they would fail to understand and in many cases would refuse to accept a Bill which seeks to protect people who are not disabled. The success of the legislation rests on its credibility. In my view the amendment raises enormous questions of principle which might result in the backlash we are all anxious to avoid.
I fear that a change of this nature could lead to a good deal of spurious or vexatious legislation. The number of people who provide facilities, goods, accommodation and so on to at least one disabled person must run into many millions. Each, at least in theory, would have a case under this legislation if he received poor treatment of some kind and could claim that the perpetrator knew that he had some dealings with a person who might be disabled. The legislation is sufficiently complex as it is without burdening the courts with cases brought by those who might seek to stretch its provisions way beyond their purpose.
I hope that I can add some words of reassurance to those I have already given to my noble friend Lord Swinfen in relation to his example. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Carter. As has been said on a number of previous occasions, the Bill cannot be and does not purport to be the last word when it comes to tackling discrimination. But it will engender wholesale changes in attitude which will have an effect going much wider than the ambit of the Bill. For example, landlords will get used to the idea that they are not able to discriminate against disabled people when considering prospective tenants. Over time it will be the norm for disabled people and non-disabled people to receive the same treatment, just as racial discrimination in the same area has faded since the Race Relations Act was passed. I hope and expect that not many years from now the kind of difficulty which the noble Lord outlined today will be increasingly rare.
As it stands, the Bill is clear and easily operable, despite the fact that this is a very complex area. The vast majority of employers and service providers are willing to comply with the law and need to be clear about how they do that. Our primary purpose is to raise awareness of discrimination which may simply be the result of fear and ignorance. I do not believe that we can
As the Minister well knows, the amendments put down yesterday were paving amendments. They were not the substantive amendments that we had on Friday. He made an interesting point. He stated that the Government do not see the Bill as an anti-discrimination Bill against disabled people. That will surprise many people who have not been following the Bill. I believe that that is what he said.
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