Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we on this side are doubly sorry that the Government overturned this amendment in the other place. Basically, it is a sound amendment but I am perfectly willing to accept

6 Nov 1995 : Column 1584

that, as the Minister explained at some length, it may have been flawed. However, given that the amendment was supported by your Lordships in Committee, the Government had Report stage and Third Reading in this House, as well as the opportunity of amendments in the other place—three occasions—on which they could have amended it had they seen fit. Therefore, that is not a substantive objection.

Why is the amendment sound? Without it, someone may not be discriminated against if they are disabled, but they may be discriminated against if they are thought, wrongly, to be disabled. We believe that that is perverse. Perhaps I may give two simple examples.

First, a publican may not refuse service to someone who has epilepsy, but if he thinks, wrongly, that that person has epilepsy he may discriminate against him and not come within the law. Secondly, a publican, cinema owner, or whatever, may discriminate against someone who is severely deaf. If, however, that person is merely wearing a hearing aid and the publican thinks, nonetheless, that that implies severe deafness when it does not, the publican may discriminate and does not come within the framework of the law.

The difference between us is that the Minister is focusing upon the issue of disability while we on this side are focusing upon the question of discrimination. We believe it perverse that a person may not discriminate against someone with a severe or substantial disability but may discriminate against someone with a minor or a falsely believed disability. That is equally offensive. It is the first reason for being sorry that the Government have seen fit to overturn the amendment. They are left in a perverse position.

The second reason is a more general one. The Bill started on a negative note. It started because the Government resisted and rejected the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. So the opening of this round of debate was on a negative note. To our sorrow, it has closed on a negative note. When the Government vetoed the amendment, the last words the Minister spoke in another place were to ask for the rejection of an amendment that disabled people wished to have. It is churlish and grudging that the Government's last word on this matter in the other place should have been to negative an amendment, something which we, at this stage, can do nothing but acquiesce in.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, if the amendment were accepted, a provider of goods and services would be offending against the new law if he were to discriminate against someone who was thought to be disabled but in fact was not, or against someone with only a slight disability who would not fall within the definition of the Bill. Virtually everyone concerned agrees that there must be a definition of "disability" for the purposes of the Bill. That includes in the Bill people who have had a recognised degree of disability in the past which might recur. It would be going too far to include people who are not disabled but are merely perceived to be so. A whole range of people and cases having little connection with real disablement would come within the terms of the Bill.

6 Nov 1995 : Column 1585

My understanding is that the Bill was never intended to deal with discrimination of all kinds. It is directed towards disabilities of significant handicapping kinds. It is indeed the first measure in this field ever to be introduced by a government in this country. It is not a general anti-discrimination Bill. There is another relevant consideration. I have had the privilege of associating with people with disabilities and organisations concerned with disablement for 50 years, ever since I sustained a physical disability in World War Two. Over that long period, I have come to know severely handicapped people who make light of their personal difficulties and manage cheerfully and skilfully to cope with life. They deserve our admiration.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, there is a minority of citizens under the delusion that they are suffering from disabilities when there is in fact little wrong with them. There are hypochondriacs in disability as well as other medical conditions. This addition to the Bill would be an invitation to some of them. It could become a charter for such hypochondriacs.

The amendment would apply only to Part III relating to goods and services. There was debate at the beginning of our Committee stage on 13th June on amendments to introduce perceived disablement into the definition. Those amendments were withdrawn after full debate. Later that day, an amendment worded similarly to this one, but applying to Part II of the Bill on employment, was not moved as a result of the debate. The amendment to Part III was the result of an unusual Division at about 9 p.m. on 15th June when voting was 94 for the Opposition and 50 for the Government. The Government were clearly caught napping on that occasion.

It was a well organised operation on which I congratulate the Opposition Front Bench. It was good clean fun. From a seemingly empty House, numbers of Opposition Peers materialised from nowhere late in the evening. I have taken part in similar episodes when I was in opposition in another place, also with success. So I appreciate and can admire a skilful exercise of that kind.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that some votes are more real than others?

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, not at all. The noble Baroness has been on the Opposition Front Bench for a long time. She must remember many Divisions after 9 o'clock in the evening when figures of 94 were not registered because no one was expecting such a Division. I have the Division List with me. I could read out some of the names, but I do not want to bother the House now. Noble Lords can look them up for themselves. On 17th June they will see the names of people who do not often appear here after 9 o'clock at night. I say, with admiration, that it was a well-organised operation.

The amendment was successful while equivalent amendments to other parts of the Bill were not even pressed to a Division. This left inconsistent definitions for different parts of the Bill. The amendment happened to be the beneficiary of an unusual Division. It applies to part of the Bill only and is inconsistent with the

6 Nov 1995 : Column 1586

definition applying to the rest of the Bill which was not put to a vote. The Government were right to advise reversing it in another place and to propose that we should now agree with the Commons in their view.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the fact that the amendment was accepted by a surprise vote late at night, as the noble Lord said, does not matter very much. The fact is that the Opposition won the vote. If every time we disagreed with noble Lords on the Government Benches we were to have a Division, we should not have had a summer break and would still be going through the Division Lobbies. We have to be selective when choosing when to make a stand.

Regardless of technical deficiencies, the amendment's aim was to introduce a wider definition of disability as a whole. The Government said that they did not want that but that they wanted targeting. We have heard a great deal about targeting and resource allocation. We have it again in the Bill.

The amendment's aim was to ensure that discrimination in itself was seen to be something that was wrong. Surely, every opportunity should be taken to achieve that. That is why I have no reservations about opposing the Commons. I understand, however, that it is not the opinion of the Benches to my left that we should do that. Therefore I am reluctantly forced to back down.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I had not intended to speak because we are not pursuing this issue, as the Minister knows. It is a bit rich for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to talk about unknown and unfamiliar faces voting on this side of the House when that happens every day on practically every vote on that side of the House. It is a bit rich for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to make that accusation. It is staggering. He was selective in saying that votes we win really do not matter while votes that they win do. That is an odd version of democracy. He is in the wrong country to be putting forward that kind of view.

More seriously, the defeat of this amendment means that even with a Bill about discrimination it will still be legal to discriminate against people who are perceived to be disabled when they are not. That is absurd. Written into the Bill is a provision that no undue burden should be placed upon the providers of goods and services. Given that provision, which we accept, and indeed which we advocated, I do not see why the Government cannot accept the amendment because it would be a reasonable provision. I am sorry that the amendment cannot be accepted.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am glad that the amendment was not accepted because it widened the Bill far too much. Instead of the Bill having the effect that we all wanted—that is, really helping disabled people—it would have produced a counter-reaction from people who thought that it was unreasonable. I refer in particular to self-perception, not merely to how others perceive one. In our debates we discussed how one might perceive oneself. I know many people who have unfortunate perceptions of themselves and who, under the Bill as it would have been worded

6 Nov 1995 : Column 1587

as a result of the amendment, might have been able to bring cases and cause a great deal of hostility towards the Bill. Therefore, I am in favour of the amendment being refused by the Commons.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page