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Let us take, for instance, the issue of age. Are we to understand that non-discrimination on grounds of age means that one would not have a retirement age? It is perfectly arguable--one may well say this when looking around your Lordships' House--that some people of 65 and 70 are in much better shape and much more intellectually vigorous than some people of perhaps 45 or 50. But, in life, when one employs people, the reality is that, on the whole, they work until they are about 65 and then they retire. Should we say that that is discrimination? If one is fit and able, why should not one continue to work? What would happen in issues such as that?
Other people, through no fault of their own, may have done a very stressful and exhausting job and may wish to retire much earlier. Perhaps they will not be allowed to because that might be seen as discrimination. I can see all kinds of practical problems with something which, in theory, sounds splendid but which opens up difficulties.
As to the aspect of sexual orientation, I thought that the Government believed--at least they have said--that marriage is the basis of society. Certainly it is my own view that marriage has always been the basic tenet of society. It is only since marriage has started to break down and things have gone wrong in the past 25 or 30 years that we have run into an awful lot of the social problems with which we are now confronted. This is not the time to go into all of them. Certainly, marriage would be downgraded by the amendment. One should clearly understand that. Would a housing authority, for example, be able to give priority to married families with children? Or would that be some kind of discrimination against someone else?
As to religion, again it is an enormous subject. Many people--for example Muslims and Jews--think that homosexuality is wrong, full stop. We have here a clash of rights and interests with which it is very difficult to deal. Before one takes up and accepts the amendment, one should consider very seriously a great many complicated and important issues of belief. As I argued during the passage of the Human Rights Bill, when there is a clash of rights between one group of people and another it is difficult to resolve. It will go to the courts, but that takes time. Until some of those great problems have been considered in great detail, it would be unwise to accept an all-embracing amendment which is unclear.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, waxes extremely eloquent on the subject of equality of opportunity. I hope that one day she will set one of her speeches to music, because she is extremely good at it. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the subject is absolutely
I hope that the Government will tell us that they are being extremely cautious and thinking carefully about every aspect of the matter. We do not want them to get into a muddle over local authorities in the way they have got into a muddle over one or two issues which have come to the surface lately, causing anything but harmony in local communities. I am sure that the Government are right if they tell us that they are proceeding slowly and carefully and that they are considering the extent to which they need to go beyond existing legislation as it applies to local authorities.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, both noble Baronesses who have just spoken highlight exactly the need for our amendment. It is precisely in difficult areas such as housing need that local authorities require most help and guidance from the Government by way of having clearly spelt out on the face of the Bill what they are supposed to do. There should be extremely clear guidance. One should not give people houses because one believes they are morally nicer than the next person. One gives them houses because they and their children are in need of housing. The decision should be made on an objective basis, not according to whether one feels that someone is a better person in society's terms.
I shall keep off the thorny subject of sexual orientation. However, to expect housing officers or the member of the executive responsible for housing under the structure of the new Bill to judge on a subjective basis whether people are deserving of housing would be highly regrettable. Other difficult issues may rear their heads, for instance, those relating to new age travellers. Local authorities which address such issues in the most objective way possible and which bear in mind equality of opportunity fare much better than those which take a hostile, moral tone and effectively pass the problem on to the neighbouring authority to deal with. I support my noble friend's amendment most strongly.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, we are in a difficult area. I am grateful to my noble friends for mentioning the difficulties. The problem for a local authority is that in many aspects of its work, in order to make sense of a wide problem such as housing, a degree of discrimination is essential. One cannot work without that. The question now arises as to whether such discrimination involves other aspects, be they race, sex, disability, or whatever. Of course, disability might well be argued to enhance the need for proper housing.
My reaction to the amendment is perhaps rather a pragmatic one. If the absence of such a clause were really causing major problems, I would have expected to see far more cases for judicial review of decisions by local authorities. The fact that we do not see them suggests that the community at large probably recognises how extremely difficult and complex these issues are and how local authorities do their best in
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall be rather cautious about the amendment, but not on the grounds urged on me by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Carnegy of Lour. Clearly, strong views are held about morality and the way in which people wish to run their lives and to see their children and families brought up. That is one matter. However, there is an overriding principle when writing the law: equality before the law. Unjustified discrimination before the law should not be practised by local authorities in any of the areas mentioned in the noble Baroness's amendment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, there is bound to be some discrimination in the approach of local authorities in order to meet broader needs. However, that is not discrimination on the grounds of any of the issues referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment. It is therefore not for that reason that I am being cautious; it is more for the reason outlined by my noble friend Lord Harrison. He indicated that since we inserted a similar clause in the Greater London Authority Bill, we have begun to move a good deal in terms of race relations--which is an extremely important part of local authorities' responsibilities--and we have stated our intention to introduce a wider duty in the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill which, when carried, will inevitably mean that we have to return to this provision and amend it virtually as soon as it reaches the statute book.
Although we recognise that there are existing requirements on local authorities and that the legislative requirements will be changed if and when the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is carried--and it may be sensible to clarify the responsibility of public authorities at that point--we do not believe it sensible to insert this provision in the Bill at this point until such clarification is achieved, particularly in relation to race equality pooled together in a wider assessment of the equality responsibilities of public bodies. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept our intentions in this area and will not press for this formulation in the Bill at this time.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before responding to the Minister's remarks, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, it may well be the case that we have not seen applications for judicial review because there is no legislative basis for applications to be made. He said that we should leave well alone. It is because we fear that things are not as well as they should be that we are persisting with the amendment.
I must ask the Minister whether the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, can give us any further indication as to the timing. As he says, the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill is about racial issues, and we have quite deliberately listed other issues which give rise to discrimination in this amendment.
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