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Mr. Goodman: I listened to the Minister with care and I note that she said that the Government do not take depression lightly, which I am sure they do not. She also said that the Bill is not the end of the road, which I am sure it is not, and that, were the Government to be re-electedI must add that that is extremely doubtfulthey would consider the social model in detail. However, it is extremely regrettable that they are seeking to remove subsection (3), and I want briefly to explain why.
As the Minister acknowledged and as the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), pointed out a moment ago, it is widely recognised that depression can recur. It is also widely recognised that spells of depression often last for not more than six months, which is how the six-month period was arrived at. So someone who had an episode of depression would not be covered under the 1995 Act, which, in essence, stipulates that the effect of an impairment is a long-term one that has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 12 months. As we all acknowledge, people who have had depression are sometimes discriminated against by employers. Such people are often hesitant to disclose previous episodes of depression when making job applications. Indeed, they may be deterred from applying at all.
The Joint Committee that considered the draft Bill, on which I served, recommended that people who experienced separate periods of depression totalling six months over a two-year period should be considered as meeting the long-term requirement. The Minister's colleague in the other placeLord Carter, I believetabled an amendment to that effect, which the Government rejected. My noble Friend Lord
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Skelmersdale later tabled an amendment to protect any person with depression who had experienced during the previous five years an episode of depression lasting six months or so. Such a person would have received cover, but the Government opposed it. The other place considered it and passed the amendment.
My colleagues and I feel that the Government have somehow boxed themselves into a corner on this matter. As the Minister acknowledged when I intervened a few moments ago, there are some modificationsvery welcome modifications in respect of cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosisto the definition of disability in the clause. It would have been sensible for the Government to leave the provision in the Bill, not seek to remove it. MIND, an organisation intricately involved in working with people with depression, described the amendment as
"The Government's insistence on removing the amendment makes it look like it is ignoring the problem in the vain hope that it will go away. It sullies what is, in most other respects, an excellent piece of legislation."
We agree and we believe that disabled people will be puzzled by the Government's insistence on removing this provision from the Bill. I hope that they will take note of that intention in the next few weeks and beyond. If the Government press ahead and insist on removing the excellent amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale, we will divide the Committee on the issue.
Mr. Allan: The amendment tabled in the other place also received the support of my colleagues as we felt that the circumstances of people with depression should be acknowledged more clearly in the Bill. We accept that helpful progress has been made, as the Minister said, in the context of people with mental health conditions. It has been accepted that mental illness no longer needs to be clinically recognised if it is to form the basis of mental impairment, but in a sense, that is a different point. That broadens the scope of the conditions that can be brought within the framework, but depression is clinically well recognised and we are considering whether the Bill would, without the amendment, provide sufficient protection for people who suffer from depression. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) referred to the patterns that depression may take and there remain genuine concerns about whether people with depressive illness who suffer discrimination will be sufficiently protected by disability discrimination legislation.
The Minister made helpful reference in her introduction to the fact that further guidance may be necessary. If the Government have their way and the amendment proposed by the other place is removed, we would certainly want further discussions on the matter. That could be an alternative to having binding time limits set out in the Bill. Guidance could be sent out to the relevant public bodies, employers and so forth to inform them about the pattern of depressive illness that falls within the definition of a disability against which discrimination may occur.
That could provide a helpful way forward, but as we stand at the moment, there remains the potential for people with serious depressive illness to be discriminated
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against. They could find that when they turn to the law, they do not have sufficient protection. That is our motivation for seeking to maintain a provision directly in the Bill. If that falls, I hope that the Minister will be able to advise us of alternative routes to the same objective, perhaps through guidance. As the Minister said, different forms of mental illness have different patterns of recurrence. We do not wish to discriminate between them, but want to ensure that they are all properly covered.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): I would like to make a few brief comments. I am sorry that I missed the opening of the debate, but I was delayed and proceedings moved a little quicker than I had expected. This will probably be my last opportunity to make a short contribution to a debate in this place.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said. Her most important comment was when she said that this was not the end of the road. Clearly, the Government's record and that of the Labour partyon the whole range of disability issues over the years has been excellent.
I have no doubt that the Government will deliver on their proposals, and that they will make further progress. A few years ago, a member of my family suffered from depression. I know that it is a very difficult problem to deal with, because it is impossible to understand what a person suffering from depression is really thinking, or how much it gets on top of them. It is very easy to tell someone that they should snap out of it, but that serves no useful purpose. In fact, it has the opposite effect.
Depression presents a real problem for medical people, as do myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. We are making progress on those matters, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding how sufferers are affected.
I want the Bill to achieve Royal Assent, and if the amendment is forced to a Division I shall back my hon. Friend the Minister. I believe her 100 per cent. when she said that this is not the end of the road and that further progress will be made in the years ahead, after the Labour Government have been re-elected.
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