Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carter: They are in my back pocket.

Lord Skelmersdale: I do not have any great experience of the back pocket of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, but of course I believe what he says.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Do you want to?

Lord Addington: With a certain amount of trepidation, I support the amendment. With respect to the need to eliminate harassment, the amendment would remove the words,

That brings the whole thing into sharp focus. You are allowed to harass people about certain things but not others, and a certain group is vulnerable.

As has already been said, the problems of disabled people have been acquired at birth or by accident during some point in their life. They will need support. We are also fighting against stereotypes; anybody who is different from you is always slightly inferior. It is a fact, I am afraid, that when any half dozen people are in a room, that is always the assumption. Over time, we have trained ourselves not to do this.

In virtually all groups, when the difference becomes apparent, there is always an immediate check—"Oh! What are you like. What's different about you? You're not like us". That is what we are talking about. Practical examples have been given, but we must do something to address the problem. It can be addressed only by providing information and making sure that people realise that these differences are not that great. Anyway, it is not something that the person has done—it is just something that is. We must attack the problem and we will not do so by saying, "We'll just make sure that nothing nasty happens to you". That is effectively how this provision could be interpreted. The parliamentary language and the legal terminology may not be correct, but that is certainly the sentiment behind the amendments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, pointed out, the civil participation in Amendment No. 16 is probably the strongest suggestion that we are bringing people into the mainstream of society. That must be done in certain ways. It does not matter if these amendments are not accepted as long as that is done. This proactive duty is the main step forward ideologically in this Bill as opposed to the 1995 Act. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to tell the rest of her colleagues in the Government that this Committee thinks we should go an extra step. I invite the noble Baroness to take this very difficult step. Let us face it; we will have a very good champion if she does.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: We have had a long debate, and I shall be very brief. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lord Carter on an excellent presentation. They certainly persuaded me, although I needed no persuading.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC93
 

I have recently had experience of the effect of violence and harassment on two young people. They were devastated; they were hit and threatened with knives by thugs in the street. They were not disabled people, but strong young men. They were very disturbed indeed by their experience. So I can only imagine the effect of something similar on disabled people, especially those with a learning difficulty. We should take any opportunity there is of reducing this kind of hate crime and harassment. The amendments provide exactly that opportunity.

The one killer fact for me is this: if there is provision, as there is, in the race relations legislation, which deals with the concepts of hate and violence, we cannot possibly afford not to have such provision in the Bill. The message would then go out that hate and violence are banned in race relations legislation but are okay when it comes to disabled people. That message simply cannot go out, and I therefore hope that the amendments will be accepted.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As Members of the Committee suspected, I am not in a position to accept these amendments. I shall come back to that point later.

Two issues have been raised. The first is a description of and a call on the DDA to understand and seek to eliminate, as far as possible, issues of harassment. Some of the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, my noble friend Lord Carter and others have been quite shocking and an affront to our concept of decency. There is no disagreement about that.

However, you cannot somehow turn a public body into a de facto police force, with powers to tackle individuals through the legal system, when an example of harassment has occurred. We have other and appropriate means for doing that—namely, the Public Order Act 1986, which leads to police action against the offence of harassment. More recently, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can deal with both a civil wrong and a criminal offence. Although my noble friend Lord Carter did not mention it, I am sure he is aware that under the DDA, disabled tenants are protected from harassment by a landlord or manager of the premises. So there are clear routes through the legal pathway. For racial harassment, however, that is not always the most obvious form of redress.

The question is whether one can appropriately require and expect our local authorities and public bodies to engage in an activity beyond that of the policing function to seek to overcome the causes of harassment and not just to control the activity. Most of the discussion today has been on that point.

Much of the discussion has suggested that because the Bill, unlike the equivalent race legislation, does not include a duty requiring public bodies to promote "good relations", it is somehow weaker and fails, by implication, to take the issue of harassment of disabled people as seriously as, say, the harassment of people from our ethnic minority communities. We do not accept the argument that just because the corresponding race
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC94
 
legislation has a duty to promote good relations between races and ethnic communities there should necessarily be a corresponding disability duty. There is no automatic correlation between the provisions required to drive equality for disabled people and those to drive equality on other grounds.

We have heard some horrendous stories and examples. My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People made it clear during the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Government were open to persuasion if evidence could be provided that the Bill was lacking in some respect. But we would need to be very clear about the circumstances that the current provisions fail to address, and how changes to the duty could remedy this in a way that was workable and made sense for the bodies concerned.

I do not think that the term "good relations" works as appropriately in the disability context as it does in the race context. There seems to me a clear difference between the experience of ethnic minority people living in identifiable communities with institutions such as places of worship, restaurants, shops, and so on, and the experience of disabled people living in the same communities as non-disabled people and using the same community institutions. There is a very real difference when it comes to building mutual understanding between white, Afro-Caribbean, Asian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities or between Asian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and the Afro-Caribbean community. There is a need to explain and interpret communities to each other. That is not a similar equivalent responsibility within disability equality legislation.

I have listened carefully to the debate; I think a critique has been offered. I do not believe that the wording is correct and appropriate, or even, on reflection, whether "social inclusion" is. I would like to reflect on the arguments and see whether, in the light of what has been said today and in the light of further discussions, we can explore the issue further on Report. In the light of that undertaking, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Lord Carter: Before the Minister sits down, that is the first time I have really understood the Government's argument about the use of the phrase "good relations". I can accept the argument; I can see the difference between race relations and the rest. I am delighted to hear that the Minister is prepared to try and find a form of words which will meet our concerns.

Lord Rix: I, too, was getting very worried until the Minister's last sentences, when she held out some hope. I shall not enter into an argument about whether the provisions should apply to black people or disabled people in restaurants or shops. I shall live in hope that the wording that will emerge from the Minister's office will be suitable.

The provision would be quite simple if our amendment were accepted. Under the heading "General duty", subsection (1) of new Section 49A would state that every public authority shall, in carrying out its functions, have due regard to the need to eliminate harassment. I
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC95
 
use the old-fashioned pronunciation of "harassment". That seems quite simple; it would not put a tremendously onerous duty on local authorities. It just means that they have to consider other things under the Bill.

I shall live in hope. I beg the Committee's pardon because I must now leave. I broke a tooth just before we sat down and I want to see if the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, is in the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page