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Earl Ferrers: I must interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for half a minute. I am fascinated that he
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should agree with anything that I have said or might say, but my name is not attached to Amendment No. 102.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Maybe I have got the wrong number, in which case I apologise. It is Amendment No. 102, but it is in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. I am sure that he would agree with it.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: From the Government Benches, I must say that it will be incredibly difficult to deal with this group, which is important, if we start leaping around to other groups and other amendments. I would be enormously grateful if we could concentrate on this group, particularly bearing in mind the time.
Lord Waddington: I was not going to intervene in the debate, but I shall say briefly how much I agree with what has been said by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has not begun to answer the fundamental point made by my noble friends. There is no precedent of which I can think in any Act of Parliament for charging a quango with the duty of creating any particular form of society. The words in Clause 3 are entirely without any precedent whatever. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, in his very lengthy contribution has not begun to suggest that there is any such precedent. It is highly undesirable to charge a quango with that duty.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the noble Lord for intervening, as it is very difficult for a lay person such as me to try to rebut anything said by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on the subject. I am aware that outside this Chamber there is something that says that you shall not speak with asperity. I certainly will not do, but I found it difficult when the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that my noble friend was legally illiterate in the point that he made and included me in that. That was most unfortunate.
Although I am not in a position to argue the law, the secretary of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, telephoned me the other day to ask whether I would send the other two
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opinions that I had had. If you say that you have had three opinions, most people normally accept that you have had three opinions. I was not in a position to send the other two because they were not written. However, as the matter has come up, I shall mention that one of them was from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, our shadow Lord Chancellor. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, may not think that the other is important but I do. It was from my husband, who has 53 years' legal experience.
Since the letter in which I said that I had had three opinions, I have had two further ones. As I pointed out in my speech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, agreed with our views on "creation of a society". I more or less finished my presentation today by quoting the letter that has been sent to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor making the point about the width of the provision, which is unprecedented. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, started by saying that he thought that there had been a misunderstanding based on the opinion of Neil Addison from the Christian Institute. However, there has now been not only one legal opinion, but five.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has been absolutely rightI am grateful to herin explaining to me the depth and strength of her feeling, of which the Committee will be fully aware and which has been supported by its Members. I understand that the issue is important for her. I shall try to deal with some of the points raised. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, will not mind, but he has leapt two groups and brought his amendments forward a little. I shall try to answer a few of his points. I do not know whether he will repeat what he said after the dinner break; I will assume that he will not for the moment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I thought that I had made it clear that, as my noble friend had said everything that I wished to say, there was no real point in my ploughing into the detailed amendments to which I was going to speak. I did so to be helpful to the noble Baroness. I hope that she will now be helpful to us.
I shall make a point about the role of the law. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, seeks to do in terms of recognising the importance of the law. It is probably the most vital instrument in promoting change. It is right for the commission to support the laws, both where it has an explicit function set out in discrimination legislation and, in a more general sense, in recognising the contribution of other legislation to tackling inequality and disadvantage.
Members of the Committee will agree that the law is a partial instrument, in a sensethat where we want to achieve progress, there needs to be the cultural shift and change to move beyond compliance with the law to embracing equality and human rights positively in everyday attitudes and practice. The Committee will know that those involved in the world of disability, for example, will talk about the fact that legislation is important, but real involvement, acceptance and
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participation comes from the cultural shift of attitudes that enables people to see beyond the disability to the person, if I might put it that way.
My experience as a Minister for children with special needs and disabilities was very much that inclusion is about what happens to you. It is not about the school to which you go, but the experience that you have. Whether you are black, female, disabled or come from any categorythe elderly, the young, whateveryour life experiences of inclusion depend on how people treat you and the way in which they interact with you. The law is critical in that, but it is not the only instrument; we must look beyond that. In the Bill, we are trying to capture some of that and recognise not only the role of the law, but that true inclusion goes beyond that to making sure that we can take action.
One difficulty with the amendment is that it defines things in terms of legislation passed by Parliament. The devolved administrations are taking their own paths to deal with equality, human rights and strong communities. We want the commission to be able to operate in those countries. It is a technical point, but one that I shall make in any event so that the Committee will see where I am trying to position the matter in the way in which I have approached it.
The law and the breadth of people's experience are critically important. The clause was drafted very much with the stakeholders involved. They felt very strongly; Members of the Committee will not be surprised to hear that I asked where the clause came from. They sought to capture the point that I have made through the wording of the clause.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, rightly quoted the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I mentioned before that the correspondence was on the website. I replied on behalf of my noble and learned friend to the committee, and said:
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, specifically had issues with worth and dignity, so I looked up the definitions of them. We are trying to capture the concept of not only treating people in an equal wayyou can be equally horrible or equally torturebut recognising the worth of people. "Worth" is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the character or standing of a person in respect of moral and intellectual qualities. There are a number of different ways in which "dignity" can be definedthat one has stateliness, seriousness, formality of manner, goodness and ability of character, calmness, self-control and so on.
There are lots of ways in which we approach those words, but they are well recognised in terms of how the UN charter has been developed and how we have developed our work with the Human Rights Act.
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Beyond the equal treatment that you seek, the character must be recognised. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked about murderers and evil and wicked people. We are trying to describe mutual respect for peoplethe mutual way in which we approach people. Those who treat others badly because of their extreme views or because they are evil are not included in that sense. We say that every person is worthyevery person should be treated with worth and dignity, but those who behave badly do not command the mutual respect of the society and need to be dealt with.
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