Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative 5:15 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, I am also concerned about the question of harassment. As the right reverend Prelate said, it is wrong that people should be harassed in any way. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain referred to this crazy world where individuals have become litigious. That is so, and I fear that we shall become more litigious, especially if we in Parliament try to account for every detail. Legislating for every eventuality and nicety means that every time a criterion is put down, we are inviting people to agree or disagree, and then to litigate, or we frighten people from doing what they have always done in case somebody might litigate against them.

My noble friend Lord Waddington was quite right when he said that the outcome of this Bill would not be that people would be rushing to take others to court for what they have done, but that the local authorities would take action. Reference has been made to Christmas lights being banned and called winter lights and to Christmas cards that say "Season's Greetings" instead of "Happy Christmas" for fear of prosecution.

People ought not to be frightened of doing something in case Big Brother gets at them. I can give noble Lords my thoughts on this matter only in a general sphere. Let us assume that your Lordships consider the general principle of the Bill, that Ministers give worthy assurances that things will be all right and that the Bill goes through. But once the Bill becomes law and officials look at what the law says, they will forget what Ministers have said and think, "Goodness, we've got to take this action because if we don't, somebody will say that we are not doing what we should have done according to the law".

Perhaps I may give noble Lords one example which occurred to me only this past week. I received a letter from a local authority. The letterhead included the kind of thing that we are used to seeing nowadays; for example, the Metropolitan Police always has some whacky saying at the bottom of its letters such as "Serving London" or "Creating a safer London". It is completely unnecessary, but that is what it does. The letter in question had come from Norfolk County Council and I think the words in this case were "Serving the Community"; in other words, doing all the things that government and people want and being non-frightening, understanding and conciliatory. But the top right-hand corner of the letter said: "Farm Enforcement Team". That has all the flavour of the jackboot. There is not much community service there. It is dictatorial and it is frightening.

That is what happens. If you go ahead putting lovely ideas into Bills, and trying to dot every "i" and cross every "t", you will make enforcement a matter of considerable concern. My fear in general is that by trying to cater for every eventuality, we are storing up trouble for the future.