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Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord's tortuous mind has rather confused matters. I was talking not so much about the cost but about the regulatory burden. The noble Lord will understand that a very small firm is unlikely to have available the specialist personnel team to deal with those matters. Therefore, the regulatory burden imposed by an Act of this sort in terms of employment would be very great. That would not be the case under Part III in relation to customers.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this short but important debate. The debate is dealing with how many people will be brought within the purview of the Act and how many disabled people will be debarred from its protection by virtue of the size of the company which they would wish to be employed by. That is the question.
The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, speaking on behalf of the CBI, reminded us that its position is one of benevolent neutrality towards the amendments. I think that that would be a fair way of describing it. At earlier stages briefing from the CBI made it very clear that it did not feel that there should be any exclusion as such. Nevertheless, it is benevolently neutral towards the amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, preferred to rely on persuasion. I believe that that was the gist of his argument. I would prefer that, but we have had 50 years of persuasion and disabled people's rights have not been met adequately in the eyes of the Government. That is precisely why we have this Bill today. As the noble Lord said, good employers respond to persuasion but bad employers do not. That is why we have this legislative framework. The only question is who it should encompass.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, was concerned that that legislative framework should not encompass those, for example, in the farming industry, where it might not be appropriate. He is absolutely right. But I happen to have sitting next to me my noble friend Lord Carter who knows far more about agriculture than I can ever hope to. He reminds me that for a farm to employ more than 10 people and therefore to come within the framework of the legislationif the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, were to be acceptedit would have to have well over 3,000 acres, or more if it was arable. As a result, only a very tiny percentage of farms would be affected by the Act. Therefore, in practice, agriculture will not come within the framework of the Bill.
The Minister revisited two of the arguments which I tried, perhaps inadequately, to address when I moved the amendment. The first was as to cost, although to be fair the Minister did not challenge that Amendment No. 17, in conjunction with the amendment tabled by the
What he did say was that employing disabled people would represent a regulatory, administrative burden to those who own, run or manage such small companies. I believe the Minister said twice that they did not employ specialist personnel because there were only 15 or 20 staff employed. That is true, but the other side of that is that precisely because the company is small and has 12 or 14 people, the manager or the employer will know what the job requires in detail and will know therefore whether the disabled person coming forward has the appropriate attributes for that job. Precisely because he is a "hands on" employer, he will have the expertise that in larger companies has to be seconded to some specialist outside. Therefore, he is likely to make a much better fit of the job and the disabled person than the larger companies would. I believe that the Minister has helped to make my point for me.
I return to the basic point. All employers, whatever their size, are not required to make any expenditure for disabled people that is unreasonable. No companies of whatever size are required to employ disabled people where their disability makes them less suitable for the job. In other words, any company with fewer than 20 staffand if the House were minded to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, any company with fewer than 10 staffhas that double protection already. It does not have to incur unreasonable costs and it does not have to employ a disabled person where that is unreasonable. If that is the case at present, they do not need the further protection of size as well. Size is irrelevant. We are merely excluding the corner firm.
Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? Is she not making my point, that if employers are protected so well by Clause 7, it is persuasion which has to make them employ people rather than this Act?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wish with all my heart that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, had history on his side. It is because he does not that, after years and years and years of discussion and debate, the Governmentnot wehave brought forward what is a good Bill which will give disabled people major rights in the fields of employment and of goods and services. However, unless we accept this amendment, large numbers of disabled people and large swathes of the country will be exempt from this Bill, and exempt unnecessarily because they are already protected by the structure of the Bill which states that
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.