Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I can be sure that I have got it right. Is he saying in terms that Amendment No. 36, or perhaps Amendment No. 37, will be in the code of practice?

18 Jul 1995 : Column 210

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am saying that these issues will be addressed in the code. I am not saying that we will use those precise words.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I feel that we really need more than sympathy. Sympathy does not mean much. The Minister mentioned putting details into the code. There is already a great deal of detail in the Bill, set out in paragraphs (a) to (i) of Clause 7(3). To take just one, paragraph (f) provides for,

    "allowing him to be absent during working hours for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment".

The most important thing of all is to get a disabled person into the building so that he can work. Therefore, this is an important issue.

I feel that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that we should get together and draw up the perfect amendment is probably what we shall have to do. I am sorry that the Minister could not recognise these points. I want him to think what would happen if he broke his neck driving up to Northumberland or Cumbria, where he lives. He would want to come down to your Lordships' House and continue his work as a Minister. I hope he would. But he might need some assistance getting into your Lordships' House, as I do. I am very grateful for it. The policemen give me some assistance. Once I am in your Lordships' House I can carry on my usual activities, but I need help to get my car out because I have very stiff shoulders.

I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, intends to do, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 5, line 6, at end insert:
("(3A) In determining whether it is reasonable for an employer to have to take a particular step in order to comply with subsection (1), regard shall be had, in particular, to—
(a) the extent to which taking the step would prevent the effect in question;
(b) the extent to which it is practicable for the employer to take the step;
(c) the financial and other costs which would be incurred by the employer in taking the step and the extent to which taking it would disrupt any of his activities;
(d) the extent of the employer's financial and other resources;
(e) the availability to the employer of financial or other assistance with respect to taking the step.
This subsection is subject to any provision of regulations made under subsection (7).").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendment No. 38 with Amendment No. 35. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 5, line 46, at end insert:
("( ) This section imposes duties only for the purpose of determining whether an employer has discriminated against a disabled person; and accordingly a breach of any such duty is not actionable as such.").

18 Jul 1995 : Column 211

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 39 is in my noble friend's name. I spoke to the amendment with Amendment No. 10. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]
Clause 8 [Exemption for small businesses]:
[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 6, line 3, at beginning insert ("After 1st November 1999,").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I had better preface my remarks by explaining that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, has unexpectedly had to go to the United States. Therefore, although he supports the amendment as strongly as I do, and perhaps more so, unfortunately he cannot be present to argue the case for it, which I am sure he could do better than I can.
This is an extremely modest amendment. It would not be necessary if one could be certain that the present administration would be in power in four or five years' time, because if that were the case one could be certain that no precipitate action would be taken. That is obviously the Government's wish. However, we all know that a week is a long time in politics. Who knows who may be Secretary of State at the end of this year, let alone at the end of 1996 and still less at the end of 1997?
The Bill will probably receive Royal Assent in early November this year. As it is drafted, the then Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be, could immediately order a review, which could not last for more than nine months, following which the word "20" could in theory be reduced to "10", to "5" or even to "2" by August or September 1996. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, says "Splendid!", so we know what the Labour Party's intentions are.
This modest amendment, which is supported by the Institute of Directors, would ensure that a fair and reasonable period of at least four years must elapse, not least for the purpose of calmly assessing how well the Act is working, before the minimum number of employees could be reduced below 20. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, from a seated position allowed the Chamber to hear the Labour Party's intentions. Regarding the Liberal Democrats' intentions, if the Government were to oppose the amendment in the Division Lobbies, I would support them.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I take pleasure in joining with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in regretting the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The Bill already fails to embrace the concerns of something like a third of the working population—17 per cent. of those who are self-employed. Were a future government—the next Labour Government—minded to reduce that to embrace more disabled people to offer them the rights that they are entitled to have, should that be restrained by an amendment which calls on them not to do so for four years? By that time I have no doubt that the noble Lord

18 Jul 1995 : Column 212

might be hoping for a different change of government. I believe that that situation would be extremely regrettable.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I too am opposed to the amendment. In Hansard of Thursday 15th June at col. 1922 I stated to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish:

    "If ... over the next five years from the date of the enactment of the Bill, this whole provision in relation to employers with fewer than 20 employees could disappear from the Act, that offers us definite hope for the future".

The noble Lord replied:

    "That is exactly what my amendment would allow. I am delighted to give the noble Lord that hope".

That is the hope with which we are now left as a result of the failure of our earlier amendment.

I can only say that, regrettably from the Cross Benches also, I am totally opposed to the amendment.

Lord Renton: My Lords, lest it be thought that any Back-Bencher on this side were in favour of the amendment, perhaps I may say that I, too, am opposed to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, mentioned, we had some hope earlier this afternoon from the Government that there would be flexibility in what has been called the threshold. I believe that the amendment destroys the possibility of flexibility for four years. Within, shall we say, even a few months it might be found that the threshold could and should be reduced from 20. It would be quite wrong if we were to overlook that factor and to say, "No, we have to wait four years".

I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will join with the rest of us in expressing a very clear opinion about the amendment.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, from the remarks that I made when Amendment No. 17 was discussed, the House will realise that I, too, strongly oppose the amendment.

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: My Lords, without imputing the same motives as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in proposing the amendment, after what he has heard my noble friend might think it wise to implement it!

Lord Henley: My Lords, we have heard a number of differing and opposing views on the question of the threshold for small employers. Being a government of great reasonableness, as always, the Government find themselves somewhere in the middle on these matters. Obviously opposing views reflect the need to ensure that we take account of very different interests. We must carry with us all sectors of society in taking this legislation forward, otherwise we risk it failing in its purpose.

We listened to all arguments for and against this clause throughout the passage of the Bill. We have responded positively, amending the clause in another place so that the power in the Bill to change the threshold by order cannot be used to raise it above the initial number of 20. There is now an obligation to review the effect of the clause within a few years, matched by an obligation not to change the threshold during that time without carrying out such a review. The

18 Jul 1995 : Column 213

amendments will enable the Government to ensure that any changes made, and their timing, take account both of experience gained in operating the new right and other relevant circumstances.

I believe that the further government amendment during Committee stage in this House requiring the Secretary of State to review the effect of the clause within five years of it coming into force also goes a considerable way to accommodating the views of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. In tabling Amendment No. 43, he is obviously concerned about the threshold number being reduced before we have had a chance to gain some experience of the legislation.

I trust that he will bear in mind the requirement in the Bill that before the compulsory five-year review, any changes in the threshold must be preceded by a review, even if it were not the compulsory five-year review. I hope that the noble Lord also noted my earlier comments to my noble friend Lady O'Cathain to consider whether later changes to the threshold must also be preceded by that review. I also hope that he will accept my assurance that we shall not rush into any review and that we are committed to reviewing the situation within four or five years. We believe that four or five years is probably the right time in which to do so. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page