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The Viscount of Oxfuird: I, too, wish to thank my noble friend for her amendment. I also apologise for not having been in my place earlier. This amendment is possibly one of the most important. Let us take, for instance, an institution such as that at Enham Alamein near Andover, which deals with people who have cerebral palsy. They are totally incapable of profitable work except as a minimal base. The object of the institution is to encourage them, particularly for therapeutic purposes. Those people are given a small sum of money each week to make sure that they turn up. It is not a profitable organisation in the sense that its books show a profit. It exists as a total charity. There should be some consideration for that type of institution.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank the noble Baroness for moving, in a perfectly reasonable way, a point of very great interest. In that, she was joined by the noble Viscounts, Lord Bridgeman and Lord Oxfuird.

This is certainly a difficult issue. The Government have given it a great deal of thought. The fundamental point is that disabled people should in no way be discriminated against in the workplace. I accept immediately the intention of the amendment. In effect, the noble Baroness wants a permit system to operate allowing partial exemptions on the basis of incapacity, and to exempt those who work for therapeutic reasons.

The words in question are in subsection (1) of the amendment:

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That is a dangerous route to follow, as I shall seek to argue. If it were to be followed, there is a risk of discrimination. I acquit the noble Baroness of any intention in that regard; however, that would be the effect. The amendment asks us to distinguish between the able-bodied and those who are,

    "incapable of earning the national minimum wage".
It is a loose and difficult concept. In practice, it could easily lead to a totally unacceptable situation whereby some people were denied the national minimum wage when they had just as much right to it as anyone else. It could become the thin end of a very large wedge. It could deny the minimum wage to the very people who are most in need of its protection.

The Low Pay Commission gave profound consideration to this issue. The commission's report includes the views of a number of groups representing disabled workers. Nowhere in the report is any of those groups quoted as favouring an exemption of the kind proposed for disabled workers in this amendment.

What the Low Pay Commission had to say in its report is an important piece of evidence. There is no question of evading the issue. Perhaps I may ask the Committee to address paragraph 1.6 of the report, which deals with these matters. It states:

    "A small minority who gave evidence to us suggested exempting or having a lower level of the National Minimum Wage for people with disabilities. But the vast majority, including the Government, saw no justification for this. We believe"--
these are the most important words--

    "that there are compelling arguments for treating disabled workers in the same way as other workers. To do so recognises the value of disabled workers to employers and supports a culture of social inclusion. Moreover, for those people with severe disabilities that limit their productivity, the Government funds the Supported Employment Programme which helps employers recruit and maintain these workers in jobs".
That is essentially a right and proper riposte to the points made by the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who spoke on this matter. Why did the commission arrive at that conclusion? I submit that it recognised the overwhelming correctness of the case. The vast majority of people from whom it took evidence saw no justification for embarking upon the programme that the noble Baroness supports--and supports with total integrity.

That brings me to a particular point of the amendment dealing with therapeutic earnings. The commission's report points out that the Government make provision for those with severe disabilities which limit their productivity. That helps employers in recruiting and maintaining in jobs workers of the kind that we are considering. Why should we disagree with the conclusion reached by the commission after such profound consideration?

The noble Baroness seeks to dissociate her thinking from those conclusions. I think that that would be mistake. I am not saying that there is a compulsion for anyone to say that everything the commission has done is right; and, of course, the Government have chosen in one particular respect not to agree with the conclusions of the commission. However, where the commission has given such profound consideration to a matter of such

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sensitivity as this I believe that we should listen carefully to what it has to say. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment, although I have no doubt that I am right in anticipating that she will say once again, perhaps in different words, that she is disappointed. It has been an evening of disappointment for her, but I hope that she will recognise that these issues are not idly dealt with. They were dealt with, as I indicated, in the most cogent and profound way by the Low Pay Commission, and I ask the noble Baroness to accept that reasoning.

6 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister tempts me to come up with a word other than "disappointed". It is hard, when standing on one's feet, to think of a variety of words without taking too long over it or testing one's powers too much. Between 1992 and 1995 only 2 per cent. of recipients of disability benefit moved from benefit into full-time work and only 200 of those receiving the present disabled workers' allowance have been encouraged into work by the benefit. I therefore have to say to the Minister that I am disappointed because I believe that what will happen is that very severely disabled people will simply not get work.

Sometimes disabled workers will require extra facilities, such as specially adapted equipment and access and transport facilities, the cost of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. If to that employers have to add the national minimum wage I fear that they will not do so because it will be too expensive for them. I hope that I am wrong and that the Minister is correct, but I fear that that will not be the case. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 45 to 47 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 121 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 122:

After Clause 47, insert the following new clause--

Agricultural wages: reports

("--(1) Within one year of the laying of the first regulations under section 1 or 2 of this Act--
(a) the Low Pay Commission shall make an evaluation of the impact of the national minimum wage established by regulations made under section 2 above as it affects workers covered by the relevant Agricultural Wages Order for each territory of the United Kingdom, and shall make a report thereon to the Secretary of State; and
(b) the Low Pay Commission and the Agricultural Wages Boards acting jointly shall make a report to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the operation of section 46 of this Act and the enactments mentioned in section 47(1) and (2) of this Act, and may make recommendations for such amendment of that section and those enactments as, in the opinion of the Commission, may ensure the more effective application of this act to agricultural workers.

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(2) The Secretary of State shall lay the report referred to in subsection (1)(a), and the Secretary of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shall jointly lay the report referred to in subsection (1)(b), before Parliament within 28 days of their respective receipt.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 122 is placed after Clauses 46 and 47, which deal specifically with the agricultural industry. I can deal with it briefly. The only reason why agriculture is singled out for special treatment is that Clause 16 and the whole of Schedule 2 to the Bill deal specifically with agriculture as a separate industry, as indeed it is since it is the only one still to have a wages council.

Clause 16 allows for the use of information gathered pursuant to agricultural wages legislation for some purposes of the Bill but imposes restrictions of secrecy in other directions. I would not wish any reasonable requirements of confidentiality to be breached. However, we believe that, in the interests of open government, any information in the possession of the Secretary of State for use in connection with this Bill, and any information which she has on which she may base any decision she makes in exercise of her powers under the Bill should be in the public domain, at least in general terms.

I make no prediction as to how Clause 16 will have to be amended or whether it will need to be repealed altogether if the Government eventually produce their freedom of information Bill. The new clause simply requires reports to be made to the Secretary of State and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the workings of the Bill as regards this important and special industry after the first year of effective operation. Members of the Committee will have noted that it is just one pair of reports and that neither Minister is to be burdened with annual reports. One year should be enough to give a reasonable idea of how the industry is being, and is likely to be, affected.

The Secretary of State is confident that the effects of the Bill can only be beneficial. We are sure that she will welcome an independent appraisal as regards the agricultural industry and the opportunity, if she is right, to share those excellent findings with Parliament. I beg to move.

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