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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in Committee we discussed an almost identical amendment. The noble Baroness has indicated why it is not identical. I entirely respect her reasons for changing it, but it has the same effect. It is a fundamental principle and one that we would all share that disabled people should not be discriminated against in the workplace. I appreciate that that is not the intention of the amendment; rather it is to allow a permit system to operate allowing partial exemptions on the basis of incapacity and to exempt those who work for therapeutic reasons. The amendment risks discrimination, although that is not its intention. It invites us to distinguish between the able bodied and those who are, to quote her amendment,

With respect to the noble Baroness, that is a loose and difficult concept. In practice, the amendment could lead to the totally unacceptable situation where some people are denied the minimum wage when they have just as much right to it as anyone else. It could easily become the thin end of a very large wedge, denying the minimum wage to the very people who are most in need of its protection.

Perhaps I may refer again to what the Low Pay Commission had to say on these points. I do not make any apology for returning to this part of the report on such an important matter. It faced up to the issue. We all recognise that it is a difficult issue and we all recognise that it is an issue on which we want to come to the right conclusion. Having taken considerable evidence, the Low Pay Commission stated at page 14, paragraph 1.6 of its report,

    "We believe 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".

I believe that is what we all have in mind. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, then referred to page 39, paragraph 3.15. The relevant part of that report states,

    "Blind and partially sighted people face bleak prospects in employment. In addition to the barriers to securing and retaining paid work there is extensive discrimination in work. Significantly, blind and partially sighted people are concentrated in lower paying, semi-skilled, unskilled and routine manual occupations, and fewer are employed in professional and skilled occupations. Many blind and partially sighted people are therefore caught in poverty even when in work".

I see absolutely no reason why such people should not have the protection of the national minimum wage. I think it is not appropriate that, because it can be argued that they could fall within the definition of somebody incapable of earning a minimum wage, they should not

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be treated exactly like those who are sighted. They are just as strongly entitled not to be exploited as everybody else.

Why did the commission arrive at the clear conclusion that it did, the conclusion that I believe the noble Baroness accepts it reached? It is because it recognised the overwhelming rightness of the case. It notes that, although a "small minority" of those who gave evidence had suggested exemptions or lower levels for the disabled, the vast majority saw no justification for that.

I believe that it is highly significant that the commission's very wide ranging consultations did not report any support for the type of arrangements proposed by this amendment. Yet the commission received views from several organisations representing or with interests involving the disabled. Perhaps I may mention who they were. They were, the National Advisory Council on Employment of People with Disabilities; the National League for the Blind and Disabled; the Royal Society for Disability and Rehabilitation; the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults. What are their views on the noble Baroness's proposals? They all gave evidence to the Low Pay Commission, which rejected the idea of any sort of amendment along the lines suggested by the noble Baroness. It is a difficult issue and we have to come to the right conclusion on it. We have thought about it a great deal. The weight of opinion is against this sort of amendment, but if the noble Baroness tells us that these bodies thought we were wrong, they should tell us.

The question of therapeutic earnings is a separate point. The commission's report points out that, for those with severe disabilities that limit their productivity, the Government fund a supported employment programme which helps employers recruit and maintain these workers in jobs. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said that that was all very well in theory, but what about the practice? The supported employment programme helps about 22,000 people with severe disabilities who can work but who are unlikely because of their limited productivity to get or keep jobs in open employment.

Government funding is being maintained at over £155 million for 1998-99. In my book that is going a lot further than simply putting forward theoretical ideas. It is a very practical way of helping the people who are most concerned. Anyone working on a voluntary, unpaid basis will be exempt in any case as a result of Clause 44, which is the clause dealing with voluntary workers. We have thought about it and we very much hope that the noble Baroness will consider the matters I have referred to in relation to these amendments and will withdraw the amendment advanced and not move the others.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that this is a very sensitive issue. It is clearly a very difficult one. As I believe I said

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when I moved the amendment, we both want exactly the same on both sides of the House, but it is simply that we believe there is a different way.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps I may allude to the letter to which the noble Baroness referred and of which my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General was not aware. I have not seen that letter. I note that it is not dated. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making a copy available. I shall, of course, make investigations into the matter, but I am informed by my officials who are present tonight that they have not seen the letter either. I shall find out from my private office whether it has been received. There may be a simple explanation, but I shall certainly look into it.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am sure that there will be a simple explanation. I am certain that both sides of the House share the view that this is a difficult issue. We think that our way is better, but I take support from the fact that the Minister has said that the Government have gone into this carefully and that they believe that their way is right. I hope that it is. Indeed, I am sure that if time should show that it is not right, the Minister will ensure that his Government come back with some alterations to the provisions. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [The Low Pay Commission]:

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 36, leave out line 26.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 60, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 61 and 62. This is a technical drafting amendment which is designed to avoid wording that some might regard as offensive. Perhaps I may take a moment to explain what this is all about.

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Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 relates to membership of the Low Pay Commission. Paragraph 1(6)(b) as currently formulated permits the Secretary of State to dismiss a member of the Low Pay Commission who is,

    "incapacitated by physical or mental illness".

I believe that it is as well to avoid that particular formulation. Instead, the three linked amendments achieve the same result as the original intention, which is to ensure that the Secretary of State can terminate the duties of any Low Pay Commission member who, for whatever reason, is unable to carry out his functions as a member. I hope that the House will be able to support the amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendments Nos. 61 and 62:

Page 36, line 29, leave out ("who") and insert--
Page 36, line 29, leave out ("otherwise").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Amendments relating to remuneration etc of agricultural workers]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendments Nos. 64 and 65:

Page 41, line 26, leave out from ("1998") to end of line 30.
Page 46, line 29, leave out from ("1998") to end of line 33.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 46, line 43, leave out ("Act") and insert ("section").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 51, line 31, leave out from ("1998") to end of line 35.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

        House adjourned at sixteen minutes before eleven o'clock.

20 Jul 1998 : Column 705

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