Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any request from a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement on the increasingly ugly situation that is developing in Washington in relation to wild talk of military action against Iraq? Is it not highly desirable that the Commons should at least hear about that and have an opportunity to discuss it before any military strike?
Madam Speaker: I have not been informed that the Government are seeking to make a statement on that matter, but there will be questions to the Foreign Office later this week, and the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members might be able to raise that matter then.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder what redress is available to hon. Members who find themselves coming under undue pressure from outside organisations on subjects that are of interest to the House. I have in mind the reports about the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union in respect of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and consideration of the future of clause IV.
Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order for me. Our standing orders and our procedures have not been breached, but if the hon. Gentleman will let me have a copy of the report that he is referring to, I will take a look at it. I have not seen it, and I need to be fully informed before I can comment.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin): On a point of order, Madam Speaker, on a matter that affects the responsibilities and duties of the House. At the weekend and on Friday, there were extensive leaks to the media of what the Government are hoping to include in a Queen's Speech that cannot be delivered until November at the
earliest--assuming that a general election does not intervene. Clearly nothing is more important to the responsibilities of the House than knowing the Government's plans for the following parliamentary year. I have no strong views on whether it is good to leak those plans six months in advance,
Column 696but surely anything as important to the House should at least be announced to the House by the Leader of the House, and should not be dealt with in leaks to the media.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance. I know that you uphold the principle that any hon. Member who receives payment on a matter that might affect his judgment should make a declaration to that effect. Should not the same rule apply to political journalists who deal with this place?
Would it be appropriate to refer to the Nolan committee, through you or by some other means in this House, the fact that it is now being reported that a political journalist, John Humphrys of the BBC, failed to disclose during his interviews on the "Today" programme that he would receive payment for his involvement in the overtly anti-Government education rally last week?
Madam Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman believes that it is a matter that he can refer to the Nolan committee, knowing the terms of reference of that committee, as an individual Member he is perfectly free to do so.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Today's Order Paper shows that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) intends to raise on the Adjournment, under Standing Order No. 9, the proposed sale of the RAF Bentwaters base in Suffolk. You have ruled in the past that, when hon. Members refer in questions or Adjournment debates to a matter that concerns another hon. Member's constituency, they should at least consult the hon. Member concerned.
I understand that the hon. Member for Ipswich has not advised my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that he intends to raise that matter on the Adjournment. Should not that strict convention, to which you normally like us to adhere, be observed for the sake of future good practice?
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. When an hon. Member wishes to raise, especially in an Adjournment debate, the question of some development or project that concerns another Member's constituency, not only is it a matter of courtesy to let the other hon. Member know but it is a matter of good custom and practice. I deprecate the fact that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) has not been informed that that Adjournment debate is to take place this evening.
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order refers to the selection of amendments to the Bill before us. Could new clause 17 in my name be debated in association with new clause 1 on the Disability Rights Commission, which has been selected for discussion? My new clause is very much in line with new clause 1, and I believe that it would cause no difficulty if we discussed the two together.
That the Disability Discrimination Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses relating to Part II of the Bill, new Clauses relating to education, new Clauses relating to Part IV of the Bill, other new Clauses, Amendments relating to Clause No. 1, Amendments relating to Schedule No. 1, remaining Amendments to the Bill, new Schedules and remaining Amendments to the Schedules to the Bill.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
`(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs of employers who have fewer than 20 employees and to take such practical steps as he deems appropriate to enable them to meet their obligations under this Act.
(2) The Secretary of State may make regulations specifying the circumstances under which adjustments may be considered reasonable for employers who have fewer than 20 employees'.-- [Sir John Hannam.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
`(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs of employers who have fewer than 20 employees and to make such financial provision by way of grants or loans as he deems appropriate to enable them to meet their obligations under this Act.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations specify the circumstances under which adjustments will be considered reasonable for employers who have fewer than 20 employees, and such regulations may specify appropriate periods within which such adjustments shall be made.
(3) Regulations under this section may make different provisions for different circumstances and different sizes of employer and specify different periods within which different adjustments shall be made; and regulations made under this section may be varied by subsequent regulations.'.
Amendment No. 7, in clause 7, page 5, leave out lines 10 to 14. Government amendment No. 122.
Column 698this debate on the small firms exemption, it is right for me to offer my congratulations to the Government on bringing forward this anti-discrimination legislation. After many years of campaigning for acceptance by the Government of the need for such a measure, I feel that, since the consultation paper last July, we have seen real progress in strengthening and widening the proposals that were then put forward.
I pay tribute to the personal endeavours of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. I hope that further progress will be made on Report and in the other place, so that disabled people will feel that a comprehensive piece of anti-discrimination legislation has been put in place. I am confident that that will happen.
Clause 7 exempts firms that employ fewer than 20 people from its provisions. That means that, unless the Bill is amended, small firms will be able to discriminate legally against disabled people. In fact, the Bill provides the power not only to reduce the number of employees but to increase that number by regulation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give me a clear assurance today that there will be no intention ever to use that power to increase the number to more than 20 employees--and that, in fact, the reverse will be the case.
I understand the reactions of small firms' organisations, which genuinely fear the impact of extra regulations and, of course, the costs that could be involved. In my view, however, there is ample protection in clause 6, which allows for the reasonableness of an employer's adjustments to be determined with reference to cost. The small firms sector is the fastest growing sector in the economy. It employs some 34 per cent. of the work force in some 60 per cent. of firms. It is also the area of employment which is most suited to disabled people, and where quite small adjustments may result in a work opportunity being created.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): I am grateful to the hon. Member, whose work in this policy area is well known in all parts of the House of Commons. The hon. Member knows--indeed, no one knows better than him--that the organisations of and for disabled people, almost without exception, want the Bill to apply to employers of fewer than 25 people, just as much as it would apply to those who employ more than 25. Will the hon. Member give the House his indication of support for that proposition? The amendment goes some way, but, I think that he will agree, it is identical treatment that the organisations want.
Sir John Hannam: My keen objective is to see that figure brought down. I am still concerned and rather puzzled that we did not adopt the figure of 15, which was adopted in the American legislation. I want to develop that point.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Minister, who took the trouble to visit the United States to see for himself how the Americans with Disabilities Act, was working, said:
"`reasonable accommodation' . . . cost nothing in 43 per cent. of cases because it involved just moving the furniture around or doing something sensible and practical like introducing different working hours."
Column 699He went on to say:
"A large proportion of other adjustments costs very little."--[ Official Report , 24 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 149.]
We know from evidence in the United States that the cost implications for firms over there to achieve the removal of discrimination were in most cases very small.
It is interesting to note that, in its response to the Government's consultation document last year, the Confederation of British Industry, an employer organisation--although it represents mainly larger firms--voiced concern over the exclusion of small employers from employment rights. It argued for a phasing in of compliance requirements, and with it more support for small firms through schemes such as the access to work scheme, which the Government introduced and which is very welcome.
I should also like to point out that, in rural areas, small firms are the only possibility of employment for disabled people, especially in view of transport problems that they experience, which are as yet not included in the Bill. I hope to make progress on that front tomorrow when we address new clause 11.
Another quirk of the Bill is that franchises are counted as separate firms, which means that individual outlets of firms such as McDonalds, which employs fewer than 20 people in each of its individual outlets, would not be covered by the Bill's provisions, despite the enormous resources of such companies. McDonalds, incidentally, does a great deal for disablement causes.
An example of the sort of discrimination which may exist in a firm was given to me by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The name of the girl involved was not given. She was told that she could not use her Braille equipment in work because it was considered too noisy. The Bill would make such an instruction unlawful if it was given by a company with more than 20 employees, but smaller firms will be given a free rein to discriminate in any way they wish. Many examples of such discrimination can be produced.
Surely we should create a fully accessible labour market. as possible. That would result in economic benefits as disabled people came off social security benefits and began to pay taxes. We know from talking to them that they always dream about doing that. I hope that the Minister will recognise that this probing new clause has been tabled because his current proposals need to be adjusted to remove the possibility of the employee exemption figure being increased. I hope that he will say that he intends to bring us in line with, at least, the American figure of 15 employees at the earliest possible opportunity. On Second Reading my hon. Friend promised to review that employment level; I believe that that should be conducted at the earliest possible stage. Today, I hope that he will accept the principle behind the new clause, which would point us in that direction.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on tabling the new clause, although it does not go anywhere near far enough; nor is it likely to get there quickly enough. I understand, however, exactly why he has tabled it. If the Minister was minded to accept it, it would certainly get us marching in the right direction.
Column 700It was hard on Second Reading and in Committee, and it remains hard today, to understand why the Government are telling 96 in every 100 firms that it is perfectly legal to discriminate against people with disabilities who seek jobs or who are employed. The reason for the Government's stance was given in paragraph 3.10 of the White Paper, to which the Minister referred several times in our earlier considerations on the Bill. It states:
"It may be more difficult and burdensome for small firms without specialist personnel to get to grips with the new right and obtain the advice they need in particular cases"
I hope to demonstrate that that is no more than a shabby excuse. Of course small firms have different problems from larger ones, and of course they have smaller resources, but the Government do not use that argument to exempt them from legislation dealing with discrimination on grounds of race or gender. They do not use that argument when it comes to the intricacies of income tax, VAT, national insurance, sick pay, health and safety and all the rest of it. Every employer is treated equally in such matters. It is only in the case of people with disabilities that the Government say, "Carry on discriminating."
The Government opposed the establishment of a disability rights commission, because they said that those needing help to enforce the limited rights conferred by the Bill should turn to citizens advice bureaux or other such agencies for assistance. Why cannot small firms do the same? If it is good enough for a would-be employee, seeking to enforce the rights conferred in the Bill, to be sent in the direction of the CAB, why is that not good enough for the would-be employer? A ready source of advice is available. The Minister is negotiating on its funding, and I believe that a meeting about that will be held on 29 March.
Things get even more curious in the Government's silly argument when we consider paragraph 3.5 of the White Paper, which states: "The majority of disabled people who want to work, need no, or only very modest, help."
In Committee, the Minister reminded us that the "reasonable accommodation" employers are expected to make as a result of the Bill cost nothing in 43 out of every 100 cases in the United States--as the hon. Member for Exeter has already said--because it involved nothing more than moving furniture around or adjusting working hours. The Minister helpfully added that a large proportion of other adjustments cost very little.
There is another curiosity. We know that the Government will set financial limits on the cost of adjustments that an employer can reasonably be expected to make, perhaps based on rateable value to take rough account of company size.
What, then, is the problem? Having argued against a duty on every employer not to discriminate, the Government get pious. Paragraph 3.10 of the White Paper optimistically adds:
"organisations representing smaller employers will be among those consulted on the proposed code of practice, and small firms will be encouraged to follow it voluntarily."
That is novel. After telling smaller employers that it is perfectly legal to discriminate against people with disabilities, the Government raise the fond hope that they will do voluntarily what they are not required to do by
Column 701law. They truly are a Government who have been too long in the unreal world to know what goes on beyond those windows.
It is not as though the Government can claim that they have public opinion on their side. Of the 254 responses about whether small firms should be covered by that part of the Bill, 81 per cent. said they should, and only 17 per cent. said they should not. I immediately acknowledge that that was far from a scientific sample, because the number of responses about that issue was disappointingly small. However, the missing opinion comes to us copper-bottomed. The Confederation of British Industry, even the illustrious Institute of Directors and the Employers' Forum on Disability, linking more than 100 top companies, say that it is wrong to have two categories of people in the world of work on the basis of drawing an arbitrary line.
That is not the end of it. One in every six people at work works in a small firm. In large parts of England, and more so in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, small firms are the only employers. Indeed, in the inner- city areas of Birmingham, for example, small firms vastly outnumber larger ones.
It will not wash for the Government to say that the four in every 100 firms that do employ more than 20 people are the only ones that matter. It is the 96 in every 100, now excluded, that provide the main opportunities for jobs for people with different abilities. If the Minister does not know that, I shall tell him: larger firms are becoming smaller, employing fewer people, and there are fewer of them. The growth in jobs, even though many are part- time, is taking place among small firms. Also, as the hon. Member for Exeter said, some apparently large firms, such as McDonald's Restaurants and many others, are to be treated as small ones because they are franchise operations.
I believe that the amendments must be regarded in a wider context. Under the Bill, disabled people are to lose what protection the present quota scheme provides--and that is precious little. Under the scheme, only 10 employers have ever been taken to court, and not a single prosecution has succeeded in the past 20 years.
The Government are also to do away with statutory registration of people with disabilities so that, under the Bill, some people who are now at work will have even those protections taken away from them, whatever the size of the firm they work with. Where is that supposed to leave the 8,654 people with disabilities working in the 95 Remploy factories? Their work force is almost wholly drawn from people who are registered, and identified as such, through jobcentres. While we are at it, does the Minister know that the replacement for the priority suppliers scheme, which was of such assistance to Remploy and sheltered workshops run by local councils and others, is causing immense problems? The special contracts arrangements limit possible rebids for work to a contract ceiling of £147,000. Does he know, for example, that the Ministry of Defence usually places orders for uniforms and protective clothing in parcels of about £2 million? Does he know that some of the 12 Remploy factories specialising in textiles are running out of work, and that one at Alfreton is due to close,
Column 702while the Ministry of Defence has £10 million of unplaced contracts for uniforms hanging about as a result of the chaos in the change between the two schemes?
No one expects any firm, of whatever size, to meet unreasonable costs in employing people with disabilities. However, as the Employment Minister and his hon. Friend know full well, there is assistance available already through the access to work scheme and via PACTs--placement, assessment and counselling teams. As the Disability Alliance suggests, the national insurance holiday in the Jobseekers Bill could also be offered to employers in order to help to meet the cost of offering jobs to people with disabilities. Perhaps the strongest argument against the discrimination that the Government want to retain for small firms is put by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, when it argues, quite properly, that new technology, especially in the widening field of information, will open up vast new job opportunities, many of which will be with small specialist firms. It is simply intolerable that people with different abilities, including the visually impaired, should be locked out of those opportunities.
I believe that the Government are making big fools of themselves over the exemption for small firms, which is no more than a bone-headed deregulation dogma by the Secretary of State for Employment. It is indefensible, and he and his Ministers know it. I hope that, tonight, enough hon. Members in the House will put equal treatment at work for all disabled people ahead of party labels.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon): I do not know how many people are employed in small businesses in this country. Various statistics have been cited, but the actual figure does not really matter. The point is that many people are employed in small firms, particularly in towns and villages in rural areas such as in south Warwickshire, which I represent. In the major economy, the trend towards downsizing, subcontracting and franchising makes it plain that we must regard small businesses as central to our economy. Small business constitutes the fastest growing sector in our economy. The distinction that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) seeks to make between businesses employing fewer than 20 people and those employing 20 or more is an arbitrary one, which, in the end, does not stand up to scrutiny. I am not aware of any serious organisation representative of business which wants that distinction to be made. The Employers Forum on Disability, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors certainly reject that proposal.
My hon. Friend and his colleagues in Government are correct to be concerned not to lay gratuitous or unnecessary burdens on business. However, it is a question of whose burdens matter. It is not only the burdens on business men that matter, but also those on disabled people. Disabled people carry enormous burdens, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to lighten their burdens. As my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter said, the Government's new clause 6 concerning reasonableness would provide ample security to small businesses and prevent them from suffering undue and genuinely burdensome responsibilities. Ironically, the Government's own proposals would involve somewhat burdensome responsibilities.
Column 703One can imagine that firms will move in and out of this legislative jurisdiction. On occasion, a business may employ 19 people and at other times it may employ 20 people. Is it helpful to require a firm to commute between two legislative regimes? I do not think it is. In any case, let us think less about imposing burdens on business and more about the contributions that people with impairments can, and desire to, make and of which we are depriving ourselves by allowing discrimination to be perpetuated.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State expressed concern that small firms would not have the specialist personnel functions or the expertise to cope with the requirement that they should not discriminate against disabled people. It does not require any expertise or administrative sophistication to do the decent thing and behave properly. That is all that we require of small businesses. If they need support and advice, the PACT teams will assist them. The Government should continue and further develop the access to work scheme, which provides some financial subvention in reasonable circumstances to assist disabled people into employment. That policy benefits all firms, including small businesses. My hon. Friend's amendment moves at least some way in the right direction. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister at least to remove the power in the Bill to raise the threshold above 20 employees. It is unimaginable that there could be any circumstances in which the Government would want to backtrack on the Bill's provisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) suggested reducing the number to 15, to match the practice in the United States of America. If the Minister will do that, will he make a further commitment to phase out the small business exemption altogether over time? 4 pm
Those are all compromises and halfway houses, but the right thing would be to abolish the distinction altogether. After all, the Bill is an affirmation of the values of our society. It would be extraordinary and deeply offensive to propose that it should be within the law for a business employing fewer than 20 people to discriminate on the grounds of race or gender. We should equally accept, in a clear-cut fashion, that it is entirely unacceptable for an employing organisation or any other to discriminate unjustifiably against people who are disabled. One's basic rights as a human being and citizen should not depend on who happens to be one's employer.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): Far fewer people are covered by the Government's Bill, including those in employment, than would be covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. In the Government's measure, a whole list of exemptions and exclusions exclude four categories of persons. That would be true even if the argument for ending the distinction introduced by the 20-employee barrier was won.
The costs argument does not take account of the fact that some companies that employ fewer than 20 people are highly profitable, especially in a high-technology age in which the capital employed rather than the number of people may be the most important consideration. Often, companies that employ a large number of people are strapped for cash.
If there is to be a distinction--and I do not agree that there should be-- it should not be in terms of the number of people employed. It may be argued that there is some rough
Column 704and ready justice in terms of profitability and the ability to absorb the costs involved, although it is argued also that the costs could be minor. If a distinction is to be made, there could be an argument for making it elsewhere.
The worst thing about the existing distinction is the message that it sends to disabled people that 96 firms out of 100, and many areas of the country where only small firms operate, will be no-go areas, and that disabled people will have to rely entirely on the good will of small firms to employ them. That creates the wrong atmosphere in which to pass legislation that the Minister claims represents a significant step forward for disabled people.
In north-east Derbyshire, Remploy, based in Alfreton, is closing. It has offered one of the rare opportunities for employment in an area of pit closures. Small firms, with fewer than 20 employees, have been important providers of jobs in the area. What alternative jobs are there, now that the mines have closed, and with them, the firms that serviced them? Such firms often employed more than 20 people, so this legislation would have applied to them.
Disabled people working for Remploy now have to travel further afield, to the Mansfield area. Meanwhile, their other commercial opportunities are beginning to disappear. That is why serious consideration must be given to access to employment for disabled people.
It is when we come to franchises that the Government's cut-off--20 staff or fewer--is shown up for what it is. McDonald's, which employs masses of people around the world, manages to avoid these provisions by operating under franchises. That is another good reason for rejecting the Government's contentions.
The new clause offers an opening--not complete change. The only way to bring about complete change would be to introduce the principles of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and to get rid of the distinction, based on size, between firms. In other Government legislation, the factors to be taken into
consideration--reasonableness, cost, organisational and other difficulties- -are considered before the law case by case.
That is why this legislation is wrong. The new clause, like our other amendments, tries to make the best of a bad job. It is fairly limited; we do not ask that the numbers come down to 15, or that other factors be taken into account. We are simply nudging the Government towards consideration of such points. That is worth while in itself.
Hon. Members of all parties ought to support the amendments in this batch, which in effect open up the legislation. I hope that the Minister will at least admit that there is some possibility of change. He should remember, when it comes to definitions and the areas of employment to be covered, that there is massive support in this House for the principles in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which has been supported and sponsored at various times by 10 political parties in the House, including the two Conservative parties.
It is time for the Government to face up to the situation, and not to hide themselves away, preventing proper discussion in Committee of the measures in the other Bill that should have been included in this one.
Column 705It is wrong to enshrine in law the unjustifiable principle that discrimination against disabled people in their place of work is acceptable if they work for companies with fewer than 20 employees. Passing the Bill unamended would lead to that position in law. It also leads to the position where more than half of employers in Wales will not be subject to the provisions that we are discussing. That is because more than half of them employ 20 or fewer people. That cannot be right.
The Government have tried to deal with the problem that small companies are sometimes unable to cope with all the responsibilities that are placed upon them and sometimes respond in an incorrect fashion. In some small companies, there may be lack of expertise in all directions.
The results of the survey undertaken by the Employers Forum on Disability reveal that even large companies that do not employ disabled people have a negative attitude towards disabled people. They believe that there are considerable problems in employing them. When a company gets into the habit of employing disabled people, however, whether it is a large or small company, it finds that the problems are massively overstated, and that it is possible to deal with those that arise.
The survey revealed that, at some stage, larger companies will find themselves employing disabled people. When that happens, they start to relate to how that process can be facilitated. They begin to understand how problems can be overcome. Their experience in dealing with one disabled employee will no doubt help them to develop suitable provisions for other disabled people.
It may not be possible to implement the process of facilitation in a small company. The likelihood is, therefore, that a small company that has not employed a disabled person will continue from year to year under the misapprehension that employing such a person causes immense difficulties. Enshrining rights to opt out in law creates a road block to stop us breaking through and encouraging small companies to employ more disabled people, which will lead to a greater willingness to employ them in future.
The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) talked about the representations that we have received from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. I was impressed by a case it quoted involving a man from Scotland, who was dismissed after only three days of being appointed an assistant supervisor, despite stating his need for a large print package for his computer. His manager ignored his, the employee's, advice that the PACT team could offer assistance, and that necessary adaptations could be undertaken through access-to-work arrangements. That was an example of ignorance. The likelihood is that smaller companies will have that ignorance. There may be some circumstances in which small companies will be unable to cope with massive changes that might be needed in extreme cases of disability. That situation is covered by other provisions in the Bill. Such changes would not be regarded under those provisions as reasonable. Required changes would have to fall within what is regarded as reasonable before they could be considered, whether a small or large company was involved.
The same approach should be adopted to companies of all sizes. If necessary, we could apply the test of reasonableness in a slightly different way to companies
Column 706that are very small and do not have the resources to do what larger companies might be able to do. It would be better still if the Government could help by providing adequate financial resource where needed.
The opportunity for disabled people to express themselves and develop can be much greater within a small company than a large one. They may get the support they need in a small company. They may find that, in such a company, they are members of a small family of workers, who will bring them on in a way that is not always possible in the less personalised arrangements that exist in large companies. A plethora of companies employ about 20 people. There are numerous companies of that sort in my constituency. Perhaps they will employ 20, 21 or 22 people this year, and perhaps 17 or 18 next year, or vice versa. In those terms, they will be going backwards and forwards. How can we justify a system in which a disabled person's rights under the law depend on the vagaries of the market and a company's response to them?
I also point out to the Minister the danger of less scrupulous companies. It may not be all that likely in this instance, but if we start to discriminate between companies on the basis of size, in other circumstances it might be tempting for a company to federalise itself or whatever-- franchise has been used as an example--to avoid the requirements of the law. It is a bad law that says that there may not be discrimination in companies above a certain size, but that it would be allowed to exist in smaller companies.
I now deal with the attitude towards disabled people. I have a letter from the mother-in-law of someone in Cardiff who had suffered cancer while in the Royal Air Force but made a total recovery. He then tried to find work in civvy street. Despite the fact that he had recovered and had no problems whatever, he is unable to get work because,
"in filling application forms, he's been completely truthful and honest and when he's told them all he doesn't even get an acknowledgment of his application. I'm sure you'll agree Mr. Wigley that this is prejudice and discrimination."
That is the point. When someone with a disability applies to a small company for work, there will be the temptation not to give him or her an interview. Without that small company going through the process of meeting a disabled person and giving the interview, it will not be aware of the positive things that disabled workers can give to a company, and will be aware only of the prejudice and the negative aspect that goes with it.
We are losing an opportunity to break down barriers. If we did away with the clause, we could indeed break down the barriers that that person in Cardiff was experiencing when applying to small companies for work. That is the challenge for the Government. I believe even that, even at this stage, the Government have it within their capability to say, "Yes, perhaps we have got it wrong. Even if we cannot change it on Report, we will look again in the other place to see whether the whole approach can be reconsidered." I hope that the Government will be willing to do that. I believe that the well-being of countless thousands of disabled workers depends on it.