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John Penrose: I am sure that the Minister will be far more aware than the rest of us that the number of successful applications to courts to bring the kind of action that she is describing is tremendously low. It is much more difficult to deal with pre-employment discrimination than discrimination after getting a job. I am sure that she is aware of the figures showing that it is much rarer for someone to do so successfully at the moment. Anyway, surely we ought to be trying to create an environment that raises the chances of success by allowing employers to do the right thing as well as threatening to beat them with a big stick, particularly because the provisions that she described that allow potential cases to be brought have been in place for a long time, and most of the available evidence shows that they are not having the effect that I am sure we would all want.
The Solicitor-General: I agree completely that it is a cumbersome, difficult and personally trying process to take an action in respect of disability discrimination, and that it is not easy to prove that it was the disability that played either a partial or an exclusive role in the lack of recruitment. The position is not straightforward, so it is all the better if we can devise some mechanism to ensure that discrimination cannot take place because there is no information on which it can be based.
Although I know less about it than about the strand of work that I referred to, I understand that the DWP is considering the matter as well. There is, of course, nothing to prevent firms from making their own efforts to reduce the chance of such discrimination. We are worried about putting it in legislation rather than putting good guidance in place when we have more evidence. Although we invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment—we would resist it—we will consider it, because it is a difficult issue, and I am glad that it has been raised.
Mr. Harper: There is broad support for the proposal. In our private discussions with business organisations, whether representing small or large businesses, and in the evidence that they gave during our evidence sessions, they were all relaxed about that approach. No issues were raised at all. Also, it works very well in the United States.
Given what the Minister said about the extensive research that the DWP is doing to see whether names give rise to discrimination, will she, at a suitable opportunity—perhaps she can write to us—answer this question? If the DWP is either currently doing or would commit to doing similar research, and if as a result there were some clear evidence that satisfies the Department—although the representations that we have had have been fairly unanimous—will the Minister be willing to consider tabling amendments on Report or in the other place? If that is the case, we will be suitably reassured.
The Solicitor-General: Another point that I should make—in fact, there seem to be two—is that we would delay the time in which the question of reasonable adjustments needs to be addressed. That might make difficulties for an employer. The hon. Gentleman is right—there are outlawing provisions for pre-employment inquiries in the US—but we do not know whether that element of protection is used. Nor do we know whether it has had any effect on the recruitment of disabled people.
That is the crux of the issue. If we ban the introduction of such information at that early stage, will we encourage more recruitment of disabled people? We do not know that. However, I am engaged with the issue and am impressed by the arguments. Therefore, I urge the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to withdraw his amendment and to let us consider the issue. I will either write or speak directly to him about the matter in Committee.
John Penrose: I cannot pretend that we are overwhelmed by the Minister’s response, but we recognise the good will with which she is trying to approach the issue. We will wait and see what is in any letter or communication that she writes to us. We are concerned that there may not be enough in that, and we will look to press the issue at a later stage if necessary. However, on the basis that she has promised to write to us and to consider the matter further, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Lyn Brown.)
4.53 pm
Adjourned till Tuesday 23 June at half-past Ten o’clock.
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