Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood: If we take the hypothetical case where the firm or employer in question goes on a diet, the employee's rights do not change because they are defined by statute as being attached to employers above a certain threshold. If the employer reduces his workforce below that threshold, the effects of the rights that the employee has may vary. As I explained, if the size of the employer drops from above 20 to below 20, then the provisions of Part II will not bite, to the extent that there will be nothing which an employer can bring to an industrial tribunal. If then hypothetically the size of the employer increased, he would be brought back within the scope of the terms of Part II. The employee's right is always subject to the proviso that the employer must be over the size threshold as specified in the Act. I hope that that answers both of the noble Earl's points.

Baroness Turner of Camden: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may raise a point with him arising from what he said. He stated that an employee's rights do not change. I am talking about an employer over the size of 20. Is the Minister saying that since the employee's rights do not change, the right that I seek to enshrine in legislation in the amendment is there anyway? For example, if an employer is taken over by another employer and certain adjustments are made for the employee, those adjustments are taken away by the new employer. The employee had a right to those adjustments but if they are taken away and he cannot continue to do the job as a result of the transfer, he can go to a tribunal with the probable prospect of winning his case. Is that what the Minister is saying?

Lord Inglewood: As I understand it, the answer to the noble Baroness's question is, yes. The only possible proviso that I might enter is that, depending on the nature of the employer, the form of adjustment that was reasonable in those circumstances might change. That is a point that I made in my earlier remarks. As concerns the basic proposition, the answer is clearly, yes.

13 Jun 1995 : Column 1758

Baroness Turner of Camden: I am grateful to have that remark on record. In the circumstances, I shall look carefully at Hansard tomorrow because it may well be that what the noble Lord said to us tonight to some extent satisfies the arguments that have been made; that is, except when we consider small employers, which is another question altogether to which we must address ourselves later in Committee. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 4, line 31, at end insert:
("( ) The Secretary of State shall make regulations setting out funding arrangements which will assist employers in whole or in part in taking any steps to comply with subsection (1)").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with the issue of costs. I said at Second Reading that I would be pursuing this matter in Committee. In order to comply with the Bill there is likely to be a substantial cost on employers, and I should like to reiterate the point that we cannot really afford to lose our competitiveness. However, that point was dealt with at Second Reading.

Up to now, in the Access to Work programme the Department of Employment has allocated funds so that those who were disabled have in effect an amount of money with which to go to an employer and say, "If you put a ramp here, I have this grant from the Department of Employment." It is estimated that some 10,000 people have been helped in this way in the year 1994-95, at a cost of £14.6 million—an average of about £1500 per person.

The Government have obviously reconsidered this proposal to charge employers 50 per cent. of the cost of an individual's Access to Work grant. In doing this, they have created something encouragingly close to credit for individual employability, and currently this can definitely help a disabled person to get work. The Government are now reviewing Access to Work, and the purpose of this amendment is to seek an undertaking that in some form support for individual employability, to use a horrible word, will remain. It may be even more important when businesses inevitably have other costs to meet in respect of disability as a result of this Bill.

The Government's £14.6 million expenditure on Access to Work represents a small but symbolic commitment that the cost of this important piece of legislation will be absorbed in a balanced way, because there is a feeling that this amount is going to be reduced. I should like to have some reassurance from the Minister on this point. I beg to move.

Lord Carter: I have an amendment down, Amendment No. 44, which is grouped with this amendment and says much the same thing. I do not wish to repeat the arguments put by the noble Baroness, but I should like to raise a point on Access to Work. A member of my family receives the personal reader's allowance and for a long time now I have had the job of filling in the necessary forms.

The new scheme is immensely more bureaucratic than the one it replaces. Under the old scheme which was administered by the RNIB there was one form which had

13 Jun 1995 : Column 1759

to be filled in every 13 weeks. You had to state the bank account once; of course a blind person needed a sighted person to fill in the form for him; and that was it. But now there is a form to be filled in every week, so instead of one form there are now 13. There may be forms for one month perhaps, but at the moment it is immensely bureaucratic and a cheque has to be produced with each form, which means 13 cheques instead of one. Of course I can understand that there may be people who would like this allowance more frequently than once a quarter, but I would just make the point that this is a good scheme. It is a good start, but I think that the new organisation, having taken over from the RNIB, seems to be much more bureaucratic, with many more forms to be filled in. This must be taking up a lot of time of the administrators.

Baroness Seear: I should like to support this amendment, to which my name is added. As I have said before and shall say again, I believe that if we want a decent society we must be prepared to pay for it and not to encourage other people to pay for it. If we want these regulations brought in and help given to disabled people to enable them to get employment, I do not really see that the costs should be laid on the employer. I think the costs should be borne by all of us, the taxpayers, which would relieve the burden on the employers so as to encourage them and make it easy for them to give employment to disabled people. I think the burden should be less heavy on the employer and more heavy on the taxpayer, unpopular though that remark always is.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I should like to support the views expressed by the noble Baroness who moved this amendment, and also to support my noble friend over his amendment. I fully agree that it is nonsense to force employers to pay 50 per cent. of the grant. Without any undue boasting on behalf of the all-party group, we saw David Hunt, then the Minister, and pressed him very strongly on this point. We said that he would damage the splendid Access to Work system if he persisted in imposing the 50 per cent. charge on employers. I believe the all-party group had some success in persuading David Hunt. In fact, he later acknowledged that he had been influenced by the representations of the group. We were delighted when he removed that charge from employers, as it was a damaging idea on the part of the Government at that time. David Hunt deserves credit for withdrawing the proposal.

I welcome the amendment. We have to face the fact that the employment aspect of the Bill simply could not be operated without the Access to Work programme. The employers know that. The work of the CBI, and of Susan Scott-Parker of the Employers Forum on Disability, has been very important in encouraging a positive public attitude.

The Access to Work programme is one of the most important tools in winning co-operation between the state and employers and disabled people. The CBI and the employers' forum want this Bill to be a success. They also, quite reasonably, want assurances that there will be no changes in the funding for Access to Work this year, nor in subsequent years.

13 Jun 1995 : Column 1760

Equally strong in their support for the Access to Work scheme are the disability organisations. Perhaps I may very briefly quote the British Deaf Association, which stated:

    "Access to Work has been an extremely important scheme for deaf people, opening up employment opportunities by enabling them for the first time to get Government resourced communication support for interviews and in the workplace".

Previously, employers would not pay for interpreters at interviews. They saw the burden and the cost, and could not recognise the value. Without interpreters, deaf people simply could not get jobs. All the legislation in the world could not alone resolve the problem. The Access to Work provision needs to be continued and expanded. I am delighted to support the amendment.

Lord Swinfen: I, too, support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. I believe I heard her aright in that she said that the cost of suitable adaptions might be in the region of £1,500 for each disabled person. My understanding is that the average cost will probably not be more than £200.

The important point is that we should enable disabled people to be employed and at the same time not put an additional burden on employers, and not make the goods that we sell overseas more expensive and less competitive in the world market.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page