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Baroness O'Cathain: For clarification, the figure of £1,500 was the average for last year (1994-95). The noble Lord says that it could be £200. It was £1,500. The total cost of Access to Work was £14.6 million, and about 10,000 people were helped.
Lord Monson: This is surely not only a worthwhile amendment, but a vital one. Clause 6(3) imposes very considerable financial burdens upon employers. Those financial burdens are what distinguish this anti-discrimination legislation from all previous examples of anti-discrimination legislation.
The noble Baroness made reference to modest grants for capital expenditure. But what about current expenditure? For example, subsections (3) (f) and (3) (d) require an employer to give disabled employees time off for rehabilitation, assessment and treatment, and also for trainingpresumably, on full pay. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong in that assumption. Why should the employer have to pay? Surely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, the taxpayer should foot the bill for this particular form of current expenditure.
Earl Russell: I, too, should like to add my support to this amendment. This is part of a long-running argument that has been going on since the passing of the Statutory Sick Pay Act 1991 as to who should pay for social costs on business. I think that this is one issue that the CBI has got right. The normal cost of employing labour is properly that of the employer. It is the cost of doing the job. But where one sets business social rather than economic objectives we should put our money where our mouth is and help business to do what we ask it to do. That seems to me to be equitable, sensible and in our economic interests.
Lord Inglewood: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, for introducing the amendment and for the various comments that have been made. In particular, I should reflect on the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I am grateful to him for drawing those points to my attention. When I first saw the amendments I expected that they were intended to probe our intentions for the Access to Work programme. Clearly, that was right. I am grateful for some of the good things that have been said about that programme. It is always gratifying to have good comments made about things that one has introduced. We feel that the programme has had a good first year, and it is gratifying to hear that view confirmed by others.
There has been a debate about costs and expenditure. My understanding is that the average cost of Access to Work grant is £1,700, which can be related to the £1,500 mentioned by the noble Baroness. It is worth recalling in this context that one is talking about seriously disabled people. The figure of £200 mentioned by my noble friend Lord Swinfen arises from the fact that the compliance cost assessment for the Bill has put the average cost of adjustments at that figure. In the context of cost, it is interesting to look at the United States. In 50 per cent. of cases there the cost of making the adjustment is 50 dollars or less, and only 1 per cent. of the total expenditure incurred amounts to more than 5,000 dollars. It is important to place the matter in context.
I hear what noble Lords say about who should foot the bill. However, what one is talking about is the establishment by statute of an obligation on society at large. In general, it is not the case that where individuals or firms have statutory obligations the taxpayer pays for all of them. Put in those terms, that would be a startling development. I was interested in the proposition of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He said that the effect of this would be that more tax would be collected and therefore the taxpayer should be supported. The effect of more tax being collected from people who would not otherwise pay it is that the tax that others have to pay will go down. I suspect that it all comes out in the wash if that is the way to look at it, which personally I rather doubt.
I understand the probing intent behind the amendments and I should like to register some concerns about them. As drafted, the Bill provides for regulations to be made to cover the matters set out in Clause 6(7) to clarify what the duty to make an adjustment means for employers and when it does or does not arise. Subsection (8) provides that regulations on what is reasonable may in particular refer to the cost of making adjustments.
However, we have no immediate intention of using these powers to make such regulations. We believe that the concept of "reasonable" will ensure that employers are not faced with an undue cost burden in making adjustments, but wish nonetheless to have regulation-making powers available in case that should prove not to be the case. The amendments, however,
However, let me address the concerns which underlie the amendment. We made it very clear that, after the first year of operation the Access to Work programme, including financial aspects, would be reviewed. That year has now elapsed and we are, therefore, as we undertook to do last year, embarking on a review of the programme. The review will clearly need to take due account of its proposals to require employers to make reasonable adjustment to working conditions or the workplace.
In addition, any funding available to the employer from Access to Work or from any other source would be taken into account in deciding whether something was reasonable. The Committee will appreciate, however, that I cannot commit the Government to open-ended funding of all, nor necessarily any, of the reasonable adjustments that employers will be required to undertake because of the new right. I cannot therefore accept the amendment. Nor do I think it right to pre-empt the review by speculating how adjustments whose costs are not reasonable in the terms of the Bill should be addressed.
Earl Russell: Before the noble Baroness replies, perhaps I could take up one point made by the Minister. He said that it was not normal to create statutory obligations and then for the taxpayer to pay for them. With respect, I am not quite sure that he is right about that. For example, there is a statutory obligation to call the police after an accident. The police are a charge on public funds. So there the state is paying for it. There may be a statutory obligation in time of war to enlist in the Armed Forces. They are a charge on the Crown. The Minister may wish to distinguish the cases. I do not believe that he will find it quite so easy to do as he may think.
Lord Carter: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do with the amendment, perhaps I may take up a couple of points that the Minister made when referring to Access to Work, which I thought were slightly ominous. He said that the review of the scheme had been completed, which we understand. We are not asking him to let us know the outcome of that review. But could he help us by saying if the review includes the question of whether or not the scheme should continue at all? Does the review look again
We shall also maintain the present arrangements for Access to Work, at least until the review has been completed and the final shape of the new legislation is clear. In practice, should any changes to Access to Work be necessary because of the Bill, we shall probably aim to introduce them to coincide with the coming into force of the new rights. We shall also, of course, continue to operate the full range of other existing services for disabled people.
As regards funding, there has been concern that the Government were in some way prejudging the result of the review, in that published plans show a reduction from last year's expenditure. Last year the Government found additional money to launch the programme. It does not make sense to change the original planning assumptions behind the programme in advance of the review's conclusion. The budget for this year is, therefore, less than last year's. It does not, however, mean that we are currently expecting to introduce an employer contribution during the year. We shall keep expenditure on the programme under a very close watch and, if necessary, consider what steps need to be taken. It is too early in the financial year for me to speculate on what might be necessary. As I said, the review will look at the funding implications to ensure that the budgets reflect the future shape of the programme.