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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This new clause seeks powers similar to those that were sought during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill in respect of the national insurance holiday. It also appears to aim to provide a financial incentive to employers who take on any disabled person, even those who have not been away from the labour market.

As I said during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill, the national insurance holiday is aimed at helping back into work people who have been capable of work but have not been able to find it. This is where we consider that the need is greatest, and where we feel we must target the resources we have at our disposal, in particular at the group who have been unemployed for two years or more. That does not apply with the same force to disabled people who have not been unemployed for long periods. Of course, disabled people who have been registered unemployed for two years will qualify for the national insurance holiday.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned, during the course of the Jobseekers Bill I pointed out that the powers are widely drawn and that they would enable us to include other groups, including disabled people, if we believed that to be appropriate. As I said, we shall carefully monitor and evaluate the success of the scheme. We do not rule out extending it further in some way if it becomes clear that there is value in doing so. But for now, as I believe I said at the time, we need to introduce the scheme within the cost constraints that apply. That means focusing help essentially on the long-term unemployed.

That argument is the same as the one I have used about the Bill in general. We want to ensure that this is concentrated on the people whom we have set out to help: the disabled. The particular scheme in the Jobseekers Bill has been devised and budgeted for on the basis of helping one particular group of the unemployed, namely, the long-term unemployed. I can do no better than repeat what I said in the course of the Committee and Report stages of the Jobseekers Bill. We want to preserve that concentration. We will monitor the situation. If we want to bring in any other group, not just the disabled, I believe that we have the powers under the Jobseekers Bill to do it. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Carter: I think that the Minister's answer can be described as the very faintest glimmer of hope rather than the complete extinction of it. In the light of his answer, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No.51 not moved.]

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No.52:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

13 Jun 1995 : Column 1780

("Discrimination against disabled persons in partnerships

.—(1) It is unlawful for a firm to discriminate against a disabled person who is eligible to become a partner in that firm—
(a) in the arrangements it makes for the purpose of determining who should be offered the position of partner in the firm;
(b) in the terms on which a partnership in the firm is offered to that person; or
(c) by refusing to offer, or deliberately not offering, a partnership to that person.
(2) Subsection (1) shall apply in relation to persons proposing to form themselves into a partnership as it applies in relation to a firm.
(3) It is unlawful for a firm to discriminate against a disabled person who is a partner in that firm—
(a) by the way it affords him access to any benefits, facilities or services; or
(b) by expelling him from that partnership, or subjecting him to any other detriment.
(4) For the purposes of this section, a firm discriminates against a disabled person if—
(a) for a reason which relates to the disabled person's disability, it treats him less favourably than it treats, or would treat, others who do not have the disability in question; and
(b) the firm cannot show that the treatment in question is justified under subsection (5).
(5) For the purposes of this section—
(a) a firm is justified in treating a disabled person less favourably than it treats, or would treat, others who do not have the disability in question only if—
(i) it has reached a decision that one or more of the conditions mentioned in subsection (6) are satisfied; and
(ii) it is reasonable for that decision to have been reached.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (5) above the conditions are that—
(a) the disabled person is unsuitable for the position;
(b) the disabled person is less suitable for the position than another person and that other person is given the position, or
(c) the nature of the disabled person's disability significantly impedes, or would significantly impede, the performance of any of the duties of the position.
(7) Where—
(a) any arrangements made by or on behalf of a firm, or
(b) any physical feature of premises occupied by a firm,
place a disabled person who is a partner in that firm, or a disabled person who is eligible to become a partner in that firm and has applied to become a partner or could reasonably be expected to be considered for a position as a partner, at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled, it is the duty of the firm to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, for it to have to take in order to prevent the arrangements or feature having that effect.
(8) Where a duty is imposed on a firm by or under subsection (7) above, treatment of a disabled person may be justified in accordance with subsection (5) above only if—
(a) the firm has complied with the duty, or
(b) where it has not complied with the duty it would be reasonable for it to have reached the decision that even if it had done so, the treatment would still have been justified.
(9) In the case of an act which constitutes discrimination by virtue of section 28, this section also applies to discrimination against a person who is not disabled.
(10) Nothing in this section is to be taken to require a firm to treat a disabled person more favourably than it treats, or would treat, others who do not have the disability in question.
(11) Subsections (7) and (8) above impose duties only for the purpose of determining whether a firm has discriminated against a disabled person; and accordingly a breach of any such duty is not actionable as such.
(12) Regulations under this section may—

13 Jun 1995 : Column 1781

(a) make provision as to the meaning of "arrangements" for the purposes of this section;
(b) make provision as to other circumstances in which a firm is to be taken to be justified in treating a disabled person less favourably than it treats, or would treat, other persons who do not have the disability in question; and
(c) make provision as to—
(i) circumstances in which arrangements are, or a physical feature is, for the purposes of subsection (7) to be taken to have the effect mentioned in that subsection, and
(ii) circumstances in which the provisions of regulations made under section 6(7), (8) and (9) are to be taken as applying to a firm in relation to a position as a partner in that firm as, under those provisions, they apply to employers.").

The noble Baroness said: Partnerships in employment are not covered in the Bill as it stands, as I mentioned at Second Reading. A shorter amendment with the same aims was moved and withdrawn in another place in Standing Committee E on 28th February. This amendment is much longer. It has taken into account some of the worries expressed in the other place and brings it into line with provisions in the Bill relating to employment.

Both the Sex Discrimination Act and Race Relations Act include a right not to be discriminated against in relation to a partnership. The latter Act limits the right to firms of more than five people. However, the Law Society and BMA are currently appealing to the Government to remove the restriction for race. They say that if discrimination is wrong on the ground of sex they can see no reason for not saying that it is also wrong on ground of race. Racial discrimination is either right or wrong, and the size of partnership should be immaterial. Surely, the same is true of disability.

The main groups affected are members of professions which typically operate on a partnership basis: architects, accountants, solicitors, GPs and so forth. I was amazed to learn that some firms had more than 100 partners. In those cases to become a partner is a form of promotion. In instances of discrimination on the ground of disability the career development of the disabled person will be blocked. Surely, that is wrong. It should be remembered that normally somebody applies for a partnership once he or she has been working in a firm for some time and has proved himself or herself in the job. When there is a partnership opening, if the individual is capable of doing the job of a fee-earner in a professional practice there can be no additional criteria to prevent the person from taking the next logical career step. Many firms provide for the retirement of partners through cross life insurance cover. It may be difficult for some disabled people to obtain that, and perhaps it is an area where reasonable adjustments may need to be made. Apart from that, there appears to be no good reason for excluding partnerships from the Bill. I hope to receive an encouraging reply from the Minister. I beg to move.

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