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Lord Carter: I believe it to be a fact that over the years a number of our leading lawyers have been blind. When the noble Baroness moved the amendment it occurred to me that there was one international firm of

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accountants which had 630 partners, some of whom were in this country and others in America. It would be odd if a disabled person was somehow barred in this country but could be employed by the same firm in America under the terms of the ADA. I would be interested to know the reason why the Government felt that they should be excluded.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: First, let me make clear that the Bill will cover partnerships in their capacity as employers, in the same way as any other employer who has more than 20 employees. Partnerships will also be covered by the access to goods and services provisions of the Bill. The noble Baroness's amendment asks for partnerships to be considered in a third category, that is, the partners themselves.

As the noble Baroness said, in many cases partners are recruited from among the employees of the partnership. In such a situation, becoming a partner is indeed a form of promotion. In that context a person will have already been covered by the disability provisions as an employee of the firm. Indeed, I suspect that, for partnerships, there is no job advertisement or application but that it is a case of a summons to go to see the senior managing partner and being invited to consider becoming a partner. But I have no great experience of these matters. I suspect, however, that that is how it is done. I hope that that kind of career progression—where, as the noble Baroness said, any disabled person has clearly been provided for and allowances have been made in whatever shape or form necessary as for an employee—would mean that at any next stage any misapprehensions or concerns among the partners about the individual's suitability would already have been resolved and the reasonable adjustments would have been made.

A partnership is a business relationship in which the partners invest often considerable resources and share the consequent profit or loss. Partners bind themselves together by an agreement. They are usually personally liable for all the debts of the partnership and an act by one partner will normally bind all the others. It is also a close relationship of trust and confidence and is quite different from the relationship between an employer and an employee.

The new clause proposed by the noble Baroness seeks to deal with the relationship between a partner or prospective partner on the one hand and "the firm" on the other. But as every partner is part of the firm, that division is not a true one. A number of issues stem from the new clause, which we need to consider very carefully. For example, there is the important issue of "reasonable adjustment". This amendment places a duty of reasonable adjustment on "the firm". I wonder whether that is the right approach. It would mean, for example, that a disabled partner has a duty placed on himself for his own benefit, because "the firm" is not a realistic description of a partnership. If one is a partner in a firm, one is not employed by the firm. That is where the pension point mentioned earlier comes in.

Since partners put their own resources into a firm, it is not clear how the question of the cost of adjustment should be dealt with, and in particular to what extent it

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would be reasonable for the disabled person to seek a contribution from the other partner or partners to meet the cost of the necessary adjustments.

We are not aware of unfair discrimination against disabled people being an issue in the context of partnerships. I am not yet convinced by the noble Baroness's arguments that the inclusion of partners in this part of the Bill is necessary. I should need to be convinced both that this is an area where there is unfair discrimination against disabled people and that legislating to prevent it is the best way forward. Clearly, even if I were convinced, I should have to consider very carefully how to proceed in the light of the points that I mentioned about partnerships being quite different from the employee/employer relationship, which is the meat, so to speak, of the rest of the Bill.

I appreciate that this is a serious issue. But I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment. I should be interested to hear, either at the next stage or during the course of the next few days, anything from her as to whether there is a problem and its nature, to see whether I can help her.

Lord Carter: There are two points that occurred to me as the Minister was speaking. It is now common in the large professional practices to have salaried partners. There are just a few equity partners and a lot of salaried partners. I do not expect the Minister to answer me now, but I think that the Government will have to reflect on whether they are employees or partners in the way that he defined.

Also, there is the case of the John Lewis Partnership, which was drawn to my attention by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Every member who works in that firm is a partner. Are they also excluded from the Bill?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I should have to look rather more carefully at the John Lewis Partnership before I could answer that question. The noble Lord raised the issue of salaried partners. In some ways I can see why he did so, but it did, perhaps, add to the point that I made; namely, that this is a rather more difficult field than that of the simple employer and employee relationship. I cannot really answer the question about salaried partners off the top of my head; how they are regarded and whether they would come inside the scope of the Bill as it stands. I shall have to take advice about that and about the nature of the John Lewis Partnership. I believe that I know what I mean by partnerships and what the noble Baroness means by that. I shall reflect on those points, check up and perhaps write to the noble Lord about the particular instances that he has raised with me.

Lord Monkswell: Perhaps I may seek a little clarification from the Minister. He seemed to say that in the mechanism of going from an employee of a firm

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through promotion to partnership, the Act would apply because it would be discrimination in terms of promotion. I suspect that that is not what he intended to say, but that is the impression that I gained. In that case the promotion side would be covered, but all that would be left would be discrimination once a person had become a partner. I suspect that the Minister will clarify the situation.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: In view of the time of night I believe that I was reading pretty carefully from my notes on the subject, so I am sure that I did not say what the noble Lord appears to have heard me say. I believe I said, if I may paraphrase it, that in many cases a person becomes a partner, having previously been an employee. If the person is disabled in the context of this Bill, then accommodation will have been made, if necessary, to have him as an employee. Therefore, any misapprehensions or difficulties which might occur in other circumstances ought not to occur here. In other words, the other partners will be well aware of that person's ability to do the job, and given whatever changes have to be made in the office, if any, they will not be a problem. That is what I was getting at rather than the point that the noble Lord was making and as regards which he seems to have misheard me.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I am not sure that I share the Minister's confidence that I know anything about partnerships, particularly after this debate. As regards the last point about a partner who was an employee previously and therefore the accommodation would have been made, that may be all right. It would be a very great help if something on partnerships was in the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his support. He made some interesting points. I thank the Minister for his full reply and for his offer to exchange information before the next stage. I shall find out a little more about the whole position. We all probably need to find out more. I hope to discuss the matter with him before the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Children (Scotland) Bill

Reported from the Committee of the Whole House in the Moses Room with amendments.

        House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past midnight.

13 Jun 1995 : Column CWH119

Official Report of the Committee on the

Children (Scotland) Bill

Third Sitting

Tuesday, 13 June, 1995

The Committee met at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

Clause 70 [Exclusion orders]:

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie) moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 57, line 7, after ("child") insert (", irrespective of whether the child is for the time being residing in the family home").

The noble and learned Lord said: Amendment No. 162 seeks to ensure that the sheriff should have power to make an exclusion order whether or not the child is at that time residing in the family home. It could, for example, be the case that a child of a non-abusing parent had gone to live with relatives or friends to make sure that the child was safe. It should therefore be possible for the local authority to seek the exclusion of the abuser so that the child and the non-abusing parent can return to the family home. The amendment is a useful addition and I hope it will receive the Committee's support.

Amendment No. 163 is an associated amendment, which recognises that the child may already have been removed from the family home by, for example, a non-abusing parent to protect the child. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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