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Page 5, line 25, at end insert:
("( ) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs of employers who have fewer than 20 employees and to make such financial provision by way of grants or loans as he deems appropriate to enable them to meet the obligations to disabled persons which they would have but for the exemption contained in this section.").

The noble Baroness said: I tabled this amendment as a peg, coat-hanger or basis upon which to ask the Minister to place on the record, if he would be so kind, exactly what encouragement, arrangements and financial assistance he will give to small firms with fewer than 20 employees to bring them voluntarily within the law if the Bill is not amended in its passage through your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: The amendment gives rise to an interesting situation because some types of business—I shall mention one in a moment—would find it exceedingly difficult to employ a disabled person in any

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capacity. I refer, for example, to the business of operating taxis. It would be very difficult if a number of disabled people applied for employment in a taxi business. Such a business comprises mainly drivers, with a mechanic or two, and it would be difficult for such a business to employ any disabled person. Therefore, it is right that the noble Baroness should have tabled an amendment stating that the Secretary of State is,

    "to have regard to the needs of employers who have fewer than 20 employees".

I am glad that she has given me the opportunity to cite an example of where such a special case should be considered.

Lord Swinfen: In the special case mentioned by my noble friend, it would be reasonable not to employ a disabled person.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thank both my noble friends for their valid comments—one in asking and the other in answering. However, as the noble Baroness used the process of moving the amendment simply to ask me a question—I take it, therefore, that the amendment is about to be withdrawn—perhaps I may concentrate on trying to help the noble Baroness on what we intend to do to try to encourage small firms—although outside the ambit of this legislation—to try to behave as we all want them to behave.

I said earlier that my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment made our position very clear in the other place. Of course, we want small firms to continue their good record of employing disabled people. We certainly do not want them to discriminate. We shall encourage them to follow a code of practice that we shall be drawing up. In drawing up that code of practice, which, as long as the Bill escapes unharmed from your Lordships' House in this regard, will apply legally only to firms with more than 20 employees, we shall think about and consult not only with such firms or their representative organisations, but also with firms of fewer than 20 employees and their representative organisations. That will mean that the new code of practice will apply not only to firms with more than 20 employees, to which the Act will apply, but that it will be equally applicable as a code of good practice to firms with fewer than 20 employees. I hope that that answer is helpful.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That takes us part of the way. Perhaps the Minister could write to me because I should like to know what eligibility small firms will have for any grants or assistance that will be available, as of right, to firms with more than 20 employees. In other words, on the assumption, which I hope is false, that the figure of 20 remains in place when the Bill has passed through your Lordships' House, all of us will have a commitment to bring voluntarily within the framework of the law as many smaller companies with fewer than 20 employees as possible.

The only way we might be able to do that is with a carrot, because there will be no stick. I was trying to discover from the Minister what would be the range of carrots to encourage small companies to come within the framework of the Bill. The Minister gave us an answer about codes of guidance and the like. Perhaps he will

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write to me about the financial resources available to small firms so that we can see how they may be brought into the Act. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 7, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Addington: I wish to oppose the Motion that Clause 7 stand part of the Bill on the simple ground that I have heard a great deal of talk about how important it is for small employers. We have heard a great deal about the concept of reasonableness. If making reasonable provision and not discriminating against anyone is the concept behind the Bill, surely it should apply to all employers. We have also heard that the concept of reasonableness will not apply as an absolute standard. It is something which applies to individual firms and cases. If that is a valid concept, surely it makes irrelevant the clause under which firms with fewer than a certain number of employees are exempt. If the Government's thinking is correct, the clause is not needed. On those grounds, I oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I wish to make two comments and ask the Minister two questions. First, I am sorry to see the Minister clashing with his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister has assured us that small firms are at the heart of Britain's economic recovery. He says what wonderful people they are. They are enterprising and leading Britain out of economic despond. But the Minister implies that they are rather dim-witted people who cannot understand the problems involved in taking on one or two disabled workers. So firms with fewer than 20 workers are incompetent. They are helping Britain's recovery, but they are too dim to understand the problems caused by taking on one or two disabled workers. Can the Minister justify that objection and that reason for excluding from the Bill firms with fewer than 20 workers?

Secondly, several people have mentioned the question of reasonableness being difficult. I see no problem. Many distinguished lawyers have been present and they know that the concept of reasonableness is something with which the courts have no problem. If it will cause such enormous problems, then those Conservative Back-Benchers who are complaining should ask the Government not to bring in the concept of reasonableness. I see no difficulty with it, but if they do they should talk to their Minister.

I wish to ask the Minister two simple questions. I am concerned that he is evading my questions. I do not know whether it is because he does not hear me, in which case perhaps I should speak louder, or because he is the skilled politician that we all think he is and is learning to prevaricate and to answer just those questions he prefers to answer.

My first question is partly a general question. I am not sure whether the Minister said that small firms cannot discriminate against disabled people. If he did say that, he is wrong, because clearly they can discriminate. Does he agree that if he did not say it, and if small firms can legally discriminate against disabled people, then that is unjustifiable and morally wrong?

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Secondly, the Bill says that no unreasonable burdens should be imposed upon employers. It says in fact that the burden should be reasonable. Will the Minister tell us whether it will be legal or illegal to impose unreasonable burdens on firms when the Bill is enacted?

Lord Carter: I support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in opposing the Motion that Clause 7 stand part of the Bill. Although we must be careful of anecdotes, perhaps I may declare an interest. I am a director of a company with seven employees, of whom three are full-time and four are part-time. Of the seven, four are disabled. Our experience is interesting. With the small office that we occupy, the cost to us has been comparatively small. We have installed some moveable wooden ramps and moved the position of the electric light points so that those who use wheelchairs can reach them.

For the landlord it is different. It is a building with 100 to 150 people going through it. The landlord has had to put in a ramp to ensure that our employees can gain proper access. He welcomed that, because he said he should have done it before, and he has received a grant for doing it. That is one example.

Perhaps I may give a second one. It is one that I gave on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned his experience in America. A number of the states—it is not federal law—have had laws for a long time with low limits on the number of employees caught by the disability legislation. I said on Second Reading that in California it is six and in New York four. I asked the Minister to comment on that. His reply was 100 per cent. accurate. He said that we were not America. I did not think that the reply added greatly to the stock of human knowledge.

Another interesting point is that, so long as it is not unreasonable, there is in the Bill no exclusion of small providers of goods and services, only small employers. Small providers of whatever size have to meet the Bill's requirements. The point about unreasonable costs was dealt with extremely ably by my noble friend Lady Hollis.

I conclude by saying that if we think it through, the Government are producing a curious argument. They are saying that discrimination is unlawful, except in small firms. According to the Government's thinking, anti-discrimination cannot be an absolute value; it can only be of relative value, because the Government are making it relative to the size of firm. It seems that to the Government costs and inconvenience are more important than the absolute value of anti-discrimination, something in which all of us on this side of the Committee believe. I am pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington. If he decides to divide the Committee, we shall be with him.

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