|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Swinfen: The noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned small providers. A restaurant of course is a small provider. Under the terms of the Bill, it will have to make access provisions for its clients but not for any disabled member of staff. That is daft. The Bill would be greatly improved if it did not include this clause.
Lord Campbell of Croy: I made it clear that I hope in due course that small firms will be included, but I do not believe that it would be a good thing at this stage of the Bill to take out the whole clause. So I shall be supporting the Government.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: By this time we are all well aware of what the clause does. It was amended in the other place to ensure that the size of firms which are exempt can be changed, and can only be changed downwards. It was decided that we should start at 20. In answer to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I have already pointed to the American experience. They started at 25. There was a power to lower the figure. They lowered it to 15, and that is where, so far as concerns primary legislation across the United States, it must stay.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, reminded me of my answer to him, that this is not the United States. I thought that that was a sensible parliamentary reply: it was absolutely true, and added nothing to the information we all had available.
Of course we look at the experience in other countries, including the United States, but we ought not necessarily to follow them in a slavish manner. I have set out in detail the proper place to start with the boundary, of which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, does not approve. He would say that a firm with only one employee should immediately be covered by the Bill. I am afraid that I cannot agree with him and he will not be surprised to hear that. I have introduced, and the Committee has agreed, the commitment to enact a requirement to review the operation of the clause within five years. That will give us sufficient time to see how the Bill works in firms with 20 or more employees and to take the view of firms with fewer than 20 employees. At the end of the five-year period we shall be able to see where we should go.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, that I shall not become irritated by his suggestion because that would not help either of us. I thought that he made a nice debating point by implying that I assumed dim-witted people run small companies. Not at all. I suppose that one can say that they are a cross-section of your Lordships' Houseand the Committee can come to its own conclusions on that.
I was making the point that even the cleverest has a great deal to do in running a firm in which usually they take virtually all the management responsibilities and probably take part in some of the work that is undertaken. They are probably involved in finding the contracts, selling the products, chasing up the unpaid bills, watching the books and so forth. I am talking about adding to that burden.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, asked a question which I thought was a tinge like asking me whether I had stopped beating my wife. He asked whether small firms can discriminate. I would rather put it this way: of course, they will not fall within the scope of the Bill but, as I and others have pointed out, many of them employ disabled people. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, we wish to encourage them not only to continue to do so but to increase the number of disabled people whom they employ.
I turn now to the imposition of reasonable burdens, although I have forgotten the precise question. I tried to explain that I was not founding my argument so much on the cost, although cost would be a consideration. The £200 is an average cost, which means that some could be above that. However, I accept that if the average cost is £200, the majority will be less than that.
My noble friend Lord Inglewood usually manages to give the Committee legal lectures on the definition of "reasonable". I must rest my case on some of the explanations that he has given from his legal background. We understand what the reasonable costs would be, but I am concerned about the additional burden which I have mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, made the valid point, which I am happy to underline, that there may be few, if any, alterations that one needs to make in order to employ disabled people. If alterations are necessary there may be beneficial results. Perhaps building a ramp will encourage disabled customers to deal with one's small business. My noble friend Lord Swinfen is right in saying that the limitations that we are discussing relate only to employment and not to the next part of the Bill, which is the delivery of services. In that respect there is no such limitation.
We have been over the argument. I have made it clear that we shall give every encouragement to small firms to follow in a voluntary manner the guidance in the code of practice on the fair treatment of disabled people. Any employerbe it a large employer caught by the Bill or a small employer outside the scope of the Billwill be able to obtain from the Employment Service the help and advice that they require as regards employing disabled people.
We believe that drawing the line at 20 employees is a sensible place to start. As I said, 80 per cent. of the employees in our country will be covered by this legislation. I hope that if the noble Lord decides to put the clause to the test of a Division, my noble friends will support me in retaining it as part of the Bill.
Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.