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Lord Monson: My Lords, I was very interested in the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Rix, who both made clear that they were entirely opposed to setting any lower limit whatsoever. But that would have been precisely the effect that acceptance of their amendment at Committee stage would have had. I must say that it is unusual to move one amendment in Committee implying that one is happy with certain limits and then seek to stiffen it up at Report stage. That has happened, but it is not usual. In a way, if the

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amendment had been accepted and left at that it would in a sense have been almost better than having the Bill as it stands.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, suggested that I was implying that all disabled people are a burden to employers. I did not imply that at all. I simply suggested that of some disabled people and often it does not become apparent until after those people have been accepted and taken on. It is then embarrassing and difficult for employers to get rid of them, even if by law they are entitled to do so. On the whole, people would rather not take them on in the first place.

There is another matter that has been overlooked and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed it out on various occasions today. Very small firms simply do not have the managerial manpower to send people to tribunals to argue their case, to go to solicitors and so on, or indeed to devote most of their time to making special provisions for disabled employees. I had not proposed to press the amendment tonight. I considered it a paving measure in a sense for some compromise that might be worked out between now and Third Reading whereby we might straightaway reduce the present upper limit somewhat to 15 or something like that and introduce a firm lower limit.

But from what I have heard tonight it does not seem as though this would find favour. Things may change during the Recess. People, having reflected upon this matter and what has been said tonight, may start to think differently. But for the time being at any rate and reserving the right to come back again at Third Reading, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendments Nos. 46 to 48 not moved.]

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 6, line 33, at end insert:
("( ) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to remove and prevent discrimination against disabled persons when employed by, or applying for employment from, employers with fewer than 20 employees; and the Secretary of State to this end may make appropriate financial provision by way of grants and loans to such employers, who can show that they wish to meet the obligations to disabled persons which they would have but for the exemption contained in this section.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am afraid this amendment takes us back to the debate in relation to small businesses, their exemption and numbers. But it is a different way of looking at the situation and that is why, though there was a suggestion that it should be grouped with other amendments, I wanted it to stand alone.
The amendment begins at the point where we decided in the Bill that we would do nothing for those employees who are employed in bunches of less than 20. Nothing is to be done for them, for all the reasons that we have been through. Amendment No. 49 seeks to say that perhaps something can be done for them other than applying the provisions of the Bill to people in bundles of less than 20.
We accept that at this moment the Government will not include people employed in bunches of less than 20. But the amendment seeks to persuade the Government

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to take some responsibility for disabled people by doing something for them when they are employed in firms which employ fewer than 20 people. The amendment provides,
"Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to remove and prevent discrimination against disabled persons when employed by, or applying for employment from, employers with fewer than 20 employees".
We then tried to make appropriate provision by way of grants and loans for those who say that they wish to improve the facilities for people employed in bundles of less than 20, and that is set out specifically in Section 7 of the Bill.
The House will be aware that this amendment was moved briefly at Committee stage as Amendment No. 56A. At that point the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said,
"We intend to ... try to encourage small firms—although outside the ambit of this legislation—to try to behave as we all want them to behave".
He went on to say,
"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 [and it has], 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".—[Official Report, 15/6/95; col. 1923.]
The Government went quite some way, therefore, in accepting a responsibility, but they would not accept the amendment. We have therefore brought it back to see what the Government say this evening. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: My Lords, this amendment seeks to ensure that employers with fewer than 20 employees complying with Part II of the Bill receive help with subsidies. I congratulate the noble Lord on an ingenious amendment and probably another attempt to get round the exemption in Clause 8 of the Bill. But the noble Lord has overlooked a couple of points.

The first point, that I made earlier, is that not all the burdens that small employers are likely to experience in Part II will be financial. I described the regulatory burden and the problem of absorbing and implementing the details of the Bill. The second fairly crucial point is that the Government already have a scheme for meeting certain expenses. It is called the "Access to Work" scheme. I imagine that the noble Lord is familiar with it. It is open to all firms, regardless of size, and an additional power is unnecessary. However, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Access to Work scheme, the introduction of which we announced early last year, is under review. It is impossible for me, therefore, to give any detailed undertaking until that review has been concluded. I can though confirm that the Government very much intend to continue providing help under the Access to Work scheme after the review. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and with the leave of the House, if the review of the Access to Work scheme reintroduces the

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Government's original idea, which they dropped, that the employer should contribute to the costs of access to work, would that not be a greater burden on the smaller employer? Therefore, the point behind my noble friend's amendment is even stronger.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord will remember the issues relating to access to work probably as well as I do. Like Calais and other things, they are engraved on my heart. As the noble Lord said, when we originally proposed the scheme we thought in terms of having an employer contribution. We then listened to a great many representations on the subject and made a certain amount of extra money available whereby we could dispense with the employer contribution. At the time I gave a commitment that because we were doing this and because the scheme, if it was going to be successful, had a chance of growing quite dramatically, it would be fair to look at these matters thoroughly again when the review was conducted. I cannot give any commitment one way or the other as to what we will do after the review. However, I can tell the noble Lord that the scheme has been a great success. It has helped a large number of people find work or stay in work. We would not do anything in any way to undermine the success of the scheme. Further than that I think the noble Lord would accept that I can give no commitment.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He was at the meeting with David Hunt, the then Secretary of State, when the All-Party Disablement Group put very powerful arguments against employers paying half of the cost. I am sure that the noble Lord was as impressed as David Hunt was, because David Hunt then told the other place that he was so convinced by those arguments that the payment by employers was completely out. Now the noble Lord seems to be indicating that it is under consideration again. If that is the case, how can he now argue in response to my noble friend that the Access to Work scheme is an argument against considering this amendment?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly said, I was at that meeting. I was at a great many other meetings where these views were expressed fairly forcefully. I have not said—and I do not think the noble Lord should start hares running in this manner—that we had any intention of bringing back any idea of there being an employer contribution. My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State did not rule it out in perpetuity. He said that we were going to bring it in without an employer contribution and see how things went. However, because of financial constraints and other such matters, it was right to review how the scheme was working. I am not just talking about reintroducing or not reintroducing an employer contribution. I am talking about the whole gamut. Who is it reaching? Is it targeting the right people? Is it really assisting people into work or is it just retaining people in work? The whole gamut has to be reviewed after a year. That is the assurance we gave and that is the review that is taking place. It would be wrong for me to start announcing what we might or might not do before that review took place.

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