Philip Norton, Esquire, having been created Baron Norton of Louth, of Louth in the County of Lincolnshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Weatherill and the Lord Newton of Braintree.
Mrs. Susan Elizabeth Miller, having been created Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, of Chilthorne Domer in the County of Somerset, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Tope and the Baroness Maddock.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. However, is my noble friend aware that there is no valid reason why any firm should be exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act? The Act specifically provides that only reasonable adjustments need to be made, so there is absolutely no question of any unreasonable demands being imposed on any firm. Does it not follow that any claim by a firm for exemption on the grounds that it fears unreasonable burdens is totally without justification according to the law and that such firms should therefore be included under the terms of the Act that forbids discrimination against disabled people at work?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, why is it necessary to exempt some firms from that part of the legislation when they are not exempt from health and safety or tax legislation or, more significantly, the service provisions of the Act, which will probably prove far more onerous than the employment provisions?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord could have gone further: smaller firms are not exempt from provisions relating to sex and race discrimination. The analogies are not perfect in either case. I sought to emphasise that responsibilities and costs on employers are involved. That is why we took the view that the lower threshold was appropriate.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that I warmly welcomed the Government's decision to create the disability rights commission for which my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill provided. But is he aware of the recent research finding that a high proportion of employers now refuse even to interview disabled job applicants? Might not that mindless prejudice against disabled people be encouraged if those who are doing so much damage to their aspirations are unaffected by the new legislation?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right that the legislation to create a disability rights commission, which he has championed so powerfully for so many years, is the Department for Education and Employment's highest priority for legislation. We must hope that it will find a very early slot in the Government's programme.
Lord Rix: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the removal of the employer's contribution to Access to Work for disabled persons would go some way to encourage them to employ such persons, particularly those with a learning disability?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have gone a considerable way to removing the employee's contribution to Access to Work. We are prepared in most circumstances to shoulder 100 per cent. of the costs of Access to Work. I hope the noble Lord will agree that that is progress.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course, I recall the history to which my noble friend refers. I have already referred to the department's hope that there will be early legislation. Once the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 has been amended, as we hope it will be, there will be an opportunity to have a phased lowering of the threshold for inclusion under Section 7 of Part II of the Act, and that, I believe, will be in the direction in which my noble friend wishes to go, though not at the speed at which he wishes to go.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the northern region has had the highest unemployment rate outside of Northern Ireland since these statistics were first instituted and that it is now having to bear the brunt of the first and heaviest round of factory closures, not just by the big players, such as Siemens and Fujitsu, but by many smaller companies, a matter about which all parties are concerned? Is he further aware of reports that both employers and members of trade unions are expressing disappointment at what is considered to be inadequate discussion and consultation by the Government? While I welcome the last part of the Answer, I have to say to the Minister that much more is expected.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I understand my noble friend's concern. The Government are concerned about the impact of these decisions of companies to cease to operate on the individuals and communities involved, and that is why we acted so quickly to put in the support measures that I have mentioned. However, we have to put this in perspective.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the high interest rates which we suffer in this country are hitting exports because of the strength of sterling? Is it not high time that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took responsibility for that rather than hiding behind the Bank of England, particularly in view of the fact that, following the recent G7 meetings, he has urged our partners throughout the world to reduce interest rates while doing nothing about them in this country?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, monetary policy needs to be guided by the long-term needs of the economy and not by short-term political considerations. It is worth making the point that interest rates are low by historical standards. It is important to put exchange rate movements in an international context. The level of sterling has barely changed against the dollar since the end of 1996, while other European currencies have depreciated against both the dollar and sterling. Of course, the Government understand the problems which the rise in the pound has caused manufacturers and exporters, but it is essential that we take a long-term view. Short-term fixes are no answer at all.
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