Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Brookman: Brookman, my Lords.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, he will never forgive me. He is always so nice to me outside the Chamber. I am terribly sorry that I did not remember his name.

There is another category of persons whose situation is not voluntary. I refer to people who by reason of one incapacity or another live in some other sort of community or need to attend day centres and who for therapeutic reasons do some sort of work for which they receive token pay. I am not talking about people who are just employed but about those who are able to do only a little in certain circumstances. They, and those who look after them, are no less deserving of exemption from this legislation than a group of devout monks who work to support themselves and share the income. It is right that such people have been exempted; I should have liked the provision to extend further.

However, we cannot re-fight old battles. Any exemption from the legislation has our support and we welcome the amendment. The only other point I wish to make is that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. That is why I have tabled Amendment No. 127A, which is grouped with this one.

As I explained, we believe that this group is no less deserving and certainly needs to be exempted. It comprises those whose employment chances are impaired because of one of various misfortunes: they have fallen into a category through absolute disability or sickness or as the result of an accident. They include, for example, people with learning difficulties living in sheltered accommodation who are able to engage in craftwork which is then sold by the establishment's gift shop for the benefit of the residents. They include

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1117

people with some physical disability which prevents them from working full-time or at the same rate as a colleague on the next bench. They include those whose medical advisers believe that working will help improve their physical or mental condition but who find it difficult to find regular employment.

In 1998, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an organisation whose opinions are generally approved of by the Government, said in a report:

    "Disabled people may have been affected by a much wider and systematic shift in employment patterns. As the supply of labour expanded faster than demand, employers have been much more selective in their choice of staff. Marginal workers, such as disabled people, have been excluded ... Preliminary evidence shows that very few have found jobs". In its evidence to the Low Pay commission for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act, the National Institute for the Blind stated (at page 39):

    "Blind and partially sighted persons face bleak prospects in employment ... Significantly blind and partially sighted people are concentrated in lower paying semi-skilled and routine manual occupations. Many ... are therefore caught in poverty even when they are working".

In the debate on this very amendment just a little over a year ago, I said that,

    "It is simplistic to suggest that the solution to their problems will be to increase their pay entitlement. On the contrary, we believe that such action would increase their problems. It would make employers even less inclined to employ disabled people so long as they can employ able-bodied persons to do the same work for the same pay, possibly at a higher rate of productivity".--[Official Report, 22/6/98; col. 63.] I go further than that. It would be positively disruptive if two people working side by side, one being substantially less productive and subject to frequent absences for medical reasons, were to be paid at the same rate.

The Government saw two main objections to my amendment. First, they said that it would be used as a device by unscrupulous employers to exploit vulnerable people. That is not right. There are many publicly minded employers who employ disabled workers, at some inconvenience and expense to themselves, and regard it as a duty, rather than doing it for some ulterior and unworthy motive.

As recently as 20th June, the Sunday Telegraph made a powerful case for exemption for the disabled. The article is far too long for me to quote in full, but I urge the Minister to read it, as I feel certain that he will reject my amendment. If he were to read that article over the weekend, he might speak differently about my amendment at Third Reading. To paraphrase the article heavily, it states that as many as 10,000 disabled and mentally handicapped people could lose their jobs due to the rigid application of the national minimum wage rules.

There is much more that I could say in speaking to the amendment. But it is late. I believe that I have made my point. I urge all three Ministers on the Front Bench opposite to obtain a copy of that Sunday Telegraph. It would make excellent weekend reading. At this stage, I should be happy to hear the Minister's response.

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1118

8.15 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, first, in relation to Amendment No. 127, I assure the House and noble Lords who have spoken that we see this as a specific and tightly constrained provision to deal with a small group of 1,000 individuals in particular circumstances. That is extremely important.

We are delighted to be able to deal with this problem in a common-sense way and meet the needs of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. Perhaps I may say on behalf of the whole House that we shall miss his wise advice and we wish him well in retirement.

Turning to Amendment No. 127A, perhaps I may promptly prove that we do see this as a tightly constrained amendment. I shall of course steel myself and read the article in the Sunday Telegraph. However, I had hoped that one extremely small, fully justified and tightly drawn amendment for intentional communities would not lead to a call from the Opposition for a larger amendment and one which rests on extremely shaky grounds.

I am aware that the amendment was also tabled and debated when the National Minimum Wage Bill was in this House. The Government's position has not changed since then. Neither has the advice of the Low Pay Commission, nor indeed the views of the majority of organisations representing disabled workers and their employers.

The position is this. There can be no question of discriminating on grounds of ability when it comes to the right to the national minimum wage. I believe that it is morally wrong to differentiate in this way. I do not imply, of course, that the noble Baroness seeks to discriminate unfairly. I know that the amendment was tabled with the best of intentions. But a statutory minimum wage is there to protect the weakest and most vulnerable from exploitation. And those who have a disability are often (though by no means always) in this category as workers.

Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to quote from the Association for Supported Employment, which is widely regarded as one of the foremost groups representing disabled workers. The association stated in a letter about this issue to Margaret Hodge at the DfEE that its members,

    "unreservedly support the national minimum wage", and that,

    "people with a disability should not be made exempt from the national minimum wage".

There is no escaping the complexity of the issue as it relates to benefits and employment programmes. Of course this department is working closely with Ministers at the DfEE, the DSS and the Department of Health to examine the impact of the minimum wage law on the overall package of work-related and disability benefits for people in this position.

Indeed, the House may wish to be aware that the Department of Social Security has already increased the earnings limit for those carrying out therapeutic work to take into account their increased earnings as a result of

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1119

the national minimum wage so that they will not suffer any loss in the hours that they can work while claiming incapacity benefit.

But so far as changes to the National Minimum Wage Act are concerned, I stress again that exemptions are not the answer. I leave the last word with the Low Pay Commission. Having taken evidence from numerous organisations in this area, the commission concluded that,

    "there are compelling arguments for treating disabled workers in the same way as other workers". I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 127A not moved.]

Lord Simon of Highbury moved Amendment No. 128:

After Clause 24, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) In section 253(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (ACAS: annual report) for "calendar year" there shall be substituted "financial year".
(2) In section 265(1) of that Act (ACAS: report about CAC) for "calendar year" there shall be substituted "financial year".")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may speak to government Amendments Nos. 128 and 133 together. Both amendments deal with our proposals to amend the period of the reporting cycles for ACAS, the CAC and the certification officer respectively.

Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the annual reports of ACAS, the CAC and the Certification Officer are required to be produced on a calendar year basis; however, the accounts of the three bodies are required to be produced on a financial year basis. The ACAS council has indicated that it would be helpful to it to produce its annual report on a financial basis. This would enable it to follow current Treasury guidance. The quinquennial review currently being undertaken on ACAS has also indicated that this would be a sensible measure to adopt. The Government fully agree with ACAS and the quinquennial review that this is therefore a sensible policy step to take. It is fully consistent with open government requirements. In changing the period of the ACAS reporting cycle, it is of course eminently sensible to change the reporting cycles of the CAC and the certification officer on a similar basis. I urge noble Lords to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6 [The Certification Officer]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page