HC Deb 07 February 1995 vol 254 cc125-6
2. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from (a) the Confederation of British Industry and (b) the Employers Forum on Disability about proposals in the Disability Discrimination Bill to exclude firms with fewer than 20 employees from its anti-discrimination provisions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice)

Both organisations were among the 39 employer associations which responded, 36 of which did not oppose the exemption.

Mr. Corbett

Have not both the CBI and the Employers Forum on Disability said that it would be wrong to exempt firms with fewer than 20 employees from the measures proposed in the Disability Discrimination Bill? Those organisations include 96 out of every 100 companies and represent 37 out of every 100 people at work. Why is the Minister so far apart from employers, and even further apart from the 6.5 million people with disabilities and their carers?

Mr. Paice

We always listen to what the CBI says, although not to the exclusion of everybody else. The simple fact is that out of the 39 employer associations and organisations which responded, 36 did not oppose the exemption. That is a massive majority, and we should take note of it. It is interesting that of the employers themselves—as opposed to employer associations or organisations—again, the vast majority did not oppose the exemption, which was clearly spelt out in the consultative document.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend agree that at present employers with 20 or fewer employees are excluded from the legislation and that it is therefore perfectly sensible that that should continue? Does he further agree that we should build the new procedures on a sensible and practical basis rather than trying to sweep everything in together?

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend is right. The present quota system excludes firms with fewer than 20 employees, which is why we used the same figure in the Bill now being discussed in Standing Committee. My hon. Friend also rightly emphasises that we must be concerned about the overall effects of the proposals on small businesses, which do not necessarily have the resources to be able to study, follow and implement all the minutiae of the legislation. That is why Governments of all persuasions have always given favourable encouragement to small businesses.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister take some comfort from the fact that the CBI and the Employers Forum on Disability have taken a positive attitude to the proposed legislation which may encourage the Government to go further down the road?

Mr. Paice

We are encouraged by the fact that the vast majority of organisations which responded to the consultative document did so positively in regard to the general approach of our proposals. Obviously there was a vast range of different opinions on different aspects of a comprehensive piece of legislation, and those are currently being addressed in the Standing Committee.