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Requirement To Inform Employer Of Pregnancy Etc

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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Lords amendment: No. 38, in page 54, line 26, at end insert:

"; and in doing so the Secretary of State shall have regard to the requirements of disabled persons."

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Mr. Michael Forsyth.]

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 39 and 40.

You will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that a brief moment ago we had a declaration of peace in our time and the cessation of hostilities. I was unable to guarantee departure from the field without putting a knee in the groin. However, I have had to reconsider my position, as a knee in the groin would be unfair to the Minister, who knows that I am only too willing to be fair to him. I shall therefore limit my activity to a shout of "Yah-boo" as we close hostilities.

My concern is not with the efforts that the Minister has made on our behalf and on behalf of the disabled. A fairly strong amendment would impose on Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise some sort of duty to take account of the needs of the disabled. The Minister thought originally that he had agreement with the Scottish Office, but this was more difficult to get through its system than he thought it would be. When he was a Minister in the Scottish Office, he was able to push through virtually anything at will. This is an indication of what happens when a Minister is moved to a Department dealing with matters on a United Kingdom basis.

Thus, this is a somewhat weakened amendment. I do not blame the Minister, and I know that he will not take my remarks personally, as he never takes anything personally. This provision makes reference to such times as the Secretary of State may require—not will require: there is no absolute statutory obligation—provision, if any, to be made. There may or may not be provisions for disabled people. It depends on what takes the Secretary of State's fancy because he has no obligation to include such provisions. That is probably the best compromise that the Minister could reach, but I am disappointed by this weak amendment.

The Minister knows the background to our amendment, so I shall not go through it. It relates to Lennox Castle hospital in my constituency for people with learning and physical disabilities. It had a useful garden project that was funded in part by the local enterprise company, but financial provision was withdrawn. That seems to be happening all over the country. When money in the enterprise companies becomes tight, provision of training for the disabled is the first item to be sacrificed.

Our amendment sought to redress the balance and to place on the Government a statutory obligation to consider the training rights of such people. The Minister agreed with the thrust of our amendment and tried his best. Unfortunately, he has not been completely successful.

There is another reason for a stronger amendment. At Question Time, the Minister and I had a discussion across the Dispatch Box about the laws relating to the employment of the disabled, and especially the 1944 legislation, in cases where the 20 per cent. quota is not enforced. The Minister has said that the policy is one of virtual non-enforcement.

It is difficult to get employers to fulfil their obligations. The Minister said that the Government try to cajole and convince them without having recourse to the law. It makes matters more difficult when the local training and enterprise companies do not have an obligation and can withdraw from looking after the unemployed. For those two reasons we sought a stronger amendment. The Minister has done his best and we are grateful for the amendment, but we wish that it was stronger than "may or may not" and "what, if any". We should be much happier with a statutory obligation to provide training for the disabled and others.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 39 to 79 agreed to.