HC Deb 14 December 1987 vol 124 cc867-74

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Local Government Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Lennox- Boyd.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Ridley

The questions will be set out by me. They will not be decided by the CRE. The CRE will be consulted but the decision will be for the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry asked why we included only section 71(a) of the Race Relations Act in the Bill. The answer is to be found in section 71(b) which states: to promote equality of opportunity, and good relations, between persons of different racial groups. That is obviously a worthy objective, but it is hard to see how it can be secured, particularly in the matter of contract compliance. It could be wildly abused if it were an unrestrained duty on local authorities, who could use it as a loophole to escape the provisions of the Bill in relation to contract compliance. Having listened to the debate, we still think it would be better only to include section 71(a) for reasons that I will develop later. It is already a duty on local authorities, and we want to limit the scope of those questions in the way that I have described because of the way in which the loophole could have been enlarged to include everything in relation to South Africa and other matters that have caused concern.

My hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and for Northampton, North and others want to go as far as to repeal section 71 of the Race Relations Act. They were kind enough to say that I had voted against the Race Relations Bill. I certainly did. I have voted against a large number of Bills in my 28 years in the House, and I regret that many of them are still on the statute book. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, one has come to accept that times change and the logic of matters alters, so one is happy to live with some of those Acts. I was glad to hear that he shares with me the view that he is now prepared to accept the Race Relations Act, even though he called it a little bit of nonsense. He said he simply wanted to remove section 71 by his new clause.

I believe that the changed opinion is partly because the Commission for Racial Equality has been demonstrating a much more balanced and reasonable approach, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said. Indeed, in a newspaper today it condemns reversed discrimination, which must be an encouraging sign. Whatever we feel about the Race Relations Act or the CRE, we should make amendments to that aspect of policy only by the vehicle of a Race Relations Bill. I assure the House that the Government have no proposal to put forward such a Bill at present.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) adjured us to stick to the subject of the debate. If I may say so, he spent most of his speech debating race relations. I do not believe that it is right to try to amend the race relations legislation in the Local Government Bill; nor is it right to amend legislation in relation to the disabled, to terms and conditions of employment or to equal opportunities by an amendment to this legislation. The fundamental point is that section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 places two duties on local authorities. It is possible, and likely, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will propose legislation which imposes a similar duty in Northern Ireland. Here I reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). If it is expressly laid down by Parliament that local authorities have a duty to do this, that or the other, it cannot be right for the Local Government Bill to be in conflict with that duty. People, like my hon. Friends, may wish to change the statute. A list has been given tonight of possible changes to a number of statutes. That takes the matter far beyond my departmental responsibilities and raises issues which should be considered as a whole within the context of the governing legislation.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman clearly confirm the implication of his statement, that the Government stand entirely by the Race Relations Act, and section 71, and have no intention of repealing any or all of it, either now or for the period of this Administration?

Mr. Ridley

I thought that I had said that we have no such plans. It is not for me to make binding declarations for all time on behalf of a colleague who is not present, although the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office is here. I do not think that I can be smoked out on an amendment such as this on something that is irrelevant to the Bill. I have been pretty fair in giving the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) the assurance that he seeks.

Dr. Cunningham

The Secretary of State is really saying that the Government choose not to act to amend the Bill to enable equal opportunities for women and better employment opportunities for disabled people to take place through local government action, so what answer does he give Baroness Platt of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who has written to the Government asking them to do just that?

Mr. Ridley

A reply has been given to Baroness Platt. The answer is that there are no proposals to change the equal opportunities legislation. If it were changed in the way that she seeks, clearly this legislation would have to be changed as a consequence. The Local Government Bill does not promote equal opportunities, racial equality or help for the disabled; it fits contract compliance into the existing statutes on all these matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the equal opportunities legislation and the Race Relations Act are different in the way that they place burdens on local authorities for enforcement. That is the central point.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) talked about the need to improve the lot of the disabled. The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 established a voluntary register of disabled people. It obliges employers who are below the relevant quota-3 per cent. of their total work force to be registered disabled — to take steps to rectify that matter. But—this is crucial—it is not an offence to be below quota; nor is it the job of local authorities to check, monitor and enforce that quota. The employment service has a highly skilled team of people whose job it is to do that and who know whether firms are coming up to their quota requirements. They know the situation of disabled people looking for work in a particular area and how best to place such disabled people as there are vacancies for. That sophisticated job is done by the Department of Employment. There is no requirement on local authorities to do it. If the hon. Member for Copeland wants to change those arrangements, he should do it by persuading my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to improve the working of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act.

Finally, the hon. Members for Copeland, for Tottenham and for Burnley (Mr. Pike) asked me about the use of local labour conditions. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey—

Mr. Ashley

The legal requirement on all employers with more than 20 workers is being blatantly disregarded by most employers. Many are breaking the law by not fulfilling the quota requirement and not having a permit not to take on the full number of workers. Most local authorities do not fulfil their moral obligations and the Secretary of State is doing nothing about that. Contract compliance is the only answer.

Mr. Ridley

It is not an offence to be below quota. If an employer is below quota, he must not engage anyone other than a registered disabled person or discharge one from his work force without a permit from the employment service. That is the law. The employment service is the enforcement agent. One cannot just take out the employment service and replace it with the local authorities. That is my sole point.

The use of local labour conditions would, in our legal opinion, contravene European Community rules. We have looked closely at the legal opinion obtained by the Opposition. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government has already written to the hon. Member for Copeland, and copied the letter to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, to say that nothing in that opinion causes us to change our view. The Opposition in their new clause seek to restrict such conditions to inner-city areas or regions of high unemployment and to try to limit local workers to a reasonable percentage of the work force who are unemployed. In the Government's view, and according to our advice, such devices do not offer any way round the relevant EEC directives. As I explained in full on Second Reading, the way to achieve employment of inner-city residents is to ensure that our inner-city initiatives are designed to encourage firms to recruit local labour and to ensure that that labour is better trained and motivated to grasp the opportunities thus created.

I say to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey that there are already cases before the European Court, and we must see how that court interprets the directives. We do not have any right to go to the court or to the Commission for an opinion. The action that the hon. Gentleman attempted to urge on me to get round this little local difficulty in Brussels is not a realistic possibility.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I think that on reflection the Secretary of State will accept that it is open to the Government—to the Attorney-General or to anybody else — to go to the Divisional Court here for a declaration. That could be referred to the European Court for a ruling. That could be done within a year and the Government would then have clarity. They would know whether they could do what the Secretary of State said he wishes to do.

Mr. Ridley

There is a case before the European Court. I suggest that we wait for the result of that case. That is the easiest and quickest way of proceeding and that is exactly what we are doing.

I commend new clause 5 to the House and suggest that it should reject the other new clauses.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 491, Noes 10.

Division No. 110] [10.14 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Bendall, Vivian
Adley, Robert Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Allason, Rupert Benyon, W.
Allen, Graham Bermingham, Gerald
Alton, David Bevan, David Gilroy
Amess, David Blackburn, Dr John G.
Amos, Alan Blair, Tony
Anderson, Donald Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, James Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Boswell, Tim
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bottomley, Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Ashby, David Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashdown, Paddy Bowis, John
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Boyes, Roland
Ashton, Joe Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Aspinwall, Jack Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, Robert Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkinson, David Bray, Dr Jeremy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Brazier, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bright, Graham
Baldry, Tony Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Brooke, Hon Peter
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Batiste, Spencer Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Battle, John Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Browne, John (Winchester)
Beckett, Margaret Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buchan. Norman Flannery, Martin
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Flynn, Paul
Burns, Simon Fookes, Miss Janet
Burt, Alistair Forman, Nigel
Butcher, John Foster, Derek
Butterfill, John Foulkes, George
Caborn, Richard Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Callaghan, Jim Fox, Sir Marcus
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fraser, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Freeman, Roger
Campbell-Savours, D. N. French, Douglas
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Galbraith, Samuel
Carrington, Matthew Gale, Roger
Carttiss, Michael Galloway, George
Cash, William Gardiner, George
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Chapman, Sydney Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Chope, Christopher George, Bruce
Churchill, Mr Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Glyn, Dr Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Goodlad, Alastair
Clay, Bob Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Clelland, David Gorst, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Gould, Bryan
Coleman, Donald Gow, Ian
Colvin, Michael Gower, Sir Raymond
Conway, Derek Graham, Thomas
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Greenway, John (Rydale)
Cope, John Gregory, Conal
Corbett, Robin Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Cormack, Patrick Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Couchman, James Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Cousins, Jim Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cox, Tom Grist, Ian
Cran, James Grocott, Bruce
Critchley, Julian Ground, Patrick
Cummings, J. Grylls, Michael
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Cunningham, Dr John Hampson, Dr Keith
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hanley, Jeremy
Darling, Alastair Hannam, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hardy, Peter
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Harman, Ms Harriet
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Harris, David
Day, Stephen Haselhurst, Alan
Dewar, Donald Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Dickens, Geoffrey Hawkins, Christopher
Dixon, Don Hayes, Jerry
Dobson, Frank Haynes, Frank
Doran, Frank Hayward, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Douglas, Dick Heathcoat-Amory, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Heddle, John
Dunn, Bob Heffer, Eric S.
Dunnachie, James Henderson, Douglas
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, Tony Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Dykes, Hugh Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Eastham, Ken Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Emery, Sir Peter Hill, James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Hinchliffe, David
Evans, John (St Helens N) Hind, Kenneth
Evennett, David Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Fallon, Michael Holt, Richard
Farr, Sir John Home Robertson, John
Fatchett, Derek Hordern, Sir Peter
Fenner, Dame Peggy Howard, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Fisher, Mark Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S heath) Marek, Dr John
Howells, Geraint Marland, Paul
Hoyle, Doug Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Martin, Michael (Springburn)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Martlew, Eric
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mates, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Maude, Hon Francis
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Maxton, John
Ingram, Adam Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Irvine, Michael Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Irving, Charles Meacher, Michael
Jack, Michael Meale, Alan
Jackson, Robert Mellor, David
Janner, Greville Meyer, Sir Anthony
Jessel, Toby Michael, Alun
John, Brynmor Miller, Hal
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Mills, Iain
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Moate, Roger
Key, Robert Montgomery, Sir Fergus
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Morgan, Rhodri
Kirkhope, Timothy Morley, Elliott
Knapman, Roger Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Knowles, Michael Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Knox, David Moss, Malcolm
Lambie, David Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Moynihan, Hon C.
Lang, Ian Mudd, David
Latham, Michael Murphy, Paul
Lawrence, Ivan Neale, Gerrard
Leadbitter, Ted Needham, Richard
Lee, John (Pendle) Nelson, Anthony
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Neubert, Michael
Leighton, Ron Newton, Tony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Nicholls, Patrick
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles) Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Lewis, Terry Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Lightbown, David O'Brien, William
Lilley, Peter O'Neill, Martin
Litherland, Robert Onslow, Cranley
Livingstone, Ken Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Livsey, Richard Page, Richard
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Paice, James
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Parry, Robert
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Patnick, Irvine
Lord, Michael Patten, Chris (Bath)
Loyden, Eddie Patten, John (Oxford W)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Pawsey, James
McAllion, John Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
McAvoy, Tom Pendry, Tom
Macdonald, Calum Pike, Peter
McFall, John Porter, David (Waveney)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Portillo, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
McKelvey, William Powell, William (Corby)
Maclean, David Prescott, John
McLeish, Henry Price, Sir David
McLoughlin, Patrick Primarolo, Ms Dawn
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Quin, Ms Joyce
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Radice, Giles
McTaggart, Bob Raffan, Keith
McWilliam, John Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Madel, David Redwood, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice Reid, John
Major, Rt Hon John Rhodes James, Robert
Malins, Humfrey Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Mans, Keith Richardson, Ms Jo
Maples, John Riddick, Graham
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Snape, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Soames, Hon Nicholas
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Soley, Clive
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Speed, Keith
Robinson, Geoffrey Speller, Tony
Roe, Mrs Marion Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Rogers, Allan Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Rooker, Jeff Squire, Robin
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Steel, Rt Hon David
Rossi, Sir Hugh Steen, Anthony
Rost, Peter Steinberg, Gerald
Rowe, Andrew Stern, Michael
Rowlands, Ted Stevens, Lewis
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Ryder, Richard Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Sackville, Hon Tom Stott, Roger
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Sayeed, Jonathan Strang, Gavin
Sedgemore, Brian Sumberg, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Summerson, Hugo
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Sheerman, Barry Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Shelton, William (Streatham) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Temple-Morris, Peter
Shersby, Michael Thomas, Dafydd Elis
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Sims, Roger Thorne, Neil
Skeet, Sir Trevor Thornton, Malcolm
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Thurnham, Peter
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Tracey, Richard
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E) Tredinnick, David
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Trippier, David
Trotter, Neville Wiggin, Jerry
Turner, Dennis Wigley, Dafydd
Twinn, Dr Ian Wilkinson, John
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Williams, Rt Hon A. J.
Waddington, Rt Hon David Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wilshire, David
Waldegrave, Hon William Wilson, Brian
Walden, George Winnick, David
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wallace, James Wolfson, Mark
Waller, Gary Wood, Timothy
Walley, Ms Joan Woodcock, Mike
Walters, Dennis Worthington, Anthony
Ward, John Wray, James
Warden, Gareth (Gower) Yeo, Tim
Wardle, C. (Bexhill) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wareing, Robert N. Young, Sir George (Acton)
Warren, Kenneth
Watts, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Wheeler, John Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Body, Sir Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Budgen, Nicholas Wells, Bowen
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Dicks, Terry
Dover, Den Tellers for the Noes:
Gill, Christopher Mr. Tony Marlow and
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mr. Tim Janman.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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