HL Deb 24 June 1959 vol 217 cc207-28

3.56 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I could not help admiring the clarity and the economy with which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, developed this subject this afternoon, and I am grateful to him for welcoming my small contribution on the matter. For a long time now I have been treasurer, a member of the governing body and a member of some of the committees of the Royal Normal College for the Blind. To make what I say clear, I ought to explain to your Lordships what the activities of that College are. We take children of all ages, of both sexes, who are blind and we train them for life; and we also take older people who are going blind in order to teach them how to be blind. We are very fortunate, because we have two quite separate schools at no great distance apart which enables us to keep the boys and the girls separate. That is more important for blind children than it is for normal children, because your Lordships will understand that blind children never see a human face and the ordinary magnetic contacts are through touch; and wherever you go in the school you see children holding hands or with their arms round each others shoulders, which is the only way they can really see one another.

Most of our trainees go out into the world either as piano-tuners or as stenographers. Anybody who visits the school will get a new idea of the meaning of music in human life if he sees the way that these children enjoy their music. But the point I want to make this afternoon is that both these categories belong to the 6,000 whom the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, discarded at the beginning of his speech; and while in the case of the piano-tuners they get the usual augmentation that is given to the blind, in the case of the stenographers they do not. Stenographers, of course, get work for the normal wages of the profession, and I suppose that that is the reason why the Government have always hitherto withheld an augmentation from these typists.

If your Lordships will consider the matter, you will appreciate that they need it just as much as anybody else. A blind typist has to get to her work; she has to pay somebody to take her to the station; she then gets her train; she has to pay somebody to take her from the station to her work, and if she fails to secure somebody to do this she has to take a taxi. It is very rare for blind people to use buses in the normal way. It is very difficult for them and, therefore, your blind stenographer is compelled to pay a great deal of what she earns in getting to and from her work. If the ordinary stenographer who lives a long way from his or her work were to ask for an augmentation of any kind, he or she would be told, "But you need not go so far a field for your work. There is plenty of employment nearer home." I should like to point out that in the case of a blind typist that is not so. Places have to be found, and if a stenographer gives up a job in order to find one nearer home she is unlikely to be successful.

While I am on this point of placing, I should like to take this occasion to express our gratitude to the Treasury and other Government offices for the way in which they help to place our girls. They are wonderful friends and helpers, and they realise what excellent work a blind typist can perform. But it is difficult to place these girls. There is another point, and it is this. Blind people sometimes suffer from other disabilities. For example, a girl we wanted to place the other day suffers from such ill-health that she can take only half-time work. It is going to be very difficult to find a place for that girl at an ordinary wage on which she can live. If she were to receive the usual augmentation we could find a place for her on half-time work, and she would be all right. That is the kind of difficulty which is apt to arise.

Now I want to say a word to show your Lordships our difficulties and our advantages. I think a blind stenographer is a wonderful asset to an office. She has one great quality, which is that because she cannot correct mistakes she has learned not to make them. To have a typist in your office who does not make mistakes is a wonderful asset. There is another great advantage you have with blind people, and it is one of which my noble kinsman Lord Fraser of Lonsdale could perhaps have given your Lordships a better description than I can. In a way I am glad he is not here, because I can give it to your Lordships much better that he would, and it is this. Anybody with any imagination has only to think for one minute to reflect that anybody who has been blind for six months has learned courage in a very hard school. Every step he takes is an act of faith. My experience is that courage is one of the two qualities which make people universally liked. Therefore it is an enormous asset to any office which can manage to dispose of the work so as to employ a blind stenographer, because with courage goes loyalty, and to have somebody who is liked and who is absolutely loyal in an office is a great asset to the business.

There is the difficulty that of course blind typists cannot do copying work. They can do stenography and letters from dictation or from a dictaphone arid they can take letters down in shorthand. Their shorthand is very good, but they cannot do the copying. Therefore you must have an office big enough so that when copying is to be done you do not have to call upon your blind typist. But in every other respect these blind typists are a wonderful asset to every office.

I have explained to your Lordships the difficulties they lie under and the great pity it is that they alone among the employed blind should be denied this augmentation. I have not given the noble Earl notice of this question, but I do not really want an answer this afternoon. I know he will consider what I have said and consider what can be done about it, and perhaps we may get something done. In conclusion, I would say that I have to go North this evening and I have to do certain things before I go to my early train. I hope the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will excuse me if perhaps I do not wait until the end of the debate.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, several noble Lords have already paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for initiating this debate, and from this side of the House I have no hesitation in adding mine. It is a Motion of the utmost importance, and my main qualification for taking part in this debate is that I am a relatively recent member of the British Legion.

First of all, I should like to say a few words about the work which the British Legion is doing in relation to this subject. Where I work, at Lloyds, every Christmas we hold a sale of goods made by the Remploy factory at Llandrindod Wells in Breconshire, consisting mainly of rugs, scarves and woven materials which are made primarily by disabled ex-Service people. There are also articles such as soap and basketry made by the blind. Our average profit on these sales is something between £800 and £900, which goes to the welfare of these people.

I have here a letter from the British Legion headquarters which raises one point of great importance, and I hope the noble Earl who is to reply—and to whom I must apologise for not having given notice because I received the letter only to-day—may be able to give some information about it in due course. The letter says: The problem of the home-bound disabled person is the most difficult to solve. Local authorities have been given powers to set up workshops and schemes of training, but the amount done varies very much from one locality to another. This homework scheme is a way in which employment can be provided for many people who would otherwise be unable to make any contribution at all to the work of the nation—something essential to the building up of the morale of a man or a woman condemned to a life at home. I think this would apply particularly to provincial areas, areas like, say, Lancashire or Yorkshire, or highly industrialised areas where the results are going to be subject to considerable competition.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, mentioned the fact that unemployment among blind people was perhaps not as great as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, had said. But only today I received another letter from the National Association of Workshops for the Blind, and with your Lordships' permission I will quote just one paragraph. The letter is from the Secretary. It says: The workshops for the blind of my Association represent all the blind workshops throughout the British Isles, and these are desperately"— and I underline that word— short of work just now; indeed there is unemployment among some of them. It is generally felt that if so inclined the Government and local authorities could place sufficient orders with the priority suppliers to keep all their workers, and their overall numbers are relatively few, fully employed. Only two days ago I paid a visit to the London Blind Factory in the Waterloo Road, a very brief visit, but I saw some most inspiring sights. I saw brushes being made, cane mats, chairs being re-caned and so on. We hear a great deal these days about shoddy workmanship in British goods, cars, toys and so forth. Some of these allegations are probably justified; others are not. But I was shown an order contract for 466 brushes which were supplied to an ordnance depôt in Northern Command. Of those only six were proved to be in any way defective, and of those six three needed only very minor alterations. I think that that proves that any doubt as to the quality of the workmanship of the blind and disabled can be absolutely dispelled. I saw these men at work. They were happy, contented and conscientious, and I went away feeling eminently satisfied with what I had seen. But I did say that I would raise these points in your Lordships' House and I make no apologies for doing so.

Two days earlier I visited the Leather-head School for the Blind, just two miles from where I live, on Saturday morning when the actual workers are not operating, but I was shown the living quarters, the workshops, and some of the finished products. With your Lordships' permission, I will just show one article which was made in these workshops, a very simple tea cosy, something which is used in most homes. I saw many other things—ladies dresses, baskets, and things of tremendous use. This school was founded in 1799. During the war the military took it over, and it was only in October, 1958, that Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent reopened the residential quarters. Prior to that a private grant from private subscriptions of £50,000 had been given to this school. Here again, we hear a great deal of talk these days about misuse and economy, but every single halfpenny of that money had been put to good use. Most of the school had been thoroughly redecorated. I saw the cubicles and the kitchens, which were spotlessly clean, and the food which was served; I saw the very devoted service given by those who look after these blind people.

They have both sexes there, from 16 years of age upwards, and their welfare is uncommonly well looked after. The place is bright. Some of the people there are partly sighted; others have other misfortunes apart from being blind. Some are deaf and dumb and some are epileptics but all are blind or partially blind. The motto is Lux in Tenebris, Light in Darkness. I can only say that what I saw was light. This is a completely voluntary school with no Government grant. Some of the work which they do is for local schools, the producing of uniforms or parts of uniforms such as socks and stockings. There is one point about which the noble Earl might inform me: that is, how many of the State schools are in a position to place orders with blind and disabled organisations. Because the clothing made by these people is of quite outstanding quality.

Everything which can be done must be done for these people. Obviously, the Government cannot be expected to do everything, but perhaps some kind of national advertising campaign could be carried out to encourage people to buy more commodities made by blind and disabled persons. The cost of this campaign would be justified by the happiness and contentment given to these people who, through no fault of their own, live a life of total or partial darkness.

I would say a word about prisons. I was told at the London factory by the foreman that there is considerable concern at the competition with prisons in the manufacture of such articles as brushes. This is a serious situation. Nobody would deny that prisoners need work to rehabilitate them, but it seems to me that work which suits blind people, who, as I say, through no fault of their own have this handicap, should he given as far as possible exclusively to them. There must be jobs for prisoners which can rehabilitate them other than this particular type of work which blind and disabled people do so well, and I feel that here again the Government might issue some kind of statement on the matter. I have, as a young person who is quite able in sight and body, felt honoured to take part in the debate on this Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has so ably moved.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, the axiom of your Lordships' debates, that we should not take part in them unless we know what we are talking about, has been beautifully illustrated by the speeches we have heard this afternoon, not least by that of the noble Lord. Lord Auckland, who has gone out and seen for himself what is happening, has investigated and has drawn valuable conclusions. Particularly would one like to support him in his final point—the importance of bearing in mind that the final priority in the selection of work should be the disability of the worker; that blindness, or whatever it is, shall receive the top priority in the selection of jobs, and that we shall avoid competition on behalf of prisoners and others who can do work which unsighted persons cannot do, and thus make sure that the blind get the work that they must have.

Shortly before he came to your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Stonham introduced into another place, and saw through on to the Statute Book, a small measure—but a most important one—on behalf of blind people. It was called the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958. Your Lordships may remember that it was brought to this House by my noble friend Lord Chorley. That Act dealt with a small but most unpleasant abuse of disabled people which my noble friend was able to unearth and bring to light because he is a basketmaker. He has been a basket-maker for many years and is chairman of the Basketrnakers' Association, to which all blind organisations engaged in this work belong. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that is how he has come to take this special interest in disabled people, and particularly in blind people.

That measure concerned false trading representations by persons who claimed that goods were made by the blind or other disabled people when, in fact, the blind or disabled workers took only a tiny part in the packing process, the result being, of course, that their output was being exploited for private profit. When my noble friend raised this question at official level he was told that nothing could be done. He was not satisfied, and, like a terrier, went on burrowing until he found out how it could be done. The result was that he obtained the support of the Government and, with great difficulty, got this Bill passed into law.

I think that in this debate this afternoon there has been complete unanimity of purpose. We all want to see the blind and the severely disabled receiving a complete priority in work rather than a monetary subsidy. Yet, just having a pious want of it will not achieve it. It is a matter of getting down to technical detail. That is what my noble friend Lord Stonham was doing in his speech and has tried to do in his Motion. He has tracked this thing down as far as he can: he has, if I may say so, nagged and nagged away at it—and quite rightly, too! He has nagged at the Ministry of Labour and at the Treasury, until the Treasury have given a general directive. But their circular contains, as he said, certain ambiguities, and it is these ambiguities that have caused things to go wrong.

The first ambiguity, if I may reiterate his point, is that the Treasury say that the priority suppliers shall have priorities in Government orders provided that a fair price is charged, but that in certain circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that the Department needs the goods, it must go out to contract. It is making a nonsense of the thing if the purchasing departments have to go out to contract and invite the organisations for the disabled and the blind to compete with sighted persons. As I understand it, that is the key to the situation as my noble friend has unearthed it.

What is needed is an alteration in the Treasury circular. It means that the Government purchasing agencies should receive a firm directive that they have got to give priority to the priority suppliers, even though sometimes the prices will be higher than they would be if they went out to open tender in the open market. Inevitably, they will be higher, as a matter of social justice; because all of us are united in our desire to do right by these folk, and because, if the Government do not do this, they will certainly have to make up to these people in an allowance what they lose in wages. That seems a crazy way of going about it; but it is the kind of thing that can happen, even though everybody has good intentions. I am sure that the Treasury issued their circular with good intentions. I am sure they did not realise that the escape clause, the clause about going out to contract on certain occasions, would seem to bind purchasing officers and that the purchasing officers would feel bound to do this.

The failure to define a fair price is another point to bear in mind. If these things could be put in order I really believe that what my noble friend has set out to do, and what I am sure is the desire of the Government, will, in fact, be achieved. Here we have a generally desired objective, yet to get to it we have to make our way in a very complicated fashion. I am glad that there are people like my noble friend Lord Stonham, who will go on making nuisances of themselves to Government Departments, in order to get to the bottom of problems like this.

May I say how interested I was also in the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, about the non-augmentation of the pay of blind stenographers. I was not completely aware of this. I wonder whether the blind piano tuners receive their augmentation, because they are part of an organisation and therefore not working as private enterprise operatives. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, could explain that point.


My Lords, I am afraid that that is a point I do not know about. I am only at the back end.


Is it a sex differential? Is it that if they are male blind piano tuners they get their pay augmented, but that if they are women blind stenographers they do not? As I understand it, that is what the noble Lord said. I am quite sure that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will look at this matter. One certainly does not expect him to reply to such a point without detailed examination, but I am sure he will look at it and will see what can be done.

My noble friend mentioned the enormous variety of supplies which Her Majesty's Government now require. I would only add to his enormous list of requirements for the Services, the enormous list for the National Health Service, for hospital supplies. One is not here thinking of technical equipment, which may be difficult to manufacture, but of such things as furniture, ward equipment and so on. One thinks, too, of the Ministry of Education—although here, of course, the local authorities will intervene, instead of there being direct Government ordering.

I am not in any sense an expert in these matters, but I am a practising doctor, and one knows the therapeutic value of work. That is essential for all of us. How much more essential it is for the good mental and physical health of those who are disabled! I am sure that we are all united in the purposes behind the Motion. We hope very much that Her Majesty's Government will he able to deal with the detailed administrative points which my noble friend has raised, so that in future work may be guaranteed for those who are disabled, whether in limb, in sight or in any other way.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government and all of your Lordships are continually concerned to see not only that blind and disabled persons are helped in every way to receive the treatment which they need but that they should also be helped to do as much useful work as they reasonably can—and which many of them can often do even better than those who are not disabled. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to his uncle who could do many things which others could not; and what he said reminded me of a very old friend and brother-officer of my father, whom I used to know well when I was young—the late Captain Towse. He lost both his eyes in the South African War. For the next 30 years he was a leading figure in national organisations to help the blind in this country. Captain Towse used sometimes to come to stay with my family when I was young, and I remember that on one occasion four of us were playing a game of garden golf, during which all four of our golf balls became lost in the shrubbery. We four, with our eight eyes and eight legs, spent fifteen minutes searching for the lost golf balls, without avail. Captain Towse, with no eyes, came quietly up behind us, knelt down, felt about and recovered all of them in about two minutes.

I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for arranging that we should be able to have what has been, I believe, a very valuable discussion. I myself am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for his kindness in letting me know the general outline of what he was going to say. Had he extended the same courtesy to my noble friend Lord Teviot and others of your Lordships, perhaps we might soon reach the position which prevails in the United States Senate, where a Senator can get up, produce a great typewritten manuscript, move that it be printed in the Official Report, and then sit down. I would say to my noble friend Lord Teviot, who seemed to think that I had some advantage over him in the matter, that the effect on my mind was not to make me try harder to refute what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said in his speech, but rather to try to see how far I could agree with him.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and all noble Lords who have spoken, are fully informed on the subject of the debate, but perhaps some of your Lordships might like me to give a brief sketch of the present structure for dealing with blind and disabled persons. First, of course, there is Remploy, which is a non-profit making company set up by the Minister of Labour under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts. It is running at the moment about 90 factories, employing some 6,000 people. Then there are the local authorities who have a statutory duty to provide sheltered employment in workshops for the blind. There are now about 70 of those workshops, of which about one third are directly managed by the local authorities, the remainder being managed by agents acting voluntarily on their behalf. These employ altogether about 4,000 blind persons.

Then there are about 40 other workshops run by voluntary bodies, which range from fairly large concerns such as Papworth Industries and the Lord Roberts Workshops down to small workshops employing fewer than a dozen workers. The total number of severely disabled workers employed under all these other arrangements is rather less than 1,000. Altogether, in sheltered employment (as it is called), confined to severely disabled persons registered under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts, there are about 11,000 persons. In the case of Remploy, all the annual deficits are paid by the Ministry of Labour out of that Ministry's Vote; and loans are also issued from the same source to Remploy for capital expenditure. In the case of other approved workshops the Ministry of Labour contribute by means of a deficiency grant which is limited to a maximum of £150 a year for each approved worker.

The noble Lord's Motion is particularly directed to Government contracts to provide work for these disabled workers. The basis of these arrangements, which were referred to by most speakers, and certainly by the noble Lords, Lord Stonham and Lord Taylor, is Treasury circular 8/50. That circular recognises the Government's special obligation to make available to nonprofit-making bodies as much work as possible, and gives prisons and sheltered workshops equal status as "priority sup-pliers" The circular does not confer on priority suppliers any preferential treatment in respect of prices. It provides for them to be offered Government contracts either at the lowest tender or at a "fair price" to be fixed on the basis of current market conditions. I shall say a word or two later about what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, would like to see as the definition of "fair prices".

Here perhaps I might correct what I feel is a very natural misapprehension, to the effect that there is intended, in the circular, to be some distinction drawn between the lowest tender price and a fair price". I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Stonham and Lord Taylor, that the circular is in some respects ambiguous and might be better expressed; for having read it myself I feel that it is capable of giving the impression that a "fair price" is intended to be more generous than the lowest tender price. I am afraid that that is not what the circular is intended to mean, and it is not the way in which purchasing Departments interpret it.

It is not really the case that there is a difference in policy between Departments which act on a "fair price" basis and those which act on the basis of the lowest tender price; because Departments which do not ask for tenders but offer what they regard as a "fair price" are supposed to calculate the "fair price" as being what would have been the lowest tender if the contract had been put out for tender. So I am afraid that it is not intended to be more generous. In fact if the Department in question were to make very tight estimates the price might be even less generous than the lowest tender price would have been had the contract been put out for tender, so it is not really the case that there is a difference of policy between different Departments, although I agree that there is a possible difference of interpretation and perhaps some ambiguity in the wording of the circular.

The sheltered workshops have received a substantial volume of work under these arrangements. I was going to mention some figures to your Lordships, but the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in his speech, gave so many figures so accurately and fairly that perhaps he has relieved me of the necessity of doing so. I do not think he gave any figures which I should want to question on that point. He pointed out what I was going to say: that although only 17 per cent. of Remploy's output was purchased by the Government, and although there had been a reduction in the amount of goods purchased by the Government from Remploy, yet the value of the total output of Remploy had risen in the last four years from a little under £3 million to a little over £4 million. So although the amount of goods taken from Remploy by the Government has been declining, the amount which they have sold in all has very substantially increased. I think that illustrates one point: that while the Government are, as I shall hope to show your Lordships, anxious to do better and to take more from these workshops, they can take only a fairly small proportion, and it is to the non-Government buyers that the workshops must look to a large extent for their continued activities.

Although there has been a considerable decline from 1956 to 1958, for several reasons—partly due to changes in the defence programme—it is not discouraging to see that the downward trend for allocations to sheltered workshops has been halted during the last year, 1958–59. Although there is a small decrease in what is purchased from Remploy, and a small decrease in purchases from workshops for the blind, there is an increase of £100,000 from other undertakings, which makes a slight rise altogether. It looks, therefore, as if the decline has been halted.

But, my Lords, on several occasions since 1950 various attempts have been made by Government Departments to see whether they can improve on the working of this Government circular. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, mentioned, last year it was decided to set up a Standing Committee, consisting of representatives of the priority suppliers and the main purchasing Departments, to improve contacts between the two sides. As the noble Lord said, this committee, called the Priority Suppliers Committee, sits under Ministry of Labour chairmanship. Its terms of reference are: To provide a regular channel through which priority suppliers can be kept fully informed of present and future requirements of purchasing Departments and the purchasing Departments can be kept fully informed of the nature and quantity of the work which the priority suppliers are able to undertake This Committee of suppliers and purchasers is a body whose sole purpose is exchange of information. It has never been expected to bring about a spectacular increase in the volume of contracts awarded; but it does, in the opinion of my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour, serve a useful purpose.

For the first time it has brought representatives of the two sides together in a formally constituted body; it has made the purchasing Departments more keenly aware of the needs and capacities of the priority suppliers, particularly of the smaller sheltered workshops of whose existence some purchasing Departments had never heard. It has also encouraged the establishment of personal contacts between the people concerned where these have hitherto been lacking or inadequate; and there is no reason why this Committee should not be used, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said in his speech, for widening the field of Government work. The initiative in this respect must, of course, rest with the priority suppliers.

With the help of this information-exchanging body, the Departments concerned—that is, the Ministry of Labour, the Treasury, the Prison Commissioners and the purchasing Departments—have been engaged since 1957 on an examination of the question of whether a more satisfactory code, a more satisfactory set of principles, can be set up under which a greater amount of products might be purchased by the Government from priority suppliers. My Lords, I hope that this examination may be finished soon, but it has not been finished yet; it is still in progress. From your Lordships' point of view I think it is probably a good thing that you should have this debate before the examination has been concluded, as what your Lordships have said will no doubt be taken full note of, whereas if you had had the debate after the examination had been finished it might have been too late. But from the point of view of the Minister replying to the debate it is not quite so good, because it means that I cannot give a definite reply to any of the proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and other noble Lords have made. I cannot either accept or reject your Lordships' advice.

What I can do is, very briefly, I hope, mention the lines of investigation which are being followed by the Government Departments concerned and indicate one or two of the difficulties. If I stress those difficulties, as I think I ought to do, I hope your Lordships will not think it means that the Government want to use these difficulties as an excuse for not making any improvements in the position. I think it is right to mention the difficulties because your Lordships ought to know about them and your Lordships ought to see that the Departments are not just fiddling about and wasting time by examining imaginary difficulties which they are creating for the purpose.

As to the possible lines of solution, in general the object of the departmental examination is first to establish the precise extent of the problem as indicated by the number and value of contracts which sheltered workshops have had to reject because of the low prices offered. That is to say, they want to find out exactly how far the situation might be changed by the adoption of different methods. Next, if they find the problem is so serious as to require some substantial alteration in the present arrangements, they want to determine what form that alteration might take.

First there is this question of "fair price". I have already mentioned that I am afraid that so far as the circular is concerned it does not mean what some people might think it would mean; but the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, according to his speech would like a "fair price" to be taken as wages plus materials with an appropriate allowance for factory overheads, and that the Departments should pay the priority suppliers whatever cost is incurred by them in making the goods. That is not "cost plus" but cost without the plus. Of course, there are a number of grounds on which it would be difficult to proceed on that basis. One is that to pay people according to the cost of production does not encourage economy, and it may not be against the interests of these priority suppliers' workshops that they should have some regard for economy. You are depriving them of the incentive to good economical production if you pay them the cost without any other consideration. From the point of view of the purchasing Departments, they have a duty, other things being equal, to obtain supplies in the cheapest market, and they naturally object to devoting part of the limited funds Parliament has voted them to subsidising a particular group of suppliers on social grounds.

As, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, one difficulty may be to decide whether to give a man a greater allowance or a higher wage. He wants a higher wage; and it all comes from the same source. But there are very great difficulties in doing that when you are dealing with a lot of different Departments. There would be technical objections, too, I think, to their using for this purpose money which Parliament voted for another purpose.

Then there is the question of fair competition, which of course may not affect a very large number of competitors, but may be important to some of them. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, very rightly said—and I think he had the sympathy of your Lordships in this—that healthy men do not want to fight with blind and disabled men. Of course they do not: they want to help them, and to help them to get work. But your Lordships must remember that there may be cases of small producers to whom a contract may be a very important thing. The continuance of a small producer's business may depend on it. I do not think it should be taken as an axiom that, because a man is blind or disabled, he should therefore have an inalienable right to take a contract away from another man who is not blind or disabled, but who may be equally deserving. You must think of that aspect of it, too.

Now, my Lords, there is the question of price preference—that is to say, giving a better price to the priority suppliers than you would give in the open market. I need not, I think, go through all the obvious possible objections to that. Clearly, there will always be the objection that, if assistance is going to be given to the priority suppliers from public funds, it would be better to have it in the form of a direct subsidy than in the form of a concealed subsidy in the shape of preferential prices. On the other hand, there is the argument, which I think was implied in what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, that if public funds have to support these disabled people anyhow, and if the question is between giving them a better wage and giving them a greater allowance—between a better wage with plenty of work to do, which they want, and a better allowance with very little work to do, which they do not want, although they get the same amount of money—it is obviously worth trying to find some way of arranging matters so that they can do the work and not be in idleness most of the time. We should like, if we could, to find some solution of that difficulty, possibly by some selective system of preference; but the Departments do want, before recommending a departure of this kind, to make very sure of all their facts, and to ascertain in what cases a preferential price procedure might do a great deal of good and in what cases, or in respect to what commodities, it might do very little good and not have the effect of creating more work among the disabled persons.

Then, in regard to monopolies, the possibility is also being considered that the priority suppliers might be treated as an exclusive source of supply for certain selected items—in the same way as the prisons, for almost a century, have been treated as monopoly suppliers for mail bags. I think I ought to stress, as I said I would, the difficulties; because I do not want to run away from them, and I think your Lordships ought to know them. So far, the examination, or the exploration, by the contracting Departments of the possibilities has seemed to show that the field over which this arrangement could be applied is very limited; and while some slight increase in the volume of orders going to these suppliers might be achieved, it is unlikely that it would be significant. I am informed, too, that the limiting factor in many cases is the lack of capacity in the priority suppliers; and that the suppliers would be prepared to make good this lack of capacity only if they could have an assurance about the level of future orders. This is sometimes an assurance which the Departments are not in a position to give, because total Government purchases not only fluctuate considerably from time to time, but are at present declining. The Service Departments often feel that they need to keep their contacts with outside trade for the sake of the capacity the latter could offer in an emergency. Therefore, it is thought that the present position could probably not be very greatly alleviated by this means; but consideration is being given to whether some development along these lines might be possible.

My Lords, I shall not say much, although it is a very important subject, about the prisons, because your Lordships have very lately had a debate on that subject. In the recent White Paper, Penal Practice in a Changing Society, which was debated at great length by your Lordships only a few weeks ago, emphasis was laid on the need to provide more work of real industrial training value in local prisons; and the building of twenty-four additional workshops at a cost of about £250,000 during the present financial year is one of the steps which is being taken to make it possible to improve the class of industry in the local prisons. The White Paper recognises that there will always be a need for simple work of lower industrial value for prisoners with very short sentences and for those who are physically and mentally handicapped; and it is unlikely that the prisons will he able to do without the long-established prison industries of a comparatively simple kind, many of which are also suitable for disabled workers. I do not want to go into the figures—I did not take a note of those which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, gave—but the value of orders from Government Departments for the year ended March, 1958, which is the last one we have, was £862,000. It is necessary, also, to take account of the work done in prison workshops in the manufacture of clothing and of equipment for the prisons, which was to the value of about £400,000.

I should like to thank Lord Stonham for the very generous tributes which he paid to my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour and also to the Home Secretary. I quite appreciate that his compliments are not intended to be extended to the Treasury. They never are, in any of these debates. The Treasury is always the villain of the piece. I would only suggest to the noble Lord that he may have emphasised a little too much the part that the Government could play. I do not think it is quite true to say, or to give the impression, that the Government, by a wave of the hand, can solve this matter, As was said by the Piercy Committee, which was appointed not long ago to deal with this problem: …it is doubtful if more than a part of their trade could be expected to come from public contracts, and the Committee believes that priority suppliers should continue to compete in the ordinary commercial market so that the opportunities for taking on work may be as wide as possible. My Lords, we want to emphasise that the sheltered workshops must be prepared to use their initiative in order to get a substantial proportion of their work from sources other than the Government—as, indeed, many of them, or most of them, already do. But the Government are fully prepared, and are anxious, to play their part. We wish to improve, if we can, the amount of purchases from priority suppliers by the Government, and I hope that it will be possible to find means by which that may be done.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to make another speech and so spoil what I think has been an extremely worth-while debate. But before I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw this Motion, I hope you will allow me to say a word of thanks to those who have made what I regard as extremely valuable contributions. I would thank my noble friend Lord Amulree, who from his vast experience was able to show the therapeutic value of work for the disabled, which not only provides them with happiness but also makes them assets instead of liabilities to the community.

I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who brought into the debate what I might call a breath of the pioneering spirit of the early days of St. Dunstan's, when I was a boy and enjoyed it so much, although this is not quite the same problem, because that great enterprise, as was so rightly said by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, sends people out into open employment, whereas to-day we have been considering sheltered employment. Then I would thank my noble friend Lord Pakenham (who informed me that he would not be able to stay until the end of the debate) for his remarks on work for prisons. It is my hope that there will be so much more work that there need not be any fear that the prisons will get less. I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, who also said that he would have to leave early, for putting the case for special efforts to put blind people in open employment. Although this is not part of my Motion, he put his case very well and I hope that the noble Earl will consider it.

I should like next to thank the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, not only for his outstanding speech in this debate but also for the great care which he has taken in doing the field work. I can assure him that I have been informed of his efforts and that his interest has given great encouragement to the institutions he has visited. They are greatly heartened by his interest. What he said seemed to me to put a new aspect on the debate, because he was, as it were, an independent observer, up to date with his information, who was able from his own observations to reinforce the points I have tried to make. I thank him most sincerely.

My noble friend Lord Taylor capably underlined and clarified the points I had tried to make. On the point of augmentation which was raised, I may say that it is always paid to workers who work in or from an institution or association, irrespective of working arrangements, but not if they are working out independently as individual workers.

Finally, my Lords, I would express my gratitude to the noble Earl. Lord Dundee, for the great deal of information he was able to give to your Lordships. He may not have realised it but he gave me more hope than I have ever had previously. So much so, indeed, that I feel there is no difference of opinion between us, or between any Members of your Lordships' House, on the objective to be gained: and it would seem now that there is not much difference in opinion about the method. It is extremely encouraging to know that the problems mentioned by the noble Earl are being investigated, and I am sure that before long a solution will be found. I feel that, no matter where we sit in your Lordships' House, or which Party is in power, we are going to work at this matter to find a solution. I am glad to think that in the future it will not be a case of my noble friend Lord Taylor and I worrying ourselves about this problem; there will be a team of us worrying. And in the hope that we shall worry out a solution together, I ask leave of your Lordships to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.