HL Deb 16 February 1988 vol 493 cc502-65

3.8 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(The Earl of Caithness.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 17 [Local and other public authority contracts: exclusion of non-commercial considerations]:

Lord Basnett moved Amendment No. 37: Page 14, line 17, at beginning insert ("Subject to the provisions of sections 18 and (Questions relevant to code of Practice on Employment of Disabled,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carter. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 56.

The argument in support of the amendment is clear and simple: persons with a disability have more difficulty finding employment than other people; much of that difficulty is due to discrimination. Some local authorities are, through advice, guidance and counselling, currently helping their contractors to employ more disabled people. As the clause stands, it would prevent further such assistance. The amendment is designed to ensure, without involving contract compliance and taking account of all previous government objections, that some form of assistance in a manner that I shall describe, shall continue.

It is worth underlining the unemployment problems of those with a disability. I am moving the amendment at a time when unemployment among disabled people is double the rate for their peers and for some groups higher than that. For instance, nine out of 10 of those with spinal injuries had employment before their disability but afterwards only five out of 10 did so. All these groups suffer unemployment at a higher rate than others, as a recent survey of the Royal National Institute for the Blind has shown. The Manpower Services Commission review of assistance to disabled people found that the average duration of unemployment among disabled people was twice that of able-bodied people. Most important, an increasing number of companies fail to meet their legal obligation under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 and ignore the quota scheme. In 1965, 53 per cent. of employers met their obligations; in 1986 the figure fell to 27 per cent.

This disadvantaged group needs all the help we can give it. Some local authorities have given positive help to improve the employment prospects of the disabled with their contractors. The amendment would help that to continue by allowing local authorities to consider contractors' employment policies in the light of the code of good practice in the employment of disabled people. The voluntary code was launched in 1984 with the support of the Prime Minister, the CBI, the TUC, the Institute of Personnel Management, RADAR and the All-Party Disablement Group. The code encourages employers to establish a written policy in relation to the employment of disabled people and the rehabilitation of those who become disabled. It provides commonsense advice and also points employers towards services provided by the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Employment.

Too many companies have yet to adopt its recommendations and continue to operate recruitment practices that discriminate against people who are one-and-a-half times more likely to be rejected by employers if they reveal on their application form that they have a disability. Previously, the Government have argued against local authorities' rights with their contractors on the grounds that the authorities should not act as extra-statutory enforcement agencies for existing legislation. The Government have also argued that the 3 per cent. quota scheme established by the Act is unenforceable.

The amendment does not mention the quota scheme. It would simply allow local authorities to bring the code of good practice to the attention of contractors and also to establish what is the company's practice. The amendment would not allow contracts not to be awarded. It would however allow local authorities to make inquiries relating to the company's policy on the code of good practice. Contractors who had not adopted the code's suggestions could be referred to the local disablement advisory service.

It is unrealistic to expect the disablement advisory service to contact all employers. Its first priority is to deal with those who request help. At the moment there is no mechanism for identifying those companies which have not adopted the code and which ignore the potential disabled people have to offer. The amendment would provide an additional form of encouragement to employers—not contract compliance, not an extra-statutory enforcement agency, but encouragement.

Acceptance of this amendment would indicate that the Government are still committed to increasing employment opportunities for disabled people. Rejection would indicate that the Government do not see the code as important; it would mean missing the chance to reduce discrimination against disabled people. The Government would be allowing the skills, potential and abilities of disabled people to be ignored. The amendment offends no principles in the Bill; it does not offend the Bill's purpose. It is designed to provide help to those who need help. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I should like to add my support to the arguments so ably advanced by my noble friend Lord Basnett. The first point to remember is the one he made. The amendment is moved at a time when unemployment among disabled people is double the rate for their able-bodied peers. The code of good practice on the employment of disabled people encourages companies to develop a positive attitude towards the recruitment and retention of disabled people. It helps to overcome discrimination they experience in employment.

I wish to deal with an aspect of the two amendments which concerns the cost-effectiveness and viability of the contracts offered to contractors by local authorities. The Government have stated that local authorities should consider contracts on the basis of their cost-effectiveness and business viability. While the Bill seeks to encourage efficiency in local authorities, Clause 17 restricts information being obtained which is of commercial importance. Disabled people have many skills to offer; they have excellent performance records. In the words of the Prime Minister appearing in New Outlook in November 1984, People who employ disabled workers know from experience that it makes good business sense to employ people who are loyal and hard working and have skills and abilities to offer". The amendment allows local authorities to encourage—not to force—contractors to adopt the code of good practice which can help contractors improve their efficiency. Without this amendment, the local authorities will not be able to obtain the information which is relevant to commercial considerations, as in its current form Clause 17 prohibits questions being asked in relation to workforce matters.

The Government may argue that acceptance of the proposed amendment could lead to local authorities demanding extra resources. The new clause, however, would only allow local authorities to have regard to contractors' compliance with the code of good practice. It does not mean that local authorities will be given a statutory obligation to promote and enforce the code. Those authorities who wish to pursue this line of inquiry should be expected to meet the cost of promoting the code themselves.

The new clause would not provide a green light for authorities to harass employers. But it would allow them to ask some sensible questions which have a bearing on the efficiency of the contractor. The responsibility for the promotion of the code would remain with the disablement advisory service. It has already been stated that contractors who have not adopted the code will be referred to the DAS. If the amendment is rejected the Government will have missed an opportunity to promote the code of good practice. As my noble friend said, the code is supported by all sections of industry and by the Prime Minister. When it was introduced, the Minister of State with responsibility for disabled people's employment stated: The Government welcome and endorse the code. We believe that it represents an important and practical tool for ensuring that the abilities of disabled people are fully recognised and their potential at work properly fulfilled". [Official Report, Commons, 14/11/84: col. 263.] I repeat that there are no enforcement requirements in this amendment.

Many employers will know that disabled people are often better workers than their able-bodied peers. We are not asking for extra statutory powers. We are using the existing recommendation of the Government and supporting their policy in this matter. We have said that if additional resources are required the local authorities will bear the cost. We are asking for them to have the right to exercise an option. As we have said, the Disablement Advisory Service, which is already responsible for the code, is extremely overworked at the moment. I hope that your Lordships will be able to support this amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, when I spoke in Committee on the amendments which had then been tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Basnett and Lord Carter, I suggested that invoking the 1944 Act was inappropriate. Therefore I am glad to make it clear now that that criticism does not apply to the amendments which have just been moved. These amendments do not refer to the quota scheme but to a code of practice advocated by the Manpower Services Commission. In my view this is much more realistic. I realise that the amendments may not appeal to the Government. I do not know what the Government's view is, but they are certainly a great improvement on the past ones. The Government may not think that local authorities should be concerned with these matters in awarding contracts. My noble friend will no doubt give the Government's views shortly.

However, for my part the particular objection to bringing the quota scheme into these arrangements has been removed. The 1944 Act was introduced mainly for war disabled in the post-war years. The quota scheme which it introduced has not been dropped or replaced during the subsequent 43 years, although this was suggested in 1980 by the Manpower Services Commission which was operating the scheme at the time. That was when Sir Richard O'Brien was chairman.

By consent of the majority who are involved in the quota scheme that scheme has not been enforced. The figure of 3 per cent. has been retained as a target rather than a statutory requirement. There are various reasons for that which we went into in Committee. I shall certainly not go into them again now. But the principal reason is that in important areas the related registers of disabled people upon which the scheme subsisted have been less than 3 per cent. of the working population in those areas. If in an area only 1 per cent. of the working population is on the register as disabled, it would be wrong to take punitive action against an employer who could not reach the 3 per cent. quota.

That is the basic arithmetic which has made the Act unenforceable in this respect. But the quota has still been retained because many of the disabled organisations, of which I in some cases have been an office bearer, regarded the quota as a target and still an exceedingly useful part of the 1944 Act. If enforcement had been attempted it would have been bringing the law into disrepute. In Dickensian terms it would have been making the law an ass. That is why some of us felt that it was wrong to try to invoke the quota system in this Bill.

The amendments now under discussion do not try to enforce the unenforceable. I, as I think your Lordships know, have been involved over the years in disabled organisations and I was the chairman for Scotland during the International Year of Disabled People in 1981. Over a long period in this House and in another place I have made my views clear on the general subject which the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, spoke on, so I shall not go further. I agree with what he has said about the need to achieve higher numbers of disabled people in employment so I shall not add to that. But I think that the amendments that were moved in Committee were not realistic for the reasons that I have given. These certainly seem much better, but it remains for the Government to see whether they fit into this Bill or into other legislation.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches would very much like to support this amendment in the form that it now takes. I was in support of the previous amendment but I can well see that the new amendment is likely to be more acceptable to the Government and half a loaf of bread is better than no bread. It would be a great pity if the noble Earl now told us that we cannot even have our half loaf.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will remember, as I do, that the 1944 Act was based on the report of Tomlinson, who was a leading trade unionist at the time. It was not aimed only at military personnel. It was for all disabled persons.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I said the war disabled. That involved quite a large proportion of the civilian population who suffered from bombing. I do not think that the noble Baroness was present in Committee but I mentioned the fact that I was wounded and disabled just about the time when that Act came into force and I have lived with it ever since.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I was present in Committee and I heard what the noble Lord said, but I wish to stress this point, which I think some noble Lords perhaps did not quite take. The Act was intended for the whole civilian population. It was never intended to be solely for people who were victims of war.

I am sure that someone will say that if the disabled are able effectively to do a job then the market will find them jobs. If one can believe that, one can believe anything. There is prejudice against people who have disabilities. Often that prejudice is based on extremely out-of-date ideas about how disabilities affect people's ability to work. Any of us who have worked in industry and have had to deal with disabled people know that that is true. It is often extremely difficult to overcome those prejudices in getting employment for disabled people. When disabled people have been properly trained, as other speakers have said, they often excel ordinary workers because their need to have and to hold a job and their difficulty in finding another one are such that they make very good workers indeed.

The MSC is now giving additional support for the training of disabled people. It would be extremely foolish of the Government to discourage an amendment which will make it easier to find jobs for trained disabled people who will make a very good contribution to the economy of this country.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I should like to add my warm support for these amendments. Although my name is not on Amendment No. 37 it is on Amendment No. 56 and they basically go together. These amendments enable local authorities to ask questions of contractors and they would at least make firms reflect on their policy for the employment of disabled people.

In Committee on 28th January when the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, moved his original amendment the Minister objected (at col. 811 of the Official Report) that it would mean extra resources and that the local authorities would be setting themselves up as extra statutory enforcement agencies. But if this amendment is accepted, as has already been said, no one will be compelled to do anything. But local authorities could make inquiries about a company's policy on the code of good practice and those contractors which had not adopted the code's suggestions could be referred to their local disablement advisory service.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, both in Committee and now, has stressed the very important role that the advisory services play. If as the Bill stands the Government are going to permit local authorities to review companies on the grounds of their compliance with the Race Relations Act 1976, it should not be placing too great a burden on these same companies to ask them to supply information on their compliance with the code of good practice.

It has been said many times already today and in Committee that unemployment among disabled people is double the rate of their able-bodied counterparts. Yet we know that disabled people are good, reliable employees, with lower rates of accident and absenteeism than able-bodied workers, as Dr. Melvyn Kettle discovered in his study Disabled People and their Employment undertaken in 1979 when he was senior research fellow in rehabilitation studies at the University of Aston.

Your Lordships will be aware of the remarkable contribution some very severely disabled people have made to our society. For example, Professor Hawkins is a world expert on black holes. Christie Nolan is the award-winning author of Under the Eye of the Clock. For most of us, such achievements are no more than dreams. But surely disabled people should be encouraged to fulfil their potential, whatever that may be. For most people that entails having a job. If the Bill is unamended, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said, it will be unlawful even to ask a question about the arrangements made by contractors and suppliers for the employment of people with disabilities.

The Minister is a sensible and compassionate man. I hope that he will look kindly at this moderate amendment. If he accepts it or undertakes to come back with something similar of his own, he will demonstrate that the Government are committed to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

I shall end with a quotation from Dr. Kettle's study which I hope that the Minister will bear in mind when he comes to reply. The quotation occurs on page 35 of the study. He is, in turn, quoting from a paper written by two research workers: By way of summing up the importance of work to the individual, the words of Ullman and Davis are apposite. They have said, 'There is little doubt that work, or satisfaction with work, has ego-preservative functions. It is also clear that loss of work is a considerable threat to the ego. To work is to be needed, and to be needed is essential to life' ".

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, may I first say how excellent it is to see the noble Baroness who has just spoken in her place after a prolonged absence. It is good to hear her, as ever, making an informed and well-thought-out contribution. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness has said in regard to the need for our society to help disabled people to get work. I also agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said. I am sure that all your Lordships realise that it is still more difficult than it should be for a number of disabled people to get work, and that work is what they want. That is absolutely right.

The question is whether this Bill and this context are the right place to attempt that. The noble Lords who have moved the amendment have properly—as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Campbell—avoided the legal problem which we shall be coming to in later amendments on the subject of contract compliance. This part of the Bill exists to provide a framework within which local authorities can and must put certain of their services out to tender in order to ensure that an authority gets the most cost-effective and efficient delivery of services for the people of the area.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of the local authorities who are putting services out to tender and considering the tenders which they have received, we shall understand that they must see which tender will produce the most efficient and cost-effective service. They do not have to take the lowest tender and they can take a number of matters into account, all of which should be directly related to the commercial aspects of the operation. However, if other considerations are added to the Bill, local authorities will have to engage in long discussions with each tenderer about what the tenderer does about this, that or the other thing.

For reasons which have been deployed, local authorities will have to take account of race relations legislation. That is in the Bill; whether or not it should stay in the Bill is for your Lordships to consider. Under the terms of the amendment, contractors must be asked what they do about disabled people. If one contractor employs fewer disabled people than an authority considers that it should, and another employs as many as that authority believes it should or complies in some other way with the recommendations included in the amendment, then that authority may well decide to give the contract to the wrong tenderer from the point of view of the people who are paying for the service. That is not what the Bill is about.

To my mind, contract compliance is an outdated idea. It is a side way to arrive at a conclusion. It is the wrong way. The Bill is the wrong place to attempt to do that. It would be a grave mistake and it would not be helpful to disabled people to accept the amendment. It would be counter-productive to the proper operation of tendering by local authorities. That has nothing whatever to do with one's desire to help disabled people into employment. Local authorities should be able to do that in other ways.

Lord Carter

My Lords, do I understand the noble Baroness to imply that the firms employing a higher proportion of disabled people are somehow less efficient than those who employ a lower proportion? Perhaps I may repeat what the Prime Minister said: People who employ disabled people know from experience that it makes good business sense to employ people who are loyal and hardworking and have skills and abilities to offer.".

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I was not implying that at all. Disabled people often make the best employees. They often make more money for their employers than able-bodied people. I was questioning the place in the Bill of a discussion of the policy of a company on employing disabled people. The Bill concerns tendering and the mechanical process of tendering. I was commenting on the out-of-date nature of contract compliance and the fact that the amendment would frustrate the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment, although I refrained from putting my name to a similar amendment at Committee stage. I refrained largely for the reasons which have been deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I feel that the 1944 Act, however splendid it was in its day, is now defunct and ought to be repealed. I do not think that it is sensible to regard a 3 per cent. quota as a target. By and large, it is an unattainable target. That is true at least partly for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has already stated; it literally cannot be fulfilled. The reason is that the number of registered—I place emphasis on that word—disabled people is not sufficient.

People do not register for complex reasons. However, I fully respect the decision of those who do not wish to register. For instance, they may believe that if they reveal on an application form that they have a disability, they will thereby reduce their chances of being employed. For that reason, I believe that the 3 per cent. quota is out of date. I disagree with my colleagues who are concerned with disability in one way or another on that point. I believe that they should stop campaigning for the retention of the quota and start anew.

A new break was made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, when he was in charge of the Manpower Services Commission. The excellent code of practice was introduced under his aegis. I strongly support it. I strongly support the amendment, which is designed solely to make a partnership between the national government, who promote the code of conduct, and the local authorities. It seems to me to be an ideal partnership of national and local government, and at a time when Whitehall and local authorities are all too divided I think that that would be a very seemly gesture. It is the proper place for local authorities to intervene to activate and support government policy. Therefore, to that extent, I must disagree with the remarks that have just been made by the noble Baroness.

After all, Clause 17 is not about employment conditions, but local and other public authority contracts. It is perfectly possible with this clause—as with any clause—to make savings, not by doing what this clause is doing, but by making a saving in respect of questions relevant to the code of practice on employment of disabled people.

For that reason, I am very happy to support this amendment. I am very glad that, apart from the speech of the noble Baroness, it has had support from all round the House. I believe that discrimination should be avoided if at all possible, especially against those who are disabled. For some time I have been campaigning to have a Select Committee of this House consider how such discrimination could be diminished if not eliminated. I believe that co-operation between the local authorities and the national authority—the Manpower Services Commission in this instance—could do nothing but good. I hope very much we can have a positive answer from the Minister today.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, perhaps I may make just a brief observation. I think that we all agree with the underlying philosophy of the proposed amendment and what it seeks to achieve; namely to make it more likely that employers or contractors employ a greater percentage of disabled people. That has to apply whether it is in connection with local government contracts or anything else. It just happens that we are discussing the matter in the context of this Bill.

I have some reservations. There is much in what my noble friend Lady Carnegy said when she asked: what is the Bill seeking to do and what will happen in practice? Let us imagine that the local authority receives a number of tenders on the given date. With this amendment the Bill will require the authority to take cognisance of the employment of disabled people; but to do so, it has to start by making inquiries as to the extent to which that is already done. In practice this is bound to lead to the very thing that the Bill seeks if possible to avoid—to have local authorities concerned to obtain the best contracts they can for the citizens whom they represent and all that flows from that.

This matter of ensuring that disabled people are employed is an emotive one. People are in favour of it. I am absolutely in favour of employers taking the highest possible percentage of disabled people. Indeed, if one looks at the matter in the context of this Bill, I think that it can only lead to authorities becoming involved in discussions and adjudications. I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said. I am sure that he meant it. At the end of the day the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that contracting employers are conforming. That is what he is anxious to bring out, and I sympathise with that aim. However, I have reservations as to what will happen in practice when authorities start to make inquiries, as they will be obliged to do. It has to be said that there will be some who will not adopt the attitude that has been expressed today, and with which I concur. That is my concern.

Lord Carter

My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to support the amendment if he were satisfied that it did not require the local authorities to ask those questions but merely gave them the power to do so if they wished to exercise it? It would be up to the local authorities to ask whether contractors had due regard to this matter. They would not be required to do so. Would he be prepared to support the amendment on that basis?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if that is clearly the intention I should feel differently about that aspect of it. I should like to hear what the Minister says and whether he too feels there is the possibility of the problems that I have mentioned.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, my comments will be quite brief. One has to consider, in privatising the services of the local authority by putting them out to contract—call it what you will—that taking them away from local government control can prove detrimental to the employees who are already working for local authorities in departments where an outside contractor might take over their work.

The disabled may receive preferential treatment—if one can call it that—in that they are looked at much more kindly by local authorities, government departments and hospital services. I am involved with the blind and one instance that springs to my mind is British Telecom. All the people it could possibly help were given opportunities to train on new equipment. It has been that kind of body—public or semi-public—which accepts its responsibilities, as my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington reminds me.

Can the Minister give an assurance that contractors will take on such responsibilities? That is all that we want him to say. It can then be put into the Bill. We should know that the contractors coming forward will be just as responsible as the local authority was when it was doing the job.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I support this amendment. Visually handicapped people seeking work have to compete on unequal terms in the labour market. In the last decade there has been a dramatic fall in the number of visually handicapped people obtaining jobs in the blue-collar sector, and sheltered employment has not taken up the slack. It was concern about that which led the RNIB—the Royal National Institute for the Blind—to commission a survey which showed that visually handicapped people who are unemployed are out of work for a long time despite the fact that most visually handicapped people seeking work have a very creditable employment background. They are not people who have nothing to offer.

As the Bill stands, local authorities cannot take account of a company's attitude to the employment of disabled people. The RNIB is concerned that the positive steps which local authorities have been able to make in encouraging companies to promote equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be allowed to continue. Companies should be encouraged to follow the guidelines of the Manpower Services Commission in the code of practice on the employment of disabled people.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the new clause proposed under this amendment is different in form from that moved by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, at Committee stage, but I have to say that our objections to the principle behind both amendments remain the same.

At Committee stage, the proposed new clause attempted to involve local authorities in ensuring that contractors fulfilled their obligations under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, a role which rightfully belongs to the employment service of the Department of Employment. The new clause now before us is rather different in that it attempts to involve local authorities in ensuring that contractors have regard to an advisory code of good practice.

If all that a local authority wants to do is bring the code of good practice on the employment of disabled people to the attention of firms with which it is considering doing business, there is nothing to stop the authority sending a copy of the code to a contractor with its invitation to apply for inclusion in an approved list or with its invitation to tender for a contract. However, that is not all that this new clause seeks to do. It seeks to allow local authorities to ask questions, and take account of the answers, about the non-commercial matters in Clause 17(5)(a) if they think it reasonably necessary to ensure that contractors have regard to the non-statutory code.

I do not wish to repeat the arugments I deployed at Committee stage against local authorities taking on the role, not awarded to them under present statute, of ensuring observance of the law—in this case the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944. However, our objections to local authorities assuming the role of ensuring that a non-statutory code of good practice is observed are equally strong, if not more so.

Surely we all agree with the underlying philosophy behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord. Lord Basnett. I am sure that we all support the value of the code and, as the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, said, wish to encourage companies to employ handicapped and disabled people. However, it would be wrong for me not to point out the possible consequences of accepting this amendment. On the one hand, there is the consequence, so well stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth)—whom we are delighted to see back in the Chamber—that the authority could refer the tenderers to the relevant agencies. However, my noble friend Lord Bellwin was absolutely right to say that there was another consequence of this amendment: that an authority could decide to refuse to do business with a particular company on the grounds that the company did not, in the authority's view, have proper regard to this particular voluntary code of good practice.

With reference to the second limb of the new clause, which would allow local authorities to refer prospective contractors to relevant agencies, perhaps I may just say that such a provision would be entirely superfluous. There is nothing in the Bill to stop authorities referring contractors to the Employment Service of the Department of Employment or the Manpower Services Commission—the relevant agencies with statutory responsibility for disabled people's employment—if they consider contractors need advice or guidance on such employment.

What is clear from our discussions today is that many noble Lords are not satisfied with the way that the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 operates in practice. But, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour said, this is not the Bill in which to make any amendments that noble Lords would like. Whether to allow local authorities to impose on contractors their views on how an advisory code of practice should be observed is the substance of this amendment, and we believe that they should not have that power.

Lord Carter

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that he did not believe that local authorities should be required to enforce a code of practice? If that is the case, do the Government intend to remove the responsibility on the local authorities to enforce the code for straw burning?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no. I believe that the noble Lord misunderstood me. I hope that I have made myself clear. Of course there is responsibility on a local authority for its own employees. I am saying that it should not have that enforcement duty on contractors and tenderers.

Lord Carter

My Lords, they do not employ the people who burn the straw.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I rise not to question the Minister further—and I wish to adhere to the new procedures which we are looking at for Report stage—but because there are matters which have been inadequately dealt with in the Minister's reply. We have been led astray to some extent by the well-informed, historical analysis of the nature of legislation as it relates to disabled people. It does not matter very much whether the 1944 Act is the right way to set about tackling this problem as opposed to codes of practice brought forward by the Manpower Services Commission. The important fact is that which was stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) —that the unemployment rates among disabled people are twice that among able-bodied people. That is the fundamental fact we have to face.

We therefore have to consider whether there is any opportunity in this legislation for us to make matters better—or at any rate not to make matters worse. My noble friend Lady Fisher put her finger on the matter when she said that there are already a significant number of disabled people working for local authorities in services which, if this Bill is passed, will have to be privatised. It will be generally agreed that local authorities have a reasonably responsible attitude towards the employment of disabled people. But they are more likely to pay regard to the 1944 Act, to the various codes of practice, and to the advice of the disablement advisory service than many of the companies who are likely to be tendering for local authority services. Therefore if we leave this clause as it stands the prospect is not of any improvement in the situation of the disabled with regard to employment but of matters getting worse.

In view of that, concessions from the Government to allow this to be part of the questioning and consideration given by local authorities to those who are tendering to do their services is not an immodest or unreasonable demand. It has been put forward with notable rationality and moderation by the noble Lords who sponsored this amendment. I am sorry that it has received such a dusty answer from the Minister. I suggest to them that they would be well advised to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may raise one point following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, with whose speech I very much agreed. I have no doubt that there are many good private sector employers who do the best they can to provide employment for seriously disabled and other disabled people. However, the noble Lord is right in this sense. I believe that in this area many local authorities have had an outstanding record of positively working to ensure that they employ the maximum number of disabled people. If this Bill is not amended, there is a substantial risk that the position of many disabled people will substantially deteriorate. The Minister has so far in no way met that argument.

It is all very well to say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said, how much one is in favour of helping the disabled. I am sure that that is the objective of all of us. The central question, however, is not whether we wish to do something to help the disabled, but what practical steps we shall take when there is a realistic possibility of doing something, rather than just talking about it. That is why I believe this amendment is right. My noble friends and I will vote for it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords. I hope that the noble Lord has read what I said on disabled people on other occasions with regard to the Bill. If there are extra costs in employing local authorities in a direct labour organisation these can be discounted when it comes to the tendering situation.

Lord Basnett

My Lords, I make a simple, brief point. If your Lordships support this amendment you are doing something for the disabled. If you fail to support this amendment you are doing them an injury—and none of us should have any doubt about that.

I appreciate the statements of support made by noble Lords. All contributions have been supportive except two: those from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord opposite. The noble Baroness accepts the need to do something for the disabled but wants to close an avenue whereby local authorities at the moment give that assistance. That shows little appreciation, in my view, of the continuation of the need for this assistance. In attempting to close one avenue there is no suggestion of what other avenues can be opened. Let me emphasise this. That avenue is open at the moment and we are closing it if we do not accept the amendment.

I say to the noble Earl that there is no contract compliance in the amendment, no extra statutory enforcement rights, no compulsion for local authorities and no interference with the efficiency of the companies concerned. I remind the House of the remark made by the Prime Minister and quoted by my noble friend Lord Carter concerning the efficiency of some of the disabled who work in firms already. One cannot dismiss that. I must test the feeling of the House.

4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 37) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents. 128; Not-Contents, 119.

Airedale, L. Amherst, E.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Ardwick, L.
Attlee, E. Kirkhill, L.
Banks, L. Lawrence, L.
Basnett, L. Leatherland, L.
Blackstone, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blease, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Blyth, L. Lockwood, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Longford, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Briginshaw, L. McNair, L.
Broadbridge, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Milford, L.
Buckmaster, V. Milverton, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Molloy, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Nicol, B.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Northfield, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Carter, L. Ogmore, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Oram, L.
Cornwallis, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Parry, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Perry of Walton, L.
David, B. Phillips, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Diamond, L. [Teller.]
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Porritt, L.
Ennals, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Rathcreedan, L.
Ezra, L. Rea, L.
Falkland, V. Reilly, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Foot, L. Rugby, L.
Gallacher, L. Seear, B.
Galpern, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gladwyn, L. Serota, B.
Glenamara, L. Shackleton, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Shannon, E.
[Teller.] Shaughnessy, L.
Greenway, L. Sheffield, Bp.
Grey, E. Shepherd, L.
Grimond, L. Somers, L.
Hampton, L. Soper, L.
Hanworth, V. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hayter, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hughes, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hunt, L. Thurlow, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Tordoff, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jacques, L. Underhill, L.
Jay, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jeger, B. Walston, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Whaddon, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wigoder, L.
Kearton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kennet, L. Willis, L.
Kilbracken, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Winstanley, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Winterbottom, L.
Ailesbury, M. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Broxbourne, L.
Aldington, L. Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Buckinghamshire, E.
Allerton, L. Caithness, E.
Ampthill, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Arran, E. Carnock, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Chelwood, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cowley, E.
Bellwin, L. Cranbrook, E.
Beloff, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Belstead, L. Dacre of Glanton, L.
Bessborough, E. Davidson, V. [Teller.]
Bethell, L. De Freyne, L.
Blatch, B. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Borthwick, L. Dilhorne, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Dundee, E.
Eccles, V. Monk Bretton, L.
Effingham, E. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Elibank, L. Morris, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mottistone, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mountgarret, V.
Erroll of Hale, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Ferrers, E. Moyne, L.
Ferrier, L. Munster, E.
Fortescue, E. Nairne, Ly.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Nelson, E.
Gainford, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Gisborough, L. Orkney, E.
Glenarthur, L. Oxfuird, V.
Gridley, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Grimthorpe, L. Pym, L.
Haddington, E. Rankeillour, L.
Hailsham of Saint Renton, L.
Marylebone, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Halsbury, E. Rodney, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Romney, E.
Harvington, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Havers, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Hesketh, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Holderness, L. Sandys, L.
Hood, V. Shrewsbury, E.
Hooper, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Strange, B.
Joseph, L. Sudeley, L.
Killearn, L. Swansea, L.
Kimball, L. Swinton, E.
Kimberley, E. Terrington, L.
Kinnaird, L. Teviot, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lauderdale, E. Tranmire, L.
Long, V. Trefgarne, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Ullswater, V.
MacLehose of Beoch, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Malmesbury, E. Ward of Witley, V.
Margadale, L. Windlesham, L.
Marley, L. Wolfson, L.
Merrivale, L. Wynford, L.
Mersey, V. Young, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 14, line 17, at beginning insert ("Subject to the provisions of sections 18 and (Sex Equality Matters),").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 38. I shall also speak to Amendment No. 48. They are paving amendments. I shall further speak to Amendment No. 57, which is the main amendment of principle, and to paving Amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 60 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. I am supported by my noble friend Lady Lockwood, my predecessor and founding chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I am also grateful for the support of my noble friend Lady Faithfull at Committee stage.

That all-party support for an exactly parallel clause on sex to match that of the Government on race must show that this is a sensible, middle-of-the-road addition to the Bill. Indeed, my noble friend the Minister commended the wording of this amendment at Committee stage. It is designed to ensure confirmation of the consideration of sex and race on equal terms by the Government, local government and employers, as has been the case, until now, since the two Acts were brought into force in the mid-1970s.

As I said at Second Reading, it is backed wholeheartedly by the Women's National Commission, whose terms of reference are to ensure by all possible means that the informed opinion of women is given its due weight in the deliberations of government. It is a sound, responsible body housed in the Cabinet Office and includes all the well-established women's organisations: the Women's Institute, the Townswomen's Guild, business and professional women's clubs and all the women's party-political organisations. There are 50 of them in total, representing 3½ million women. It has made its views known both to the interministerial committee set up as a result of the United Nations Decade for Women to consider matters such as this and to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment.

The consistent answer given to everyone, including your Lordships' House, is that in the Sex Discrimination Act there is no parallel clause to Section 71 of the Race Relations Act giving local governments statutory responsibilities in the elimination of racial discrimination but not sexual discrimination. Race can be a matter for consideation in contract compliance, but not sex.

The Equal Opportunities Commission and the women's organisations concerned consider that to be a technical viewpoint and that the wider public message should also be taken into account. If this amendment is not passed the message to the public at large will be that sexual discrimination is not as important as that of race.

I am not here to argue for or against contract compliance. The Government have made their stance clear both in respect of race discrimination in this Bill and religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. They are in favour of contract compliance carried out reasonably and imposing the minimum burden on industry in terms of questions to employers and their response. The Equal Opportunities Commission supports that approach. It was most concerned that different local authorities among the several hundred in this country, may ask a variety of questions. In that case potential contractors may have to answer different questions, fill in different forms throughout the country, and may find themselves weighed down by paperwork. The commission feels, as do the Government, that it is much better to have one short list of questions, set centrally but applying nationwide. The commission's view is that that should apply equally to sex as to race, and therefore my amendment is similar to the clause drafted by the Government in respect of race.

At the Committee stage the Minister said that the Government would consult the Commission for Racial Equality about those questions. It is hoped that if this amendment is passed the Government will also consult the EOC. Apart from that matter, the commission believes that it is in women's interests that contract compliance on their behalf should be as simple as possible but equal to race. Remembering the previous debate, I must emphasise the fact that there is no requirement to ask these questions. The amendment would provide only for allowing local authorities to ask the questions laid down by the Secretary of State if they wish.

Much emphasis has been placed by Ministers on the EOC putting forward amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act in our consultative document Legislating for Change. It includes that of a parallel clause to Section 71 of the Race Relations Act. It is no secret that it will put that suggestion forward strongly in its final submission to the Home Secretary in March.

The earliest legislation which could result from that would be carried in the next parliamentary Session, and may be further away than that. Even then, the only assurance given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in his letter is that: The Commission may well decide to press the Home Secretary for a Section 71 type duty on public authorities. If that proves to be the case, and if the Government is persuaded of the need to make such changes the position with regard to the contractual process would of course need to be reflected in the amending legislation". We are grateful that he said: I and my colleagues will take every opportunity during the Bill's passage to emphasise that its provisions in no way weaken the duty of contractors to observe the law on sex discrimination and that any changes to the Sex Discrimination Act formally proposed by the Commission would be given full consideration by the Government.".

That is cold comfort. There is no undertaking of a new local government Bill even if the amendments were put into force in the Sex Discrimination Act. There is not even an assurance of jam tomorrow. There is a little butter of conciliation on our bread, if we are lucky, but nothing more. That is not good enough when we are referring to 42 per cent. of the workforce and 51 per cent. of the population.

The CBI, in its equal opportunities document issued in support of the EOC's code of practice, firmly places sex and race on an equal footing. It states: The CBI believes that it is in accordance with the spirit of the legislation and in line with the two codes of practice for employers to have equal opportunities policies.". We are grateful for the CBI's support for the ECO's code and for the continuing practice of employers to put their equal opportunities policies for sex and race on an equal footing. Despite the assurances of Ministers, however, we feel deeply that that equality of consideration will be undermined if the Local Government Act is passed in its present form. If it is a matter of obtaining a contract, employers are bound to give far more consideration to matters of race and sexual discrimination will become of secondary importance in their policies.

The Institute of Personnel Management has issued a document entitled Principles of Practice fir Contract Compliance based on a research project that it commissioned. It also wishes to see consistency between schemes and believes that the standard of performance with regard to equal opportunities on race and sex should then be set by the legislation and the two statutory codes of practice. As do we, the institute wishes to see sex and race regarded equally in the Local Government Bill. I plead with the Minister that, on behalf of the Government, he accepts this amendment, even at this late stage.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, there are two reasons I should like to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt. The first relates to social justice and the second to economic efficiency. Women have achieved a great deal in the past 20 years in terms of their position in the labour market. However, they still have a long way to go before they catch up with men. The best statistic which demonstrates that statement is that on average their earnings are only 75 per cent. those of men.

As everyone knows, we have a woman Prime Minister; but in many fields there are far too few women at the top. The reverse is the case. Women tend to be concentrated in lower status jobs with lower pay than men. Is that just or fair? Women want to play a full part in the nation's economic life but they do not want to end up in jobs which provide fewer rewards in terms of either pay or job satisfaction.

Turning for a moment to the efficiency argument, can the nation really afford to waste the talent and the ability of many women because they are not fulfilling their potential? Surely it cannot. Surely we must try to provide the means to prevent that happening in the future. The inclusion of sex in contracts compliance procedures is, of course, only one way of preventing it. It is not the only way because other things are needed, including better training and better child care provision; but it is an important way. To suggest that employers always know what is in their best interests is patently untrue. I am afraid to say that old attitudes die very hard. As a result, some employers are consciously —perhaps more often unconsciously—discriminating against women.

I must agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Platt. The fact that the Government have conceded that contract compliance is a desirable method of improving employment opportunities for the black community and for the religious minority in Northern Ireland will make it all the more incomprehensible to women that the Government are at present unwilling to do so as far as employment opportunities for women are concerned.

In the debate on Second Reading of this Bill I referred to the fact that the Government are taking what I believe to be quite unnecessary powers actually to determine the questions that local authorities may ask contractors regarding race. Those questions have now been published and I am afraid that they confirm the worst fears of those with experience in this field. They will not provide the information that local authorities need adequately to enforce contract compliance. If this amendment on sex is accepted I very much hope that the Government will not jeopardise its effectiveness by producing similar, over-limited and ill-thought out questions rather than letting local authorities get on with it using the existing statutory code.

In my generation women have had to fight extremely hard to achieve parity with men in many fields of employment. Some have been successful, but many others have found the struggle just too hard. There is a prospect of doing something about this through the amendment. I hope that it will be accepted so that women of my daughter's generation have a little more help than those of my generation.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, quizzes are rather fashionable at the moment, so I will begin with one. What have Cleopatra, Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Margaret Thatcher and the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, in common? They are all women who have made their way in the world without the help of the Equal Opportunities Commission or contract compliance.

I feel that there is a great deal to be said in many fields of life for expanding the opportunities for women to be employed. However, for two reasons I differ from the philosophy behind this amendment. The most important of these is that I believe it is quite wrong to link this either to the question of discrimination on racial grounds in this country or to the totally different situation of the two, alas, conflicting religions in Northern Ireland.

It is a fact—a damnable fact, but it is a genuine fact—that race prejudice in this country is widespread in all classes of society and makes itself felt, among other ways, in a denial of equal opportunities to members of minority groups. It was therefore reasonable, in my view, to give a greater area of enforcement to bringing about a remedy to this problem than in the case of women. I submit that in their case there is, in spite of what the noble Baroness said, no evidence of the kind of discrimination which is based solely upon prejudice against people who in every other respect would obviously be equally qualified.

There is, of course, some hesitation in certain areas of employment as regards the employment of a woman compared with a competing male candidate, but that arises not from prejudice but from some natural disabilities under which women labour. I have never seen a pregnant black man. I do not think it would be desirable that women should heave dustbins. I think it is a blot on Soviet society, which I understand Mr. Gorbachev is trying to correct, that women do so much physically hard labour. In other words, when we come to the employment of women, we are dealing with reasons—some may be exaggerated, some perhaps blown up out of Proportion—which are quite different from the reasons which lead us to try to protect the members of ethnic minorities.

The second reason is that, if reliance is placed upon anti-discrimination legislation of this kind—and here I differ profoundly from the 3 million women who apparently support the noble Baroness Lady Plan of Writtle; that monstrous regiment of women, as a Scottish clergyman once described them—we may take our eyes off what is, or should be, the main objective of those who are concerned with greater opportunities for women's employment. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, would agree that over the years I have shown my concern in this respect. The main objective is to ensure that women are given the same opportunities through training at the various levels of industry and other occupations which will make them telling competitors. They will get to the top, as did the famous people to whom I referred, without the inclusion of this particular form of contract compliance. It is misleading and to some extent insulting to women and the ethnic minorities to put them on a par in this way.

Lord Parry

My Lords, some of us are at a disadvantage. We do not speak Neanderthal. Is it possible to have a translation service?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not absolutely certain that that was a particularly pleasant remark.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I am sorry, could the noble Baroness repeat that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not sure that the remark made by the noble Lord was anything other than insulting to a Member of this House.

Lord Parry

My Lords, may I have the Floor? I was so amazed at the speech made in the context of this debate that I failed to understand it. My remark was not intended to be offensive but to be mildly humorous after the rather insulting nature of the speech to which the House had to listen.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I usually agree with my noble friend Lord Beloff but in this case I must disagree with him. I should like to give one example to illustrate why I do so. I am no Cleopatra and certainly not a Boadicea, and I am nothing like as intelligent as the Prime Minister, but some years ago I applied for a job and was very thrilled because the employers sent for me first. I thought I had the job.

It was a very senior job and the committee said, "You are the best candidate but we do not want a woman. Therefore we are not going to offer you the job but are offering it to the man who applied." The committee did so but he was so inefficient that two years later he was sacked. In that case, had the Sex Discrimination Act been in operation, the employer could not have done that. Therefore, I have to say to my noble friend Lord Beloff that there are times when women do achieve something but because of discrimination they are not given the job.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the account of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, of how women have made progress is most compelling. He named six women who had done very well. He had to go back 2,000 years to get his six! As far as I am aware most of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth or married a man able to put a silver, or even a golden, spoon into their mouth. Both attributes are a very great help. Many of us have neither been born in such circumstances nor have we been able to acquire them.

The noble Lord says that there is no discrimination against women as there was in the past. Perhaps I may remind him that in 1971, before the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, the percentage of women in the Institute of Chartered Accountants was 1.6; in the Law Society the figure was 4 per cent; there were practically no women engineers at all, with a figure of 0.6 in the case of the civil engineers. There is no doubt that all of us, those who have worked and friends of ours who have worked and applied for jobs, could repeat the kind of story that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has reported from personal experience.

There is no doubt that there has been discrimination—often unconscious, I absolutely agree, but all the more difficult for that. I prefer to meet the discrimination of a man who says, "I do not want you because you are as woman", than the man who says, "We are very in favour of women". As one chairman of a committee said to a female member—the statutory member of course—"Yes, Madam, we like women. Your misunderstand us. We are in favour of women, we like them, we have them at home". That has been the attitude that we have been up against. It is far more damaging than open discrimination, which I agree is less than it used to be. Because discrimination is so deeply entrenched that most people are not even aware that it is going on, we need the support of the law.

It was a mistake that such a clause was not included in the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. If we had had the wisdom of hindsight, we should have put it in. It is proposed that we now put it in. Can the Government be so limited in their approach as to say, "No, we will not give it to you now, even though we give it on grounds of race. Wait until we find parliamentary time to make an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act and then of course you can have it"?

Let us not waste any more time. We all know what the real situation is. Let us vote for the clause quickly.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I should very much dislike to find myself involved in a row between by noble friends Lady Faithfull and Lord Beloff. That would be an exceedingly uncomfortable position to occupy, particularly for one who is as faint-hearted and full of fear as I am.

I approach the amendment, and indeed the Bill, I have to confess, as I approach most Bills, with a lack of enthusiasm for modern legislation. That said, I have to add that that lack of enthusiasm applies particularly to that body of the law which aims to make people behave reasonably when it comes to questions of discrimination on grounds of either sex or race. However, we do have legislation which sets out to forbid such discrimination.

Now the Government are placing before us a Bill that says among other things that when contracts are put out for tender the local authorities must confine themselves to the question of getting the work done well and on reasonable terms and must not go outside matters that do not arise directly out of the contracts. Then, as I understand it, a degree of discrimination will be allowed. We are told that local authorities will be free to discriminate on questions of race. I find it very difficult to keep company with my noble friend when he asks us to agree that it is all right for local authorities to challenge a company as to whether it behaves itself properly on questions of racial discrimination but that it cannot raise the same, similar or parallel question where sex discrimination is concerned.

Therefore, while I have the greatest possible regard for the wisdom and judgment of my noble friend, I shall find it very difficult to support him in the lobbies if he is not swayed by the arguments so eloquently put by my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the debate is turning into a discussion about whether there is discrimination against women. Indeed, there was a debate earlier today about whether there is discrimination against the disabled. Woven into the debate is the subject of discrimination on grounds of race. I have to say yes to all three charges. There is discrimination. What I am not convinced about, nor shall I be, is that the Bill should be used as a vehicle for putting right all those ills. That is not its purpose.

My noble friend will know that I have enormous disquiet over the amendment to Clause 18 put into the Bill in another place concerning discrimination in favour of people of racial minorities. I do not believe that it will necessarily work in the interests of those people. The more we legislate in this way the more we thwart what noble Lords hope to achieve.

If this exemption is made, we are moving right away from local authorities having a primary function, first, to determine the services that they wish to provide, then to put them to the market and then to see that the jobs are done properly. As a member of a local authority and of that great 3 million people alleged to be in favour of the amendment, I know that this will become an industry. It will put a layer of bureaucracy onto the private sector the like of which your Lordships have not seen.

The rationale for the Bill in the first place was to rid local authorities of the nonsenses that there have been when determining who shall do work. We have all seen the worst examples of this. Here we are bit by bit putting back into the Bill scope for getting up to further nonsenses. I do not believe that any of this will be in the interests of our coloured brethren, of the disabled or of women.

I firmly believe that the people to determine whether a company or individual is in breach of law are the courts, not local authorities. Local authorities should not act as judge and jury over commercial companies. I believe strongly that the disabled should have a Bill enshrining within it protection to outlaw discrimination against people on grounds of disability. Judgment on whether someone is discriminating should not be left with local authorities.

I make this plea to those who are wavering. If their concern is about women, not only in the work place but in the work that they do in order to take their proper and rightful place in the hierarchy of a company, this bid to enshrine the principle in the Bill will not achieve that objective. I ask noble Lords not to accept the amendment. There was an earlier reference to being weighed down by paperwork. I can confirm that people certainly will be weighed down by paperwork.

Imagine the first questionnaire that will go out—and I have the questions that are out for consultation in front of me. Question No. 4: is your policy on race relations set out?". Examples are given of how it should be set out. Companies are then required to write in to say, "Yes, our policy is set out". The local authority can then require justification and proper substantiation of that information by written submissions.

I should prefer to ask a company whether it is abiding by the law, full stop. If it says that it is, whether it is in breach of the law should be a matter for the courts to determine subsequently. The industry that this will spawn will not be in the interests of the people we serve or the three groups that we are talking about. It will certainly not achieve what noble Lords hope to achieve by the amendment.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I support this amendment. In doing so I find the Government's position very difficult to understand. I understand the position of some Members of the House such as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who is completely opposed to the principle of contract compliance. I understand, with some difficulty, the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I believe his speech was an indication of the fact that discrimination against women is not completely understood. It is the deep, ingrained attitudes about women which bring about the discrimination; it is not deliberate discrimination. The noble Lord described pregnancy as a natural disability. Pregnancy is part of normal life for the majority of women, but so is earning a living and having a career. We have to facilitate both within our policy.

Therefore it is clear that some noble Lords do not yet understand the nature of discrimination against women. I believe it was the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who said in Committee that women have made tremendous progress. Quite considerable progress has been made in recent years, but I believe we must recognise that it has been made because of the legislation operating at the present time. It is the Sex Discrimination Act which has helped women to make that progress. However, progress is far too slow and much more needs to be done. That is why this amendment is so important.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, I find the attitude of the Government to this amendment completely inconsistent. They have stated time and time again that they support the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Commission and are anxious to bring about equality of opportunity for women. But they are not prepared to accept this amendment. In failing to accept it, they use Section 71 of the Race Relations Act as their shield. I said in Committee, and I say again, that Section 71 is insignificant compared with the similarities between the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act. Both Acts give the same responsibility to the commissions to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity.

This is an amendment to enable the two commissions to do their work more effectively. As has already been indicated, employers who follow an equal opportunities policy prefer to deal with race relations and sex discrimination together. One of the difficulties is that if the clause goes through unamended, those authorities which are already pursuing an equal opportunities policy on the basis of contract compliance will be able to do so in future in relation to race discrimination but not in relation to sex discrimination. If the Government's stance on promoting equality of opportunity between the sexes is sincere, it seems to be the natural corollary of their policy that they would enable this clause to be accepted.

It is the responsibility of employers to obey the law, to obey the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act, but both commissions have found that from time to time employers need a nudge in the right direction. The nudge can be given by the question process and further assistance can be given in the form of advice to those organisations which seek it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, indicated, there is no compulsion on local authorities to follow such a policy.

I hope that the Government will think again and decide that they can proceed with the elimination of race and sex discrimination on an equal basis by incorporating this amendment into the Bill.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, following my noble friend who has just spoken, I should like to remind the House that we are talking about equal opportunities. I speak as one who has been involved in the fight for women practically all my life, and we still have the fight before us, I am afraid. I notice that we are all slipping back into the "Mr." "Mrs." syndrome and we must be careful that we do not find ourselves becoming the little woman behind the throne, which I thought went out with Madame Pompadour. This is about sex discrimination—equal opportunities. I went through the legislation originally because I was in government then and I can recall speaking to a group of nurses because there was discrimination against men becoming nurses and midwives. We are talking about equal opportunities for both sexes.

We know only too well that if these matters are not written into Acts of Parliament they are not obeyed. There are the health and safety Acts. Why do we have these Acts? We have them because they are necessary. Just as it is necessary to remind companies, employers and local authorities that there is race discrimination, so we must remind them that there is sex discrimination. If I had my way there would be an Act about age discrimination, because I receive many letters from people who want to know why they cannot apply for a job because they are over 50. There are many forms of discrimination. These measures must be written into Acts of Parliament, otherwise they will not be obeyed.

Lord Somers

My Lords, as a mere man perhaps I may say a few words in this debate. I am quite in favour of the amendment and I certainly feel that any discrimination between men and women should be entirely eliminated.

I should like to say something about the word "discrimination". It should mean any lack of preference in either direction, but unfortunately it has too often been interpreted as a preference for the less favoured party, whoever it may be. For instance, when the Race Relations Act was first introduced, one found that a whole number of foreign people were employed not because they were better at the job but simply because they were foreign. It seems to me that the only factor that should count in an appointment is whether people are good at their jobs and whether they are able to do them more efficiently. One should entirely ignore whether someone is male or female, English or foreign.

There are some things that women can do a great deal better than men. There are a few things that men can do better than women, possibly because of their superior physical strength. Apart from that there should be no preference, one way or another. If we pass the amendment I should hate to see a whole lot of men immediately losing their jobs and women being appointed instead.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, three types of objections to these amendments have been put forward and I want to suggest to the House that they are all in their own ways either misconceived in matters of fact or misconceived in the interpretation of the amendments. I hope that when he replies, the Minister will not feel it necessary to rely on some of the points that have been made.

The first proposition was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He said that there was no need to intervene because there is really no problem about sex discrimination. I readily yield to the noble Lord, Lore Beloff, as a compiler of quizzes. I much admire the quiz that he helped to compile in The Times this morning. However, he was answered effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. The fact of the matter is that there has been, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said, discrimination against women throughout nearly all the time the noble Lord was talking about, and where there has been progress it has come largely because of the efforts made in legislation and in attempts to move public opinion against discrimination.

The fact that there is still so much further to go is indicated by what was said by my noble friend Lady Blackstone, who pointed out that the average earnings of women are still 75 per cent. of the average earnings of men. I did not know that the figure was as high as that. The Institute of Personnel Management which ought to know best in this matter has strongly supported contract compliance and the continuation and extension of anti-discrimination legislation.

The second argument was that put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who spoke of the bureaucratic nonsenses that would arise if the clause were to be implemented. I cannot think that she has read the clause. The clause says that the questions have to be approved by the Secretary of State and that the evidence which the local authorities are able to take into account has to be approved by the Secretary of State. If that is not an adequate power for the Secretary of State to ensure that there is no bureaucratic nonsense, I cannot think what is.

The third point was that there will be a burden on the companies in answering the questions put by local authorities. The answer to that is exactly the same answer as in the case of the race relations legislation. The burden on companies is only to comply with the law and nothing else. There is no additional burden and there is no requirement other than that of seeing that the existing law is complied with. The analogy with the Race Relations Act and the additional clauses which the Government have accepted on that subject is immensely powerful.

In the circumstances I much prefer the points put forward from the central bank of the Conservative Benches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Platt and Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, to those put forward by a smaller number from the extreme Left-wing. I hope that the Minister will feel the same and that the House will see fit to support these amendments.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the main point has not been mentioned by the noble Lord. The question is whether in operating the tendering procedure local authorities should be asked to assist in enforcing a law in other companies through a tendering procedure, a law other than one which it is already a mandatory requirement for them to enforce. They have the mandatory duty to assist in enforcing race discrimination legislation. They do not have a mandatory duty to do this in relation to sex discrimination. This point was made clear at previous stages of the Bill. This is the nub of the matter.

We know that the noble Lords on both the Liberal and Labour Benches are extremely suspicious of the effect of this Bill on local authorities. They do not want to back up the whole notion of depoliticising the business of issuing tenders. They do not want a clear framework for the tendering procedure. We have seen that from the voting pattern to date. Whether this debate about the importance of continuing with the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission is linked to that desire, or whether it is completely separate, I do not know, but the effect of what we are talking about is that it would be linked.

I believe that the sex discrimination legislation has been absolutely crucial to the development of women. I do not regard even my own progress as unrelated to it because I have got there by being a mandatory woman and all sorts of things. I have been very fortunate in that regard. There is still a lot of work to do. I admire what my noble friend does and what the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, did, as chairmen of the commission. We have been discussing that issue but the real point of the amendment is to amend a Bill about the tendering process. A discussion even on questions which have been agreed by the government of the day, a discussion with firms which are tendering about whether they are keeping the law of the land in this respect, is not only irrelevant but is likely to be very damaging to the purpose of the Bill.

I believe that the debate has been put in this context for reasons additional to enthusiasm for the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I approve of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and I feel that there is a long way to go, but this amendment has no place whatever in the Bill

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, the only reason that there is the difference between the two Bills is that the Sex Discrimination Bill was first and the Race Relations Bill was second. If the Race Relations Bill had been passed before the Sex Discrimination Bill, I have no doubt that there would have been a similar Clause 71 in the Sex Discrimination Bill. I hope that the Government will take that into account.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, these amendments so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle, who unfortunately was not able to take part in the Committee stage debate, are identical to those equally ably moved and withdrawn by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, at that earlier stage. I warned on that occasion that I feared that I would have to repeat my arguments against the amendments, and I am sure your Lordships will understand that inasmuch as the amendments have not changed, neither have my arguments.

Much has been made of the fact that the Bill does not deal with sex and racial discrimination on an equal basis. Indeed the debate we have had this afternoon has ranged much wider than the amendments or their effect. Although I was interested in what my noble friend Lady Faithfull said about trying to obtain a job at an earlier stage of her career, I can say to her and to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that the amendments are not about appointments. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said that we must write things about sex discrimination into Acts of Parliament. Parliament has already done that in the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. The duty on employers not to discriminate is already clearly set out, along with the means of enforcement. Therefore the amendment has nothing do with that aspect. It is about allowing local authorities to assume a further role.

I must remind your Lordships that the Bill has been drafted deliberately to reflect the present position regarding local authority statutory duties. I say to my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil that there is a basic difference in that respect between the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976. Local authorities have no statutory duties, except as employers, under the Sex Discrimination Act; but they have limited powers under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act. It is solely those powers that we have translated into the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said that that seemed to her almost irrelevant. A provision in a Bill cannot be irrelevant—

5 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I said "insignificant".

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I apologise. I shall take the word as "insignificant". However, a provision in a Bill is not insignificant; it is rather vital, which is why we have translated into this Bill that section of the Race Relations Act rather than anything in the Sex Discrimination Act, which does not relate to the issue. When the noble Baroness said that her amendment was an enabling amendment to allow the two commissions—that is, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission—to adopt the same practices, she was not quite right. I think that she will now realise that the amendment has nothing to do with the powers of the Equal Opportunities Commission and that it relates solely to the local authority's powers.

Let me repeat that in the event of the Equal Opportunities Commission deciding, as a result of consultations on its document Legislating for Change, to press my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for changes to the Sex Discrimination Act which, among other things, would impose a Section 71 type duty on public authorities as part of a package of changes which the commission would wish to see made to the Sex Discrimination Act, the Government will give careful consideration to such a proposal. If that proves to be the case (my noble friend said that that is what would happen) and if the Government are persuaded of the need to make such changes, the position with regard to the contractual process would of course need to be reflected in the amending legislation.

I must also repeat and emphasise the point that the provisions of the Bill in no way weaken the duty of contractors to observe the law on sex discrimination or indeed on any other matter. I appreciate that my noble friend will be no more satisfied with my rejection of her arguments today than she has been with their rejection at earlier stages of the Bill's proceedings. But she is asking the House to set up local authorities as extra statutory enforcement agencies when the law already provides the remedies to deal with those who do not comply with the law.

My noble friend Lady Platt said that there was no requirement for local authorities to perform such duties. But some of them have already done so. That is the mischief. Local authorities have set themselves up as extra statutory enforcement agencies on a huge raft of activities, the common factor of which is that they all relate in some way to non-commercial matters, upon which they ask contractors to answer numerous questions so that they can decide whether to approve that contractor or tenderer.

The issue is not about race, which is covered by the Bill, but it is about local labour; training; the fair wages clause; whether there should be self-employed labour only sub-contractors; the South African and other policy conditions; and whether contractors have to be members of trade associations. Those are just some of the examples of the raft of noncommercial matters that local authorities insist should be taken into account before deciding whether to approve a contractor. The amendment is asking local authorities to set themselves up as further extra statutory enforcement agencies with regard to that point.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I have listened to the debate and am most grateful to your Lordships for the interest that you have taken in this matter and for the support that I have received. Many women have succeeded on their own, thank God, over the generations but many have not. As an Equal Opportunities Commission we have a statutory duty to consider applications for assistance and that we have done. We have taken cases to the courts and the courts have decided that people have acted unfairly.

I am sorry to say that often the people concerned are powerful employers with the power to hire and fire, dealing with young women who are in a vulnerable position, perhaps in their first jobs. Women need those jobs. They may not always have the job they would first choose, but they need the money. There are a million one-parent families in this country. In nine cases out of 10 the mother is the breadwinner. Three times as many families would be on supplementary benefit if the wife or mother were not working. I am pleased to say that some employers are good, and have good equal opportunity policies which they carry out with determination; but others do not, and their attention should be drawn to our Act.

We should value the assistance of local authorities carried out in a reasonable manner and in terms of equal opportunities between men and women, not just for women alone. The proposal covers men and women generally. Requirements are laid down by the Government, and I am sure that they will preserve the principle of simplicity.

I am disappointed by my noble friend's reply, which I believe shows a narrow, legalistic view. Our two Acts were carried out in parallel, albeit one after the other, and our two codes of practice also went through both Houses in parallel with all-party support. I believe that in the Bill we should remain the same and that sex equality should be regarded on an equal footing with race. I must test the opinion of the House.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, does she agree with me that, whereas the race relations legislation is part of the mandatory responsibility of the local authority, the sex discrimination legislation is not, and therefore, it would be difficult to discriminate between the two?

Noble Lords


Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I did not realise that I was out of order. I thought that I had the right to ask for clarification.

5.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 113; Not-Contents, 142.

Airedale, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Ennals, L.
Amherst, E. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Ardwick, L. Ezra, L.
Attlee, E. Faithfull, B
Auckland, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Banks, L. Foot, L.
Barnett, L. Gallacher, L.
Blackstone, B. Galpern, L.
Blease, L. Gladwyn, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Glenamara, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Bottomley, L. Grey, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Grimond, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hampden, V.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Hampton, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hanworth, V.
Carter, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Chitnis, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hirshfield, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Dainton, L. Hughes, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Hunt, L.
David, B. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Jacques, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Jay, L.
Diamond, L. Jeger, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. John-Mackie, L.
Kearton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Kilbracken, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Rea, L.
Kirkhill, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Seear, B.
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Lockwood, B. [Teller.] Serota, B.
Longford, E. Shackleton, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Somers, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stedman, B.
McNair, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Strabolgi, L.
Milford, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Milverton, L. Tordoff, L.
Mishcon, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Molloy, L. Underhill, L.
Mulley, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Walston, L.
Nicol, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Northfield, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Ogmore, L. Willis, L.
O'Neill of the Maine, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Oram, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Parry, L. Winstanley, L.
Phillips, B. Winterbottom, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Young, B.
Platt of Writtle, B. [Teller.]
Aldington, L. Gisborough, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Glenarthur, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Gray of Contin, L.
Allerton, L. Greenway, L.
Ampthill, L. Gridley, L.
Arran, E. Grimthorpe, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Haddington, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hailsham of Saint
Bellwin, L. Marylebone, L.
Beloff, L. Halsbury, E.
Belstead, L. Hanson, L.
Bessborough, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Birdwood, L. Harrowby, E.
Blatch, B. Harvington, L.
Blyth, L. Havers, L.
Borthwick, L. Hayter, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Hertford, M.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hesketh, L.
Broxbourne, L. Hives, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Holderness, L.
Butterworth, L. Hood, V.
Caithness, E. Hooper, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hunter of Newington, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Carnock, L. Joseph, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kimball, L.
Cowley, E. Kimberley, E.
Craigavon, V. Kinnaird, L.
Craigmyle, L. Kinnoull, E.
Crathorne, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Crickhowell, L. Lauderdale, E.
Croft, L. Long, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Davidson, V.[Teller.] MacLehose of Beoch, L.
De Freyne, L. Malmesbury, E.
Deedes, L. Margadale, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Marley, L.
Derwent, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Dilhorne, V. Merrivale, L.
Dormer, L. Mersey, V.
Dundee, E. Monk Bretton, L.
Eccles, V. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Elibank, L. Morris, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mottistone, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Ferrers, E. Moyne, L.
Ferrier, L. Munster, E.
Fortescue, E. Nelson, E.
Gainford, L. Northesk, E.
Gibson, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Orkney, E. Swinton, E.
Oxfuird, V. Terrington, L.
Pender, L. Teviot, L.
Porritt, L. Teynham, L.
Pym, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Rankeillour, L. Thurlow, L.
Renton, L. Tranmire, L.
Renwick, L. Trefgarne, L.
Rodney, L. Ullswater, V.
Romney, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Rugby, L. Vinson, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Sandford, L. Whitelaw, V.
Sandys, L. Windlesham, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Wise, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wolfson, L.
Stockton, E. Wrenbury, L.
Strange, B. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Sudeley, L. Wynford, L.
Swansea, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 15, line 9, at end insert— ("(4A) (a) This subsection applies where a local authority intends to award a public supply or works contract to the person submitting the most economically advantageous tender. (b) Nothing in this section shall preclude the local authority from including in the criteria for the award of the contract a requirement that a reasonable proportion of the workforce shall be unemployed and residing in the area served by the authority or such other area as the authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, may prescribe from time to time; provided that any such requirement shall be subject to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 39 was in one sense aired in Committee, but we think it is necessary to raise the matter again. The amendment is concerned with local labour, the ability of a local authority to include in the criteria for the selection of a winning contract the requirement that: a reasonable proportion of the workforce shall be unemployed and residing in the area served by the authority or such other area as the authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, may prescribe from time to time; provided that any such requirement shall be subject to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome.

I am well aware that this has become a legal rather than a political or social question, which I find extremely unfortunate. I want to go on to show that it is nevertheless important that the amendment should be debated and should be received sympathetically by the Government. The principal reason for saying that this is an important matter does not rely on any arguments from left-wing Labour local authorities. It does not even rely on arguments from the local authority associations, some of which are controlled by the Labour party, some of which are under no overall control and one of which is under Conservative control. However, the local authority associations associate themselves with this amendment, including those which are not under Labour control.

No, my Lords, the reason for putting forward this amendment is that the Government have committed themselves on more than one occasion recently to the principle of the use of local labour, particularly in the regeneration of inner cities. I should like to quote from two documents which have come from the Government in the course of the last month. The first was the subject of a statement in this House from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, on the White Paper, DTI— the department for Enterprise, issued in January 1988. Under the heading of "Inner Cities" we see the areas on which attention should be focused in seeking to regenerate inner cities. One of the six areas quoted is: the employment of local labour to provide more jobs for people in their own communities by tackling barriers to local recruitment and by encouraging local enterprise". The matter of barriers to local recruitment is a matter for government and for the companies concerned but I suggest that the encouragement of local enterprise must be also a matter for the local authorities. Indeed in all the discussion of the White Paper that has been taken for granted.

The second document is slightly older. It dates from 16th December 1987 and is the Government's observations on the first report of the Employment Committee in another place in the 1986 to 1987 Session. In the course of that response the Government state, again under the heading The Inner Cities (use of local labour)": Increasing the use of local labour in publicly financed construction projects in the inner cities is of course an important theme of the Government inner city policies.

Again, the intention of that, as I perfectly recognise, is confined to construction projects because that is the context in which the observation is made. But surely it cannot be argued that it is proper for it to be an object of government policy to increase the use of labour in construction projects and not to try to increase the use of local labour in local authority services, particularly blue collar services which take up the bulk of the employment of local authorities.

So it is the Government themselvs and not us who are saying as a matter of policy that the use of local labour is a desirable objective and a relevant consideration, particularly in the case of inner city policy. So what is the objection? The objection, as we were told by the noble Earl in Committee, is that it is not possible under EC legislation. We are told that the European Commission is challenging; not that it has challenged or that it has succeeded in a challenge but that it is challenging particular local authorities who have put local labour conditions into contract offers which have been placed with the European Gazette.

I suggest that that is lying down and waving one's paws in the air before one is even properly attacked. That is giving up before the pressure is even fully there. Surely the self-respect of this Government and the self-respect of this country, without in any way being anti-European—I am certainly not—must mean that while it is not shown that what we are doing is illegal and while it is so clearly in accord with government policies, we should fight the matter through the courts and through the European institutions. It is not as though the matter had already been decided. There are still drafts before the Council of Ministers regarding the final content of any such legislation.

The fact that the European Commission is jumping the gun is no reason for the Government to give way on a principle which they themselves claim to be important. I suggest that there is nothing significantly at variance with government policy in the extension of local labour clauses to this Bill and that this amendment deserves the support of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred to the Government's attitude as lying on their back with their paws in the air because the Government drew the attention of your Lordships to the distinct possibility that action of this kind would be contrary to the Treaty of Rome. I do not claim to be an expert on the Treaty of Rome and I do not have the faintest idea whether or not this particular proposal would be contrary to that treaty, but I should have thought that it was not very good legislative practice to legislate to give to local authorities powers which there was some reason to believe might be illegal under the Treaty of Rome.

It is one thing to give way in advance on the actual conduct of the matter but it is quite another—I should have thought it was very poor practice—actually to legislate in a way which may well be conferring powers which then cannot legally be exercised by the bodies on whom they are conferred. That seems to me to be an unhappy way—I put it no higher than that—to legislate.

There is also the substance of the matter. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, quoted quite properly statements of government policy, particularly in respect of the inner cities, on the giving of employment as a result of government projects. All your Lordships are in favour of that, but of course there is a distinction (and one which this Bill brings out very clearly) between government policy and what the Government seek to do with their full political authority and what local authorities are to be permitted to do in respect of the giving of contracts.

Whatever else may be the case, it is plain that if local authorities are to act as this amendment suggests, that is a real departure from what I understand to be the principle of this part of the Bill—that their concern is with a good commercial proposition on behalf of their ratepayers. It would enable local authorities who so wished to refuse to conclude thoroughly satisfactory, economical, efficient contracts with contractors on the grounds that they were not employing the local unemployed. Indeed, it would enable them, if they wished to make difficulties, to reject almost any responsible offer of a contract and to fall back on saying that they cannot get a contract and that therefore they will have to do it by direct labour. That indeed might be the object of some local authorities because there are many jobs for which it would be quite impossible for the contractor to find workers who were both unemployed and residing in the area.

There are many skills which are not very widely held and which, being in great demand, mean that the holders of those skills are very rarely unemployed at all, particularly in certain areas. Therefore to some extent to put this provision into the Bill would have a frustrating effect on one of the main purposes of this part of the Bill, which is that local authorities should act commercially on behalf of their ratepayers. To put this in, I suggest, is to frustrate this part of the Bill in a quite considerable degree.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I venture to speak in support of this amendment. In doing so I revert to the position which I held on Second Reading. In Committee, my noble friends voted against this amendment for precisely the reason which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has set forth; that is, that they were informed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that this amendment was incompatible with two EC directives, one on public works and one on public supplies. He set that forth quite categorically, as can be found in col. 754 of the Official Report, which I shall not read out.

As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has pointed out, there are two different issues at stake. The first is whether this provision is incompatible with the Treaty of Rome. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said that he did not know and had not the faintest idea on that. I have had a look at the Treaty of Rome in this respect and I have also looked at the letter from the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment which deals with this very matter. The crucial sentence in that letter reads: A geographical limitation on the area in which a certain percentage of the workforce must be resident, whatever that percentage, would infringe the EC Works (71/305) or Supplies (77/62) Directives if in practice it created an obstacle to the equality of treatment of contractors tendering from other Members States in the EEC.". As I understand it, that is the legal issue. The letter and the directive are concerned with the right of contractors in the European Community to tender on equal terms. I think that that is highly desirable. I do not see that the labour force which such contractors would employ is referred to.

Take the example of a Belgian construction firm bidding for a contract to build a "carbuncle" in the London Docklands area. I am wholly in favour of the right of a Belgian firm to tender on equal terms with British firms. But no one truly supposes that a Belgian firm would bring over a Belgian workforce to work in the docklands, any more than a London firm which had won a contract in Liverpool would transfer its workforce from London to Liverpool. It might bring senior management or certain personnel. But those kinds of firms recruit locally wherever they go.

All the amendment demands is that a firm building a carbuncle in the docklands area should employ a reasonable proportion of local labour. If such labour is not available—which is the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—or if the skilled labour which is required is not available, it would not be reasonable for the firm to be expected to recruit there. However, it is not unreasonable for such firms to be asked to recruit a reasonable proportion of local labour in such circumstances. Nor can I see that that would be in any way in conflict with the directive to which our attention has been drawn. I hope that in the light of that information I and my noble friends will be able to vote in support of the amendment.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I believe that we are again up against the difficulty which I mentioned in our debate on the previous amendment. A firm which has won a contract must first decide on a desirable quota and then it must find people to fill that quota who are both resident in the neighbourhood and unemployed. That may not be too difficult in these days of high unemployment. But such a firm must then decide how many of those people are really suitable for the jobs which they are to be asked to do. That was the point which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made a great deal better than I can. Suitability for the work must come first.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I spoke on this clause at Committee stage. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord McIntosh has said that the EC directive should be tested. That was a comment which I had made; we seem to have tested all the other directives but we have not tested that one.

I referred particularly in my previous speech to the Handsworth project in Birmingham. When the Minister replied at the end of the debate, he answered my question concerning whether or not the Government would be breaking an EC convention as regards the Handsworth taskforce. He said, at col. 756 of the Official Report of 28th January: It would be wrong for me to comment on that case because I have not been able to study it. However. I can assure the noble Baroness that I shall look into it now that she has raised the point". I sincerely hope that he does. It makes one wonder what the Government are up to.

On 22nd October 1987 the Minister of Housing and Planning, the right honourable William Waldegrave; came to Birmingham. Perhaps one Minister does not know what another Minister is doing. However, Mr. Waldegrave came to the Handsworth project in Broughton Road. In his opening speech he singled out Birmingham's submission on the Handsworth project as, "a great achievement" and "a major step forward".

The project was visited in connection with the National House Improvement Council award ceremony. On that occasion the director of the NHIC announced that the judges had broken with tradition in requesting that the city certificate of merit should read "highly commended". It had included the Government through its taskforce, the local authority and also the builder—Tarmac—which had taken on 24 trainees. Those were all in what is called the core area where all the money for the inner-city partnership is spent. It was delightful to learn that at the end of the contract Tarmac had not only given jobs to 24 trainees but had been able to give six of them permanent employment.

In discussing the breaking of EC regulations, it is obvious that the Government—I believe that both my noble friends Lord Jay and Lord McIntosh raised the matter at Committee stage—are part and parcel of breaking the EC regulations. I use the inner city taskforce in Handsworth as an example of money that is being used in that way. If such money is used in that way, then the Government must be breaking EC regulations. It is strange to hear a Minister sitting on the Front Bench say, "We cannot do those things".

In Birmingham, the International Convention centre is being built. The Prime Minister came to visit that centre. The estimated cost of that scheme, as revealed in the city accounts for 1986–87, is £121.6 million. Grant aid has come from the European Regional Development Fund to a total of approximately £40 million. That is the largest grant paid to a project of that kind in the United Kingdom.

If the European Regional Development Fund, which operates under the auspices of the EC, puts that much money into the project, surely it is aware of the contract compliance which is occurring. In that contract, because it is in the inner city core area, a great deal of' inner-city partnership money is involved. The sum of £40 million from the fund is not to be sneezed at. Surely the local authority would have been told that it could not implement contract compliance. An international firm has been awarded the contract, which contains a provision concerning the percentage of employees from the inner core area who must be taken on if they are suitable for jobs or training.

In talking of local labour one can talk of local labour which would be all over Birmingham. There is nothing to stop anybody from the city applying for a job—anyone from London, or from Germany, Belgium, Spain or anywhere can work there. However, the contract says that the people who are living in the inner core area, which has an unemployment rate of 38 per cent. according to the latest figures, should be enabled to work on jobs that are in their locality. In the main they are people of ethnic minorities. I think it is important that they should have an opportunity of working alongside other long-term unemployed people in the core areas.

Therefore, now that the Minister knows about the projects of which I spoke in Committee, when he comes to reply will he confirm that the local labour clauses that have already been introduced into such contracts are perfectly acceptable to the EC? Not only are they helping the unemployed in the areas in which they live, but they are also promoting good opportunities and good race relations. When the Prime Minister came to the city and saw both schemes she was not at all dismayed. She complimented the city, as did the noble Lord, Lord Young, on this aspect of its work in helping trainees in large cities to take up full employment.

I hope that the Minister will not tell us again about EC law because I feel sure that, if it were contested, there would prove to be nothing against the contract clauses as we know them. The local labour clauses operate in closed areas and have nothing to do with the point of view put forward by the Minister on the last occasion.

Before I sit down, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that last night he said that, unusually, I was incorrect when I asked him about the consultation paper. However, in col. 449 of the Official Report the Minister said that it was right: that my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Scotland and for Wales issued a consultation paper". When I asked the question: "Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but I thought that the consultation paper referred to Scotland and Wales", the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, replied: "Unusually for the noble Baroness she is incorrect. There is a consultation paper for England and I know that Birmingham had it". But it did not say that in Hansard. It was not reported that way in Hansard. When I asked the question I did so because it related to the opinion which he had expressed.

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have again had an interesting debate on an issue which has come generally to be known as local labour, and I recognise the efforts of some noble Lords opposite in attempting to draft their amendment to overcome the objections to this type of provision which were upheld in the other place.

The Government's position on the issue of local labour has been made perfectly clear. It had been our intention to include in this Bill a special provision to allow authorities to use the contractual process to promote the employment prospects of inner city residents. However, it subsequently became clear that European Community rules designed to ensure equal conditions of competition for public works and supply contracts do not permit the introduction of that type of measure into the contractual process. EC Public Works Directives 71/304 and 305 and Public Supplies Directive 77/62 set out the criteria on which the contracting authority shall base the award of such contracts, and those criteria do not include the area of residence of the workforce. Any conditions in contracts which require local labour to be used would therefore constitute an obstacle to equality of treatment of contractors tendering from other parts of the Community.

I was intrigued by the ideas and attitude of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on how we should approach the EC directives. I thought how different they were from some of the attitudes taken by his noble friends on other EC directives. It was a useful point to note. In his amendment the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has attempted to qualify the local labour provision by confining it to: a reasonable proportion of the workforce shall be unemployed'', and requiring the Secretary of State to consent to the type of area in which authorities could have regard to local labour issues. It is further attempted to qualify the provision by making it subject to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, yet, as I have already pointed out, local labour clauses—by their very nature—would constitute an obstacle to equality of treatment.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear during the Bill's Second Reading in the other place, the fact that local labour requirements are unlawful in no way weakens the Government's resolve to ensure that inner city residents share fully in the benefits flowing from new investment and initiatives in the inner cities.

While I am on that topic perhaps I may answer the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. When I re-read the Official Report and looked into the matter I assumed that she was referring to the Broughton Road project, and indeed she confirmed that this afternoon. As was made clear by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he announced the scheme at the end of 1986, the scheme in Handsworth was a unique and experimental one. The work in Handsworth had been organised by the construction company Tarmac, who were appointed on the understanding that they would sub-contract to local firms and employ and train local people to do the bulk of the work. The aim was for the sub-contractors eventually to be able to bid more competitively for the work on future projects. As I have said, the scheme in Handsworth was experimental and clearly, in view of the legal advice now available to us, cannot be the model on which future schemes should be based.

Perhaps I may answer the other point of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal (which has nothing to do with the amendment) about what I said yesterday. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is responsible for England, so there was a consultation paper for England. I should have thought that that was fairly clear. As I said to her then, local authorities have received it.

Clearly, proper training is an essential component of many inner city projects, and we need to ensure that training is well matched to employers' needs and to develop the capacity of small local firms to win contracts. Within the various inner city initiatives being undertaken by the Government, which we all welcome, the aim is to raise skill levels so that local people are better equipped to compete for jobs and employers find that it makes sound sense to hire them. The answer is not to have a blanket requirement that a certain number of jobs must go to local people, but to make sure that those people are better trained and motivated to grasp the opportunities created by our various initiatives.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, quoted from two recent government Statements—namely, the DTI White Paper and the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Employment. As he knows full well, neither of those documents mentions local labour clauses in contracts. That is what the amendment is concerned with and what is illegal under EC rules. The Government's position is clear. They will do all they can to ensure that inner city residents benefit from the jobs that inner city spending creates. That is the message of the two documents. It is just the method of achieving that policy that is not available.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, can he tell us which rule in the EC regulations makes this unlawful?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have already referred to the two EC directives. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred to them when he spoke.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister has made no attempt to answer the points I made about the strength of the Government's commitment to inner city regeneration, and their recognition of the necessity for employment for local people—which is local labour, is it not?— in order to achieve that. He made an attempt to answer the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, but I thought that he signally failed to do so.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, the provision for local labour in contracts is illegal if it is intended to discriminate between contractors from one country or from another country. That is the point. It is not that it is generally not permitted. It is not permitted if it has, or is intended to have, that effect. The Minister does not seem to understand the nature of local authority services. He has been a short time in the job in the Department of the Environment. He learns very quickly. I admire the way that he has caught up with some of the complications of local government administration. However, he has not caught up with this aspect.

Most local authority services have an essential component of local labour because people have to be on the spot if they are to clean schools, cut down trees, sweep streets or whatever else it may be. I have no doubt that the Minister will reply that the amendment is unnecessary because there will he local labour anyway. But that is not the point. The point is that there must be a presumption that local labour will be used wherever the contractor comes from. We wish to ensure that, for those services which would be better carried out by local labour, we do not have cowboys coming in. We do not wish to have roving teams moving around the country, doing nothing for employment in the area, in no way changing the asserted breach of the Treaty of Rome, and generally providing a bad service for the local communities.

As the Minister correctly said, the amendment has been very carefully drafted. It refers to "a reasonable proportion". It gives the Secretary of State the oversight of what that reasonable proportion shall be. The amendment also provides that nothing shall be done which is in conflict with the Treaty of Rome.

Do not the Government have the courage of their own convictions to accept this as a worthwhile and desirable amendment? I suggest that if the Government do not have that courage the House ought to. I suggest that the House should take a view on this matter.

5.52 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 39) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 147.

Airedale, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Amherst, E. Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Barnett, L. David, B.
Basnett, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Blackstone, B. Diamond, L.
Blease, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Donoughue, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Ennals, L.
Buckmaster, V. Ewarl-Biggs, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Foot, L.
Carter, L. Gallacher, L.
Chandos, V. Galpern, L.
Chitnis, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Grey, E.
Grimond, L. Northfield, L.
Hampton, L. Ogmore, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Oram, L.
Harvington, L. Parry, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Phillips, B.
Hirshfield, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hughes, L. [Teller.]
Irvine of Lairg, L. Rea, L.
Jacques, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Jeger, B. Seear, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Serota, B.
John-Mackie, L Stedman, B.
Kilbracken, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kirkhill, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Tordoff, L.
Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Lockwood, B. Underhill, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Walston, L.
McNair, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Whaddon, L.
Meston, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Mishcon, L. Willis, L.
Molloy, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Mulley, L. Winstanley, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Winterbottom, L.
Nicol, B. [Teller.] Wrenbury, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gibson, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Gisborough, L.
Allerton, L. Glenarthur, L.
Ampthill, L. Goold, L.
Arran, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Auckland, L. Greenway, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Gridley, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Grimthorpe, L.
Bellwin, L. Hailsham of Saint
Beloff, L. Marylebone, L.
Belstead, L. Halsbury, E.
Birdwood, L. Hanson, L.
Blatch, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Blyth, L. Harrowby, E.
Borthwick, L. Harvey of Prestbury, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Harvington, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Havers, L.
Broxbourne, L. Hayter, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Hertford, M.
Butterworth, L. Hesketh, L.
Caithness, E. Hives, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Holderness, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hood, V.
Carnock, L. Hooper, B.
Colville of Culross, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Cottesloe, L. Joseph, L.
Cowley, E. Killearn, L.
Craigavon, V. Kimball, L.
Craigmyle, L. Kimberley, E.
Crathorne, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Crickhowell, L. Lauderdale, E.
Croft, L. Lindsay, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Long, V.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Davidson, V, [Teller.] Lyell, L.
Deedes, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Macleod of Borve, B.
Derwent, L. Malmesbury, E.
Dilhorne, V. Margadale, L.
Dormer, L. Marley, L.
Dundee, E. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Elibank, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Elliot of Harwood, B. Avon, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Merrivale, L.
Faithfull, B. Mersey, V.
Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Ferrier, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Fortescue, E. Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Moyne, L. Somers, L.
Munster, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Nelson, E. Stockton, E.
Northesk, E. Strange, B.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Sudeley, L.
Orkney, E. Swinfen, L.
Oxfuird, V. Swinton, E.
Pender, L. Terrington, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Teviot, L.
Platt of Writtle, B. Teynham, L.
Prior, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Pym, L. Tranmire, L.
Rankeillour, L. Trefgarne, L.
Rees, L. Ullswater, V.
Renton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Rodney, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Romney, E. Whitelaw, V.
Rugby, L. Windlesham, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Wise, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Wolfson, L.
Sandford, L. Wynford, L.
Selborne, E. Young, B.
Shannon, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.1 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 15, line 15, leave out ("training of or the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 41, as both hang together in this context. As the Minister will recall, these amendments deal with the issue of training. I shall describe the effect that they would have on the face of the Bill. Clause 17(5) deals with what the Government euphemistically call "non-commercial matters". So far as we are concerned, the training, health and safety of a workforce of an authority and equally of a company that tenders are of importance to both ratepayers and the community.

Amendment No. 40 seeks to delete from the Government's illustrations of non-commercial matters the words "training of or the" and Amendment No. 41 inserts in their place, except in relation to reasonable questions as to health and safety training undertaken by contractors with a view to ensuring the satisfactory carrying out of such training". I fear the worse judging by the parliamentary arithmetic witnessed in respect of earlier amendments and equally because of the Government's determination, I believe wrongly, to protect those who will seek to tender competitively in respect of matters which the Minister and his supporters argue ought not to be the concern of a council which in some instances will be spending ratepayers' money.

As on earlier amendments lost by this side of the House, I am again at a loss to understand why the Government view satisfactory standards of training as being non-commercial and not of sufficient weight and interest to an authority to merit on the face of the Bill an obligation to take those aspects into account.

The Minister will not need me to remind him that, despite the efforts of the Government and of many governmental agencies, the quality and the quantity of training, whether in the form of apprenticeships or something else, are falling seriously below the standards this country enjoyed for many years. I make no point about any particular years, so as not to draw a distinction between parties. In my view, this is not primarily a party matter. However, when one considers the amount of time and money spent by our major competitors on training, it is nonsense to say that a local authority spending ratepayers' money should not concern itself with the training record of those who will be awarded contracts.

I quote Mr. Geoffrey Holland, chief executive of the MSC, who has stated: The real skills gap is that our country is under-educated, under-trained and under-skilled. That is because our approach to education and training is and has been for decades too little, too narrow, too few, with too few expectations and hardly any follow through".

That is the premise upon which I plead with the Government to allow a local authority to poke its nose into this area—even though the Government are determined to keep it out—so that the authority may try to ensure that the record of training and safety of those who receive contracts is satisfactory.

A 1984 study commissioned by the MSC showed that private sector employers invested on average only £200 per employee per year on training or 0.15 per cent. of turnover. Some 24 per cent. of establishments provided no training of any kind in the previous 12 months, and 69 per cent. offered no training at all.

The Minister might say that the recipient of a contract awarded by a local authority is entitled to that contract purely on the basis of having made the lowest possible tender, perhaps combined with a good reputation and having made a good case for the contract. He will say that it is not for the local authority to find out exactly what are the levels of that contractor's training.

One may consider the situation in a particular industry. I take the case of the building industry and refer to a survey undertaken by the Federation of Master Builders only last year entitled Manpower in the Building Industry. It makes very illuminating reading and is relevant to our discussion on the level of training that exists in other sectors. From the eastern region of the FMB survey comes the comment: Training youngsters is disheartening. As soon as they., are experienced they leave to become self-employed". From the southern region: Training appears to be letting the industry down— huge amounts of money are spent on training but is the money spent on the right areas and is the information getting to those who need it? I don't think so in every case''. Also, from the southern region: Please ensure that apprentices are trained by first-class tradesmen at least 30 years older than the apprentice. Many don't even realise that tradesmen have their own tools". From the north-west: We feel that insufficient training is given, producing semi or even totally, unskilled operatives and would prefer training to be encouraged by apprenticeship schemes controlled by companies such as ours, rather than job creation schemes which give young persons the impression they are able to carry out work in the industry". On the question of the level of skills in London: Our main problem is the general low standard of all trades and in particular of bricklayers". From the northern region: Good joiners are not available no matter what wages are offered". From the Midlands: Shortage of manpower is not a problem—shortage of skilled manpower capable of carrying out any quality work is the major problem'. I rest my case by asking the Government to look more sympathetically at what they are doing by excluding the sense of this amendment.

The amendment may not be worded in a way that suits either the Minister or those who guide him. However, when we are talking in terms of spending millions of pounds in awarding contracts, it is right and proper that we should eliminate the cowboys. It would take a very derelict council to award contracts to cowboys in the building or any other industry. But we are talking here of taking a positive step, with the Government coming to the aid of local authorities by trying to improve the level of training, safety, security and health in our industries.

The Minister may say that there are other ways of achieving this, that it is the responsibility of others and that such is not the responsibility of local councils, as the Government have said in respect of the two previous amendments. I must respond by saying that any stick that is to hand ought to be used. If the Minister is concerned, as we are, that there is a disinclination on the part of many employers to spend money on training, then at least councils ought to know that certain employers are by comparison spending very little money on training and take that into account. If a council decides that it does not wish to award a contract because of a contractor's poor record of safety, training and education, among other things, then it should be allowed to do so. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, considers it right for authorities to ask detailed questions of a contractor about the training he gives his workers. One of his arguments is that an authority will not know if a contractor is competent if it cannot seek details about how his workers are trained. We know full well that a contractor's competence can be judged in various ways without the need for detailed questionnaires about any kind of training programme which happens to catch an authority's fancy. Amendment No. 40 would allow unscrupulous authorities to discriminate against contractors on many grounds and unfortunately we know that a number of councils will go to any lengths to discover such loopholes in these provisions.

The noble Lord will have heard what I said about the Government's initiative on training when speaking to the last amendment. We believe that it is right for companies to undertake, and to be encouraged to undertake, constructive training of their workforce for particular skills. However, that is a matter for the companies and not for local authorities when it comes to contracts with those companies.

It has also been argued that an authority should be allowed to take into account a contractor's training in health and safety procedures. It has never been our intention to prevent authorities taking account of contractors' health and safety records when considering tenders and awarding contracts. While I see no need for an authority to seek details of the way a contractor ensures that his workforce is competent in this area, nothing in the Bill stops an authority establishing a contractor's policy on health and safety or evidence of the effectiveness of that policy by way of his past record.

Indeed, a recently published Construction Industry Advisory Commitee document, endorsed by the Health and Safety Commission and entitled Managing Health and Safety in Construction, specifically encourages customers—and that includes local authorities—to take full account of health and safety matters in drawing up tender lists. This can be done without giving unscrupulous authorities the opportunity of devising a huge questionnaire on the ways a contractor chooses to ensure his workforce's competence in that area. We believe that to be the right way forward.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, it seems to me extraordinary that the Minister should not be prepared to accept inquiries into training. The building industry and notoriously the construction industry have a wide range of suppliers—from those who train well to those who do not train at all. If anyone in your Lordships' House were to have building work done, surely it would be reasonable to discover whether one was hiring a properly trained labour force. One would not know that merely by looking at the tender. Why on earth cannot one discover their policy and make a judgment accordingly? This is not a matter of protecting the labour force but of making a competent economic judgment and awarding a tender. I am at a loss to understand why the Minister opposes the amendment, except that he has a habit of total opposition.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to follow the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I have the honour of being president of the health and safety officers. One knows that the building industry is notorious for contracting and sub-contracting. At the moment I am in the process of dealing with a development by a well-known property developer in Westminster. It is appalling to watch the behaviour on the site.

The sub-contractors obtain the cheapest labour possible. They are now shipping in workers from Liverpool, who, I understand, are cheaper than those on the spot. They observe none of the health and safety standards of which even I know. I have lectured them in the street and I gather that I am known as "our lady"—there is a slight difference. There is not a hard hat among them and they carry out the most appallingly dangerous procedures. I recently pointed out to one young man that if at the age of 23 he fell off the scaffolding and broke his back because he had no safety connection, not only would he never work again but he would merit no compensation because he was not carrying out the rules of health and safety.

I had to invite the safety standards officer from Westminster council to come along; it was a major exercise to discover who he was. I gather that there is only one officer for the whole borough. I contacted him through the old-pals act only because I knew someone who worked for the council. When he eventually arrived he slapped on three orders because the contractor was not complying with the health and safety standards. If the site belongs to the local authority and the contracted labour, accepted under a tender, is working for the authority but is not carrying out the health and safety standards, it is an irony: but what does the authority do? Does it claim Crown immunity as we do in this House?

It is vitally important to emphasise that the health and safety Act was a major piece of legislation. I am sad to say that training in health and safety still lags. Local authorities must lead the way in their treatment of those they employ on such schemes. They cannot take refuge behind the fact that they know companies are doing the right thing.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I had hoped that the Minister would wish to respond to some of the points directed to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who put forward a powerful argument. The Minister is virtually saying that there is no need for the words on the face of the Bill because there are ways in which a local authority can draw its own conclusions. It has access and the experience of watching people. Listening to my noble friend Lady Phillips one would imagine that the Westminster council needs its head examined if, with its experience, it engaged the contractor to which she referred. However, that is happening.

I take exception to the words used by the Minister. Apparently this subsection is designed to deal with unscrupulous authorities which would go to any lengths. I have no doubt that the Minister has illustrations of the practices of some councils. There are more than 400 authorities. If, in this subsection, the House is attempting to deal with three or four councils who have carried out a practice designed to ensure that the work being undertaken for them in their area is carried out by firms able to satisfy them in respect of safety, education and training—if we are talking about authorities which have committed that heinous crime—I cannot understand the argument put forward by the Minister.

The noble Earl makes allusions to other motives for an authority wishing to lay down terms and conditions. I believe that the Minister will throw out the baby with the bathwater, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pointed out, no one in his right mind can object to what the amendment seeks to achieve. It is that the authority should be able to take into account the record on safety education and training of those who wish to be the recipients of ratepayers' money. It is a laudable, sensible and proper objective. I am sad that the Minister has not seen fit to say anything kind but has been derisory and derogatory in his remarks about unnamed authorities who are apparently committing the heinous crime of wanting to ensure that ratepayers' money is spent in the proper way. He ought to be ashamed of himself, although I do not believe that he will be. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 43 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 15, line 26, leave out ("the country or territory of origin of supplies to, or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment and revives the matter debated in Committee about the country or territory of origin of supplies. It is necessary to do this not only because of the intrinsic merits of the case but because of the strength of feeling aroused about the matter.

I appreciate that the Government have taken a firm stand on this position. I do not expect there to be any significant change in their point of view. As one who lives in a borough with a very high proportion of people from other countries and with other ethnic backgrounds, I put it to the Minister that this is not in any way a matter of political interference by local authorities. We are not referring to local authorities doing the horrific thing that governments always say they should never do—interfering in national politics. In the case with which I am familiar, and noble Lords may well be familiar with others, the attempt by a local authority to discriminate—and we are talking about South Africa, are we not? —between goods coming from South Africa and goods coming from countries with less abhorrent racial laws and practices is not undertaken for political purposes; it reflects the composition of people in the area and their abhorrence at the prospect of being forced to use goods produced by the Republic of South Africa.

Nobody thinks that it is in any way wrong that people should exercise their individual judgment about whether to use a boycott of South African goods in their own purchasing. People have different views about whether it is a good idea, whether it is a moral issue and about the effect of sanctions on the Republic of South Africa. I respect all those different views. Nobody says that it is wrong for people to hold views different from those that one holds oneself. In this sense, although not in all senses, a local authority in an area with a high proportion of the population feeling strongly about the country of origin of the goods supplied "for the public service" has a duty to enable those people who feel strongly not to be forced to use the goods coming from a country of origin like South Africa. That is what it comes down to.

I do not think that this is in any way an infringement of individual liberty, as was suggested on Second Reading and in Committee. I suggest that the amendment and provision are worthy of the serious attention of the House.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, despite the noble Lord's attempt to suggest that this is a different approach from that on which we spent a good deal of time in Committee, the amendment is in fact fundamentally the same as that which we discussed earlier.

The noble Lord suggested that there are areas in which certain sections of the population have strong feelings about certain overseas countries. They are of course perfectly entitled to those feelings, however misguided they often are. However, there one is getting straight into matters of international politics. If one is to take the line that one will not buy goods that originate in a particular country because one does not like the way in which the country conducts its affairs, one is getting straight into international politics and away from the proper functions of local government.

I do not want to waste the time of the House because we discussed this at great length and came to a clear decision earlier. I hope that we shall similarly come to the clear decision that, whatever views people may have of whatever overseas countries, that excursion into international politics is not the business of local authorities and they should keep out of it.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I hope that we shall come to a decision different from the decision we reached in Committee. Perhaps I may repeat some of what I said earlier. I believe that the issue is not whether sanctions against any country will work, but the question of whether local authorities have a right—or, as I would say, a duty—to reflect the feelings of the consumers whom they are serving.

If a large number of people in a particular local authority area do not want to eat the product brought from a certain country, I think it is the duty of the local authority not to buy and force those products on the people. This is particularly so in the case of catering for children. They have no choice. Their parents may not want them to have the goods. Therefore, the local authority should be in a position to take into account the people's views in the matter.

The Government say that the local authority must not take into account the people's wishes in the matter. That I regard as an abuse of power. Central government is saying, "This is national politics. We do not think it right to have sanctions against any country. We shall decide this. You on the other hand must never take into account the fact that your people do not want the goods from that country to be used in your services".

I cannot see how the Government regard as defensible the suggestion that, when local authorities say they will not buy, for example, South African oranges for children, those local authorities are indulging in international politics. That is rubbish. What they are doing is reflecting the views of the people in the area. In the case of catering, the people for whom they are catering are consumers. Consumers have rights. The people who sell the goods have responsibilities. Central government is saying that, regardless of the views of consumers and what they may request, the local authority must buy from where it chooses and force its consumers to accept that.

I am sure that is wrong and that noble Lords will recognise that it is wrong. It is not what should be done. If the people in a particular local authority area do not want certain products, the local authority should be free not to buy those products so that it does not have to serve them to people who do not want them. I therefore hope that the House will recognise the issue for what it is and accept the amendment.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I listened to the argument deployed in Committee and I have listened to the argument today. I think that all Members of the House will respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, who has had a long, distinguished career in local government.

I pose the following question. Leaving aside whether South Africa, which I have not visited, Czechoslovakia, which I have, or any other country has a regime that is dissimilar to our own, who in the local authority will decide on these purchases? As I understand it—and I have never served on a local authority, as my remarks might suggest—it will put an enormous burden on local authorities when all parties in government are trying to make their lot easier. I believe that this amendment, sincere as it might be, will put that burden on local authorities.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the one thing that is probably more responsible than anything else for bringing local authorities into disrepute is their tendency nowadays to discuss national and international issues. I believe that local authorities should be organisations which provide local services for local people. In so doing they are guardians of other people's money; not their own, but other people's money.

If one takes a purely pragmatic view of this amendment which seeks to assume a power for local authorities to decide that they do not want South African goods. Czechoslovakian goods. or whatever it may he, the practical business of doing that is to dissipate resources which could be caring for the elderly, educating children in schools, or doing a host of things for which local authorities are primarily responsible. I ask your Lordships to consider the thousands upon thousands of products which are purchased by local authorities, from pencils and rubbers to books and food which is eaten by the children in schools.

It is not only direct links with South Africa that are affected. I belong to an authority which has passed a resolution not to deal or trade with any company which has any links, direct or indirect, with South Africa. That involves precious time—and time is money—and precious resources in not only carrying out detective work on the companies directly concerned but also on the companies with which those companies have links, and with which they have links, and so on. Frankly, I challenge my authority on whether it can do that job properly. I believe that in practice it is turning a blind eye. We have indulged in tokenism. We have passed a Motion in council that South Africa will be all right because Cambridgeshire County Council no longer buys goods that originate from that country.

I believe that we should get back to what this Bill is about. More than almost anything else it is about depoliticising our local council chambers. I am in favour of that. I believe that people are fed up with the politicking in our council chambers. The amendment will give all the scope in the world for the kind of politics that will do very little to resolve the problems of South Africa or any other country. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords. I should like to reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and to what was said earlier about the responsibilities of local authorities. If one takes the argument that has just been put forward by the noble Baroness, then local authorities, people in general and governments should always buy the cheapest irrespective of the ethical issues which arc involved.

We argued in Committee, and again today, that local authorities have a moral and ethical responsibility, as well as a direct responsibility, to reflect the views of the majority of the people that they represent. This brings me to the noble Lord who spoke earlier and who asked who is to decide. Our answer is quite simple —the people. This is the issue put so clearly by my noble friend Lord Pitt. If a local authority just like a national government—takes an action which is disapproved of by a majority of the people, our constitution gives the people the opportunity to reject that decision and to turn the council out.

As my noble friend Lord Pitt pointed out, in this Bill the Government are taking it upon themselves to decide for all the people. The Government, who after all have been elected by a minority of the people, are themselves to decide what people in different localities have the right to do and what they do not have the right to do. Is that in tune with the philosophy of the Conservative Party which has constantly expressed its belief in decentralisation and in giving the people a choice?

Surely the issue here is this. If a majority of the people in any part of the country, gathered together to be represented by a local authority, express a majority view and that view is constantly put before the electorate—and 164 local authorities at the moment are applying one ban; the ban on buying South African goods—and if those people believe that they should not, and their children should not, be purchasing South African goods and that their money should not be used to purchase South African goods, surely they have the right through their representatives to take that decision.

No government can say whether there is in any local authority a majority in favour of banning South African goods. One must accept that there may well be a majority. Will that majority then be prevented from doing what it believes in because central government says, "Oh, but you are not a central government and this is an international issue. This is a matter for commerce and it has nothing to do with morals or what you believe in. We are not going to allow you, through your elected local authority, to put what you believe into practice"? That, surely, is the central issue.

Are we to have a country in which central government takes all the major decisions for all the people on all issues whatever the people in a local authority believe in? Irrespective of the question of sanctions, I submit that that is the central issue on which this amendment is based. Do we believe in big government or do we believe in the rights of people in their localities to have their views expressed and acted upon according to the way in which they have elected their own representatives.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for the moderate and reasoned way in which he introduced this amendment. He was right to say that this issue was debated at length in Commitee and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was absolutely right to say that we divided on it.

I remind the House that the issue at the heart of the debate on this amendment is whether public authorities should be able to refuse to have any dealings with certain contractors or their subsidiary companies solely because their supplies emanate from a particular country. Although the nub of the debate is the question raised more extensively in Committee about South Africa, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is absolutely right in that Clause 17(5)(e), to which this amendment is addressed, is intended to stop authorities taking a sudden dislike to any country or territory and refusing to deal with those contractors who have links with it. We do not consider that authorities should abuse the contractual process by refusing to employ contractors on solely ideological grounds or on grounds unrelated to competitiveness or competence to carry out the works or supply the goods or services required.

We believe in fair competition and in obtaining the best value for ratepayers' money. Neither would be obtained if authorities were allowed to discriminate against companies purely on the basis that they did not agree with the politics or any other aspect of the country from which those companies obtained their supplies. We believe that it is not for local government to decide to have its own foreign policy independent of the Government and to pay more than is necessary for goods or services as a result of that policy.

I give an example of the extra cost to ratepayers of such a policy; and here I rise to the bait offered by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who keeps on challenging me to give an example, so I shall now give one. This was a policy highlighted by an article in the Guardian last December. A street cleaning contract in Milton Keynes worth £2.7 million was removed from the company which had previously carried it out because that company had connections with South Africa. A new contract was awarded to another firm at a level 38.5 per cent. dearer, adding 2.4p to the rates. Yet the Milton Keynes authority admitted that it had had no complaints about the service provided by the previous company. That was the cost to Milton Keynes ratepayers as a result of such discrimination.

I respect the feelings of the noble Lord. Lord Pitt of Hampstead, who would doubtless agree with the Milton Keynes decision. I hope that he will respect my feelings, and I profoundly disagree with him because the cost of this amendment is one that the ratepayers should not have to bear.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House whether this Government believe that if a local authority is elected on a policy which gives it a mandate to boycott South African goods or the goods of any other country, this Government have the right to say, despite that election, that that authority shall not be allowed to do what the electors have elected it to do?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I specifically answered that earlier.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it sounds as if the Minister's answer to my noble friend Lord Hatch is, yes, that it is the Government's intention and is claimed to be the Government's right to override the wishes of local people. I cannot see any other interpretation to put on his failure to answer my noble friend's question or his silence now.

In all these matters there are of course possibilities for abuse; there is no doubt about that. It is possible for a local authority to extend its judgments and decisions too far into the areas of national politics. I do not deny that. However, I wonder whether the Government have in any way taken account of the real force of the argument against the subsection and in favour of this amendment.

We are trying to say—and I cannot say it as effectively as my noble friend Lord Pitt—that there are cases, when we are talking about physical supplies bought by local authorities to be consumed by the users of local authorities' services (welfare services, school meal services, or whatever it may be) when those who have strong feelings about this are forced to consume goods or to use equipment which they would never dream of using or buying in their own private life, which is in effect force feeding. I feel very strongly about not buying South African goods. There is a whole period in the year when I do not eat oranges, much as I depend on an orange for breakfast every morning, because I cannot buy anything other than South African oranges.

However, if I rely on local authority services—there are many noble Lords here who might qualify for meals on wheels, though I am sure very few would actually use them—and I am forced to eat South African goods because my only source of nourishment is meals on wheels, that is deeply offensive to me and I believe it is deeply offensive to the people concerned.

I do not believe that the Government have understood the force of that point and I do not believe that they have understood the degree of feeling that there is about this matter. It has now been raised and has been dealt with most effectively by my noble friend. In view of the vote that was taken last time I do not believe it is desirable to test the opinion of the House again. However, we do not in any way withdraw the strength of our feelings on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Viscount Hanworth moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 16, line 48. at end insert ("with the exception of any body or organisation whose primary purpose is the safety of the public").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment concerns the status of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, which I shall refer to as N IC for short. Under Clause 17(8) of the Bill, the council is concerned with the safety of electrical installations. It is a non-profit-making trust which was set up in 1957 by the concerted action of electrical installation contractors, the electric supply industry, electrical trade unions and others who saw the need for an independent inspectorate to protect the users of electricity from unsafe electrical installations.

The NIC maintains a register of approved electrical contractors. For a contractor to qualify for the register, a searching preliminary inspection of his work and resources is made and is followed up by subsequent regular inspections. All work must conform with the wiring regulations published by the Institute of Electrical Engineers and there is an effective complaints procedure under which substandard work has to be rectified at the contractor's expense.

There are now 10,000 approved contractors on the register, including electricity boards. Most local authorities and high street names can find tenders for electrical installation work by contractors on the NIC register. The Minister has assured me that, like CORGI, NIC is not affected by this clause in the Bill. However, neither I nor the legally qualified people I have consulted are clear as to how that is achieved. The drafting of this part of the Bill is therefore obscure, to say the least. It seems possible that if the question arose in the courts they might take a different view from that of the draftsmen. I therefore ask the Minister to accept this amendment or consider some other way of making the clause clearer. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, on finding yet another possible way of defining bodies which in his view should not be caught by the provisions of Clause 7(5)(f). That subsection, as further defined in Clause 17(8), provides that authorities should not take account of a contractor's membership or non-membership of an organisation when deciding whether to put him on an approved list or award him a contract. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dean, moved an amendment which would have exempted bodies which were designed to promote a particular standard of expertise, and that has again appeared on the Marshalled List as the next amendment. Now we have this particular amendment, which tries to exempt bodies whose primary purpose is the safety of the public.

I must first repeat that while I accept that a contractor's membership of a reputable trade association is often used by authorities as an indication of certain professional standards or competence, it is not the only method by which authorities should evaluate the merits of a company with whom they are considering doing business. Far more relevant is the contractor's previous work record and financial standing. What is at issue here is whether an authority can decide, solely on the basis of a contractor's membership of a particular body, whether or not to do business with that contractor. Such membership, or non-membership, would become a valid reason for an authority not to do business with a particular company, and we do not think that that should be the case.

However, I am happy to confirm to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that Clause 17(5)(f), as defined in Clause 17(8), does not embrace regulatory bodies such as the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting. I confess that the reason I did not refer specifically to that body at Committee stage, when I mentioned CORGI, their equivalent in the gas industry, was that I did not feel their acronym very easy to pronounce! I therefore referred to inspection bodies in the electrical industry who test contractors' equipment", but I can confirm that I did indeed have the NICEIC in mind. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Viscount will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that assurance. However, he has not taken the point that this Bill is badly drafted and obscure in this clause. I asked whether it could be made clearer. Surely we want Bills that can be understood, certainly by the legal profession and preferably by somebody who is not legally trained. This paragraph which affects the NIC is obscure, to say the least. Nevertheless, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 47:

Page 16, line 48, at end insert ("with the exception of bodies, associations or employers' associations of any sort which are, in the opinion of the Secretary of State. designed to promote a particular standard of expertise").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, appropriately, this amendment follows on from the point that has just been raised. I hope that the Minister can say something as kind in respect of this amendment as he has done in respect of the one moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth.

The Minister is aware that we cantered over this course at the previous stage of the Bill. I know that his ministerial colleagues in another place have expressed their worry about taking merely the membership of a trade association ipso facto as being proof of a standard. We accept that there are all kinds of weird and wonderful new bodies and that one has to be wary about accepting letters after a name. That might be an initial mistake. One has to make inquiries about the boner fides of the body. If the Minister reads the amendment carefully, as I am sure he has, he will see that in the middle of it we say, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, designed to promote a particular standard of expertise". In other words, the ball is in the court of the Minister.

We know that the amendment appears in a part of the Bill which deals with terms. Here we define terms which exclude, political, industrial or sectarian affiliations or interests". We have no objection to those kinds of bodies being excluded in this matter. But again I repeat the phrase "the baby with the bath water". We genuinely think that there will be some eminently respectable bodies. The noble Earl mentioned the electrical industry and there are others too. It is invidious to mention them, but the building industry has some fine standards, as have many other industries. The Minister must assure people outside the House that they are not wasting their time in setting up their own codes of practice and their own measuring rods and yardsticks to try to lift the standards of the members of their trade associations. Membership of such bodies should not be the sole criterion but it should be capable of being used as a credential. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that the Government are as concerned over standards as he is, and I accept that a contractor's membership of a reputable trade association is often used by authorities as an indication of certain professional standards or competence. But, as I said on the last amendment, it is not the only method by which authorities should evaluate the merits of a company with which it is considering doing business. It would indeed be foolish to use such membership as the sole yardstick against which to judge a contractor's suitability for inclusion in an approved list or for the award of a contract. Far more relevant is the contractor's previous work record and financial standing.

As I pointed out in respect of the previous amendment, Clause 17(5)(f) does not embrace regulatory bodies like CORGI or the NICEIC. Furthermore, the Bill does not prevent authorities insisting that electrical work, or any other work, is covered by appropriate guarantees. Nor does it stop authorities specifying appropriate standards in contract documentation. Indeed, the reverse is the position. We would expect local authorities to insist on the same standards for contractors as they do for their own DLOs. If those standards are not up to scratch, it is time local authorities woke up to some of the important matters which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has brought to the attention of the House.

This amendment would involve the Secretary of State in deciding whether or not a particular organisation was in the business of promoting a particular standard of expertise. Such a definition would cover a multitude of different bodies—it would be difficult to claim, for example, that employers' associations were uninterested in standards—and we do not believe that authorities should be allowed to decide the award of contracts on that basis.

I go back to where I started. Our concern for standards is just the same and I am sure that every noble Lord has that concern. Where we differ is over how we implement that concern. I fear that we shall continue to differ but I hope that at the end of the day we both achieve what we want, which is continuing and increasingly high standards.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. He said that the standard of expertise being offered by virtue of membership of an association should not be the only criterion. Of course the Minister is correct. He then said that the previous work record was equally important. It is; but what about those businesses that have no previous work record? What about new businesses? A company's previous work record may be thin because it is new and so it will not comply with that precondition. What about long-standing businesses which change ownership? What about long-standing businesses which do not change ownership but change practices?

The Minister's yardstick is as fraught with uncertainty as the one I have used. However, he is right in saying that we shall have to wait and see. There are those outside the House who believe in promoting their codes of practice and encouraging their members to reach a certain standard.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, perhaps I may make one point from my own experience in regard to new companies doing work for local authorities. When I set up my own business and took the first contract from a local authority I remember that the very questions that the noble Lord has just mentioned were the type of questions that the local authority asked me. I was able to convince the local authority that I could meet the high standards, notwithstanding the fact that I had no track record at that stage.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, so in effect the previous work record is not so important, because the noble Earl has told the House that he had no previous work record. However, he had an ability to convey confidence to the authority by virtue of what he was able to say to it.

The debate has served a useful purpose. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]

Clause 18 [Race relations matters]:

Lord Bonham-Carter moved Amendment No. 48B:

Page 17, line 14, after ("authority") insert ("or public authority").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall not take up much of your Lordships' time. I should like to congratulate the Government on recognising that contract compliance has an absolutely essential and crucial role to play in securing the elimination of racial discrimination and in promoting genuine equality of opportunity, irrespective of race, colour and so on. I only wish that this belief in the effectiveness of contract compliance were also to apply to women.

However, that having been said, why should this obligation be confined to local authorities? There are other public authorities which are involved in purchasing from private companies, and other services. Why should they not share in the obligation to serve the public interest in securing equality of opportunity, irrespective of race, colour and so on?

This is a simple point which can be remedied by the amendment tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Seear. I suggest that, for example, those public authorities listed in Schedule 2 should be able to avail themselves of the right afforded to local authorities in this matter. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, these amendments are an attempt to extend the provisions of Clause 18 to all the public bodies listed in Schedule 2. However, Clause 18 deals with the way in which the duty under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 should be carried out. That duty applies only to local authorities. Therefore, in that respect these amendments would have no effect.

The principle behind the amendments is to extend the provisions of Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. In all our discussions on Part II of the Bill, I have often made the point that the provisions dealing with the contractual process have been drafted to reflect the present statutory position. Just as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 does not contain a Section 71-type duty, Section 71 itself does not place a duty on bodies other than local authorities.

The Section 71 duty applies to local authorities when exercising all their functions, but I do not regard it as appropriate that this Bill should be amended to place a duty on other public authorities in this one narrow area.

Clearly any proposals to extend the coverage of the Race Relations legislation are, as I said to my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I do not consider it appropriate that such provisions should be contained in a local government Bill.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, those public authorities are the creation of Parliament. There is no reason why Parliament cannot say that those public authorities should observe certain regulations. All that the Government are being asked to do is to say to those public authorities that they too should observe Section 71 of the Race Relations Act. We do not need to pass any law to do that. When they are created to do certain things they should observe certain conditions. What is so difficult about that?

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, the response of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to my amendments is hardly surprising, although naturally disappointing. Of course it was my intention to extend the arm of the Race Relations Act to a rather wider field. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, in that I do not see that this is something dreadful. After all, these are matters to which all of us are committed on both sides of the House and in all parties. By making this simple change in the Bill, we could make the battle for securing equality of opportunity, irrespective of' race, more effective. I regret that we received that rather negative reply. I am sorry, but not surprised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 48A not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 17, line 19, leave out ("approved").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 49 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 50 to 55. Recent experience has proved what some of us suspected: that the Government's commitment to include this clause on race relations is far from complete and perfect. The Government included the clause only because they were required to do so under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act. The Government have resisted, not always successfully, attempts by the House to extend the principle of decent and fair trading to the privatisation of local authority services. We thought that when it came to the implementation of the Race Relations Act, the Government had no real scope to weaken the intention of the clause, but we were wrong. The Government have now issued—I am grateful to the noble Earl for sending me a copy of the consultation paper—the questions that they propose should be authorised and approved—that is the significance of the amendment—for use by local authorities when asking about race relations matters.

I have been in the business of asking questions as a survey researcher for the past 30 years. I can only say to your Lordships that this is the most pathetic little list of questions that I have ever seen in my professional experience. I doubt whether it is intended to elicit any significant information. The first question is: Is it your policy as an employer to comply with your statutory obligations under the Race Relations Act? If I answer no, do I say it with handcuffs on? The second question says: Is it your practice, in relation to decisions to recruit, train or promote employees, not to treat one group of people more favourably than others",— and so on. Recruitment, training and promotion are different. It is possible for someone to say, "Yes, because I am fair about training, I can conceal the fact that I am not fair about recruitment or promotion". Because the document asks three questions at the same time, it is technically grossly deficient. The third question asks: Has your firm in the last three years been taken to court or to an industrial tribunal", and what was the result? Again, those matters are matters of public record. They do not go far into the exploration of' a contractor's racial equality programmes.

The document continues and asks whether the policy on race relations is set out in instructions, documents or recruitment advertisements, and If so, can you provide examples? I accept that those are fair questions.

Then: Do you observe as far as is appropriate and reasonably practicable the Commission for Racial Equality's Code of Practice"? What is fair and reasonably practicable is a matter of opinion. I cannot imagine any contractor who wants a contract failing to interpret "fair, appropriate and reasonably practicable" in a way which suits his own purposes. The defect in all those questions is that they are about the theory of equal opportunities in racial terms; they are not about what actually happens.

Until we have questions about what contractors do, we shall not get away from the grotesque racial discrimination which exists in employment. It exists in part in the public sector, but even more conspicuously and frequently in the private sector. Those questions are inadequate. I move the amendment now to give fair warning that the responses to the questions will not be favourable and that the Government are trying to evade their responsibilities. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I ask the noble Earl who drew up those questions? I confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh, has said. If a student doing a survey had produced those type of questions one would have failed him.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, in recognising that the provisions of this Bill should not prevent local authorities from carrying out their statutory duties under Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, we have had to consider how the provisions could be drafted in a way that does not permit abuse of that duty and does not place too excessive a burden on contractors.

By providing that the Secretary of State should specify the questions to be asked of contractors (that point answers the noble Baroness, Lady Seear) and specify the evidence to be supplied in respect of race relations matters, we consider that uniformity and order will be brought into an area where, at present, contractors face a plethora of different questionnaires, some of inordinate length. We also consider that the questions to be asked should be asked in writing, in order to prevent unscrupulous authorities from pestering certain contractors about their race relations policy in interminable meetings or by frequent telephone calls.

My Lords, we believe that Clause 18 as drafted strikes a sensible balance between allowing authorities too much or too little latitude in the way they exercise their duty under Section 71. We propose that the questions to be specified should be drawn up after consultation with industry, the Commission for Racial Equality and the local authority associations. Those consultations are at present taking place and we need to have views by 29th February so that authorities can take account of the approved questions once the Bill is enacted. Indeed, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is looking forward to receiving comments from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

Clause 18 received considerable support in the other place as a reasonable way of dealing with local authorities' duties under Section 71, and acceptance of these amendments would, we believe, reintroduce uncertainty and confusion into an area where we are seeking uniformity and sensible practice.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think the noble Earl will recognise that he has already had the comments which he is looking for from the noble Baroness. Lady Seear, and myself. The matter is not closed, the consultation is not finished. There is evidence that the Government are entering these consultations in a spirit of Indeed, I am afraid so, otherwise they would not have put in such grossly inadequate questions. However, because the matter is not closed it is appropriate that I should beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 50 to 55 not moved.]

Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 56:

After Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Questions relevant to Code of Good Practice on Employment of Disabled.

.—(1) Nothing in section 17 above shall preclude a local authority from—

  1. (a) asking questions seeking information relating to workforce matters and considering responses to them. or
  2. (b) referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies.
if, as the case may be, consideration of the information, is reasonbly necessary to ensure that contractors have due regard to the Manpower Services Commission Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People.

(2) In this section "relevant agencies" shall be defined as those bodies with statutory responsibility for the promotion of disabled people's employment and the Manpower Services Commission Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment, which has already been spoken to.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Clause 19 [Provisions supplementary to or consequential on section 17]:

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Clause 21 [Transitional duty of public authorities as regards existing lists]:

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 65 not moved.]

Clause 23 [Commencement]:

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

7.15 p.m

Clause 27 [Local authority publicity]:

Lord Hayter moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 28, line 18. at end insert— ("( )After section 2 of that Act there shall be inserted the following section. 2A. Nothing in section 2 above shall prevent a voluntary organisation which is not a political party or associated with a political party publishing material which appears to be designed to promote the aims or objectives of the voluntary organisation." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, yesterday a colleague of the noble Earl said in the House that he liked paving amendments. This is not even a paving amendment: it is an amendment tabled in a spirit of inquiry. But my concern is what I think we all agree are the legitimate publicity activities of charities and voluntary organisations.

I can best describe exactly what we are after by reading out to the House the wording of this amendment: Nothing in section 2 above shall prevent a voluntary organisation which is not a political party or associated with a political party publishing material which appears to be designed to promote the aims or objectives of the voluntary organisation. The Government have argued both here and in another place that the amendments to Section 2 of the 1986 Act contained in Clause 27 are intended to clarify and not strengthen the prohibition of political publicity. But, as I said in Committee, I believe that, far from clarifying the position, the clause makes it all the more confusing. Confusion leads to uncertainty, which in turn leads to the danger of over-zealous self-censorship.

So I should like to use this amendment to clarify the position: in other words, to clarify the Government's clarification. To do this, I want to outline two fictitious but plausible and, I think, legitimate examples of the sort of publicity that voluntary organisations may want to put out. I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate in his reply to the amendment whether or not he thinks they would be caught by the Act. Then we shall know where we stand. I would stress that in both cases which I am inventing, the style and content of the material are careful and responsible. Also, in particular the voluntary organisations have taken the advice previously issued by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. That advice suggests that voluntary organisations should: not mention…a political party: not mention or picture a leading politician: avoid intemperate language— That sounds rather a good one— and abide by the NCVO's code of practice on relations with the statutory sector, which broadly speaking encourages a healthy independence, and asserts the primacy of the voluntary organisations' freely chosen aims and objectives".

I am speaking in part on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and there are over 700 organisations associated with that body, including many small organisations. But it also includes some which are very well known to all your Lordships, like the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, the Council of Voluntary Services and Age Concern. They are almost all very worried about the position as it stands at the moment.

Let me get on to my first case: perhaps we may look at a local tenants' association which receives a small grant from the local authority to produce a newsletter. The tenants' association, perhaps supported by information from a national organisation concerned with housing, publishes in its council-funded newsletter an article about the current housing Bill. The article spells out what the proposals in the Bill are and offers some criticisms. The article does not rely on simple slogans and the language is reasonable. But of course the article roundly opposes some of the Bill and finishes with a call for local people to write to their MP pointing out the arguments made and urging him to vote against the Bill. The article is throughout motivated by concern about what will be the effects of the provisions of the Bill on the members of the association. Publication does not take place particularly close to a national or local election.

So in this case the article certainly, promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another". The House will remember that that is the phraseology incorporated in this Bill. It also "refers to a political party" to the extent that it refers to the Government as the promotors of the housing Bill. I should like to ask what the Minister thinks about that one.

For my second case, let us assume that one of the extremist racist political parties suddenly becomes active in a local authority area which includes a substantial number of people from the ethnic minorities. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has tabled an amendment which also deals with this issue later on. But it is not on the same point as the one which I am taking.

The extremist party starts distributing leaflets, selling publications and putting up posters and stickers. This activity leads to a heightening of racial tension in the area which perhaps appears to include an increase in racial harassment and assault. So the local community relations council, although it is partly funded by the local authority and partly by the Government through the Commission for Racial Equality, decides that to promote its aim of achieving good race relations it must combat the arguments. To do this, it distributes its own leaflets and sends a press release to the local newspaper. The leaflets and the press release do not refer to the extremist party by name, but they counter its arguments. Again, they do not rely on slogans or over-simplification and the tone of the publicity material is level-headed, but it does robustly condemn the message which the extremists are trying to spread. It draws attention to the consequences of their policies.

In this case there has been no direct reference to a political party, although the material, promotes or opposes a point of view". Again I am quoting from the Bill. In addition, if the publicity of the community relations council is successful, it could well be that the, likely effect on those to whom it is directed, to quote again from the clause, is that there will be a diminution of support for the extremist political party.

It should be clear that the point of these two cases is that the voluntary organisations are not producing material which, appears to be designed to affect support for a political party. Again I am quoting from the clause. The material does, however, fall foul of one or other of the items listed in Clause 27 as being matters which the local authority and the voluntary group should "have regard to". That is another phrase out of the clause.

During our debate in Committee the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said on 1st February at col. 853 of the Official Report: The purpose of Clause 27(1) is to provide a comprehensive statement of the range of matters to which regard must be given". If that is so then it follows that it is possible that failure on some, most or even conceivably all of the matters does not of itself lead one to infer that the basic test of apparent design has been failed. It is that message which above all needs to be got across if Clause 27 is not, possibly accidentally, to lead to unwarranted interference in the public activities of voluntary groups.

Just recently politicians have found fault with religious leaders, but sometimes religious leaders find fault with politicians. The voluntary organisations go calmly on with their work picking up the pieces that are left from the quarrel. I say "calmly" but that is not really true because at this moment—I know that the Minister will compliment me on the fact that I am always sincere—those organisations are very worried about this problem.

I still believe that the legislation would have been better if it had been left alone. If the Minister were to accept my amendment I should be delighted but if he could endorse what I have said tonight and agree that the cases I have suggested do indeed constitute a legitimate use of publicity then we can hope to minimise the confusion and the uncertainty caused. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment to which I have added my name. We had a long and not always totally calm debate on this clause in Committee. We on these Benches expressed a great deal of concern about the wording of the clause and about the fact that the Government were reintroducing into the criteria as regards what local authority publicity was going to be acceptable not just the question which Widdicombe wanted to have considered, which is the content of the publicity, but also the question of the intention and the effect of the publicity.

We argued as strongly as we could that the resulting wording was not only badly intentioned in the sense that one cannot take account of all of those things in considering what publicity is acceptable from a local authority any more than one could from central government, but that it was also confused and did not always mean what it set out to mean.

The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, has drawn attention correctly to a particular example of that. Voluntary organisations which are funded in whole or in part by local authorities must, I presume, be subject to the provisions of the clause. If that were not the case it would presumably be very easy for local authorities to avoid the effects of the clause altogether by not issuing any publicity directly but doing it entirely through funded voluntary organisations. There would be no difficulty for an ingenious local authority doing that. But of course 99.s9 per cent. of voluntary organisations are not creatures of that kind; they are genuine voluntary organisations with their own real purposes in the community which no doubt gratefully accept local authority funding in order to achieve those purposes. But they maintain an independence of spirit, an independence of objectives and an independence in the way in which they go about their functions.

Those functions very frequently abut upon public debate and indeed upon political debate. When governments like this Government and all governments take an active part in legislation which affects communities and which may be about the rating system or about housing tenure or about social security benefits —all of those matters could well be within the remit of voluntary organisations —they will find that voluntary organisations are bound to be affected by government legislation and those organisations will want to say so.

The amendment refers only to genuine voluntary organisations which are not political parties or associated with political parties. It refers only to publicity designed to promote the aims or the objectives of voluntary organisations. so they cannot just shoot off their mouths about anything that takes their fancy. But if they are funded by local authorities and they are genuine voluntary organisations and they restrict their publicity to the aims as stated in the amendment then any publicity which they issue which chances to conflict with subsection (2)(a) shall not be made illegal by the provisions of this clause. I cannot see that that is unreasonable or in conflict with the Government's objectives.

I hope very much as the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, suggested, that the Government will either say that the amendment in its present form is acceptable or if for drafting reasons that is not possible that they are willing to give effect to the objectives of the amendment in a more suitable form at Third Reading.

If the Government were willing to do that they would give a great deal of relief to individual voluntary organisations and to the associations representing voluntary organisations. If they are not willing to do either of those things I would say seriously to the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, that he should press this amendment. I know he expressed it as a probing amendment but it is our last chance to get either concessions or a withdrawal from the Government.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the arguments advanced in support of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, have concentrated on just one of the factors identified in Clause 27(1)—that is, whether the material: promotes or opposes a point of view On a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another". But that is only one of the factors to be weighed in the balance when assessing the apparent design of the publicity material. It is not a separate test. Any of the factors identified in Clause 27(1) may point to a publication being party political but equally any may be decisively outweighed and negated by other factors which point to the contrary. The question that has to be asked in each case is whether material appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party as opposed to some other legitimate purpose.

The noble Lord. Lord Hayter, has sought with his Amendment No. 67 to test the effect of the provisions of Clause 27(1) with two hypothetical examples of publicity issued by voluntary organisations in respect of local authority funding. With such examples any view requires knowing and examining all the relevant factors and considerations. These hypothetical examples do however provide a useful basis for debating the effects of Clause 27(1) on the voluntary sector and there are a number of points which I should like to make in reply to the noble Lord's portrayal of the examples.

The essential feature of the noble Lord's first hypothetical example was that the material issued by a tenants' association was critical of government legislation. Furthermore it sought to encourage the association's members to write to their MP urging him to vote against these proposals.

The essential question is: what is the material apparently designed to achieve? From the measured way in which the noble Lord described the hypothetical letter he almost seemed to be giving a description of exactly the way in which a tenants' association might conduct a campaign without creating any difficulty at all for a local authority which supported it. I can therefore assure the noble Lord that a hypothetical case limited to what he said and without any further evidence to suggest that there was an ulterior motive would not cause problems. But I must stress that additional factors could just change the picture. If. for example, a tenants' association implied that its members should not vote for their MP at the next election if he supported the Government's proposals, there might clearly be a different and inappropriate apparent design.

The noble Lord's second example appears to be more straightforward. In the circumstances which he described, it seems clear that the apparent design of the community relations council publicity is not to affect political support for a political party but rather to promote better race relations, and as such it is entirely legitimate.

In short, the examples given by the noble Lord serve to demonstrate that his amendment is unnecessary. Although I appreciate and understand the concerns of the voluntary organisations, I firmly believe that they have nothing to fear from the clause, provided they are not seeking to use local authority assistance to affect support for a political party.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. It was a comprehensive answer to the cases I mentioned and of which I think he had prior knowledge. In the circumstances, I believe that it would be unworthy of me not to withdraw the amendment, and I beg leave to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments. Nos. 68 to 71 not moved.]

Lord Hesketh

My Lords. I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until not earlier than 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.