HL Deb 22 March 1988 vol 495 cc95-113

Lord Basnett rose to move, That the House do insist on their amendments numbered 1 and 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before addressing that reason directly, I should like briefly to refer to some of the arguments in the other place. They are arguments which show the strength of all-party support for these amendments, and I believe that this needs to be underlined in view of some statements that there were political motives here. There lies the weakness of the many arguments which were displayed by the Government.

In that debate there were 11 speeches. There was one speech by the Secretary of State against your Lordships' amendments. Ten speeches were made by Members of all parties in the House, three of whom were Back-Bench Conservative Members. Therefore there is no doubting the strength of all-party support in the other place. There is no doubt either of the weakness of some of the arguments that the Government used. Those range from the ludicrous argument that, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, your Lordships' amendments could easily result in fewer jobs through the misleading argument, which is clearly incorrect, that local authorities would have the power to impose their own views as to how an advisory code of practice should be observed. The arguments also included the announcement by the Secretary of State for Employment in the other place of a review of the policies and programmes for disabled people in employment, which he supports.

That announcement is to be welcomed. However, it becomes a diversionary argument when it is argued that because of the review the amendments should be withdrawn. We do not know what that review will contain; we know that in the main it will contain some items which we can anticipate because of reviews which are in progress. We do not know when the announcement will be made or when any of the proposals will become operable. We know that the disabled welcome your Lordships' amendments; we know that they can operate in the very near future. Such is the scale of disadvantage to the disabled in the labour market that to introduce the amendments now and any new advantageous proposals in the future, would be the sensible, caring approach to this problem.

I come to the reason numbered 3. Your Lordships' amendments introduced contract compliance on behalf of the disabled. I have clearly stated the purpose of the amendments that I have moved. They allow local authorities to inquire of their prospective contractors whether they have adopted the recommendations of the Department of Employment Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People. Those who have not may be referred to the Disablement Advisory Service for it to approach the company to give appropriate assistance, advice and guidance. That would be the limit of local authority involvement.

I am advised by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that the amendment contains no enforcement powers and therefore does not create a role for local authorities which runs counter to Part II of the Bill. Firms will be encouraged—not forced—to continue to employ the disabled. The amendment implicitly accepts, and it is supported by an explicit statement that accepts the intention of the Bill. A district auditor could not accept the non-commercial refusal of a tender because of your Lordships' amendment. From an examination of the debate in the other place there is obvious all-party support for your Lordships' amendments. There are obviously weaknesses in the arguments against the amendments.

Perhaps I may finish by stating the case for the amendments. I do not need to repeat the major arguments. There is no argument but that the disabled are disadvantaged in the labour market; there is no argument but that they are discriminated against; there is no argument but that quota compliance under the disabled persons' Acts has declined. There is no argument but that this amendment could be of advantage to the disabled. I remind your Lordships of the reason for this proposal. It is that the Disablement Advisory Service does not have the mechanism to identify all companies needing assistance. It is confined to working with those companies which it approaches or to which its attention is drawn. This amendment will help the disabled through the advisory service, by spreading acceptance of the universally-praised and accepted code of good practice.

There is an additional point which has to be made strongly. If this Bill is now enacted without their Lordships' amendments, it will not only deprive the disabled of advantage, but it will create a real and distinct disadvantage for them. First, it will allow those contractors who, as a result of local authority questioning, advice, guidance and counselling, have employed their quota of disabled, no longer to do that. Commercial pressures and the fact that they have to tender in competition with companies which do not observe the quota, may force them to do so. Secondly, more firms will be moving into tendering as a result of this Bill; perhaps taking over the workforce employed by the council. Disabled people in work in these circumstances need a safeguard against their jobs being put in jeopardy. The Government cannot guarantee that disabled people will not lose their jobs as a consequence of our losing the amendments. If they are not agreed to, the wrong messages will be sent to local authority contractors and the wrong signals will be sent to local authorities. If the amendments are omitted the wrong signals will go to the disabled and they will suffer a disservice. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, at Committee stage the noble Lords, Lords Basnett and Carter, tabled amendments on this subject quite different in both wording and effect. On 28th January their principal amendment referred to fulfilling obligations under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944. In effect, that meant the requirement of the quota scheme whereby a concern with 20 or more employees must employ at least 3 per cent. from the disabled persons' register.

I pointed out that by the general agreement of all concerned the quota scheme had become impossible to enforce. I shall not go over all the reasons again. Largely it is the case that not enough disabled people have allowed their names to be placed on the related registers. If, in an area, only 1 per cent. of the working population is on the register, one cannot expect all the employers concerned to employ at least 3 per cent. That is a straightforward arithmetical point. It has mainly made impossible the working of the 1944 Act.

At the same time I drew attention to the recommendation in 1981 of the Manpower Services Commission that the quota scheme be abolished and replaced by a general statutory requirement supported by a code of practice. Since then the quota scheme has been treated as providing a target rather than an obligation. The MSC's recommendation concerning a general statutory requirement was not carried out, but the code of practice has been promulgated

Between the Committee and Report stages the two noble Lords tabled a new amendment based not on the 1944 Act but on what I had said in Committee about the Manpower Services Commission and the code of practice. I was impressed that the two noble Lords has been so influenced by our debate. It was only proper that I should make clear that the objections which I had raised relating to the 1944 Act had been removed. I was glad to do so in our Report stage debate on 16th February. I said that I did not know what the Government's view would be or whether they considered the amendments appropriate. The Government have since made clear that they think it wrong that local authorities should take into account subjects on which they do not have a statutory role of enforcement. On that basis, only the subject of race relations is relevant in this Bill.

As regards the employment of disabled people, the amendment at Report stage was a great improvement; and that I made clear. It dealt with the position as it is today rather than invoking a scheme—the quota scheme—which years ago became unenforceable. I feel some responsibility for the present principal amendment which found favour in your Lordships' House at Report stage and which has now been returned from the other place because my comments led to its being drafted. The Manpower Services Commission, soon to be renamed the Training Commission, and the code of practice, on which I spoke at the Committee stage, became the basis of the principal amendment before us today.

The amendment was well intentioned. It sought to carry out the purpose to which I am sure we all subscribe—to do something which might assist in the employment of more disabled people. It is discretionary, as the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, pointed out at Report stage. The noble Lord explained that it imposes no compulsion on local authorities and carries no contract compliance. Subsection (1)(b) of the amendment deals with local authorities referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies. There is nothing to stop local authorities doing that now. They can refer them to the Disablement Advisory Service or to the Manpower Services Commission without that being in the Bill. However, clearly, the Government foresee that paragraph (a) of subsection (1) whereby local authorities can ask questions seeking information could be misused by some local authorities.

This process could be continued for months. Contractors could be employing workforces in various parts of the country, many miles from the local authority in question. The local authority is not the national agency for dealing with the employment of disabled people. Having observed the lengths to which a few local authorities have been prepared to go to frustrate national policy, I share the view of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that this provision, drafted with the best of intentions, could and probably would be used by certain local authorities to tie up tendering firms with questions and so end up with the solution that they themselves want. I wish that this were not so, but I accept the realities of Britain today. For my part, I shall support the Government in their view on these amendments.

The Government announced in the debate on 9th March a further stage in the situation which I described to your Lordships at the Committee stage. I said on 28th January that I understood that research was being carried out in continuation of the policy proposed by the Manpower Services Commission. My right honourable friend announced on 9th March that a review within the Department of Employment would now examine the study recently completed by the national advisory council, mentioned by me, and the quota arrangements in general. That is welcome; it is the way to proceed on a national basis.

The noble Lords, Lord Basnett and Lord Carter, have been industrious on behalf of disabled people in pursuing this matter in the Bill. They have been laudably flexible in adopting criticism of their first amendments. I am sorry that their concern and industry have not been rewarded by government approval of the amendments. I understand the Government's view and consider their objections to be over-riding. I ask, however, that the two noble Lords should bring some of their colleagues up to date.

In the other place on 9th March the honourable Member Miss Jo Richardson spoke of only 2 per cent. of employers meeting legal obligations in the quota scheme under the 1944 Act. She was clearly unfamiliar with what has been happening in the affairs of disabled people during the past 10 years which the two noble Lords were quick to digest when they were informed in January. Even in this House, some noble Lords have revealed that they are out of date on the subject. I suggest that if necessary the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, could arrange meetings between his colleagues and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, who has been a sturdy champion of disabled people but who made clear when speaking at Report stage that the 1944 Act was now defunct and that the quotas are unattainable targets. Those are the words he used. I suggest that all of us who are concerned with this subject—the employment of more disabled people—should keep our eyes on what is being done by departments and agencies on a national scale following the Government's announcement earlier this month.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches see no reason whatsoever for changing the view that we held at Committee stage and subsequently that this amendment should be accepted. I find it very odd that any peculiarities expressed by Miss Richardson in another place should have influenced the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

We all know that there is discrimination against disabled people. This amendment has been drafted in the most moderate language possible in order to give local authorities awarding important contracts the opportunity to influence contractors in the direction laid down by a government department in the code of practice. It is not as if the local authorities are inventing standards to impose. They are following the lead already given by the Manpower Services Commission's code of practice. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, says, there are to be some improvements on that, all well and good. We entirely agree with the noble Lord that the 1944 Act has been dead and gone for a long time in terms of any contribution it can make to the employment of disabled people. However, that is not the case with the code of practice. It is a far more up-to-date approach. In using it, local authorities would be able to advance the cause of the employment of disabled people.

I am not at all impressed by the idea that it should be left to national agencies. These things happen in actual, grass roots contacts between employers and employees, between contractors and local authorities. That is where the jobs are created. The lead can be given at the national level, but the giving out of work and the employment of people by the companies has to be done locally. It cannot be done at national level.

I want to make one other point. We are already running out of skilled labour. As your Lordships will be aware, there is a continuing fall in the number of school leavers. The fact is that among the disabled there are people with considerable potential, but that is not widely understood. There is a general prejudice, understandable but based on a lack of knowledge, as to what disabled people can in fact contribute. During wartime I shall never forget—and some of your Lordships who are as old as I am will also remember—the work that was done by bringing disabled people into the war effort. They did not do second-class jobs but, with training, they were doing absolutely first-class jobs and were often found to be better than non-disabled people because they had such a huge investment in keeping the job.

Therefore it you discourage local authorities in their work of encouraging contractors, you will be denying not only opportunities to disabled people but you will be denying industry the use of potentially valuable people. I very much hope that your Lordships will insist on the amendments which have been sent back to this House.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I support the amendment. I should, first, apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, for not being in my place when he rose to move his proposal for insistence. As noble Lords would expect, I am very much in agreement with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, because for some time now I have been campaigning for the repeal of the 1944 Act in that arithmetically it is no longer possible to comply with it. For that reason I think that it is a prime example for a statute law repeal and does positive harm to the cause of the disabled. I differ from my colleagues who are interested in the problems of the disabled on that ground, but only on that ground. That is why I did not speak or vote for the amendment in Committee which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett. I did not believe that it was right to bolster up a defunct Act.

However, when the noble Lord tabled this amendment, which is based on government policy (promulgated by the noble Lord, Lord Young, when he was the director of the MSC) I found that it was irresistible. It was not only irresistible because it enabled, not compelled, local authorities to comply with and indeed "promote"—if I may use that word which we have been discussing recently in another context—government policy and it seemed to me that an unanswerable case was made.

However, we should also consider another amendment to the Bill, which was moved in this House; namely, the amendment concerning dog registration. The Government very kindly, if contemptuously, accepted our amendment but said they had no intention whatever of implementing it. That amendment, like this one, was not mandatory. The Government said that they could not bind their successors or successive governments in regard to implementing that policy. Is that not right?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede


Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, in any event, the amendment, like the dog registration amendment, is not mandatory; it is discretionary. It seems to me that if the Government are to take that view in regard to the dog registration amendment, they may well take the same view on this one and let the local authorities decide whether they will avail themselves of the powers which the amendment provides: that indeed they could comply with the Government's policy and promote that of the MSC.

One of the objections of the Secretary of State in the other place was to Clause 18(1)(b), which is the clause which refers, prospective contractors to relevant agencies". He said that it was unnecessary and we have heard the same argument from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. So be it. If it is unnecessary then it can be taken out in the other place as consequential to the amendment when our insistence goes back. However, that is not an insuperable bar; in fact it is no bar at all to our agreeing to the principle of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett.

Furthermore, I cannot agree with the logic of the Government's Reason—or perhaps I should say the Reason of the other place—for disagreeing to the amendment. It seems that they are saying that the Lords amendment is at variance with a principle; namely: that local authorities or other public authorities should not take account of non-commercial matters in the contractual process", with one exception: except where they are acting in pursuance of an existing statutory duty". I found at least two, probably more, arguments against that reasoning. However, I shall only adduce two of them.

First, if this amendment is insisted upon and should the other place, however reluctantly, agree to it, then local authorities will be acting in pursuance of an existing statutory duty. They will be complying with the Reason which the Secretary of State has adduced, so that does not seem to be an argument. It seems to be totally unanswerable unless one is to assume that the Secretary of State means by "existing statutory duty" only statutory duties passed before the enactment of the Bill. I am quite sure he cannot mean that.

My second argument against the Reason which has been put forward by the other place against the amendment is that they say it gives local authorities a statutory duty. This is not a statutory duty and I say that the Secretary of State has got it wrong. It is not a duty; it is an enabling provision which enables local authorities to implement it or ignore it. Therefore on those two counts the Reason given by the other place fails to convince and I am therefore a strong supporter of the noble Lord in his insistence on the amendment.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I cannot support the amendment because it appears to me to do nothing new for the disabled and to be an extra nuisance to local authorities. In the community today disabled people depend a great deal upon local authorities for help and support. Therefore I do not see any wisdom in trying to make difficulties at the start of this new scheme.

No one is keener than I am to find suitable work opportunities for disabled people. However, to my mind this proposal is an attempt to foist disabled workers in at the hack-door. On occasions I have been in that situation and I have not found it to be the true wish of able-bodied people to give the best opportunities to disabled employees. We want, disabled employees to be most carefully dealt with, possibly through vocational psychologists; that is the type of new care and help which is worthy. I hope my noble friend will take note of that wish. However, in the meantime I oppose the amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I was extremely pleased to be able to support my noble friend Lord Basnett in moving this Motion. My name was on the Marshalled List when the amendment was moved on Report and I am glad to see that he has now put down this Motion to insist on the restoration of the clause to the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was kind enough to point out that the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, and I had been very impressed by the arguments that he advanced in Committee: indeed, that is why we tabled the amendment on Report. However, it was not only myself and the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, who were impressed; it was also this House, because it did in fact accept the amendment.

I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, that I understand what she says about the employment of disabled people, but she must explain why all the organisations of and for disabled people support this clause.

The Government are wrong in their interpretation of the clause. They have misunderstood the purpose of it and they are inconsistent in their approach to codes of practice. In the debate in the other place, as my noble friend Lord Basnett mentioned, there was but one Member who spoke in support of the amendment and that, not surprisingly, was the Secretary of State. There were three Conservative Back-Benchers who spoke against it and then abstained; one of those was the secretary of the All-Party Disablement Group. Considerable unease is and was felt by government supporters about the Government's actions in the other place.

The Secretary of State, Mr. Ridley, referred repeatedly to local authorities as enforcement agencies when he dealt with the clause. That is precisely what they are not. The clause clearly states the process to be adopted and allows local authorities to ask questions about company policy. If the local authorities are not satisfied with those responses, they will be able to refer prospective contractors to the Disablement Advisory Service. That is the limit of local authority involvement. The tendering process will be able to continue, and the local authority will still be prevented from rejecting a contract for non-commercial reasons.

I believe that the Secretary of State knows a thin argument when he delivers it. The reasons he gave were that he was concerned that local authorities would use the clause for other purposes: to enable them to discriminate against contractors they did not like for other reasons; to exercise covert discrimination against contractors of whom they disapproved; for other matters such as sexual discrimination, nuclear-free zones, apartheid, and so on. I find it extraordinary and distasteful that the Secretary of State should use a modest clause, which is intended slightly to improve the job opportunities for disabled people, as the vehicle to peddle a raft of prejudices against local authorities.

Under the Bill, local authorities are not allowed to reject contracts for non-commercial reasons. The Government introduced that clause, and it is now in the Bill. The clause is not strong; it merely allows local authorities to draw contractors' attention to the code of good practice on the employment of disabled people; to consider their employment policies in the light of that code; and to enable local authorities to refer contractors to the Disablement Advisory Service. That is the end of it.

There is no provision in the clause which allows a local authority to refuse a contract if it considers that the contractor is not complying with the code of good practice. The Secretary of State also made a point about the district auditor. He said that if the local authority were to use the clause, its conduct might be actionable. The advice I have received is that that is wrong. I have spoken to a number of local authority chief executives on this matter, and they all agree with me.

I wish to deal with the Government's inconsistent approach to codes of practice. The Minister will remember that on Report I intervened with a rather curious point about the straw-burning code. He may have wondered about its relevance to our debate. The straw-burning code is voluntary. It has been drawn up by the National Farmers' Union. It is non-statutory. It should be compared to the code of good practice on the employment of disabled people which has the support of the Prime Minister, the TUC, the CBI, and which is promulaged by the MSC.

As I said, the straw-burning code is non-statutory. It is a permissive power for local authorities. They have been encouraged by the Government to promulagte by-laws with regard to that non-statutory code with fines up to £2,000 for non-compliance. That is an inconsistency, because the Government are prepared to support an approach to codes of good practice on the subject of straw burning, which although important is not as important as the code on the employment of disabled people. If the Government reject the clause, we are entitled to ask them what their intentions are with regard to the straw-burning code.

I have shown that the Government's interpretation of the clause is wrong. They have wilfully misunderstood the purpose of the clause. Their approach to codes of good practice is inconsistent. I shall conclude with a quotation from a letter I received only this morning from the Greater London Association for Disabled People, which states: The amendment as proposed provides a useful, if modest, prompt to local authorities and others on a matter which might otherwise be quietly forgotten. Disabled people are looking for reassurance that they are not to become the unintended victims of legislation". I support the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have listened to today's debate and to the debates during the whole of the Bill's passage through the House. There is no doubt about the strength of feeling shown in this House and in the other place. I was encouraged to read in Hansard of 9th March (col. 346) of the other place that the Secretary of State recognised the strength of feeling in both Houses and responded positively to that strength of feeling by saying that the Secretary of State for Employment would be announcing a review of the department's policies and programmes for disabled people which he supports.

We are not arguing about our concern and commitment to disabled people. We are talking about a means to an end. For that reason, we need to concentrate our energies today on deciding whether the amendment is the right way to help disabled people. I strongly believe that it is not. I believe that for some of the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and also because, whether we like it or not, it is possible that disabled people will become pawns in an undesirable process. We may argue about whether a few or many local authorities are involved, but where an authority is philosophically opposed to contracting-out its services it will look for any means to thwart, delay and frustrate that process. It hurts me deeply to think that disabled people could be used in such a situation.

We should put all the pressure that we can on that statement made by the Secretary of State, press on with the review, and follow some of the advice given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in both our debates about how we can best improve and increase opportunities for disabled people to be usefully employed. I hope that the House will reject the amendment, not because it is not concerned about the employment of the disabled but because it is the wrong amendment in the wrong Bill. I believe that it will not best serve the interests of the disabled. I hope that we will use our energies, as I said, to press for a proper review and to give disabled people the protection that allows them as individuals to be employed in a way that does not involve their going through an undignified process which I know some local authorities would subject them to.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she agree that the proposed review by the Secretary of State for Employment, mentioned by the Secretary of State for the Environment, which I find extremely welcome, is not in any way incompatible with the amendment? They are not mutually exclusive. They are both, as she said, a means to an end. Why not allow them both?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I take the point that has just been made. First, I believe that if we include the amendment there will be a tendency to believe that we have done our bit by the disabled. Anything that detracts from the review will be inadvisable. Secondly, there is almost nothing in the amendment that cannot now be done by local authorities. It has been said again and again in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, and by the disabled that all the things that we would desire of the amendment can now happen. Local authorities can ask such questions of the private sector. Another worry is that they will ask them of only those companies with whom they have direct dealings. There is a raft of companies outside that will be caught by the review. There should be momentum from national government as opposed to individual local authorities, a very small minority of whom may use the provision for the wrong reasons.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, perhaps I may ask all noble Lords in all parts of the House not to underestimate for a moment the seriousness of the message which would go out from this House if we failed to insist on this amendment. That message would be precisely the opposite of the message which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just given. We must insist on a very reasonable amendment. I say "reasonable" because it is an enabling measure and not mandatory. It deals with a code of practice which is advisory and not mandatory. It merely enables local government to do things whch all of us think it ought to be doing.

The only opposition, the only argument against this amendment which has been advanced is that put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who appeared to think that subsection (1)(a) of the new clause would be seized upon by some kind of destructive local authority in order to prolong things and stop anything happening. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that local authorities which are disposed to do that can do it perfectly well without subsection (1)(a) of the new clause in this Bill or a provision in any other Bill. They can do it without this measure. This is a red herring. The message which must go out is positive. Many of us in all parts of the House have spent a great deal of time recently going up and down the country, trying to explain to people what the Manpower Services Commission code of practice on the employment of disabled people actually meant. Do you want us all to go back and say that it means nothing?—because that is the message that will go out if we fail to insist on this amendment.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I had not intended to speak today. I was very interested to see that the Government have mustered rather greater support here than they managed in another place. Listening to the discussions, I have been increasingly struck by the difficulties I shall have in explaining the reasons for the government decision when I chair the meeting of the national council of MENCAP this coming Saturday.

It is a regrettable fact that many of the disabled believe that this Government have an inadequate understanding of their problems and feelings. There is grave anxiety about the new social security provisions and anxiety about some aspects of the Employment Bill which we were discussing the other day. I think it would have been preferable if today the noble Earl had explained the reasons for the Government's decision. However, I have read the debates in the other place and have listened to the arguments advanced today. There is no need for me to go over the countervailing arguments, which have been very clearly explained by a number of speakers. Suffice it to say that I find the arguments against this Motion totally unpersuasive.

To the disabled I think one simple fact will emerge. This Bill provides for an exemption on race relations grounds. As it left this House it also provided an exemption for the disabled. If the Government now remove the one for the disabled but still leave the other, that will be widely misunderstood. I should very much like to support what has been said about the message which will go from this House.

3.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friends on the Opposition Benches will know that I am fanatical in my regard for the supremacy of the elected Chamber. In more than five years in this House I have, until today, only once been persuaded that, having considered a Bill and the Bill having gone through both Houses of Parliament it would be right for noble Lords to object to the considered view of another place on our amendments. That one occasion was on the Films Bill in 1984 when I felt that the Deputy Speaker had not allowed our amendments to be properly considered because of the grouping which had been imposed on those amendments. Today is the second and I hope the last time, because I certainly do not wish to see a non-elected Chamber taking and insisting on views after a full debate on matters which are properly the concern of another place.

There are two reasons why I think today is a different occasion. The first has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. It is that the Reason put forward by the Commons for objecting to our amendment seems totally self-contradictory and irrational. The Reason says that the: amendments are at variance with the principle that local and other public authorities should not take account of non-commercial matters in the contractual process except where they are acting in pursuance of an existing statutory duty.". We are making law; we are not debating simply for the sake of debating. It is the privilege and the duty of Parliament as a whole to make the best law that can be made. What is being proposed, and what was proposed in these amendments, is an improvement on the existing law. It is imposing not a new statutory duty but an opportunity to right what would otherwise be a manifest injustice. It is proper for your Lordships to say that we can make progress in Parliament as a whole on this matter. It is wrong for another place to insist that the law should stop yesterday, as it were.

The second reason is the nature of the debate which took place in another place. The kind interpretation of what happened would be that the vote took place in a fit of inadvertence, because it certainly did not bear any relationship to the debate on the floor of the Chamber. As has been said on a number of occasions, the Secretary of State was the only person to speak against the Lords amendments. On reading his speech, I wondered whether his advisers had actually read the Lords amendments adequately at all. His remarks were made as if the Lords amendments were imposing a new statutory duty on local authorities, as if they were drawing out the tendering process for a long time—and as my noble friend Lord Carter has made clear, that is not the case—as if this were a loophole for all sorts of other things to which the Secretary of State objects, such as racial discrimination or discrimination in terms of country of origin. However, there is no way in which that interpretation can be drawn from the clause before us.

The debate as a whole in another place strongly contradicted, and I would almost say refuted, the arguments of the Secretary of State when he opposed these amendments. The balance of the argument in another place must be thought to be in favour of our amendments. It is therefore right for us to insist on them. I feel sure that if we do insist on them, a message will go out not just to local authorities, to contractors and the disabled, as my noble friend Lord Basnett has said—that must be the case—but also to another place that independence of mind, independence of spirit, independence of a party Whip, which can sometimes be imposed without due regard to the strong feelings of individuals on the Government Benches, is something to be preserved and valued. I believe that if we insist on these amendments, a very large number, if not a majority, of Members of the House of Commons will feel that we have done a service to Parliament.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the difficulties that disabled people face raise strong passions in this House, and rightly so. There should not be any noble Lord who does not want to see them given every opportunity to live useful, productive lives, playing a full part in society. The noble Lord, Lord Basnett, has made a very effective speech appealing once more to our emotions, but we must not let those emotions lead us to accept any legislative change simply because its proponents claim that it will benefit disabled people.

I have to say that I was impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox who explained with clarity her concern for positively helping the disabled. These amendments were disagreed in another place on the grounds that they are at variance with the principle that local and other public authorities should not take account of non-commercial matters in the contractual process except where they are acting in pursuance of an existing statutory duty.

In a persuasive speech prior to the vote on the amendments on Report the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, claimed that by supporting his amendments your Lordships would be doing something for the disabled, whereas failure to support the amendments would be doing them a disservice. I regret to have to say that what has been said will, I believe, raise a false hope in some peoples' expectations.

Furthermore, some of your Lordships may have read a letter from the All Party Disablement Group which claimed that: the amendment would not allow local authorities to refuse contracts on the grounds that a prospective contractor does not encourage the employment of disabled people". However, that is precisely what the new clause does allow and why the Government are opposed to it. Again at our Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, claimed that his amendments involved no contract compliance and no extra-statutory enforcement rights. The noble Lord has claimed the same thing today. But that is precisely what they do involve.

The amendments allow authorities to take account of responses to questions about the code in the contractual process. The result is that local authorities would be allowed to ask questions of contractors about the non-commercial matters defined in Clause 17(5)(a), to take account of the answers, and if reasonably necessary to ensure that contractors have due regard to the Manpower Services Commission's Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People.

Now we must take the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, to its logical conclusion. It is that local authorities would then be able to refuse to do business with any firm whose interpretation of the non-statutory code did not accord with the authority's own view.

Like my noble friend Lady Blatch, I am sure that the whole House would not wish to see the disabled being used by local authorities for ulterior motives. The principle that it is wrong for local authorities to influence matters in this way was accepted by your Lordships in all other respects where the local authority has no statutory duty. I have no need to tell your Lordships yet again that some local authorities will go to extreme lengths to seek loopholes to enact their wishes. Suffice it to remind your Lordships that within hours of us discussing this at an earlier stage some local authorities took some very well publicised actions.

Even without the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, there is nothing to stop local authorities drawing the code of good practice to the attention of employers. I can assure the House that we should be delighted if they did so. But the code which was published by the Manpower Services Commission in 1984 at this Government's request was designed to promote good practice, as I am sure the noble Lord. Lord Winstanley, has been telling people throughout the country.

It is not a document against which the details of the employment practices of individual employers can be tested. It forms but a part of the substantial efforts made by this Government to promote not only equal opportunity policies by employers but also to provide a very wide range of assistance to those disabled people who need special help in getting work.

Last year under the general programmes of the Manpower Services Commission nearly 84,000 disabled people were placed in work and over 17,000 more were given sheltered employment. In the current year the MSC will be spending £133 million on programmes specifically set up to help disabled people. Of that, £87 million will go on sheltered employment, £22 million on employment rehabilitation, £15 million on resettlement services and almost £9 million on training at residential training colleges.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that this more than demonstrates the Government's commitment. But I can assure your Lordships that we are not complacent. That is why, as announced at Commons consideration, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is currently reviewing within his department the policies and programmes that he supports for disabled people in employment.

I can tell your Lordships that the Government will respond later in the year to the review recently undertaken by the National Advisory Council for the Employment of Disabled People on the Tomlinson principles and on the conclusions the PAC reaches on the examination undertaken by the National Audit Office of the quota arrangements and other programmes run for the benefit of people with disabilities.

In our earlier discussions I said that I had noted the concern of your Lordships on the workings of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 and the quota system. This was so well exemplified by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in his speeches both today and at earlier stages. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has also noted that concern and is acting upon it. Your Lordships' views will be most helpful in our consideration of these issues. I hope that the House will agree that this is a more positive response to the concern for the disabled expressed in this House than simply to amend a local government Bill to allow local authorities to use the contractual process in order to discriminate against certain companies.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the Minister surely does not think that it is a case of either/or? One can do both.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that the right way forward, as I have tried to explain, is the work that my right honourable friend is doing on this issue. This is where I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Basnett. His sincere belief that all the amendment does is enable local authorities to draw the code to the attention of contractors and point them in the direction of the relevant agencies if necessary becomes a false dawn for the disabled.

Lord Basnett

My Lords, I thank all your Lordships who have taken part in the debate. I think that it is an important debate. I say to the noble Earl that I have tried not to be emotional. I think that I identified the irrelevance of some of the Government's arguments, the weakness of others and the positive discrimination that will occur if these amendments are now withdrawn. There seem to me to be just a couple of things on which I need comment. I shall do so quickly.

First, there is the suggestion, which I find surprising because of the all-party support for this provision, that local authorities would use it for other political purposes. That is said without the support of any evidence whatever. What is true is that local authorities which have been acting on behalf of the disabled have in many cases produced the quota of 3 per cent. That is important. No evidence has been adduced to suggest that there was any political motive behind that. Indeed let me say that the Select Committee in another place praised the work of those local authorities. I think that that argument was to say the least unfortunate.

The second argument that I find disturbing is the argument that the Government will do something and that a review shall take place consisting—and the noble Earl has said this—of reviews which we already anticipated. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, says, it is not a case of either/or. One can and should do both because there is a real need for action in this area. This amendment is not, as has been said, just a modest amendment because it allows local authorities to ask questions of contractors about disabled people and then refer them to people who can do something about that. The local authorities will not advise the contractors and they will do nothing about this matter themselves.

However, I accept that your Lordships' concern for the disabled has been shown in debate after debate. I have seen that during the year that I have been in your Lordships' House. But I have also seen in that year the effect of the Social Security Bill on the disabled. I have also seen in that year the effect that could have occurred if an amendment had not been moved on training under the Training Commission in the Employment Bill. If these amendments are removed from this Bill, the wrong message will go out from this House. Let me repeat what I said at the end of my introduction. If we remove these amendments we send exactly the wrong message to contractors in local authorities; we shall send exactly the wrong message to local authorities; and we shall send exactly the wrong message to the disabled.

4.1 p.m.

On Question, That the House do insist on their amendments numbered 1 and 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 3?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 134; Not-Contents, 159.

Airedale, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Jacques, L.
Alport, L. Jay, L.
Amherst, E. Jeger, B.
Ardwick, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Attlee, E. Kearton, L.
Aylestone, L. Kilbracken, L.
Banks, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Basnett, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Blease, L. Lawrence, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Leatherland, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Listowel, E.
Bottomley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Briginshaw, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lockwood, B.
Buckmaster, V. Lovell-Davis, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. McCarthy, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Carter, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Carver, L. McNair, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mais, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Manchester, Bp.
Craigavon, V. Meston, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Milverton, L.
David, B. Mishcon, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Molloy, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Moyne, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mulley, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Nicol, B.
Edmund-Davies, L. Northfield, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ogmore, L.
Ezra, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Falkender, B. Oram, L.
Falkland, V. Parry, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Peston, L.
Fitt, L. Phillips, B.
Foot, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Gallacher, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Galpern, L.
Glenamara, L. Porritt, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Greenway, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Grey, E. Rea, L.
Grimond, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Hampton, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Rochester, Bp.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Sainsbury, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Seear, B.
Hirshfield, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hooson, L. Serota, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Shackleton, L.
Hughes, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Hunter of Newington, L. Shepherd, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Soper, L.
Hylton, L. Stallard, L.
Ilchester, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Ingleby, V. Stedman, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. White, B.
Taylor of Mansfield, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Thurlow, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Tordoff, L. [Teller.] Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Turner of Camden, B. Winstanley, L.
Underhill, L.
Ailesbury, M. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Hooper, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Ampthill, L. Iddesleigh, E.
Arran, E. Ironside, L.
Bauer, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Joseph, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Bellwin, L. Kemsley, V.
Beloff, L. Killearn, L.
Belstead, L. Kimball, L.
Bessborough, E. Kinnaird, L.
Blatch, B. Kintore, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lauderdale, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Layton, L.
Broxbourne, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Butterworth, L. Long, V.
Caccia, L. Lovat, L.
Caithness, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Luke, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Lurgan, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. McFadzean, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. McFadzean of Kelvinside, L.
Carnock, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Clinton, L. Margadale, L.
Coleraine, L. Marley, L.
Colnbrook, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Merrivale, L.
Cottlesoe, L. Mersey, V.
Cowley, E. Middleton, L.
Cox, B. Monk-Bretton, L.
Cranbrook, E. Morris, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mottistone, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Mowbray and Stourton, L.
De Freyne, L. Munster, E.
De L'Isle, V. Nelson, E.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Newall, L.
Derwent, L. Northbourne, L.
Donegall, M. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Dundee, E. Orkney, E.
Eccles, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Oxfuird, V.
Effingham, E. Pender, L.
Ellenborough, L. Polwarth, L.
Elles, B. Portsmouth, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Rankeillour, L.
Erne, E. Reay, L.
Erroll, E. Rees, L.
Faithfull, B. Renton, L.
Ferrers, E. Renwick, L.
Ferrier, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Forbes, L. Rochdale, V.
Fortescue, E. Rodney, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Gainford, L. St. Davids, V.
Goold, L. St. John of Fawsley, L.
Grantchester, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Haddington, E. Salisbury, M.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Hanson, L. Savile, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Sempill, Ly.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Sharples, B.
Harvington, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Havers, L. Slim, V.
Henley, L. Southborough, L.
Hertford, M. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Hesketh, L. Strange, B.
Hives, L. Strathclyde, L.
Holderness, L. Strathspey, L.
Sudeley, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Terrington, L. Weir, V.
Thomas of Gwydir, L. Westbury, L.
Trafford, L. Whitelaw, V.
Tranmire, L. Wigram, L.
Trefgarne, L. Wise, L.
Trumpington, B. Wolfson, L.
Ullswater, V. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Young of Graffham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.