Local and Other Public Authority Contracts: Exclusion of Non-Commercial Considerations

Orders of the Day — Local Government Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 9th March 1988.

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Lords amendment: No. 7, in 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),".

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Hon. Members will have noted that, apart from these two amendments, no substantive changes to the provisions of part II of the Bill were made in the other place. Their Lordships accepted the principle behind the provisions, as did this House, that local authorities should not be in the business of setting themselves up as extra-statutory enforcement agencies on matters which are already the subject of existing statute and which have, where appropriate, their own enforcement processes.

The position in relation to the Race Relations Act 1976 is quite different. In it, the local authorities are given a specific statutory role of enforcement, and this is acknowledged in the Bill in clause 18, where the local authorities may ask specific questions of contractors, and take into account the replies that they receive.

However, the statutes directly relating to the employment of the disabled are the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts of 1944 and 1958 which do not include such a role for local authorities. I shall give reasons why that is correct later. Their Lordships accepted, as did this House, the principle that local authorities should not assume the role of enforcing the provisions of those Acts, a role which rightfully belongs to the employment service of the Department of Employment.

What we are all seeking—their Lordships, this House and certainly the Government — are the best possible opportunities for the disabled to be able to gain employment. I would like to emphasise our total commitment to the principle that disabled people should have every opportunity to obtain useful and gainful employment. Our record on positive measures to help disabled people gain those opportunities is strong.

For example, last month sections 5 and 6 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 came into force. Those measures include a requirement to assess the needs of disabled school leavers, taking account of a range of services including education, vocational training and employment. We have also recognised that disabled people on income support should be able to earn more money without it affecting their benefit. and next month that disregarded sum will be increased from £4 to £15 per week.

In 1986–87 nearly 84,000 disabled people were placed in work through MSC general programmes, and over 17,000 disabled people were in sheltered employment. In 1987–88 the MSC will spend some £133 million on programmes specifically for the disabled, of which some £87 million will have been spent on sheltered employment. £22 million on employment rehabilitation;£15 million on resettlement services; and almost £9 million on training at residential training colleges.

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Nevertheless, it is clear that the other place felt strongly that more should be done to help disabled people with employment. There was concern about this in this House too before the Bill left here. The Government accept that they should respond to this clear feeling of both Houses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is announcing a review within his Department of the policies and programmes that he supports for disabled people in employment. The review will take account of the recently completed study by the National Advisory Council on Employment of Disabled People. It will also take account of the conclusions that the Public Accounts Committee reaches on the National Audit Office's examination of the quota arrangement and other arrangements made for the benefit of people with disabilities.

In the light of this, I hope that the House will be willing to accept that it would be appropriate for the amendments to be reversed.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Secretary of State may be coming on to this point. and I apologise for intervening if he is, but does he accept that what he has said so far relates only to national Government policy and to employment by central Government, whereas we are obviously concerned about local government employment policies and local government's ability to take on disabled people and employ then adequately?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Yes, I am coming to that, but if I do not satisfy the hon. Gentleman when I do come to it, I shall happily give way to him again.

If the amendments agreed in the other place were to be accepted, it is our belief that they would do nothing to further the interests of disabled people, but would in fact provide a possible means whereby local authorities could discriminate against contractors that they did not like for other reasons. Amendment 7 merely paves the way for the new clause introduced by amendment 8. That new clause empowers authorities to ask questions of potential contractors about the non-commercial matters set out in clause 17(5)(a), in order to ensure that contractors have due regard to the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice on the employment of disabled people.

When the amendments were debated in the other place, the argument in their defence was that there was no contract compliance requirement in the amendments; no extra-statutory enforcement rights; no compulsion for local authorities; and no interference with the efficiency of the companies concerned. Hon. Members will recognise that that is simply not the case. If the Bill was now to remain unamended as their Lordships have sent it to us, an authority could decide to refuse to do business with a particular company on the ground that, in the authority's view, the company did not have proper regard to this particular non-statutory advisory code. In our view, that is an open invitation to local authorities to exercise covert discrimination against contractors of whom they disapprove possibly for other reasons.

If all a local authority wishes to do—this was the expressed reason for the clause when moved in the other place — is bring the code of good practice to the attention of firms with which it is considering doing business, there is nothing in the Bill which prevents that. Indeed, that part of the new clause in amendment 8, which would allow authorities to refer prospective contractors to relevant agencies, is entirely superfluous. Nothing in the Bill stops authorities referring contractors to the employment service or the Manpower Services Commission — the relevant agencies — if they consider that contractors need advice or guidance on employment of disabled people.

Nor is there anything in the Bill to stop authorities calling together employers in their area to discuss ways in which the various recommendations and suggestions in the code of good practice can best be implemented. That sort of action seems far more relevant to local government, and indeed much more likely to have an effect on the local people whom local authorities exist to serve, than crude contract compliance measures applied to contractors in general. Many contractors will be supplying goods made in factories miles from the authority's area and some even overseas. No system of local enforcement regarding disabled employment is sensible when a national policy is essential, and that is what we have.

The amendments are not about local authorities dealing with employers in their area. They are not even concerned with authorities' own role as an employer of disabled people—in no sense affected by the amendments—or with the way in which the 1944 and 1958 Acts are observed. They are about giving local authorities the power to discriminate against certain firms by imposing their own views on how an advisory code of good practice should be observed, and refusing to do business with them if the authority does not agree with those firms' interpretation of the code. I do not believe that the amendments would result in any more jobs for disabled people. They would give the most intransigent of authorities a new weapon with which to discriminate against contractors in a subjective and non-commercial way.

It is at the heart of part II of the Bill to deny authorities the chance to do such things; and it would be very difficult to defend not extending the practice embodied in the amendments to other matters, such as sexual discrimination, nuclear-free zones, apartheid or anything else. We would have lost the logical distinction upon which the Bill is based.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Secretary of State explain the relevance of the amendments to the local authorities? If the amendments were accepted, they might not produce more employment for the disabled, but they certainly would not produce less. Indeed, they could result in more employment possibilities. The amendments would not have automatic consequences, but they would at least challenge local authorities and their contractors to consider whether they are doing enough. That is the great merit of the amendments and why they got all-party support in the other place.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I believe that the amendments could easily result in fewer jobs. The harassment of firms could result in them being unprepared to tender for a local authority contract. Therefore, the result could be possible employment losses and even job losses for the disabled.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the amendments are well-meaning, they might risk undermining the whole basis of the Bill — to stop political discrimination — and generally weaken Government policies that have resulted in an 80 per cent. increase, in real terms, in spending on the long-term sick and disabled?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

My hon. Friend has summarised the case that I put at greater length. We have tried to recognise the concern felt by hon. Members and the Lords that more could be done for the disabled. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has introduced a new intitiative to find ways to help the disabled nationally. I believe that such help is better given nationally rather than through patchy and sometimes unhelpful attempts to use contract compliance for that purpose.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I support the Lords amendment. I was amazed by the Secretary of State's defence of the present position. First, he went through a long catalogue citing the so-called generosity of the Government towards disabled people. The disabled people in my constituency do not find the Government very generous.

The right hon. Gentleman has hinted that the Secretary of State for Employment will undertake a national review of disabled people's ability to get jobs. Why has the Secretary of State for Employment not done that before? Why has he waited all this time? I am sure that that question will not be lost on disabled people.

The Secretary of State for the Environment has suggested that the Lords amendment may allow local authorities to threaten contractors. What we are discussing is opening up opportunities for disabled people. If nothing else, the Lords amendment helps to raise the awareness of contractors, which is at the heart of the matter, to their obligations and to the common decency of allowing disabled people greater opportunities in the job market.

The Lords amendment is not strong. It merely allows local authorities to draw contractors' attention to the code of practice on the employment of disabled people, to consider their employment policies in the light of that code and to enable the authority to refer them to the local disablement advisory service. There is nothing earth-shattering about that. There is no provision in the amendment that would allow a local authority to refuse a contract if it considered that the contractor was not complying with the code.

Employment quotas, as set out in the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, are also excluded from the amendment. In short, the amendment is limited, but it is extremely important. It puts a marker down to ensure that local authorities and contractors who submit tenders should consider closely the needs of disabled people in the community. If we pass the amendment, it would provide an extra encouragement — not a statutory duty — to employers to employ disabled people and reduce discrimination against their employment.

It is unbelievable that the Government are contemplating the removal of the amendment, especially when we are aware that an increasing number of employers are failing to meet the disabled employment quotas, and therefore their legal obligations under the 1944 Act. In 1986, only 27 per cent. of employers carried out their legal obligations. Unemployment among disabled people is double the rate among their peers—for some disabled groups the difference is even greater.

In such circumstances, given the emotional implications for the disabled, their economic dignity and well-being, it is nothing less than a disgrace that the Government should seek to change the law not only to outlaw practices that are presently lawful, but also to seek to throw out an amendment that attempts to encourage employers to meet existing legal obligations and encourages compliance with a voluntary—I stress that word—code of practice. That code of practice was launched in 1984 with the support of the Prime Minister, the CBI, the TUC, the Institute of Personnel Management, Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the all-party disablement group of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is joint chairman. That code of practice encouraged employers to establish a written policy for the employment of disabled people and the rehabilitation of those who had become disabled.

Throughout what has passed for a debate on this subject and on sex discrimination, the Government have monotonously repeated that they accepted, reluctantly, racial equality as part of contract compliance because, tinder section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, local councils already had an existing statutory duty to act thus. However, by the same token the Government would not accept that disabled people or women should be included in the Bill because there was no equivalent to section 71 that related to them.

Yesterday, the Equal Opportunities Commission published the report that it has sent to the Home Secretary regarding the urgent reforms that are needed to our sex equality legislation. It has recommended contract compliance. The report is addressed to the Home Secretary and I do not know whether the Secretary of State for the Environment has received a copy. I have a copy with me today. It was sent to me this morning and it makes very good reading. It pleads with the Government to introduce contract compliance as a statutory duty on all local authorities, health authorities and other public bodies.

I understand that the Government said that if the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended contract compliance, they would consider it. There could be no better time than now — during the week of international women's day—for the Minister to honour his assurances to the Equal Opportunities Commission and to the women of this country on this matter and to bring forward an amendment in line with what is proposed in "Equal Treatment for Men and Women — Strengthening the Acts."

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It is ironic that last week the Government announced their intention to bring forward a Bill later this year to introduce contract compliance—the very same policy — in Northern Ireland. The Government hardly bother any longer to deny that their actions in Northern Ireland are being prompted by strong pressure from the United States, where a campaign to boycott investment, or even to encourage disinvestment, has been gaining ground because of persistent discrimination against the Catholic minority. The introduction of contract compliance in Northern Ireland is meant to head off that pressure.

I appeal to the House to consider what message we shall be sending out to people with disabilities and to women if we reject the Lords amendment. It is invidious and highly divisive to appear to be elevating one form of discrimination above another. The Government have been shown today to be hiding behind empty formalism to cover their opposition to contract compliance — and even to voluntary codes of practice — to improve opportunities for disabled people and for women, and we shall never forget their actions on these issues.

Contract compliance has shown its tremendous value to women in the United States. It has been welcomed in this country by a great many people, including the Institute of Personnel Management, which sees it as a valuable mechanism for spreading good and more professional codes of practice.

Baroness Platt of Writtle, who chairs the Equal Opportunities Commission, is not, I may say, a supporter of the Labour party—far from it. She said of the Bill: Because local authorities will have the power to impose requirements and ask questions about issues of racial discrimination but not sex discrimination, their customers will inevitably concentrate on the former to the exclusion of the latter. This would be a most retrograde development, given the very serious problems of discrimination against women that still need to be tackled. It could seriously prejudice the position of women". That comes not from a Labour peer but from Baroness Platt, who is a Conservative.

We commend the amendments to the House. We welcome the initiative on Northern Ireland, and we want the Government to act even-handedly. If they are introducing contract compliance in one form in Northern Ireland, they should introduce it in this other form on the mainland. We shall reserve judgment on the question of ethnic minorities until we see what comes of the Secretary of State's list of questions. We urge the Government to think again about the totally incomprehensible exclusion of people with disabilities and of women from the Bill. We shall oppose the Government and support the House of Lords. I know that my hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobby, as, I hope, will those Conservative Members who believe that people with disabilities need the maximum encouragement and support and that those of us who do not share their problems should be constantly aware of them nevertheless. I hope that for once we might defeat the Government.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind the House that the amendments deal specifically with the disabled and not with women.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

As a long-time member of the all-party disablement group, I am naturally interested in the amendments. I was intrigued when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out that these are the only two substantive amendments that their Lordships suggested to this part of the Bill. I should have thought that that would give added weight to them.

When I first read the amendments, they seemed likely to help disabled people who are seeking employment. All of us must know that disabled people, once employed, are diligent and valuable employees—probably the best on the payroll—but that it is far from easy from them to get the job in the first instance. It seemed to me that the amendments might help disabled people, and I therefore proposed positively to support them. However, I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend said and was interested to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is to bring forward a review of policies for the disabled. I cannot bring myself to vote with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I am seriously considering abstaining, because I feel that he gave a very good explanation of his reasons for opposing the amendments.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was absolutely right in her initial decision fully to support the amendments. She is wrong to say now that she will abstain. She should have sufficient courage, as many of us have done over the years, to vote against the Government whom she supports if she thinks they are wrong. She accepts the assurance that the Government will bring forward proposals in the future, and perhaps they will. However, this is here and now and she should support the amendments on that basis. The amendments will do something positive at this moment, so why wait for proposals to emerge in the distant future which, knowing this Government, will get more and more distant? Why not give the benefit of the doubt to the amendment No. 7, which is extremely good?

I can understand the Government's being vindictive in relation to contract compliance when it comes to whether an employee should or should not be a trade unionist. I can understand it when they say, "You cannot seek contract compliance in relation to those who deal with regimes pursuing policies of apartheid." I can understand that, because that is the Government's nature, and such decisions are perfectly acceptable from their point of view. However, I find it difficult to understand why they should be vindictive to the disabled, which is what their attitude amounts to. I suppose that I know the real reason: their friends may find that their profit margins will be down a little if they have to employ some disabled people.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

That is an absolute insult to disabled people. Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heifer:

No. If the hon. Lady will not join us in the Lobby, I am not giving way.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

It is not an insult. It is my view of the Government's attitude, based on the bitter experience that we have had since they came to power nine years ago. They put profits before the interests of ordinary people and concern themselves only with their friends in the City of London and those who make profits at the expense of the mass of the people. That is what is behind the clause. It is disgraceful that the Government are not prepared to give the amendment their support. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench are prepared to do so.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

A number of us spend much of our time dealing with disabled people, including the hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and myself. We have discussed this issue at a meeting of the all-party disablement group and there is a difference of opinion between us that will probably emerge during the debate.

The Secretary of State was ill advised to speak of the Government's record of helping disabled people. He was on extremely weak ground. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. He was not in the House yesterday when the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled was condemned for failing fully to implement that Act. That is a failure by the Government. The Secretary of State mentioned what the Government had done in terms of income support. Practically everyone who is involved with disablement is concerned about the Government's failure to provide adequately for disabled people under that head. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the jobs that have been found for disabled people under the general programme of the Manpower Services Commission. He did not mention the thousands who have not been helped through that programme. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong to speak of the Government's successes in this area.

I am amazed that the Secretary of State should be opposed to the amendment. It is incredible that he should object to it. The proposed clause would be helpful to disabled people and damaging to no one. It reflects badly on the Government that they have chosen to bring their full force against the amendment and to make clear their determination to oppose it.

What is it in the clause that is terrifying the Secretary of State? It provides that local authorities will be able to refer contractors which have not adopted the recommendations of the code of practice on the employment of disabled people to the disablement advisory service. It would allow — not force — local authorities to ask questions about a company's policy on the employment of disabled people. What is wrong with that? Surely it would be a great step forward. Companies that did not have a policy could be referred to the DAS, and it would then be for the DAS to decide how best to proceed.

This simple measure would help us to ensure that good practice is promoted, and it would advance the excellent work of the DAS. No one is opposed to the code of good practice. The Prime Minister has stated: employing disabled people makes good business sense. I was present when the right hon. Lady launched the code of good practice. It was a happy occasion. We were all together, including the hon. Member for Exeter, who does so much for disabled people. Everyone supports the code, and I and others are seeking merely to draw attention to it.

If local authorities are willing to help with encouraging contractors to utilise disabled people's skills, and to retain staff who become disabled, they should be permitted to do so. No one would lose by contractors having the expert advice of the DAS brought to their attention. At the same time, disabled people would gain.

However fine the code may be, and however distinguished the members of the DAS may be, no one would claim that it is getting the support or the results that it deserves. A common attitude among far too many employers is, "The code is fine but it has nothing to do with me, thank you very much."

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Some companies adopt the code but far too many do not. What do we do about the companies which do not? The relative failure is effectively measured by the statistic that shows that many disabled people are unable to gain employment. The level of unemployment among the disabled is twice that of the unemployment among the able-bodied. That is the official figure, which we can take with a pinch of salt. Suffice to say that a far greater proportion of disabled than able-bodied people are unemployed.

A major cause of the unemployment of disabled people is prejudice. It is vicious, bitter, vindictive, unpleasant and unacceptable prejudice. The disabled are rejected by employers who do not want to know. I know many disabled people who apply for jobs. If they are honest enough or naive enough to mention their disability on the application form, they will not even be seen. I know some disabled people who have made over 100 applications for jobs. They are not even granted an interview when they mention their disability. More effort should be made in promoting the code of practice.

Local authorities are an important weapon in the armoury for promoting the code, and the proposed clause will enhance their effectiveness. The Government argue that the proposed clause is superfluous and that local authorities will be able without it to promote good employment practices in their own areas. I believe that the clause would provide an important instrument for local authorities to acquire information that would enable them to know which employers should be referred to the DAS. It would be an easy, cheap and cost-effective procedure.

The Minister in the other place said that this aspect of the clause was superfluous. He claimed that local authorities could refer companies to relevant agencies in any event. Unfortunately, he missed the point. It is crucial that we should know which companies to refer. If local authorities sought to obtain that knowledge through general surveys, the Government would be quick to condemn them for wasting resources. They would argue that that was not the job of local authorities. The Government cannot have it both ways.

The Government suggest that local authorities will be able to discriminate against contractors during the tendering process by using their response to questions to decide who receives a contract. That is not the intention of the proposed clause. The Secretary of State should take that on board. I spoke to Lord Basnett this morning—it is his amendment—and he confirmed that that is not the intention of the proposed clause. Instead, it would allow a basic question to be asked: "Have you adopted the recommendation of the code of practice on the employment of disabled people?" A negative response would mean that the contractor could be referred to the DAS. The amendment would not allow contracts to be withheld. It would not give local authorities extra statutory powers and duties.

I would favour an amendment that permitted discrimination against companies that did not play fair with disabled people. I am all in favour of that sort of discrimination. I would be prepared to hit contractors very hard if they discriminated against disabled people. It is discrimination that causes distress, anxiety, suffering, poverty and despair. I would deny contracts to such companies. I make no bones about that. If I could persuade local authorities to deny them contracts, I would do all in my power to ensure that that happened. The Secretary of State should recognise that the clause does not do that. It is very limited. All the clause proposes is to help to promote good practice. If the Secretary of State found that there were technical problems, he could easily change it.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

For the sake of fact, may I point out that local authorities are enabled to disallow a contractor if they are not satisfied with him? In other parts of the Bill there are powers for them to take that decision. If the new clause were in the Bill, it could be a defence against the district audit questioning why a local authority had not gone to the lowest tenderer. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He does not realise the effect that the amendment would have.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

The Secretary of State is trying to say that, if this small amendment was agreed, as I hope it will be, local authorities, whom I thought he trusted as responsible people elected by the electorate, would use it as a trigger to do something illegal. That is a very poor interpretation of the responsibility of local authorities. I believe that they would interpret the clause in the spirit which Lord Basnett intended—that is, to draw the attention of employers to the code of practice. It would encourage them to do that. The Secretary of State does not understand the proposed new clause. He has misinterpreted it. He is misleading the House. He should accept that it would be in the interests of disabled people.

I have spoken long enough. If the Secretary of State insists on rejecting the clause, he will show that dogma is more important to the Government than helping disabled people. The clause has no drastic implications and would not alter Government policy towards local government. It would encourage efficiency and would help employers to develop good employment practices. It would help disabled people and would give them hope. It would lead to them getting more jobs. It is absurd for the Secretary of State to say that it would lead to disabled people getting fewer jobs. That is standing the truth on its head. I hope that the House will speak clearly tonight. I hope that Conservative Members will join us in the Lobby and give fresh hope to disabled people.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

My right hon. Friend will know that the Lords amendment which he is asking us to reject is supported by a wide range of voluntary organisations representing the disabled and by the all-party disablement group. Therefore, it is rather more of a cross-party issue than we are accustomed to.

The amendment represents a genuine attempt to advance the cause of disabled people in the vital employment sphere. Over the years I and colleagues on both sides of the House, working within the all-party disablement group, have secured the support of the Government for small but important amendments to diverse pieces of legislation. We have done this to remove discrimination or to remove obstacles which are placed in the path of disabled people trying to pursue normal lives.

We all know that the disabled desperately want to work and to live normal lives. They make very good employees, as other hon. Members have pointed out. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the best description in 1984 when she said: 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. I could not find a better description for employers thinking of taking on disabled workers.

The sad thing is that, despite the quota system and all the other measures which have been adopted over recent years, the level of disabled unemployment is double the rate for able-bodied people. The Lords amendment, as I read it, is designed to draw the attention of contractors to the recommendations which are put forward in the Government's own code of good practice on the employment of disabled people. The amendment seeks to get local authorities to refer contractors who have not adopted the recommendations to the Disablement Advisory Service.

The question which we face is whether the Lords amendment gives local authorities a power of any sort to force contractors into contract compliance or to interfere in their efficiency, and whether that works against the principle of part II of the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for writing to me about this. My right hon. Friend has explained the Department's view, which is that the amendment would in some way give powers to local authorities to interfere in normal business practice. I find that hard to believe, just as I find it hard to accept the other point which my right hon. Friend made, that we can leave things exactly as they are because local authorities can carry this out anyway. According to my right hon. Friend, they can advise firms which are putting forward tenders for contracts to get in touch with the Disablement Advisory Service or with any other body. I do not accept that that stands up to examination.

It is only a few years since we secured an amendment to the companies legislation to require a company in its annual report to make a direct statement about what it was doing for its disabled employees and for disabled people. One could adopt the same argument as my right hon. Friend and say that we did not need that because companies could always put something in their reports about what they were doing for disabled people. In fact, Parliament judged that it was necessary to do more than that.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), I cannot go into the Division Lobby against the Lords amendment. I accept my right hon.

Friend's assurance that he has been working extremely hard, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, on bringing forward a new programme for disabled employment. I welcome that assurance deeply. I can only stress how vital it is to develop a new and more effective strategy for the employment of disabled people. The position is not good. The quota system is not being enforced and too many disabled people are out of work.

I look forward to the initiative which my right hon. Friend has promised, but today I must declare my support for this small voluntary step towards good practice. I cannot go into the Lobby to vote for the rejection of the Lords amendment.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarfon

I too support the Lords amendment and thank Lord Basnett and his colleagues for the all-party support in the Lords for this important change to the Bill, which would help disabled people if it were enacted. Like other hon. Members I am disappointed at the attitude of the Government Front Bench. Some Government Departments have had an honourable and progressive approach towards disability. I am afraid that the attitude of the Secretary of State confirms that the Department of the Environment regrettably is at the back of the queue when it comes to making progress for disabled people. We have seen that before and we see it again today.

The reality is that discrimination against disabled people exists in employment. We had this argument three or four years ago when the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) introduced an antidiscrimination Bill. Mr. Donald Stewart, who then represented the Western Isles, also brought forward a Bill. We were assured that other steps were being taken, as we have been assured today that other steps are being taken. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned what we heard in the Chamber yesterday, that assurances given two years ago about the carrying out of the provisions of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 are still subject to negotiation with local authorities.

Two years have gone by and we are still no nearer getting some of those provisions brought into force. I welcome any discussion which is taking place and any progress on improving the position under the quota scheme, to which the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) referred and which is completely inadequate. Some of the provisions have not been enacted. We have an opportunity with the Lords amendment to do something now. Although this is a very modest provision, we have the opportunity to do something which has already been done. All we have to do is to desist from undoing what has been done in another place. Goodness me, I cannot see the Government's justification for taking this line. If we disagree with the amendment, we shall be putting the interests of disabled people second to the interests of a totally unfettered, free market economy. There are times when a Government, even this Government, must strike a balance.

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Instances of discrimination still come to our attention. Only a few weeks ago in my constituency surgery I learned of a case of blatant discrimination. An employer said that disabled people need not apply for a vacancy. For that to happen in this day and age, and for the Government not to support even the modest provision in the Lords amendment, underlines the need for us to take more draconian powers. We should seek an anti-discrimination Bill which will deal with this question in the context of employment and in a number of other areas as well. People would then be aware that they cannot get away with the kind of stipulation that occurred in my constituency.

My colleagues and I have received representations from many bodies about Lords amendment No. 7. I am involved with disability matters in a number of ways. I am the president of the Spastics Society in Wales. The Spastics Society wrote to me from its headquarters in London about the amendment stating: Research by The Spastics Society shows that disabled people suffer unjustifiable discrimination in the labour market. The clause is a modest proposal to ensure that good practice is actively encouraged in this important area. We see it as entirely appropriate that the Government's policy should be promoted in an attempt to ensure disabled people have the same opportunities as their abled-bodied counterparts. It is difficult to understand why the Government would not want to see its own policy and the work of its Departments supported in this way. Disabled people trying to find work will also feel let down if this support is withdrawn from their attempts. I put these views formally on the record on behalf of the Spastics Society.

Hon. Members will have received similar representations. Organisations making those representations understand the difficulties facing disabled people in work. We should heed those representations. I have also received representations from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. It states: The RNIB supports the clause, which would help the employment prospects of visually handicapped people seeking work. They have to compete on unequal terms in the labour market, in an era when the industrial base of the economy, the area in which the majority of visually handicapped people have historically found jobs, has contracted considerably. During the last decade there has been a dramatic fall in the number of visually handicapped people getting jobs in the blue collar sector, and sheltered employment has not taken up the slack … 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. Lord Basnett's clause would achieve this. Obviously, the RNIB feels as strongly as the Spastics Society on this matter.

The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the umbrella organisation that pulls together on behalf of numerous disability organisations, has also made representations to all members of the all-party disablement group. This matter cuts across party lines. It states: The amendment will not prevent contracts being awarded, but allows local authorities to refer those companies who have not adopted the Code's recommendations to the Department of Employment's Disablement Advisory Service so that they may obtain information on how to improve their policies; nor will it allow contracts to be withheld, but will enable local authorities to ask for information which can be passed on to those responsible for promoting the Code of Good Practice. In this respect the amendment also complements existing Government policy which supports the Code. The CBI, TUC, RADAR and other voluntary organisations also support the Code of Good Practice. I know that the Secretary of State has said that taken together with another part of the Bill the amendment could create an excuse for local authorities to discriminate against companies that are not willing to go along with the requirements. If local authorities discriminate unfairly against those companies, that could be actionable. If they discriminate on the basis of a policy against disabled people, that is completely justifiable discrimination and I would strongly uphold that. However, the benefits that could arise from having a checklist are more important than the occurrence of a handful or one or two difficult cases. A formal checklist would act as a formal requirement to nudge and remind companies of the need to take that matter into consideration.

I do not believe that the provision will put the world right overnight, but by having a checklist approach—which is not a straitjacket, but an enabling measure—we shall ensure that local authorities that are so minded will have powers to create a checklist and companies seeking tender contracts will be aware that they must take such consideration on board. The proposal is a gentle shove in the right direction. It could be of tremendous benefit to many disabled people. It could also possibly avoid much more fundamental legislation in future. If the Government oppose this modest proposal, I have no doubt that the House must press for something very much more radical.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I rise to support Lords amendment No. 7. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier. I had been given a very pressing green card from a delegation of Royal College of Nursing members from my constituency. I had to use my discretion and make a very difficult choice between listening to my right hon. Friend and seeing Mr. Tony Atkins and my constituents from Leicester who are members of the RCN. I had a very fruitful and rewarding discussion with Mr. Atkins. However, I am placed in a very difficult position because I did not hear my right hon. Friend. If I had heard him, I am sure that I would have found his comments fruitful and rewarding. However, because I did not hear him, I can only state that I have the gravest reservations about rejecting the Lords amendment.

I listened to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). He made his comments with great emphasis, in his usual way. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) elaborated the virtues of the new clause very well.

As I read the amendment, it will allow local authorities to continue to ask questions of prospective contractors, but it would not allow local authorities to refuse contracts on the grounds that a prospective contractor did not encourage the employment of disabled people. It would allow local authorities to promote the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice on the employment of disabled people.

I do not believe that the new clause is very binding. It would not direct—"direct" is too strong a word—local authorities; rather it would guide them on a code of good behaviour towards their dealings with disabled people. Tributes have been paid to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter for their fine work for the parliamentary disablement group. I want to add to those tributes. Quite rightly, we must recognise that discrimination on grounds of sex or colour is properly banned by law. I am not in favour of banning discrimination of the disabled by law. However, I feel so strongly about it that I would like to see legislation enacted that would make discrimination act for the disabled.

A disabled person is a bargain in the labour market. He is conscientious, keen, unfailingly loyal and hardworking. Perhaps at some time in the future when we are discussing disablement we can introduce legislation requiring employers — the Crown, local authorities or private companies — to discriminate in favour of disabled people. It would be good for disabled people, and certainly for those lucky enough to employ them.

Although I shall listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend says to try to persuade me to support his case against the new clause, at the moment I am fully inclined to support it.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

In this relatively short debate, it appears that no one except the Secretary of State is to speak in favour of the Government's line. That, surely, should make the Secretary of State think again about whether he is right in deciding that the amendment should be rejected. Certainly, I shall not accept his advice.

Lord Basnett's amendment is a modest but important improvement to the Bill. No doubt Lord Basnett tabled it in this modest form because he knew that if he went too far he would not persuade the other place to accept it, and he wanted to go as far as he could while still standing a chance of success. I am also fairly certain that he was bearing in mind the vast experience that he had gained over many years in the trade union movement, representing workers not only in local government but in a wide range of industries. He recognised that at present, despite quota systems and other efforts to ensure that disabled people have fair opportunity of employment, they have no such opportunity. We too must face up to that fact.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) made it clear that some disabled people, when applying for jobs, are tempted either to omit any reference to their disability on the application form, or to deny it. It is regrettable that they are forced to act in that way, but, as most hon. Members will know, it sometimes happens. Employers often disregard disabled applicants even when the disability has no reference to the job for which they are applying, which is very sad.

Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) recommended more positive discrimination in favour of the disabled, and I see the case for that. It is regrettable that we should sometimes have to legislate to ensure discrimination in favour of the disabled, or any other category who might otherwise be discriminated against, but sometimes it is the only way to ensure that they receive the fair treatment to which they are entitled.

5.45 pm

As I have said, this is a modest amendment, and there is no reason why the Government should reject it. It in no way destroys the principle of the Bill. The Secretary of State knows that Opposition Members are strongly opposed to that principle, but the amendment will merely give disabled people a fair opportunity of consideration by employers.

I thought it outrageous of the Secretary of State to suggest in his opening speech — I assume that I understand him correctly—that some local authorities might not disbar contractors purely because they were not giving disabled people a proper opportunity of employment, but might use that as an excuse to disbar them for other reasons. That is entirely wrong, and shows how the Secretary of State misjudges local authorities on every possible occasion. He seems to feel that their motivation must always be questioned by him and by other Ministers.

The amendment is moving in the right direction, and I feel that the Secretary of State should reconsider his advice. Even if he is not prepared to do so, however, I hope that other Conservative Members will join us in the Aye Lobby.

When the amendment was approved in the other place, it was widely acclaimed in the national press as an improvement to the Bill. It has also been welcomed by many voluntary organisations closely connected with the disabled. Those are further reasons for the Government to think again, and to accept this improvement to the Bill.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn

Before I came to the House, I had the good fortune to be a member of Glasgow district council, and a full-time union officer. From time to time, I had to represent disabled members.

The Secretary of State would be the first to condemn any local authority that did not pay due regard to the fact that disabled people must be employed. Surely, therefore, it is fitting that local authorities should establish what contractors are doing about employing them. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are not talking about a window cleaner who may be contracted by the local authority to clean 20 or 30 windows. I was once a member of the finance committee of Glasgow district council. Prices have risen since I left, but we were then handing out contracts of over £1 million. In some instances the contracts awarded in one day exceeded £2 million. That is a lot of labour, and in many cases it is the big employers who are receiving the contracts.

It is only natural that local authorities should be entitled to ask contractors who are employing several hundred men and women what quotas they have for the employment of disabled people, and how those employees are being treated. I do not think that it is enough for an employer simply to say how many disabled people he employs; steps must be taken to ensure that they are not exploited. In many cases, they are exploited: there are no two ways about it.

The other local authority that covers my constituency is Strathclyde, which looks after the needs of 2·5 million people. It can give out contracts for water reservoirs, large civil engineering contracts and motorway contracts. I often hear the Secretary of State talk as if contractors were being bullied by local authorities which have all the power. That is nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman knows anything about local authorities and contractors, he will know that there is often a dialogue going on on a weekly basis. Some of those companies are employing people—call them PR people, or whatever—whose job is simply to keep in touch with local councils. They have not been bullied; far from it. They know their way around the town halls, and they know who to talk to. If it is put into legislation that regard has to be given to the care of the disabled, I am sure that contractors will ensure that they inform their companies that the legislation has to be adhered to.

The Secretary of State said that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be involved in a review. He said that everything is all right because the Government have a good record on looking after the disabled. Since becoming a Member of the House I have served on almost every Committee where the Government have sought to destroy the labour and trades union legislation introduced by the Labour Government. They have weakened the unfair dismissal tribunals and done away with schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975. One of their most recent acts was to abolish the wages councils. All of those actions have affected the disabled. It has meant that the disabled in our society and in the work force — those who have been fortunate enough to find a job—can be exploited.

I hope that the Secretary of State will tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that it is not only within private industry that the disabled are not being too well looked after. As I have said, I was a full-time officer representing public employees and I often had to defend those employees against Government employers. For example, sometimes people in the Health Service were treated shamefully because those in charge did not pay due regard to legislation. I put it to the Secretary of State that he should look at what sometimes happens in some Government Departments and in agencies such as the Health Service, which work directly for the Government. I accept that 90 per cent. of the time those Departments and agencies are excellent employers. However, there is evidence to prove that disabled employees are not being looked after and that their rights under legislation are not being exercised properly.

In spite of what I have said about bad employers, there are many good employers in the private sector and the public sector. If any review is to be held, it is within the wit of the officials serving the Secretary of State to find those good employers and to discover how they can be good employers for the disabled. They should try to get them to give evidence to the review body so that we can ensure that people are looked after properly.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is clear that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) was correct. So far, the only supporter of the proposal to delete the Lords amendment has been the Secretary of State. Three Conservative Members, four Labour Members, one representative of Plaid Cymru and myself have all asked that he change his mind. It is a hit shameful that the only two proposals on the Amendment Paper in the name of the Secretary of State which suggest that we should not agree with the Lords are in relation to this proposal. The all-party view expressed in the other place, the view expressed by the all-party committee on the disabled in this place and the view expressed in all the contributions to this debate has had no effect. We have said to the Secretary of State, "Please think again. You are misjudging the mood of Parliament across the parties by seeking to amend what the other place has done." The more one looks at the Lords amendment, the more circumscribed one sees that it is. It simply says that nothing shall preclude a local authority from asking questions and from referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies if that information is necessary in order to ensure that the contractors have proper regard to the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice in relation to the employment of the disabled.

The Secretary of State admitted that that does not mean that there has to be a duty on a local authority to employ a certain number of people. That does not follow. There is a duty to address the issue, to ask questions and to challenge what may he a failure to meet the needs of the disabled. That is the limit of the amendment. Presumably, that is why it was passed, against the wishes of the Government, in the other place.

The Secretary of State may hold the view that the amendment could prejudice the employment of disabled people. However, the advice of many agencies and charities is that the probability is that it will improve prospects for disabled people. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and other hon. Members have said the same thing.

I had occasion last year to interview for a job somebody who was disabled by blindness. In the end, for various reasons, I selected somebody else. However, I then took up with the Officers of the House what we do as a corporate body to ensure that we employ adequate numbers of disabled people arid to see whether we do our duty. I was given a perfectly courteous reply through the good offices of the Serjeant at Arms and those responsible for the employment of staff. I was told that we seek to ensure that sufficient numbers of disabled people are employed. That prompting resulted in a specific meeting to consider whether we should be better able to employ blind people or other disabled people in the House. I do not pretend that that meeting would not have taken place in time. However, it was not billed to happen. By asking some questions about the employment of disabled people, particularly the blind, the officials of the House looked again at current practice. That is what this amendment is seeking to do. It is simply to encourage people to look again at their practice.

I should like to refer the Secretary of State to the fact that he and his colleagues conceded that principle during the passage of the Local Government Bill in relation to the Race Relations Act 1975. He will remember that when the Bill was originally presented to Parliament last summer, clause 18 did not exist in its present form. The title of clause 18 is "Race relations matters". We had a debate in Committee in which the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) argued that in the matter of race relations people should be allowed to ask approved questions. The Minister for Local Government, quite properly, accepted the principle in relation to the employment of individuals from ethnic minority communities and accepted the need to ensure that the practices in operation did not conflict with race relations legislation. The Bill came back on Report with an appropriate amendment. By the time the Bill went to the other place we had built in a provision so that people with non-white skins in Britain will be employed fairly and without discrimination.

The Secretary of State has accepted that there can be compromise on this issue and that is why I am not making a ranting or shouting speech. I am asking in a reasonable and, I hope, proper way for him to do for disabled people what he has done for people from ethnic minority communities. It is clear that there is universal support for what the other place did. I ask the Secretary of State to think again and to say that the Government are prepared to hear the argument and recognise the strength of feeling about this matter and change their minds at this late stage.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly to the points that have been made, although I made a lengthy speech earlier that contained the main arguments that the Government have advanced.

In case the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) missed it, I shall repeat the point that I made earlier. There is a clause about race relations because a specific statutory duty is laid on local authorities by the parent statute, which is quite different from the case of disabled employment. Indeed, there was a clause on race relations in the Bill when it was first published. We have consistently said that where a local authority is already an enforcement agent that should be reflected in the Bill, but, where it is not, it should not.

I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) for their helpful and constructive speeches as well as for the work that they do for the all-party disablement group, which I very much admire. To have to make up their minds about this amendment puts them in a difficult position as they are normally supporters of the Government. Perhaps the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster is prepared to abstain means that what I had to say earlier caused her to see that this is not the best way to achieve the results that the House wants. The initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to review employment for disabled people will prove to be a better way forward.

6 pm

Having listened to the debate carefully, there appear to be two misconceptions about what the Lords amendments would achieve and what they mean. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Richardson) went off on to the subject of women. I would be out of order if I were to discuss that matter under this amendment—[Interruption.] It would be perfectly in order to discuss disabled women, but not discrimination against women as such. However, I do not intend to discuss this whether it is in order or not.

The hon. Member for Barking said that if the clause remained in the Bill a local authority would not be able to refuse a contract simply on the ground of the disablement employment policies of a contractor. As I pointed out to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), that is not the case, because no local authority is bound to accept any tender. However, if it fails to accept what is clearly the lowest and best tender, it must give good reason for so doing publicly, first, to the district auditor and, secondly, to its ratepayers, who have every right to supervise its decisions in such matters. It would not be possible to refuse a contractor's tender because of his disablement employment record and at the same time get it past the district auditor. If this clause were in the Bill, that would be a perfectly valid reason for refusing a tender from such a contractor.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) gave the game away. He said that if authorities were to be subjective and not objective in interpreting a firm's use of the code and its compliance with it, it would be actionable if they made an ill-judged response. Yes, it would be, without the clause, but it would not be with the clause. The new clause says: Nothing ߪ shall preclude a local authority from—(a) asking questions or seeking information relating to work force matters and considering responses to them or ߪ consideration of the information is reasonably necessary to ensure". The words "is reasonably necessary" will fall within the judgment of the local authority. If the local authority's judgment were that it should not award a contract because of the disablement employment policies of a contractor, the result would be that that decision would be proof against challenge. That is why the hon. Gentleman was wrong in his interpretation.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarfon

Did not the Secretary of State rest his case on the slightly different premise that a local authority would be using this as an excuse and not as a reason and might have some other motivation at the back of its mind? If we accept that local authorities are working in a bonafide fashion, would the Secretary of State accept that it is not unreasonable for them to bear this in mind in deciding how a contract is determined?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

They may be wrong because they may have misjudged a contractor's compliance. He may be the best complier in the world, but if the local authority gets it wrong he will have no redress. Local authorities may use the disablement employment excuse when they have other reasons in mind. That is why I do not believe that the main result of the clause will be to help disabled people. It will give local authorities a subjective method of discriminating against contractors on spurious grounds.

The second theme of the debate was, "What is wrong with new clause 18(b)?" Clause 18 (b) relates to referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies. As I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with that. Any local authority may refer an employer to the Disablement Advisory Service and may call meetings of local employers to discuss their practices. If a local authority is still not happy, it can bring in the MSC or the Disablement Advisory Service. That is possible at present and will remain so. It is unnecessary, therefore, to incorporate it into the legislation. It does not achieve anything that is not already in the legislation. The distinction is between local authorities doing what is perfectly right and proper and deciding on the award of tenders on their subjective judgment as to whether a contractor complies with the code of practice.

Those are the misunderstandings that arose, and I believe that we will help more disabled people into employment by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment suggested than the amendment could ever hope to achieve.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that the clause was vindictive towards disabled people. I do not believe that that is remotely true. He further said that many contractors would not employ their full share of disabled people because it would bring their profit margins down. That was vindictive towards disabled people. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that employing disabled people is bad for profits and that therefore firms do not do it was a slur on disabled people, and the House was revolted to hear him say that. I hope that he will withdraw it, and I hope that the House will reject this new clause.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not say that the clause as drafted was wrong; I said that the attitude of the Government to it was wrong. I said that some employers would no doubt feel that they might lose a bit of profit, but that is not a slur on disabled people. I have always fought for disabled people and I shall continue to do so. It is the Government's attitude that forgets disabled people.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I can confirm at the outset that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has just repeated exactly what he said in his speech—[Interruption.] After the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), winding up with an abstention, we need take nothing from her.

The clause is so modest that one could ask why we should bother with it in the first place. However, there is a thoroughly justifiable reason for the clause. It is important that we should send signals to all sections of the community.

The clause was drawn up not out of thin air, but from the results and the experiences of our debates in Committee and on Report before the Bill got to the Lords. It was drawn up to take account of all the Government's objections to earlier amendments. It does not extend the enforcement role of local authorities—the Secretary of State's bogey men. It need not involve any additional resources in its operation. Its effect is simply to allow local authorities a limited discretion to ask a question and seek to foster good practice in place of the blanket prohibition currently contained in the Bill.

Let me go back to what this is all about. Lords amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which the Government are seeking to reject, amend clause 17 and add a new clause. Let me remind the House why clause 17 was put in the Bill in the first place. We are here to try to stop the Government taking it out on the disabled. The original notes on clauses stated: The purpose of clause 17 is to prevent local authorities and the other specified public bodies discriminating against particular contractors by introducing political or irrelevant considerations into the contractual process. The notes on clauses list most of the things that should not be covered by the clause so that local authorities cannot get involved. The Government particularly highlighted the fact that local authorities should not ask about rates of pay, numbers of apprentices, work on nuclear missile sites, lorries crossing picket lines, links with South Africa and freemasonry. There is no mention whatever of banning local authorities from asking about the disabled employed by contractors. To seek now to lump in the disabled — that is what the Secretary of State is now trying to do—is a thundering disgrace and the Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself.

The issue is not central to the Government's economic policy, yet not a single Conservative Member of Parliament today has had the guts to come to the Chamber to support what the Government are doing with his or her voice, despite a three-line Whip. The Secretary of State is alone. Most of his hon. Friends, who have not heard the debate and are ignorant about the issues, will be shepherded in by the Whips to vote against the disabled at the end of the debate. That is not democracy. My hon. Friends do not have to be Whipped on a matter such as this.

Two of the three Conservative Members who have spoken gave the impression that they would support the Lords amendments in the Lobby. Certainly the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) gave every impression of doing so. However, I was not clear whether, as he sat down, he was saying that he would abstain.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

What I said was that I could not support their rejection.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I thought so—another abstainer Why on earth are Tories abstaining when they speak as they do? The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he would not support the Government and that he stood by the all-party group in the belief that the Lords were right in putting the clause in the Bill.

6.15 pm

If the hon. Gentleman comes into the Lobby with the Welsh Nationalists, Liberals and Labour Members of Parliament, and, indeed, with at least one Conservative Member who is sitting behind, him, he will not be alone. [Interruption.] Have I got that wrong as well? I have got it all wrong. Not one Conservative Member of Parliament has had the guts to come in the Chamber and speak in favour of what the Secretary of State is doing. Three of them have come in with their bleeding hearts on their arms, but have not had the guts to support the Lords in what they have done. It is important that that should be on the record. They are only prepared to abstain.

This is a modest clause. I do not have to deploy the case of modesty too much because the clause has no teeth. No contractor or local authority need worry about it. But it is important that both Houses of Parliament should send out a signal, and we should send a signal to their Lordships that if the Government get their way the Lords should not lie down and accept it. They should have the guts to insist on their amendment and send it back to this place.

In addition, the House of Commons should send a signal to employers that Parliament will not tolerate continued discrimination in employment practices in so far as they affect disabled people. I do not propose to read out the list, but the Secretary of Slate's claims simply do not stand up to examination. Able-bodied applicants are at least 1.6 times more likely to receive a positive response from an employer than a disabled person, and the proportion of companies employing 3 per cent. or more registered disabled — their legal quota under the 1944 legislation—has fallen from 53 per cent. in 1965 to only 27 per cent. last year. Therefore, we must send a signal to employers and, even more importantly, to disabled people. We have a bounden duty to do so. All I am asking hon. Members to do is simply to assist us tonight in sending those signals.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 208.

Division No. 206][6.17 pm
Adley, RobertBoscawen, Hon Robert
Alexander, RichardBoswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBottomley, Peter
Amess, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, AlanBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bowis, John
Ashby, DavidBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Aspinwall, JackBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, RobertBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Brazier, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bright, Graham
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Batiste, SpencerBrooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bellingham, HenryBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bendall, VivianBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Benyon, W.Buck, Sir Antony
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnBudgen, Nicholas
Bonsor, Sir NicholasBurns, Simon
Butler, Chris Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butterfill, JohnHolt, Richard
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hordern, Sir Peter
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Howard, Michael
Carrington, MatthewHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carttiss, MichaelHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cash, WilliamHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHunt, David (Wirral W)
Chapman, SydneyHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Chope, ChristopherHunter, Andrew
Clark. Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Irvine, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Irving, Charles
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Jack, Michael
Colvin, MichaelJackson, Robert
Conway, DerekJanman, Tim
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jessel, Toby
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, JamesJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Critchley, JulianJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKey, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Devlin, TimKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Dickens, GeoffreyKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dorrell, StephenKnowles, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnox, David
Dover, DenLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dunn, BobLang, Ian
Dykes, HughLatham, Michael
Eggar, TimLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Evennett, DavidLightbown, David
Fairbairn, NicholasLilley, Peter
Fallon, MichaelLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Favell, TonyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fenner, Dame PeggyLord, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fookes, Miss JanetLyell, Sir Nicholas
Forman, NigelMcCrindle, Robert
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Forth, EricMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Sir MarcusMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Franks, CecilMaclean, David
Freeman, RogerMcLoughlin, Patrick
French, DouglasMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Gale, RogerMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Gardiner, GeorgeMadel, David
Garel-Jones, TristanMajor, Rt Hon John
Gill, ChristopherMalins, Humfrey
Glyn, Dr AlanMans, Keith
Goodlad, AlastairMaples, John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMarlow, Tony
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, JohnMaude, Hon Francis
Gow, IanMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gregory, ConalMiller, Hal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Miscampbell, Norman
Grist, IanMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Ground, PatrickMonro, Sir Hector
Grylls, MichaelMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Moss, Malcolm
Hanley, JeremyNeale, Gerrard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Needham, Richard
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Neubert, Michael
Harris, DavidNicholson, David (Taunton)
Haselhurst, AlanOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hawkins, ChristopherOppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, JerryPage, Richard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyPaice, James
Hayward, RobertPatnick, Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPawsey, James
Heddle, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Porter, David (Waveney)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Portillo, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Powell, William (Corby)
Hind, KennethPrice, Sir David
Raison, Rt Hon TimothySquire, Robin
Rathbone, TimStern, Michael
Renton, TimStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Rhodes James, RobertStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonStokes, John
Riddick, GrahamStradling Thomas, Sir John
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasSummerson, Hugo
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Roe, Mrs MarionThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rossi, Sir HughThurnham, Peter
Rowe, AndrewTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sackville, Hon TomWaddington, Rt Hon David
Sainsbury, Hon TimWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Sayeed, JonathanWaller, Gary
Shaw, David (Dover)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Watts, John
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Wells, Bowen
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wheeler, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Widdecombe, Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wiggin, Jerry
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wilshire, David
Shersby, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann
Sims, RogerWood, Timothy
Skeet, Sir TrevorYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Soames, Hon NicholasTellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Mr. Tony Durant and
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Abbott, Ms DianeDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Allen, GrahamDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Alton, DavidDewar, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDixon, Don
Armstrong, HilaryDobson, Frank
Ashdown, PaddyDoran, Frank
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDouglas, Dick
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Duffy, A. E. P.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Dunnachie, Jimmy
Battle, JohnEastham, Ken
Beckett, MargaretEvans, John (St Helens N)
Beith, A. J.Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bermingham, GeraldFaulds, Andrew
Bidwell, SydneyFearn, Ronald
Blair, TonyField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Boateng, PaulFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Boyes, RolandFisher, Mark
Bradley, KeithFlannery, Martin
Bray, Dr JeremyFlynn, Paul
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Foster, Derek
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Foulkes, George
Buchan, NormanFraser, John
Buckley, George JGalbraith, Sam
Caborn, RichardGalloway, George
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.George, Bruce
Cartwright, JohnGordon, Mildred
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Graham, Thomas
Clay, BobGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clelland, DavidGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGrocott, Bruce
Cohen, HarryHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Haynes, Frank
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Corbett, RobinHeffer, Eric S.
Corbyn, JeremyHenderson, Doug
Cousins, JimHinchliffe, David
Cox, TomHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cryer, BobHolland, Stuart
Cummings, JohnHome Robertson, John
Cunningham, Dr JohnHood, Jimmy
Dalyell, TamHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Darling, AlistairHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Parry, Robert
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Patchett, Terry
Illsley, EricPendry, Tom
Ingram, AdamPike, Peter L.
Janner, GrevillePowell, Ray (Ogmore)
John, BrynmorPrescott, John
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Radice, Giles
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Randall, Stuart
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Kennedy, CharlesReid, Dr John
Kilfedder, JamesRichardson, Jo
Kirkwood, ArchyRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lamond, JamesRobertson, George
Leighton, RonRobinson, Geoffrey
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Rooker, Jeff
Lewis, TerryRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Litherland, RobertRuddock, Joan
Livingstone, KenSalmond, Alex
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Sedgemore, Brian
Lofthouse, GeoffreySheerman, Barry
Loyden, EddieSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McAllion, JohnShort, Clare
McAvoy, ThomasSkinner, Dennis
McCartney, IanSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum A.Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McFall, JohnSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Snape, Peter
McKelvey, WilliamSoley, Clive
McLeish, HenrySpearing, Nigel
Maclennan, RobertSteel, Rt Hon David
McNamara, KevinSteinberg, Gerry
McTaggart, BobStott, Roger
McWilliam, JohnStrang, Gavin
Madden, MaxTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Mrs AliceThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Marek, Dr JohnThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Turner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Vaz, Keith
Martlew, EricWall, Pat
Meacher, MichaelWallace, James
Meale, AlanWalley, Joan
Michael, AlunWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Wareing, Robert N
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Wigley, Dafydd
Moonie, Dr LewisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Morgan, RhodriWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Morley, ElliottWise, Mrs Audrey
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Worthington, Tony
Mowlam, MarjorieWray, Jimmy
Mullin, ChrisYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Murphy, Paul
Nellist, DaveTellers for the Noes:
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonMrs. Llin Golding and
O'Brien, WilliamMr. Tony Banks.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 8 disagreed to.