Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Campbell of Croy: I am in general agreement with the remarks so eloquently made by the noble Baroness. The amendment would have the effect of postponing the whole of Clause 7 for at least a year. Firms employing fewer than 20 people were excluded under the 1944 Act—and, indeed, have been for the past 50 years—from the quota system. Therefore, we are now considering changes to the quota system which many of us knew would have to be carried out.

As the noble Baroness said, small firms would have had to have been employing 0.04 of a person, or something like that, under the quota system. Clearly, that was not practical. However, small firms are an important sector of the employing community. We are now dealing with a legacy of the quota system. I shall not repeat what I said on Second Reading, but, with the new system being proposed in the Bill, I consider that small establishments should be included in due course, if not now.

Judging from the amendments with which we shall deal later, it is clear that there is a general feeling that some postponement may be necessary but that, in due course, smaller firms should be brought in. In certain circumstances, it may be more difficult for a small firm to make the changes and to expend the money required to employ a disabled person. But, with the principle of reasonableness and reasonable adjustments which runs through the whole of the Bill—and, incidentally, ran through the American equivalent—surely that consideration would be taken into account when a small-firm situation was being considered.

The quota system could not be enforced because only about 1 per cent. of the working population in the country have been registered as disabled people. Therefore, not all of the large employers could possibly achieve the 3 per cent. quota. That is a mathematical fact. I believe that I am politically correct in saying that only a numeracy challenged person would not accept that fact.

We must now consider why disabled people did not register and hope that that will not continue to be the case under the new system. Indeed, we must do everything in the future to encourage disabled people to register. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, and I have disagreed in the past on the matter. In the debate on 22nd May, the noble Lord said that he was blaming Ministers and not the quota system for the fact that the quota could not be reached. He then said that that was the only political comment he would make during his speech.

However, the noble Lord was being unfair to himself. He was not making a party political point. Why? Well, the noble Lord himself had been making exactly the same criticism of Labour Ministers in the other place before

15 Jun 1995 : Column 1900

1979. For example, during Question Time in 1978 on July 4th (at col. 215 of Hansard) he made the same criticism. Indeed, the situation has been going on for years; namely, that fewer than 3 per cent.—that is, well under 3 per cent.—of the labour force have been registered as disabled. The Minister at the time, a Mr. Grant, as recalled in Hansard, replied again that it was impossible for firms to employ 3 per cent. and meet the quota because far fewer than 3 per cent. had been registered as disabled. Therefore, the noble Lord was not making a party political point because he had been attacking Ministers on both sides.

My object in reminding Members of the Committee about the latter is to point out that the situation has existed for many years under both kinds of government. The quota could not be enforced because too few disabled people allowed themselves to be registered. Many of them thought that registration would brand them as inadequate and that they would do better by not being disabled, or being branded as such, and remaining outside of the scheme. So the quota scheme pointed in the right direction and provided a target. The difficulty was that the target could not be reached and therefore could not be enforced.

On the question of registration, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, in a report dated March 1994, discussed at page 33 this most important point. The report stated that disabled people gave,

    "several reasons for regarding the 1944 Act as not just inadequate, but potentially detrimental".

The writers of the report were of the view that we must make changes to the system. They went on to point out that there was a "dilemma" for disabled people:

    "Should they register in order to obtain the benefits that registration offers, or does the potential discrimination they may face outweigh any supposed advantages of registration?"

That sums up the problem that has existed for over 20 years. Despite this falling short of the original intention of 50 years ago, some will be sorry to see the quota scheme being replaced, for example MENCAP. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is in his place and I am sure he will agree with me that MENCAP—that is the organisation dealing with those who have learning disabilities—has found it useful, although it also realises that the target and enforcement were not possible.

I remind the Committee that the 1944 Act was passed during the war mainly to cater for war-disabled people, large numbers of young men in their twenties, including me, who had their working lives ahead of them and who were disadvantaged by disabling injuries incurred in World War II. Their numbers have been dwindling and now almost all, if not all, are past retirement age. The system introduced by the 1944 Act performed well—not only the quota scheme but other parts of the Act—over many years and in the tasks intended. The situation today is different and radical changes are needed. In making changes small businesses can be included, in my opinion, in future provided the principle of reasonableness prevails.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I want to stun the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, by saying that I propose to agree with him on a number of points he has made, as distinct from the usual controversies and arguments between us. In the first place the noble Lord is quite right when he

15 Jun 1995 : Column 1901

implies that my remark the other day was not, as I said, a party political comment because he is quite right that not only Conservative Ministers but also Labour Ministers have not been enforcing the quota. It is perfectly proper and right to say that. A number of us have been campaigning both against a Conservative Government and a Labour Government both of whom were failing to ensure that disabled people were served properly by enforcing the quota.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spoke about people being numerically challenged. I would like to argue with him on that but I cannot do so because my wife says that I am numerically challenged. When I try to argue with her about bills or anything else she insists that I am numerically challenged. Therefore I had better not take issue with the noble Lord on that. However, my stand on the quota is that we need to retain it because this Bill is by no means an adequate substitute as it stands. We want to strengthen it. We need to register—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred to that—the number of unemployed disabled people and the number seeking work. But, basically, on this issue of small firms having an undue burden imposed on them, I simply do not see how anyone on the government side can claim that they must exclude firms with under 20 workers because the burden would be an undue and unfair one. That is wholly illogical because under the basic, fundamental, unambiguous terms of the Bill it is impossible to damage small firms.

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is in his place because he is always able to quote chapter and verse on particular Bills and amendments. On page 5 of the Bill, Clause 6(7) states specifically that regulations may make provision,

    "as to circumstances in which it is reasonable for an employer to have to take steps".

There is also a provision as regards regulations on cost. Therefore the matter of unreasonable costs is quite out of the question. The terms of the Bill prohibit unreasonable costs. Therefore no Minister can legitimately argue that unreasonable costs will be imposed on small firms.

I am sure that in this Chamber and the other place the argument that we cannot afford a measure has been used since time immemorial. I am sure that such an argument was used at the time when people were trying to abolish the slave trade and the employment of young chimney sweeps. I am sure it was argued that we could not afford to do that. It is an argument that is inapplicable to this Bill especially in view of the Government's own assessment that the average cost of compliance would only be about £200. Even if there was this cost, I remind the Committee that this Bill is about unjustified discrimination. Many Members of the Committee will remember the words in the report of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People (CORAD). The classic phrase was:

    "We are not trying to get blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners jobs".

That is a marvellous phrase. It encapsulates all that we are not trying to do.

We are trying to outlaw only unjustified discrimination. In many cases it is simply prejudice that prevents disabled people from doing jobs of which they are just as capable as able-bodied people. I see no reason why small

15 Jun 1995 : Column 1902

firms should be allowed to indulge their prejudices, especially when large firms cannot do so. In any case when changes are made by these firms under this Bill when it becomes an Act, government assistance will be available. We have already said that the Government's access to work scheme is of tremendous help to these firms. That will help small firms and in most cases there will be no cost to them. I know that some Members of the Committee opposite may argue that some small firms will be unable to compete if they are included in the terms of this Bill. All I can say is that the provisions would be imposed on all firms so that no particular firm would have a specific advantage.

Finally, if Ministers claim that small firms will be asked to observe a code of practice, I would add that this Bill is aimed at the unscrupulous small firms which are trying to evade their responsibilities and who discriminate, either wilfully or inadvertently. They are the very firms which will not be impressed by a code of practice. The majority of firms which are good firms will accept a code of practice; the bad firms will not. That is why we need this requirement to include all firms regardless of their size.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page