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Lord Addington: I must declare an interest because I am a green card holder. It has been of no great use to me but I took it out when I discovered that I was entitled to be registered as a disabled person. Many dyslexics repeatedly refuse to agree that they have a disability. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is right about that. As a result, we do not know how many dyslexic people are unemployed, how many are employed below their skill base, and so forth. The noble Baroness is therefore taking on an important issue.

Knowledge should be turned into power. If we know what is happening in this field we will be able to do something about it if it is going wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, pointed to the problem. How does one persuade someone to say, "I am disabled but there is nothing the matter with me"? That is an odd concept. Perhaps political correctness will fulfil a useful purpose in this case. If such a provision can be included in the Bill or in regulations we shall be taking steps towards educating ourselves about the problems of employment and, it is to be hoped, encouraging disabled people to admit that they have problems in certain areas. It is agreed that something can be done about the vast majority of those problems. We should encourage disabled people to register themselves and others to pay attention to the information.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: It is not surprising that some people did not register for the quota because the failure of governments to enforce the quota meant that there was little benefit to be gained from registering. That is one of the main reasons for non-registration. However, I do not see that as an argument against the amendment. I am optimistic that the Minister will accept it. I am sure that the Minister, wanting to help as always, will not use the excuse of lack of practicability because there are no practical problems in collating statistics. It is the simplest matter in the world.

One of the flimsy excuses which Ministers use habitually to evade Parliamentary Questions is that the information is not held centrally or that it is not available. As far as I know, the Minister has not said that. But I am sure that he will wish to help the

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Committee by agreeing with the principle behind the amendment. As the quota system is intended to be abolished by the Bill, there will be no record at all of the employment of disabled people. We shall be dependent on ad hoc surveys and that clearly is not good enough.

I speak from experience when I say that the absence of information about disabled people is the main reason for discrimination. The fact is that when no one knows what is happening, disabled people are disregarded. It is a matter of out of sight, out of mind; and out of consideration, out of a job. That afflicts far too many people who are not considered merely because the Government do not compile adequate statistics. Although I shall argue to maintain the quota system in a later amendment, its relative failure was due to lack of relevant records. As my noble friend rightly said, without records we cannot tell whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. I am sure that the Minister would wish to monitor his own Bill when it becomes an Act, as it will do under the next Labour Government.

The public sector should lead the way in providing information in relation to the problems of disabled people in employment. As far as I am aware, no responsible organisation ever establishes a new, complex system without monitoring the provisions. The Government would be irresponsible if they legislated for new provisions in the Bill and rejected this minimal amendment, because my noble friend is far too modest in her proposals. I believe that the Government will regret it if they reject the amendment.

9 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: I did not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, but I believe that he slightly misunderstood what I said. I do not suggest that the lack of registration in the quota system is a reason to oppose the amendment. I am merely inquiring whether employees who are unwilling to allow themselves to be branded as disabled will be included in the lists of disabled. I rather hope that they would, but it is quite a difficult matter of citizens' rights whether somebody should be included as a disabled person in an establishment when he is utterly opposed to being so considered. Will that person be included in the figures? As I say, somebody may be obviously disabled—missing an arm or a leg—and yet utterly refuse to be so categorised. We do not wish people who are partially disabled to feel that they are in any way inadequate. That was the point I made. I understand why the noble Lord did not quite take that point, but I wanted to make it clear.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I would not believe that we were debating disability if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, did not accuse me of misunderstanding or misquoting him. However, I am beginning to warm to these debates because in the opening debate the Minister was very kind to me and in this debate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, was exceptionally generous to me. Therefore, I am beginning to enjoy the debates.

On this point, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that people do not declare themselves disabled. But the main reason for that is that they see

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no benefit in doing so. That is a problem, but it can be solved. I am fairly sure that the Minister will look sympathetically at the amendment and we shall then move forward to encourage disabled people to register their disabilities.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Before the Minister replies, I commend his attention to the fact that the amendment calls for consideration to be given to how that should be done. There has certainly been a problem because people perceive that it is against their personal interests to register as disabled, to go on a list and be identified as such. But that is very different from agreeing to take part in a survey which will identify anonymously those people who have a disability and are in employment.

In my experience in local government I have known people who are totally blind and who are prepared to have their names recorded voluntarily as having a disability but who do not wish to become registered disabled because they fear that they may go against them when seeking promotion.

Lord Inglewood: I am reassured that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is feeling benign after our debates today. I hope that I shall not put him in an ill humour with some of the comments that I am about to make. I agree also with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that the noble Baroness clearly set out exactly what is in her mind when introducing the amendment. I do not believe that there is anything between us in our wish to see as many disabled people as possible both in work and integrated fully into society at large.

There is, clearly, a case for encouraging employers to monitor the numbers of people with disabilities that they employ. The employment code of practice will accordingly encourage employers to do this. I believe, however, that this type of information is of value first and foremost as management information for employers to monitor their performance against their own equal opportunities policies. I fear that the prescriptive system proposed in the amendment would place an unnecessarily onerous burden on the bodies concerned. The employer would be required, by the amendment, to request prescribed information from a large number of employees in a wide range of employment situations. Such a system would be inflexible. The information would be of more value if it is designed to suit the policies and circumstances of the individual employer.

I should also like to echo the note of caution that has been expressed by a number of speakers about those whose disabilities are not obvious and who may still prefer not to declare their disability to their employer. As has already been said, we see evidence of a similar reluctance now where people choose not to register as disabled because of the stigma that they believe—perhaps, entirely wrongly—is attached to registration. We return now to the kind of points raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in that respect. Therefore, to make it useful, employers need to develop sensitive techniques for collecting information on whether an employee has a disability. Overcoming the barrier of mistrust may be difficult. We do not believe that that would be helped by imposing a prescriptive system for the collection of such information.

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The Government will, of course, want to monitor the position of disabled people in the labour market after the Bill is implemented. That will be done using a variety of methods, including research conducted by government and others, and through regular surveys such as the Labour Force Survey. The Labour Force Survey will provide nationally representative information on the employment of disabled people across all sectors of the economy. It will not be restricted to the public sector which accounts for less than a quarter of total employment. It will provide more reliable and useful information on the employment of people with disabilities, and the effects of the new legislation, than any pulling together of information from local authorities, health authorities and other employers in the public sector.

The Government can, of course, already arrange by administrative measures for government departments and agencies to monitor their employment of people with disabilities. There is, therefore, no need to establish a statutory requirement for monitoring to be done by those bodies. In fact, the Cabinet Office has already taken positive steps, and actively promotes the programme for action to achieve equality of opportunity in the Civil Service for disabled people. Under this, government departments and agencies are already required to monitor the numbers of their staff and applicants who have a disability.

It is correct that the numbers of registered disabled people employed by government departments, local authorities and National Health Service trusts are published annually in the Employment Gazette. As Members of the Committee know, only about one-third of people with disabilities actually choose to register—a point that we discussed earlier. Therefore, the information is not accurate as regards the number of people with disabilities employed in those organisations. Under any statutory system, employers would still be faced with the difficulties that I have already outlined in identifying those among their workforce who are disabled and should therefore be counted. On that count alone there would be no real advantage to such a statutory requirement.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, made some remarks about the quota. I believe that it is important to get the point about the quota, and prosecutions in that regard, into some sort of perspective. There have been only 10 cases of prosecution since the quota was introduced. The last prosecutions took place in 1975 as part of an experiment in stricter enforcement policy. There was no evidence that that materially improved the position of disabled people generally. During the 1970s there were five prosecutions under the 1944 Act, two of which were brought by a Conservative Government and three by a Labour Government. Therefore, I do not believe that it has anything to do with the political complexion of the government at the time. That seems to be pretty conclusive evidence that, as an instrument of trying to achieve some of the things that we all want to see, it simply is not working.

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I am sure that other employers, including local authorities and health authorities, will see the benefits of introducing over a period of time similar initiatives to the kind that I described. It is certainly our intention to promote such good practice. As I said, the employment code of practice will include guidance and encouragement for all employers to implement effective equal opportunities policies and appropriate methods for monitoring them. For the reasons that I have already given, such voluntary arrangements will, we believe, be more effective than what is proposed in the amendment. We also believe that the reality of the amendment is that it would not achieve anything substantive and of value.


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