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Lord Rix: I realise full well that the Minister regards trying to keep registration and the quotawhile welcoming the new anti-discrimination provisions as they affect employmentas being rather akin to bringing your sandwiches to the Lord Mayor's banquet. I realise, too, that there is within that fairly broad churchthe so-called disability lobbya strong view that registration and quota are not only ineffective but, in themselves, discriminatory. Had not the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, spoken in defence of the quota and of registration at Second Reading, and indirectly just now, I should have been much minded to refrain from further argument in support of a cause which seemed to have
Quite simply, is it not prudent to make quite certain of the new-found way of doing things before firmly jettisoning the old way, especially when we have yet to hear a convincing explanation of how the new arrangements are to be monitored? Indeed, the Government seem to accept the contention with their views on the future of NACEPD.
In addition, I have to break ranks with those who say that the quota never did any good and that people with disabilities can always gain and keep employment simply on merit without any artificial aids. I know that it has done some good, particularly for people with a learning disability and with the MENCAP Pathway Employment Service. It has set a standard; it has provided a prompt in individual cases for employers to look at their practice; and it has sometimes been the key that turned the lock and got someone a job. I notice that in all the long history of attempts to discredit the quota scheme by those not minded to apply it, there are frequent references to, "employers really are employing 3 per cent. of disabled people, if only you count X, Y and Z". Would anyone have thought of it in such terms without the quota? The quota represents positive discrimination, albeit very modest positive discrimination, and in a society which sets so much store by physical and mental perfection I am not ashamed to say that there is a case for a little positive discrimination. That is permitted in the case of sexual and racial discrimination and I see some case for encouraging it for disabled people, who do not always meet quite what the employer had in mind, especially those with a learning disability.
The Bill sets out to change society: first, its behaviour and then its attitudes. As that begins to happen, registration and the quota will become increasingly old hat. But I am not convinced at the moment that they have actually passed their sell-by date.
Lord Campbell of Croy: I am glad to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Rix. First, I wish to explain to the Committee why I appear to be defiling the Privy Counsellors' Bench by putting my leg up on it. I hope that it has been noticed that I tidily have a protective cover underneath the leg, but I am under doctor's orders. A few weeks ago, a thrombosis was diagnosed in one of my legs, which is disabled. I took my medicine during the adjournment and I am only allowed to be here this evening on the basis that I keep my leg up. My doctors are keen that I should take part in proceedings on the Bill. At first they wanted me not to do so and forbade it, but they are now keen that I should take the line that I am and be available to do so. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will understand and I seek its indulgence.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, has taken the three amendments together. I am sure he was right to do so. On the first amendment, as he probably knows, I have been a strong supporter of Remploy and been much involved in its activities over the years. However, I wish to concentrate on the other two amendments and the quota.
Following the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I start by saying that I have never discredited the quota system. I have just been sad that in recent years it has not worked properly. It started 50 years ago and I shall not repeat my Second Reading speech. Of course, it was mainly intended for the very young disabled people from the war. Unfortunately, for the past 25 yearsabout half of its lifeless than 3 per cent. of the workforce has been registered as disabled. Therefore it has not been feasible to enforce the quota system under the Act. The lack of registration has occurred under both Labour and Conservative governments. On a previous Committee day I referred to questions asked by Labour Members of Parliament and answered by Labour Ministers in the 1970s pointing out exactly the same; namely, that it was impossible to fulfil the quota or bring action against establishments and firms because far less than 3 per cent. of the workforce was registered as disabled.
The important point for the future is one upon which I think we are all agreed: in any system we must somehow persuade or encourage people who are disabledparticularly the severely disabledto register; or we must bring in some new system whereby they are known and can be encouraged. But that is for the future.
One of the alternatives in the past 20 years would have been to reduce the quota to 1 per cent. That percentage could have been met. I understand that at present 1 per cent. of the workforce is registered as disabled. A 1 per cent. quota could be prescribed by statutory instrument. The 1944 Act did not in its primary legislation prescribe the quota. That was left to Ministers. But that would have been a very depressing signal. I should not have recommended it, and I do not recommend it now. To continue the quota system and bring the percentage down to something that could be achieved would be a sign of failure. Therefore, I dismiss that option.
There is another option. In France, anyone entitled to a disability benefit is automatically registered. I do not know whether compulsion of that kind would be acceptable in the United Kingdom. I do not believe that it would be acceptable immediately. It might in time be possible. That has been practised in France. Britain has a different system of benefits and it would be more difficult for us to follow that course. Our benefits do not necessarily apply just to disability.
In France and Germany there are penalties in the form of fines for establishments that do not reach the quota. This is another option. Some firms in Germany prefer to pay the fine rather than employ the disabled people. In this country in 1981, when I was much involved in a prominent position with the International Year of Disabled People, the Manpower Services Commission was asked to carry out a full review of the quota system. Members of the Committee will probably remember that it recommended that the quota system should be dropped and that a code of practice should be adopted. That was not accepted by the Government of the day. However, there was very wide discussion at that time among the disability organisations, and a wider debate in the country as a whole, as to whether a system of penalties such as exists in France or Germany should be
I should not object to the quota system being continued for a time, as a target. I know how much it has helped MENCAP, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, mentioned. I have mentioned that point before on various occasions. However, if it were continued, it would be dangerous for too much faith to be put in it. We know now that it can only be a target. It will have to beand should bephased out. I should not be against the Government continuing it for three or five years, or whatever it may be, until the country becomes familiar with the new system that is being introduced in this Bill. But I do not feel that we ought to put faith in the quota.
For at least 25 years I have lived with the system. As the Committee will know, by the time of the 1944 Act I had been wounded and was disabled. I have followed the system ever since with colleagues and men whom I commanded getting jobs and so on. In the first 25 years the quota system was successful and did what was intended. But I do not believe that even the parliamentarians who in 1943 and 1944 passed that Bill would have expected it necessarily to be functioning as they expected 25 years later. In fact, it has gone on for 50 years.
I would not discredit the system or pour scorn on the 1944 Act. But it has served its purpose and now parts of it are no longer applicable. In particular, the quota system needs to be replaced by something else, even if it is not brought to an end immediately.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: We have come to a delicate part of the evening, when we are in danger of repeating our speeches from earlier occasions. I do not want to fall into that trap. I am as willing as anyone to repeat my points ad hominem, ad infinitum and "ad borum", but I should only set even more people against me.
I hope that I can make different points with regard to the quota system. First, it remains because it is not and never will be redundant. It complements and does not replace this Bill. It protects disabled people as a group. This Bill protects the individual rights of people. That is a very important difference.
The system is capable of revision by the levy, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. I am in favour of the levy. If some employers do not want to keep the quota and say that they will pay the levy, that is fine. At least they are contributing to disabled people. Finally, it is the only method of curbing the prejudices of wilful, evasive and discriminatory employers, who resist everything but the strongest compulsion.
I complete my brief remarks by endorsing what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, said about Remploy and the position of very seriously disabled workers. It is very serious. I hope that something can be done under the Bill by the Government accepting these amendments.
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