|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Russell: Perhaps I may ask for a small but important clarification. The Minister said that the council may ask the Secretary of State to commission research on its behalf. Is the Secretary of State bound to accept the request?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: No, he is not bound to accept it. He must weigh all the suggested research projects that come to him against the amount of money he has in his budget for research and against the other projects which seek research money. So one has to be realistic about it. I presume that the noble Earl would like unlimited money to be devoted to the organisation to allow it to carry out any research it wishes, without considering the competing demands. However, the Government already collect a wealth of information through research which the NDC might find useful. If it had to rely solely on research commissioned in isolation, there would be a significant risk that it would either be unaware of important information or would duplicate that already available.
The NDC can also advise the Government on educational material. That is an area where much work is already being done by government departments and the voluntary sector. To avoid duplication, it seems wisest if the NDC, with an independent eye, identifies what more needs to be done and provides advice.
I turn now to the changes proposed in Amendments Nos. 108, 109 and 110. They would leave substantial potential for duplication between the NDC and the National Advisory Council on the Employment of People with Disabilities. My noble friend Lord Swinfen cast doubt on the independence of NACEPD. I assure him that it is independent. It has prominent members who would object to the suggestion that they did not act independently in giving advice or considering issues. Its views on last year's consultation document, to which my noble friend referred, are in the Library. From time to time NACEPD also issues a report on its activities. So my noble friend is being unkind when he questions its independence.
So long as NACEPD or a successor body exists, that body should lead in giving advice on all employment and training matters. We of course recognise that there will be a need for the advisory bodies to keep in close contact where they provide advice on aspects of the Bill which might affect businesses in their roles as both employer and service provider. I can assure the Committee that my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Social Security and Employment will be asking the councils to do that and to ensure that there is a full understanding between the councils. It is very likely that in appointing members to the NDC, the Secretary of State will seek to provide some common membership.
Clause 23(9) (b) refers to provisions of the Bill dealing with employment which it will be natural for NACEPD to be concerned with in line with its existing responsibilities. All the members are appointed because of their knowledge and experience of employment and disability issues. NACEPD has developed considerable expertise over the years. It has advised Ministers on issues such as the Employment Service's code of good practice, the disability symbol and the Access to Work scheme. It will continue to monitor and advise on the wide range of employment and training help provided to disabled people. Most immediately, we need NACEPD's help on issues to do with the Bill, including the new employment code of practice which we discussed at the start of the first day in Committee.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We shall discuss a later provision which, were it to be used, could be used to wind up NACEPD. I am just about to come to that point if the noble Baroness will contain herself. Many people have advised us on what should be done and that a commission is needed. We listened to the advice. We have listened to the advice of those who do not want it. We made our judgment, as governments are supposed to do. I do not expect noble Lords always to agree with judgments that the Government make, but that is what governments are there for.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have answered it, and I am just about to add to that answer. We are not locked into the NACEPD arrangement for ever. The Bill provides in Clause 33 for the statutory powers in the 1944 Act, under which NACEPD is established, to be repealed, and for people to be appointed to advise generallythat is to say, on a national basison employment issues. We intend, however, that NACEPD should continue in its present form until at least the
I hope that the Committee will agree that these arrangements provide for the NDC and NACEPD to fulfil the advisory role to government in much the same way as a commission. They are intended to harness the authority, experience, good will and resources of government, business and voluntary organisations to achieve our aims. In this new and sensitive area we need independent bodies whose members have the right mix of experience and skills to give balanced and practical advice. Government do not intend to wash their hands of this Bill once it has come into force, as some Members of the Committee might be tempted to think having listened to some of the speeches. When the council's advice has been accepted by the Secretaries of State, it will be promulgated and implemented with the full backing of government using all the mechanisms across the public sector, including the resources of the Disability Unit, which works for my right honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People and the network of services provided by the Employment Department.
I turn to some of the other aspects that were raised. We do not believe that creating a commission as proposed in these amendments is the best approach to meeting the needs of disabled people or business, and for three fundamental reasons: it would not work; it risks a backlash; and it would not fit the social context of the late 1990s.
In an exchange earlier an attempt was made to persuade the Committee that the majority of employers were in favour of a commission. There was an exchange about the Employers Forum on Disability. I welcomed the emphasis by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in his intervention that the great majority of members of that body said that they were in favour of a commission. My point was, however, that not all of them said so. Therefore, it is not possible to read out a list, claim that it comprises every single one of them and then say that it is the great majority. That was my only point.
Lord Carter: Will the Minister give way? He knows what I said. When the Government negotiate with the National Farmers Union, do they ask the NFU whether it has asked every farmer in the country whether that member supports NFU policy, or any other organisation that comes to them?
I telephoned the employers forum, and I repeat what I said: every member of the forum, including every companyall the large organisations that were quoted by my noble friendwere consulted on the Government's consultation document. Every one was consulted. The great majority entirely supported the outcome that is in the brief in front of us; and in addition every one of them said that they were happy for the forum to speak on their behalf.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Of course they are happy that the forum speaks on their behalf; they have all joined it in order to make it easier to recruit, retain and develop disabled employees. That is perfectly
I return to organisations. I suggest that there are other organisations involved, not just this particular one. We have to be careful not to form the impression that a majority of businesses want a commission. The Forum of Private Business, an organisation that tends to represent, if I may so describe them, the Davids rather than the Goliaths of the business world, expressed its firm opposition to a commission. The Institute of Directors was equally forthright. The CBI, while it has called for clarification of certain functions, has not called for a new enforcement body such as would be created by Amendment No. 101.
I mentioned three reasons. The first is that a commission would not work. Anti-discrimination legislation in the field of disability is not the same as sex and race legislation. One vital difference arises because both the existing race and sex legislation cover all racial groups and both sexes. The Acts governing these areas make it a duty of the commissions to promote equality of opportunity between men and women and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups generally. I note with interest that the amendments we are discussing today, which draw so heavily on the sex and race legislation, do not seek to place this duty on the council. Perhaps my noble friend recognises that there is indeed a considerable difference between race and sex on the one hand and disability on the other.
If we accept these amendments, we should not be setting up a body with a fundamental duty to promote equality of opportunity between able-bodied and disabled people. It would be a powerful executive body charged with the explicit duty to act in the interest of disabled people, without any statutory responsibility towards the interest of the rest of society. I believe that this would undermine and endanger our aims. A commission also runs the
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page