Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Addington: Let me say very briefly that I am very much in the minority in having taken part in the old green card system. It set a target which has become increasingly unrealistic. One reason for that is that the nature of work has changed since the system was introduced. There are no longer production line jobs on which large numbers of people were employed and a quota could easily be set. The nature of employment has changed.

It is also the case that certain groups of people, for whom this Bill is not designed, have found the system very useful. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, can perhaps confirm MENCAP has found it difficult to find employment for much of its client base. Other groups have not benefited from it.

We have already decided in another case not to have a register. We have just discussed that point. But we do have a register in this case. Many good things were said about the register, including the idea of knowing how many people are involved in it. If the Government would breathe life into the green card—or even change its colour and make it a blue card or even a pink card (let us be radical)—that system would work. Something which tells us who the person is, and possibly the nature of his disability as well, would be helpful.

The quota has not worked in recent years for the vast majority of people of whom we are talking. That is the one thing that marks it down. It has worked for certain groups but it has not worked for others. If the Government had accepted any of the amendments discussed earlier, they could probably say that there was sufficient process here, especially within the council, to make sure that a quota system was not needed, and that they had a positive and aggressive stance. It is the only thing we have left. The idea of registration, and the ease of access to those supporting bodies around it, has not been mentioned but should be taken into account. If one possesses a green card, at least one knows where to go in the employment services to obtain help.

I shall not pretend to know what the answer is. Can the Government give an assurance that the quick lines which the green card provides to the support services will remain intact and that there will be guidance to inform disabled people, whatever definition is used, that the services exist? It is important that disabled people know what they are entitled to in the realms of support. That has not yet been raised but should be borne in mind.

Lord Renton: On the substance of this matter I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I merely add that in order to obtain a full picture we must realise that various lists are already kept by those in the public service who pay out various allowances to people with various kinds of disability. A list must be kept of the war disabled who are in receipt of war disability pensions. A list must be kept of those

27 Jun 1995 : Column 706

who receive disability allowances and unemployability supplement. I forget what the other allowance is called, but my severely handicapped daughter receives it. She has to be careful all the time; she cannot do anything herself and receives the allowance because of that. There are therefore in existence various lists.

I realise that the noble Lord who moved the amendment is concerned with the register to which there is public access; that is another matter. I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell. However, there is a purely technical point—I hope Members of the Committee will not think it boring—that I wish to raise on the drafting of the amendment. Clause 34(7) on page 24 reads,

    "The following provisions of the Act of 1944 shall cease to have effect".

Many times I have complained about the use of that phrase because it really means "repealed". In Schedule 5 we find that each of the provisions mentioned in the subsection is included in the list of repeals. If we wish this provision to be endorsed, why cannot we be consistent in the words that we use in the statutes and say in subsection (7) that those provisions are repealed?

Lord McCarthy: I do not want to rehearse the disparate arguments that have been put forward to persuade the Government to say something. But that is what we want. We want them to say something about the two different general topics dealt with in the amendment.

My noble friend Lord Gladwin asked the Government to say something about three specific matters. He asked whether or not there would be any reduction in the severely disabled programmes. He asked about the consultation procedures on the workers' side and, most importantly, he asked whether there would be any new money or whether the changes which the Government propose in the subsidy and funding arrangements will result in money being taken away from existing programmes. I ask the Government to seek to answer those questions this evening. They are serious questions which worry a considerable number of people. If the Government cannot answer them tonight because they are new questions and they have not thought about them before, let them say that they will go away and write to my noble friend, giving him the answers to the questions.

We come then to the second general heading relating to the quota scheme. We know that the Government are going to abolish the scheme. We do not intend to divide the Committee on these amendments at this time of night. We know that it is long gone. But almost everyone on this side of the Committee and around the Committee has been asking whether the Government accept in any sense that the original objectives of the register are still there to be met. If the Government abolish this way of doing it, have they no proposals at all to follow through the original objectives of the scheme in other ways?

As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, in many ways this is extremely modern. It is astonishing that in this country in 1918, before anyone thought of it in the United States or anywhere else so far as I know, we legislated a system of positive discrimination. It is true that we did it in the aftermath of a world war, but we

27 Jun 1995 : Column 707

did it. It worked for some time, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, and then began to fade away because circumstances changed. Successive governments of all political persuasions felt that they had more important things to do and therefore did not look at the way the scheme was operating and try to bring it up to date. They did not find effective ways of working it or set up a Royal Commission on what was wrong with the quota scheme; they just left it there. And now this Government want to do away with it. Those are matters that we ought to feel sorry about; and we on this side of the Committee and noble Lords in other parts of the Committee are sorry about them.

The original aims of the quota scheme deal with the more severely disadvantaged. They deal with those who are prepared to register and try to induce others to register and give them significant benefits so it is worth their while registering. Those objectives and aims are surely as relevant today as they always were. Therefore, we ask the Government for answers. We know what they are going to do. But can they answer the first few questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, and can they answer us in a positive way as to what they feel should replace the quota scheme?

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I merely want to add three points which I hope the Minister will take into account when he replies to the questions posed by my noble friends. First, many appointments made by public bodies—local authorities and local education authorities—are now made not directly by people who are part of the staff of the local authority but by thousands of school governors and teaching and non-teaching staff. It is very difficult to keep a record in those circumstances unless there is a requirement to seek to comply.

Secondly, as a result of government policy much more of the work is being carried out by private sector companies which submit tenders. We heard about this in the Dinner Break tonight. Without a requirement that information should be collected it is very difficult for local authorities to demand contract compliance in the way that they did when they were employers. Finally, as a result of government policy there is a growth in the private sector directly providing in areas where in the past the public sector provided; for example, homes for the elderly. Therefore, there is a need for this monitoring to be continued.

I repeat and stress what I said when I spoke earlier. It is not that the system is excellent and works—because of the difficulties we have outlined. We are not talking about sticking rigidly to an outworn system. We are talking about the need to continue the monitoring and to insist that the Government accept that principle, go away and look at it and come back with an amendment that will require that to be done.

Lord Inglewood: We have had an extremely worthwhile debate focusing on three principal matters: first, the supported employment programme; secondly, quota; and, thirdly, registration. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, for raising the matters and

27 Jun 1995 : Column 708

also to the doctor of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for having allowed him to be here. I am also grateful to the noble Lord for the contribution he made once he got here. Before getting to the substance of this amendment, I thank my noble friend Lord Renton for his drafting comment, which I am sure that those who are responsible for these matters will be pleased to have heard and will reflect on.

As the Committee will be aware, the supported employment programme was set up under the auspices of the 1944 Act to provide job opportunities for people who, because of the severity of their disability, are unable or unlikely to be able to obtain or retain work in open employment. Around 21,800 severely disabled people are currently helped by this programme at a cost of about £153 million. This includes around 9,200 people in Remploy Ltd, some 4,600 people in local authority and voluntary body workshops and around 8,000 people on the supported placement scheme which provides job opportunities for severely disabled people to work in open employment. I emphasise that the Government are fully committed to this programme and intend to maintain the current level of provision, but we have to recognise that the needs and expectations of severely disabled people are changing, and the supported employment programme needs to be flexible enough in its administrative arrangements to continue to meet those needs and expectations.

Amendment No. 137 would hinder that flexibility on the mistaken premise, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, that private companies would be able to exploit severely disabled people or in some way cream off less severely disabled people to maximise their contribution to productivity. The suggestion appears to be that supported workshops would be left with a workforce made up entirely of the most severely disabled people. This is not plausible. We have contractual arrangements which deal with standards in existing placements, including payment of the rate for the job, and I can assure the Committee that contractual arrangements would be put in place to ensure similar standards in future placements.

As to the potential to cream off those who are less severely disabled, we propose to consult on the precise mechanisms for entry to the supported employment programme, but we do not expect the broad criteria to change significantly. The current criteria are that severely disabled people should be capable of productivity within the range of 30 per cent. to 80 per cent. of a non-disabled worker. The specific type of provision to be offered will continue to be decided by the Employment Service and the individual disabled person, in liaison with the relevant providers.

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from funding places in private companies which had demonstrated a commitment to the principles of the programme. It would do so despite the fact that those who responded and commented on this aspect of our Disability on the Agenda consultation document overwhelmingly agreed that there was no reason to exclude dividend-distributing bodies from participating in the programme.

27 Jun 1995 : Column 709

We recognise that under the supported placement scheme existing host companies in the private sector are already involved in a range of supported job opportunities through providers who act as a form of agency. This amendment would limit the Employment Service's flexibility in funding additional places in reputable companies located where local provision was too limited to meet the needs and expectations of severely disabled people.

I can assure the Committee that the Government do not propose to exercise this power immediately, nor until they have consulted further with relevant organisations, including employees, on the detail of how the power might be used. Particularly, we would consult those groups representing existing supported employment providers. Mention has been made specifically by a number of speakers of Remploy. I want to make it absolutely clear that the Government remain committed to Remploy and the changes made by the Bill leave Remploy's statutory position unaffected.

The supported employment programme, however, must be open to change, and this is an opportune time to introduce further flexibility into the administrative arrangements to allow in the longer term an opening up of supported employment across a wider range of occupations and locations and to help tailor provisions more precisely to the local employment needs of the most severely disabled. I hope that this gives a clear picture of what the Government's thinking is on this matter and indicates that the more dramatic scenarios that seem to be behind some noble Lords' contributions are not founded.

I should now like to continue by speaking about the quota scheme.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page