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Business Of The House

Volume 124: debated on Monday 14 December 1987

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Ordered,

That, at this day's sitting, the Local Government Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Lennox- Boyd.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

The questions will be set out by me. They will not be decided by the CRE. The CRE will be consulted but the decision will be for the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry asked why we included only section 71(a) of the Race Relations Act in the Bill. The answer is to be found in section 71(b) which states:
"to promote equality of opportunity, and good relations, between persons of different racial groups."
That is obviously a worthy objective, but it is hard to see how it can be secured, particularly in the matter of contract compliance. It could be wildly abused if it were an unrestrained duty on local authorities, who could use it as a loophole to escape the provisions of the Bill in relation to contract compliance. Having listened to the debate, we still think it would be better only to include section 71(a) for reasons that I will develop later. It is already a duty on local authorities, and we want to limit the scope of those questions in the way that I have described because of the way in which the loophole could have been enlarged to include everything in relation to South Africa and other matters that have caused concern.

My hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and for Northampton, North and others want to go as far as to repeal section 71 of the Race Relations Act. They were kind enough to say that I had voted against the Race Relations Bill. I certainly did. I have voted against a large number of Bills in my 28 years in the House, and I regret that many of them are still on the statute book. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, one has come to accept that times change and the logic of matters alters, so one is happy to live with some of those Acts. I was glad to hear that he shares with me the view that he is now prepared to accept the Race Relations Act, even though he called it a little bit of nonsense. He said he simply wanted to remove section 71 by his new clause.

I believe that the changed opinion is partly because the Commission for Racial Equality has been demonstrating a much more balanced and reasonable approach, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said. Indeed, in a newspaper today it condemns reversed discrimination, which must be an encouraging sign. Whatever we feel about the Race Relations Act or the CRE, we should make amendments to that aspect of policy only by the vehicle of a Race Relations Bill. I assure the House that the Government have no proposal to put forward such a Bill at present.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) adjured us to stick to the subject of the debate. If I may say so, he spent most of his speech debating race relations. I do not believe that it is right to try to amend the race relations legislation in the Local Government Bill; nor is it right to amend legislation in relation to the disabled, to terms and conditions of employment or to equal opportunities by an amendment to this legislation. The fundamental point is that section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 places two duties on local authorities. It is possible, and likely, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will propose legislation which imposes a similar duty in Northern Ireland. Here I reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). If it is expressly laid down by Parliament that local authorities have a duty to do this, that or the other, it cannot be right for the Local Government Bill to be in conflict with that duty. People, like my hon. Friends, may wish to change the statute. A list has been given tonight of possible changes to a number of statutes. That takes the matter far beyond my departmental responsibilities and raises issues which should be considered as a whole within the context of the governing legislation.

Will the right hon. Gentleman clearly confirm the implication of his statement, that the Government stand entirely by the Race Relations Act, and section 71, and have no intention of repealing any or all of it, either now or for the period of this Administration?

I thought that I had said that we have no such plans. It is not for me to make binding declarations for all time on behalf of a colleague who is not present, although the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office is here. I do not think that I can be smoked out on an amendment such as this on something that is irrelevant to the Bill. I have been pretty fair in giving the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) the assurance that he seeks.

The Secretary of State is really saying that the Government choose not to act to amend the Bill to enable equal opportunities for women and better employment opportunities for disabled people to take place through local government action, so what answer does he give Baroness Platt of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who has written to the Government asking them to do just that?

A reply has been given to Baroness Platt. The answer is that there are no proposals to change the equal opportunities legislation. If it were changed in the way that she seeks, clearly this legislation would have to be changed as a consequence. The Local Government Bill does not promote equal opportunities, racial equality or help for the disabled; it fits contract compliance into the existing statutes on all these matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the equal opportunities legislation and the Race Relations Act are different in the way that they place burdens on local authorities for enforcement. That is the central point.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) talked about the need to improve the lot of the disabled. The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 established a voluntary register of disabled people. It obliges employers who are below the relevant quota-3 per cent. of their total work force to be registered disabled — to take steps to rectify that matter. But—this is crucial—it is not an offence to be below quota; nor is it the job of local authorities to check, monitor and enforce that quota. The employment service has a highly skilled team of people whose job it is to do that and who know whether firms are coming up to their quota requirements. They know the situation of disabled people looking for work in a particular area and how best to place such disabled people as there are vacancies for. That sophisticated job is done by the Department of Employment. There is no requirement on local authorities to do it. If the hon. Member for Copeland wants to change those arrangements, he should do it by persuading my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to improve the working of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act.

Finally, the hon. Members for Copeland, for Tottenham and for Burnley (Mr. Pike) asked me about the use of local labour conditions. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey—

The legal requirement on all employers with more than 20 workers is being blatantly disregarded by most employers. Many are breaking the law by not fulfilling the quota requirement and not having a permit not to take on the full number of workers. Most local authorities do not fulfil their moral obligations and the Secretary of State is doing nothing about that. Contract compliance is the only answer.

It is not an offence to be below quota. If an employer is below quota, he must not engage anyone other than a registered disabled person or discharge one from his work force without a permit from the employment service. That is the law. The employment service is the enforcement agent. One cannot just take out the employment service and replace it with the local authorities. That is my sole point.

The use of local labour conditions would, in our legal opinion, contravene European Community rules. We have looked closely at the legal opinion obtained by the Opposition. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government has already written to the hon. Member for Copeland, and copied the letter to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, to say that nothing in that opinion causes us to change our view. The Opposition in their new clause seek to restrict such conditions to inner-city areas or regions of high unemployment and to try to limit local workers to a reasonable percentage of the work force who are unemployed. In the Government's view, and according to our advice, such devices do not offer any way round the relevant EEC directives. As I explained in full on Second Reading, the way to achieve employment of inner-city residents is to ensure that our inner-city initiatives are designed to encourage firms to recruit local labour and to ensure that that labour is better trained and motivated to grasp the opportunities thus created.

I say to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey that there are already cases before the European Court, and we must see how that court interprets the directives. We do not have any right to go to the court or to the Commission for an opinion. The action that the hon. Gentleman attempted to urge on me to get round this little local difficulty in Brussels is not a realistic possibility.

I think that on reflection the Secretary of State will accept that it is open to the Government—to the Attorney-General or to anybody else — to go to the Divisional Court here for a declaration. That could be referred to the European Court for a ruling. That could be done within a year and the Government would then have clarity. They would know whether they could do what the Secretary of State said he wishes to do.

There is a case before the European Court. I suggest that we wait for the result of that case. That is the easiest and quickest way of proceeding and that is exactly what we are doing.

I commend new clause 5 to the House and suggest that it should reject the other new clauses.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 491, Noes 10.

Division No. 110]

[10.14 pm

AYES

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Bendall, Vivian
Adley, RobertBennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Allason, RupertBenyon, W.
Allen, GrahamBermingham, Gerald
Alton, DavidBevan, David Gilroy
Amess, DavidBlackburn, Dr John G.
Amos, AlanBlair, Tony
Anderson, DonaldBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, JamesBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBoswell, Tim
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBottomley, Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Ashby, DavidBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashdown, PaddyBowis, John
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBoyes, Roland
Ashton, JoeBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Aspinwall, JackBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, RobertBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkinson, DavidBray, Dr Jeremy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Brazier, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bright, Graham
Baldry, TonyBrittan, Rt Hon Leon
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brooke, Hon Peter
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Batiste, SpencerBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Battle, JohnBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBrowne, John (Winchester)
Beckett, MargaretBruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buchan. NormanFlannery, Martin
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickFlynn, Paul
Burns, SimonFookes, Miss Janet
Burt, AlistairForman, Nigel
Butcher, JohnFoster, Derek
Butterfill, JohnFoulkes, George
Caborn, RichardFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Callaghan, JimFox, Sir Marcus
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Fraser, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Freeman, Roger
Campbell-Savours, D. N.French, Douglas
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Galbraith, Samuel
Carrington, MatthewGale, Roger
Carttiss, MichaelGalloway, George
Cash, WilliamGardiner, George
Channon, Rt Hon PaulGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Chapman, SydneyGarrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Chope, ChristopherGeorge, Bruce
Churchill, MrGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Glyn, Dr Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Goodhart, Sir Philip
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Goodlad, Alastair
Clay, BobGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Clelland, DavidGorst, John
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGould, Bryan
Coleman, DonaldGow, Ian
Colvin, MichaelGower, Sir Raymond
Conway, DerekGraham, Thomas
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Greenway, John (Rydale)
Cope, JohnGregory, Conal
Corbett, RobinGriffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Cormack, PatrickGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Couchman, JamesGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Cousins, JimGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cox, TomGrist, Ian
Cran, JamesGrocott, Bruce
Critchley, JulianGround, Patrick
Cummings, J.Grylls, Michael
Cunliffe, LawrenceHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Cunningham, Dr JohnHampson, Dr Keith
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHanley, Jeremy
Darling, AlastairHannam, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Hardy, Peter
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Harman, Ms Harriet
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Harris, David
Day, StephenHaselhurst, Alan
Dewar, DonaldHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Dickens, GeoffreyHawkins, Christopher
Dixon, DonHayes, Jerry
Dobson, FrankHaynes, Frank
Doran, FrankHayward, Robert
Dorrell, StephenHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Douglas, DickHeathcoat-Amory, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHeddle, John
Dunn, BobHeffer, Eric S.
Dunnachie, JamesHenderson, Douglas
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Durant, TonyHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Dykes, HughHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Eastham, KenHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Emery, Sir PeterHill, James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Hinchliffe, David
Evans, John (St Helens N)Hind, Kenneth
Evennett, DavidHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Fallon, MichaelHolt, Richard
Farr, Sir JohnHome Robertson, John
Fatchett, DerekHordern, Sir Peter
Fenner, Dame PeggyHoward, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Fisher, MarkHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S heath)Marek, Dr John
Howells, GeraintMarland, Paul
Hoyle, DougMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Martin, Michael (Springburn)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Martlew, Eric
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Mates, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Maude, Hon Francis
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasMaxton, John
Ingram, AdamMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Irvine, MichaelMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Irving, CharlesMeacher, Michael
Jack, MichaelMeale, Alan
Jackson, RobertMellor, David
Janner, GrevilleMeyer, Sir Anthony
Jessel, TobyMichael, Alun
John, BrynmorMiller, Hal
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyMills, Iain
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Moate, Roger
Key, RobertMontgomery, Sir Fergus
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilMorgan, Rhodri
Kirkhope, TimothyMorley, Elliott
Knapman, RogerMorris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Morris, Rt Hon J (Aberavon)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Knowles, MichaelMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Knox, DavidMoss, Malcolm
Lambie, DavidMowlam, Mrs Marjorie
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanMoynihan, Hon C.
Lang, IanMudd, David
Latham, MichaelMurphy, Paul
Lawrence, IvanNeale, Gerrard
Leadbitter, TedNeedham, Richard
Lee, John (Pendle)Nelson, Anthony
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Neubert, Michael
Leighton, RonNewton, Tony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkNicholls, Patrick
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Lewis, TerryOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Lightbown, DavidO'Brien, William
Lilley, PeterO'Neill, Martin
Litherland, RobertOnslow, Cranley
Livingstone, KenOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Livsey, RichardPage, Richard
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Paice, James
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Parry, Robert
Lofthouse, GeoffreyPatnick, Irvine
Lord, MichaelPatten, Chris (Bath)
Loyden, EddiePatten, John (Oxford W)
Luce, Rt Hon RichardPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Lyell, Sir NicholasPawsey, James
McAllion, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
McAvoy, TomPendry, Tom
Macdonald, CalumPike, Peter
McFall, JohnPorter, David (Waveney)
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Portillo, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
McKelvey, WilliamPowell, William (Corby)
Maclean, DavidPrescott, John
McLeish, HenryPrice, Sir David
McLoughlin, PatrickPrimarolo, Ms Dawn
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Quin, Ms Joyce
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Radice, Giles
McTaggart, BobRaffan, Keith
McWilliam, JohnRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Madel, DavidRedwood, John
Mahon, Mrs AliceReid, John
Major, Rt Hon JohnRhodes James, Robert
Malins, HumfreyRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Mans, KeithRichardson, Ms Jo
Maples, JohnRiddick, Graham

Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasSnape, Peter
Ridsdale, Sir JulianSoames, Hon Nicholas
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Soley, Clive
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Speed, Keith
Robinson, GeoffreySpeller, Tony
Roe, Mrs MarionSpicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Rogers, AllanSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Rooker, JeffSquire, Robin
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Steel, Rt Hon David
Rossi, Sir HughSteen, Anthony
Rost, PeterSteinberg, Gerald
Rowe, AndrewStern, Michael
Rowlands, TedStevens, Lewis
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Ryder, RichardStewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Sackville, Hon TomStott, Roger
Sainsbury, Hon TimStradling Thomas, Sir John
Sayeed, JonathanStrang, Gavin
Sedgemore, BrianSumberg, David
Shaw, David (Dover)Summerson, Hugo
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Sheerman, BarryTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Shelton, William (Streatham)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Temple-Morris, Peter
Shersby, MichaelThomas, Dafydd Elis
Shore, Rt Hon PeterThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Sims, RogerThorne, Neil
Skeet, Sir TrevorThornton, Malcolm
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Thurnham, Peter
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Tracey, Richard
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)Tredinnick, David
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Trippier, David

Trotter, NevilleWiggin, Jerry
Turner, DennisWigley, Dafydd
Twinn, Dr IanWilkinson, John
Vaughan, Sir GerardWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
Waddington, Rt Hon DavidWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Wakeham, Rt Hon JohnWilshire, David
Waldegrave, Hon WilliamWilson, Brian
Walden, GeorgeWinnick, David
Walker, Bill (T'side North)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wallace, JamesWolfson, Mark
Waller, GaryWood, Timothy
Walley, Ms JoanWoodcock, Mike
Walters, DennisWorthington, Anthony
Ward, JohnWray, James
Warden, Gareth (Gower)Yeo, Tim
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wareing, Robert N.Young, Sir George (Acton)
Warren, Kenneth
Watts, JohnTellers for the Ayes:
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Wheeler, JohnMr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Widdecombe, Miss Ann

NOES

Body, Sir RichardStanbrook, Ivor
Budgen, NicholasWells, Bowen
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Dicks, Terry
Dover, DenTellers for the Noes:
Gill, ChristopherMr. Tony Marlow and
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMr. Tim Janman.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.