Andrew Selous: 'Disabled are grateful so work harder,' says Tory minister

Andrew Selous risks new storm with remarks over efforts to widen labour force, as David Blunkett enters row over blind writer being 'happy to work for less' than sighted colleagues

A second government minister made contentious comments over the disabled and their role in the workplace at the Conservative Party's annual conference last month, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Andrew Selous, a Justice minister and former parliamentary aide to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, told a fringe meeting that "disabled people work harder because they're grateful to have a job".

His comments are revealed just days after David Cameron faced calls to sack Lord Freud as Welfare Reform minister after a recording emerged of him telling a separate fringe meeting that disabled people were "not worth" the full minimum wage. The IoS has learned that Labour will hold a vote of no confidence in Lord Freud, in the Commons. Labour will table the motion tomorrow and the vote will be on 29 October, the first available opportunity, when it has its opposition day debate. Labour sources said the pressure would be on the Lib Dems to back the motion after Nick Clegg said last week that Lord Freud's comments were "deeply distressing and offensive".

In a further development, David Blunkett, the blind former Cabinet minister, said people with his form of disability should be able to work on "equal terms", after the journalist Tom Utley wrote that his father, the late Daily Telegraph journalist TE Utley, was happy to work for less money than his sighted colleagues.

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Responding to Mr Utley's article in the Daily Mail on the Lord Freud row, Mr Blunkett told The IoS: "I am very sorry that Tom Utley recalled his father's situation in this particular dispute. He was always applauded for being able to work on equal terms and to use his remarkable memory... to do his job. It saddens me to have his memory diminished in this way."

While Lord Freud apologised for his comments, supporters have insisted that he was discussing the idea, previously backed by Labour and some disability groups, for the Government to provide additional support to employers who take on disabled workers.

The emergence of a second minister's comments risked adding fuel to the row. Mr Selous made the comments at a Centre for Social Justice fringe meeting, where he was speaking on the Government's reforms to the criminal justice system. Tania Bassett and Dave Adams, two senior members of the Napo probation union, which opposes the reforms, were sitting in the front row.

Mr Adams said: "I was shocked. It was one of those moments where you think 'did he really just say that?'."

And Ms Bassett said: "There was a lot of muttering, like 'I can't believe he just said this'. He was talking about employment for offenders, suggesting that, like disabled people, they'll work hard."

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Mr Selous defended his position last night. He said: "I was Iain Duncan Smith's PPS [Parliamentary Private Secretary] for four years. My recollection is that the point I was making was the feedback I had... that employers are often very, very pleased with disabled employees; they work harder, they are loyal. These are good reasons to employ disabled people and offenders."

Privately, disability rights campaigners are split over whether Mr Selous' language was offensive or not, though most agreed that the word "grateful" was misjudged. A spokesman for Disability Rights UK said that case studies backed up Mr Selous' views, pointing out that many disabled people are "pretty determined to do well", but he added "it's not necessarily about gratitude".

But Kate Green, the shadow Disabilities minister, said: "These new comments about disabled people from another Tory minister show they just don't get it... Many would love to work, but Tory policies are failing disabled people."

On the Labour motion, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said: "David Cameron's failure to act after Lord Freud said that some disabled people are 'not worth the full wage' is astonishing... it's clear the mask has slipped and the nasty party is back.

"Labour will table a motion of no confidence in Lord Freud because we believe it's completely unacceptable that David Cameron has failed to sack his minister for Welfare Reform."

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