§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
We turn now to an entirely different debate. Of the previous debate I heard only the winding-up speech, but I am sure that before the House rises none of us will regret the opportunity to discuss a problem very serious in any civilised country such as this—the problem of disabled persons. I suppose that we can claim that we probably do more for our disabled persons than does any other country in the world. It is right that we should, and it is right that we should extend our work so as to do our best to bring this class back into the normal pattern of industry.
First, it is useful to look at the size of the present problem. When we do that, we see with some relief that the number of those registered as disabled persons has fallen over the years. Nevertheless, in April, 1959, there were still some 715,800 of them—we may get later figures from the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact that there is that reduction in the registered number is a very good sign, but at the same time we have to remember that, of those, 59,671 are unemployed.
It is obvious that if there is a difficult employment situation generally, the disabled person has a more difficult time than when unemployment is negligible. We have passed through a phase of a recession that is now beginning to move 1136 the other way, and it may well be that as the general employment situation continues to improve the number of unemployed disabled persons will be reduced.
Of the 59,671 unemployed disabled persons, 55,470 are said to be suitable for ordinary employment but the other 4,000-odd require very special conditions of employment. Therefore, we must apply ourselves to these two factors—the number of disabled persons suitable for ordinary employment, and the much smaller number for whom special provision must be made—and discuss what we can do in respect of both groups.
We have two main tasks. The first is to ensure—or to discover how to ensure—that industry takes a proper quota of the disabled persons who are able to do a normal job. I assume this to be completely a Ministry responsibility. The second task is to find out what facilities are available to permit those people with severe disabilities to earn their living, whether in ordinary jobs in competitive employment, in sheltered workshops or in some special work.
When we consider how to ensure that industry takes its proper quota of disabled persons, we have to see whether or not the quota system is still working as effectively today as it did some years ago. By the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944, any employer employing twenty or more employees is required to take a quota of about 3 per cent. of disabled persons, and the Ministry has inspectors who make a number of inspections to make sure that this 3 per cent. quota is maintained.
There are available some most interesting figures from which we can draw a lesson. In 1954, there were 6,019 quota inspections, and in 1957 the number had dropped to 3,966. One would assume that the reason for that drop was that the number of jobs required for disabled persons had lessened or that, with the growth of the number of people in civil employment, more disabled had secured jobs, but the survey contained in the Ministry's 1958 Report shows that whilst the labour force in those firms covered by the quota provision rose from 14,200,000 to 14,800,000, the number of disabled persons had gone down from some 480,000 to 476,000.
1137 That is a very bad trend, particularly when the Ministry of Labour figures indicate that there are still over 55,000 disabled people available for ordinary employment. The proportion of disabled persons employed by those firms covered by the quota has gone down from about 3.4 per cent. to about 3.2 per cent., although in this period there has been an increase of 600,000 in the labour force of those firms.
Has this reduction in the number of employed disabled persons anything to do with the lessening of the number of inspections? Is it a coincidence that as the number of inspections has dropped from 6,000-odd to just over 3,900 the number of disabled people employed by these firms covered by the quota has fallen, or is it that the inspections have diminished because the number of disabled persons employed under the quota system has also diminished?
I would ask the Minister to consult those responsible in the Department for dealing with these inspections in order to find out whether or not this is a pointer to the need for additional inspections. I know the tremendous amount of work that is placed on the inspectorate department in the Ministry—we are always asking for more inspection of factories and the like—but I think that there is a relationship between the number of inpections and the number of disabled people employed under the quota system.
I urge the Minister to make every endeavour to increase that number to its former size and to ensure that the number of inspections is maintained and, if it is found to be worth while, to make a special effort in one year to increase it. That is a direct responsibility over which the Minister has full control.
I want now to consider what the Government themselves do as employers. Again, the record is not something about which we can be too proud. In 1954, 5.5 per cent. of the total staffs of the Government were disabled people. The figure has gone down slightly through the years, until, in the figures published in the Annual Report for 1958, it had reached 4.7 per cent. It is true that even 4.7 per cent. is well over the quota expected of private employers, but it is a distinct drop on the 5.5 per cent. which had obtained earlier.
1138 Why cannot that figure of 5.5 per cent. be maintained? Presumably, in 1954, Government employing Departments were doing their best to employ as many disabled people as possible, but surely the figure could have been maintained at round about 5 per cent. and not allowed to fall as it has done consistently year by year. It may well be that next year's figures, relating to this present year, will be even lower than that 4.7 per cent. At least there is a trend in that direction. "Laxity" is the wrong word, but the employment of disabled persons does not seem to get that attention in Government employing Departments which it had in the years immediately after the war, when there was a great push towards getting ex-Service disabled persons in particular into employment.
It may well be that we need only bring these facts to the attention of those responsible for the figure to go back to 5 per cent. or even 6 per cent., which it would be simple for Government Departments to bring about. If we are to urge private employers to employ a rather greater proportion of disabled persons, the Government must at least set a good example by not reducing the numbers they employ and by even increasing the number. At least the figure must be maintained at that which we reached in 1954.
In connection with this task, there is the work of the special officers in placing disabled persons in employment. Here again, one sees a diminution not in the work of resettlement officers, but in the success attending their efforts. Ministry placings of disabled persons in ordinary employment in 1954 were 115,613, and by 1958 that number had decreased to 61,268. That is a very serious drop.
There is a placing side to the work of resettlement officers, the placing of disabled persons in employment in special conditions. That is much more difficult than placing disabled people who may be able to do a job with only a little assistance. In 1955, 420 such people were placed and in 1956 the number was 988. By 1957 it had gone up to 1,067 and those of us interested in the problem felt that a major effort was being made and that most of the difficult cases were being placed satisfactorily. We were keenly disappointed when in 1958 the 1139 figure fell to 842, a drop from 1,067 in twelve months.
There must be a reason for that fall. Is it that there is a serious limitation on the number of places available for the employment of people as badly disabled as those of whom I am now speaking, or is it the case that the emphasis has gone from this sort of work? The figures I have been giving all seem to indicate that there was a great push in 1954 to do all that was possible in placing disabled persons who could go into ordinary jobs, and also to make a special effort for those who had to be placed in employment in special conditions.
The Piercy Committee had commenced its labours at about that time and it reported in 1956, so that this effort coincided with the work of the Committee. Was that coincidence in itself sufficient to create the impetus within the Ministry which made the administration concentrate upon this special task, with the resulting figures of this kind?
We all know that, whether in the manning of industry in war time or in finding workers for industries badly short of workers in peace time, as soon as the Ministry decides administratively to concentrate upon a particular task of placing, it makes a splendid job of it and is highly successful. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that there was an effort in 1954 and that it was stimulated by the setting up of the Piercy Committee and the general interest of the Minister and his predecessors.
I am not placing any blame on anybody, but the impetus has somehow lessened, and as a result the figures are more and more disappointing year after year. The direction should be reversed as soon as possible. I believe that it can be reversed if an impetus such as that given in 1954 is given to the sort of services which the Ministry is now able to give.
I come to three conclusions in relation to this part of what I have to say. First, we should have an inquiry into the quota system. Secondly, the Government services should get back to employing the percentage of disabled people which they formerly employed. Thirdly, there must be an especial effort in the task of resettlement of which I have just been speaking.
1140 I do not want to take too long, but this is the sort of subject on which one is tempted to speak for a long time, as one easily could, since a very important and human problem is involved. I want now to deal with the sort of facilities which are available for training and enabling severely disabled persons to earn. This is one of the most important tasks confronting the Ministry in this work. There is nothing worse than a disabled person being in full possession of his mental faculties and yet finding himself unable to do anything to make any contribution towards earning his own living. It has nothing to do with money. It has much more to do with the psychological effect on an individual who is so badly handicapped that he has to rely on every single person round him for his complete maintenance.
If we had to face a situation where nothing could be done for our disabled people, we could only appeal to the Government to provide more money so that these people could be kept in some degree of comfort and happiness. But that is not the case. While it is sadly and tragically true that nothing can be done for a proportion of seriously disabled persons, it is surprising that a vast number of disabled people, even those who at first sight appear to have no hope in relation to training, can, provided they receive care and attention, and the right kind of training is available, be trained to earn a living, or part of a living.
It may well be that they cannot be trained to enter into open competitive employment, but they can be trained to enter sheltered employment. The problem therefore divides itself into two again. Having done the training, and if it is training that has enabled a disabled person to go into open employment, it is a resettlement job for the Ministry. If after training it is a question of finding sheltered employment, we must make sure that there is enough sheltered employment to take all the people who can be retrained.
Our main purpose in training anyone should be to resettle him in open employment. That is by far the best thing to do. Having done our best in that direction, we are bound to face the fact that a good deal of our training will necessarily be to equip disabled people 1141 who will be able to enter sheltered employment only.
We are supposed to indicate our interest when we are speaking in the Committee, and I now make known my own interest. I happen to be a governor of the Queen Elizabeth Training College for the disabled. As chairman of its training committee, I have had opportunities for looking at the training of those who come under the care of the college. I have a good deal of practical experience not only in watching the trainees at work and being trained, but in seeing the kind of disabled person who is capable of being trained.
My admiration for those who work at the college increases each time I go there. I see people whom I should have thought were quite incapable of being trained being painfully, slowly, but carefully trained and turned out to find employment in the open market.
I was looking at a Ministry Report the other day which showed that 90 per cent. of the people passing through the college on three- or six-month courses have found jobs. The work of training disabled persons is not a task which ought necessarily to be taken on solely by the Government. In this country there is a vast army of men and women only too anxious to render services to humanity whenever they possibly can. This voluntary service is something that we ought to encourage. What we need are more colleges like the Queen Elizabeth College and others. They ought not to have to work on a shoestring.
I know that the Minister is not in a position to say, "I am prepared to provide more money for training under certain circumstances", because he has the Treasury to deal with and this is not one of the first things in the queue, but to my mind it is a wise use of public money to enable disabled persons to begin to live again by training them and enabling them to earn their own living and to take their place in normal society. No money could be spent to better advantage than on the rehabilitation of a human being. The Minister would be doing a great service if he once again looked at the arrangements made for the financing of both training colleges and sheltered industries.
1142 I have read with some interest the Annual Report of Remploy. Time does not permit me to go through this Report and to make some comments about Remploy, but it is doing valuable work. It employs 6,000 severely disabled persons a year, though perhaps the figure is held artificially at that level. Many of us feel that Remploy could be extended, but I know that there has been this averaging out of about 6,000 persons per year. It costs Remploy between £8 and £9 per week per disabled worker. I do not begrudge a penny piece of that money. I am satisfied that Remploy does this work as efficiently as possible.
If it costs Remploy between £8 and £9 a week for each worker, it is very difficult to expect a voluntary organisation to take a maximum of £150 a year, or £3 a week, for a worker to do precisely the same job in a sheltered industry. I am not suggesting for one moment that the financial obligation which the Government extend to Remploy should go to the sheltered industries to the tune of £8 or £9 a week. Conditions are not the same. I do not want to argue that, but, as the voluntary organisations get reimbursed to the extent of only 75 per cent. of their loss, they must raise the other 25 per cent. themselves. In these days that is a very high figure.
Money is not as easy to come by for the voluntary services as it used to be. If the Government could help considerably in finding more places in sheltered workshops, or if they could increase that £150 to £250 a year, it would not be a tremendous burden. Also, it may be that by raising this limit of £150 to £250, still on the basis of paying 75 per cent. of the annual loss, the Treasury would not lose money because it would be taking people off public funds and putting them into places where they would be earning money. If it were possible to make an equation, I think it would be found that what the State paid out in public funds would be more than the increase of £100 per year which I am asking for in sheltered employment.
The third class is the home-bound person. He represents a very tragic group. As the name implies, he is unable to leave his home. Work has to be taken to him. He is then able to earn 1143 some money and the mental rehabilitation is good for him. It is right that the standards of living should be increased, but is it right to maintain this limitation on the earnings of the home-bound worker before we begin to take away some of the advantages under the usual pension arrangements? Is it not time that we permitted the home-bound worker to earn a little more before we begin to lop off any benefits that he gets by way of the social services?
I am afraid that I have spoken for rather longer than I ought to have done, but this is a fascinating subject. It is a subject that could occupy our attention for much longer than this short debate but it is right that we should make some observations about the help that the nation—both the Government and the voluntary workers—can give to disabled persons.
The whole problem should be looked at again. We owe Lord Piercy and his Committee a tremendous debt of gratitude for their Report, to which we all turn back. I wonder whether the Minister agrees that this is the right time to set up a stocktaking committee, which would take the Piercy Report as a basis, consider its recommendations, and examine the present situation in the light of it. Perhaps we could have another of those very good committees which have been presided over by Parliamentary Secretaries in the last few years. It was the late George Tomlinson who started them. It would be a useful thing to review the position once every three or four years, with the Piercy Report as a basis. We should then be making a great contribution to what is undoubtedly a very difficult human problem to many people, in respect of whom the nation has obligations.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)
It is some time since I had the opportunity of addressing the Committee on this subject. When I was at the Ministry of Labour I was always pleased to be able to speak on it. As on the last occasion when the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and I spoke together on the subject of apprentice training, I take the opportunity of saying that he made a speech which was full of understanding of the subject. Although he has drawn attention to some of the difficulties, and 1144 has quite rightly and naturally pressed for a greater impetus to be given to this work, he would be the first to admit that what has been achieved is a cause of great pride.
Before I went to the Ministry of Labour I did not fully appreciate the extent both of the problem and of our success in meeting it. I want to say a word of praise for the disablement resettlement officers of the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that they are not having as much success as they used to have in placing disabled persons, but he made it clear that he was not criticising them. I am sure that they are putting every bit as much impetus into their work as they did in the past. The fact is that conditions have been more difficult for them in the last year. It cannot be denied that employment opportunities for disabled people must move more or less in step with overall employment opportunities. Considering the difficulties of 1958, we should be very relieved that the placing of disabled people in employment did not fall even lower, and that the total figure of disabled unemployment did not rise to a greater extent.
If I appear to dwell for a few minutes on what I think is the satisfactory side of the picture, I can assure the Committee that it is not because I am in any way complacent about the problem which still remains. Like many people who have taken an interest in the subject, I was worried as to what might happen when, for the first time after the war, we ran into certain economic difficulties. I feared that our success in reducing the number of disabled unemployed might be largely the result of the tremendous pressure on our employment potential. I could not help having the fear—although my hopes were to the contrary—that if a squeeze came upon our economy we might see a disproportionate rise in unemployment among disabled people. Last year, however, when for the first time since the war we met a major world recession in trade, not only did we ride through it remarkably well from the total employment point of view, but we also did specially well from the point of view of disabled employment.
Last year unemployment among the disabled rose, and I believe that it now 1145 stands at about 55,000. That compares favourably with the all-time low of about 36,000 or 37,000 in 1955 and 1956, and it also compares favourably with about 60,000 in 1950, so that we have succeeded over the years in reducing the figure below that reached in 1950 and also in riding the difficulties in our economy last year without the figure of disabled unemployment rising to the previous highest level.
That is a cause for satisfaction. Indeed, between January, 1958, and January, 1959, while the overall unemployment figure rose by about 60 per cent., unemployment among disabled people rose by only 28 per cent. This shows that employers do not regard disabled workers as the first ones expendable in time of difficulty. It also shows that their fellow workers in the trade union movement are prepared to do all they can to keep disabled workers in employment. Further, it shows the extent of the work done by the Ministry of Labour, and particularly by its disablement resettlement officers, in keeping up the pressure on employers to take the maximum number of disabled workers.
Therefore, although I do not want to belittle the increase in unemployment among disabled people, I think that we should take satisfaction from the way in which the position has been held, and I am glad that during this year, as the economy has begun to expand again, the disabled unemployment figure is once more dropping month by month. I sincerely hope that this trend will continue. I believe we can be reasonably confident that it will.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the quota, and I was interested to hear that the overall percentage had dropped from 3.4 to 3.2. He also raised the question of inspection, and I shall be glad to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about this. I wonder whether we do not need more frequent inquiries of employers as to the number of people they are employing rather than more inspections. I forget how frequently these inquiries are made, but I believe that they have fallen to once in about two years. If they could be made at least once a year the disablement resettlement officers would be provided with sufficiently up-to-date information to be able to put some extra 1146 drive in the direction of persuading employers who may be lagging a little in their quota figures.
I now turn to the question of the sheltered employment under Section II disablement. Here again, following the trend in greater employment difficulties in the country, there has been a deterioration in the figures, but those figures are now improving again as the economy expands. I wish to refer particularly to Remploy, but before I do so may I say that I welcome what was said by the right hon. Gentleman about the tremendously valuable work done in the past by voluntary bodies and also by local authority workshops. I am sure that this work will continue in the future. The right hon. Gentleman pleaded with my right hon. Friend for a greater degree of financial help for those workshops and training facilities and sheltered industries. An improvement was made in the figure a year or two ago and I believe that I had the pleasure of announcing it in the House.
§ Mr. Carr
As the right hon. Gentleman says, it was from £100 to £150.
I should certainly not oppose my right hon. Friend were he able to announce a further increase. The right hon. Member for Blyth is right in saying that it is most valuable work which merits support not only for its own sake but because I think that economy and good social policy walk hand in hand on this issue. There is, too, the question of the sympathy with which new capital applications are regarded from the organisations providing sheltered employment and training. In the days of stringency, which was inevitable eighteen months or a year ago, such applications had to be regarded as critically as were any other applications. But now that the position has eased I hope that capital applications to provide new training facilities for disabled people may be looked at more generously.
The right hon. Member for Blyth referred to the plan—I do not think he used the word "conspiracy", although he perhaps implied that there was some conspiracy—to keep the number of Remploy workers at a fixed level. I think that is a mistaken view. There are several important points to keep in 1147 mind regarding Remploy. The basic philosophy was not that we should merely find some sort of employment for severely disabled people, but that Remploy should provide employment which was genuinely economic and which made a contribution to the welfare of the economy, and that in no sense should it be occupational therapy and of only marginal value. If that be so, it is important not only to save Exchequer funds but to fulfil the actual purpose of Remploy that it should be a well-managed and progressive organisation.
In the course of a few years Remploy grew from nothing to an organisation with about 90 factories. Any organisation employing only able-bodied people after such a rapid growth would have to pause for a period for consolidation and regrouping. So that when a check was put on the expansion of Remploy a few years ago and a survey made of its progress, and when certain organisational changes were made, I think that something valuable was achieved. Had that not been done we might have found by now that Remploy had become a rather weak growth needing a great deal more propping up than is the case. It is not only a matter of saving money, but of making Remploy self-supporting so far as possible. Therefore, disappointing though it was, I think that the check upon the progress of Remploy was a constructive and not a purely negative move, and now we are seeing the result.
Despite the difficult trading conditions over the past year, and they must have been difficult for Remploy, I understand—because I still continue to take an interest in these matters—that Remploy sales have been maintained and, in fact, are expanding. A great many businesses which have nothing to do with the employment of severely disabled people could not make that claim in 1958, and for Remploy to be able to expand its sales and even slightly to increase the number of severely disabled people who are employed is a tremendous tribute to its directors and managers. It is a justification for the pause in the progress of Remploy which occurred a few years ago to enable a reorganisation to take place in production and selling methods. But for that pause Remploy might now have 1148 been in considerable difficulties whereas, instead, it is strong and going forward today to do even more useful work.
The right hon. Member for Blyth pleaded for some sort of continuing committee to watch over the whole of this matter. I have drawn attention to certain points which I believe give cause for satisfaction. But I would agree that there remains a big problem. We have only just begun to get the recommendations of the Piercy Committee applied to the stage where we can see their results and while it may be too early for another Piercy Committee, I welcome the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should preside over some sort of watching committee to see how the Piercy Committee recommendations develop in practice and to deal with other problems which may arise. That is a suggestion which I support, and I hope that my hon. Friend may be able to tell the Committee that he regards it favourably.
§ 7.17 p.m.
Mr. J. B. Symonds (Whitehaven)
I hope that the Committee will bear with me while I address hon. Members for the first time. I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor who was respected by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee as well as being deeply respected in the constituency.
I take part in this debate because of my experience of the disabled and also because I have a personal interest. Disabled persons, particularly those who seek work in open employment, are restricted because of their disability to do only certain types of work, and when there is a shortage of work they are the first to sign on at the employment exchanges. They have asked me, "Why cannot I be trained for a different kind of job which would keep me fit and active and make me feel as if I am wanted in the community?" I have visited several rehabilitation centres and I found them most useful. Is there any reason why the number cannot be increased so that the disabled may be given the chance to which they are entitled rather than have to suffer the soul-searing experience of being unemployed?
A large number of disabled persons in Cumberland would welcome such an opportunity, but I am advised that their 1149 nearest rehabilitation centre is at Felling, which is more than 60 miles away. If there is no opportunity for them there, they have to go to Egham, in Surrey. One feels for the plight of the disabled man, particularly in Whitehaven and Cleator Moor where 11 per cent. of the disabled men have to sign on at the employment exchange.
Surely, it is not right for this Committee to say that 11 per cent. of disabled men shall be unemployed, particularly when the competition is such that in Cleator Moor and Whitehaven we have 960 men unemployed and when the difficulty of their getting jobs is very great. Their problems and difficulties have been brought home to me within the last two months, when I have discovered that even the contractors who come to work at Sellafield bring their own men with them for the purpose, while men in Whitehaven feel they are being done out of jobs. When such things as this are taking place, how can one expect a disabled man to find employment of a nature to which he is suited?
I quite agree that Remploy has done a good job of work, and I agree that the rehabilitation officers have done a good job in placing disabled men in employment. As has already been stated, the increase in the last completed year in the sales and warehouse staffs was 10 per cent., which is a very commendable effort. It would have been better, however, if the orders which had been expected from the Government had materialised instead of dropping by over 16 per cent. If the orders represented by that 16 per cent. had been given to Remploy, it would have meant that many more disabled men would have been employed. Here we have the Remploy organisation making an effort to find work for the disabled, when from the very direction from which it most expects help—the Government—it was disappointed. It must have meant that a large number of disabled men were out of jobs.
I have said, and it has been proved, that these men must work at a competitive price, but is it not much better to have a disabled person producing a good article at a fair price rather than receiving benefit from the employment exchange? I express the hope that none 1150 of the work that should have gone to the disabled has been done in Her Majesty's prisons, because I feel that if such were the case it would be a very great injustice. We should think of the feelings of the ex-Service men who fought and were disabled in the defence of their country if they were told that these articles could be made more cheaply in the prisons.
Let me now turn to the severely handicapped. These are the persons who are subject to a special kind of disability, sometimes wheeled about in chairs, confined to the house and crippled by all kinds of complaints which are well-known to medical men. In the hospitals there is occupational therapy, which I think should be largely extended, but what is the use of this if the person concerned returns to his home to be left there on his own? There is a crying need in many of our towns at present for welfare officers to be employed by the local authority. In suggesting something of this kind, I do not want to decry the very valuable work which a large number of voluntary organisations have done over the years.
I have been chairman of several of these organisations, and I have visited various homes as a member of a war pensions committee dealing with this type of work. At the same time, welfare officers working through the local authority could provide accommodation, perhaps attached to a community centre or a recreation hall, in which the good work which has been started in hospitals could continue. These welfare officers should visit the severely handicapped person in his own home.
How many hon. Members have visited the homes of handicapped people and found them making beautiful lampshades, table mats or even going in for marquetry, which is surely an admirable thing, not only to provide themselves with employment and to give their hands work to do, but to keep their minds active and make them feel that they are still part of the community. There is no nicer experience than that of going to these people's homes and taking them more materials to enable them to continue their work.
§ On the question of granting financial aid to enable the local authorities to employ special welfare officers for the 1151 disabled, I think this should be in the form of a special grant and not part and parcel of the existing block grant as we know it at the present time.
§ Now may I turn to another aspect of the problem of the disabled which concerns the blind? I can speak with some assurance and some feeling on this matter because my own son is a registered blind person. Blind people themselves do not want to feel that they are being given charity. They do not want to feel that something is being done especially for them in a charitable way. How man) times have we seen examples of the independence of a blind person? They feel that they want to be part of the community, good working citizens, with plenty of work to do.
§ When they have no work to do they become aggrieved, and very seriously aggrieved when they are told that they can be employed only two or three days a week when their sighted colleagues are on full-time doing the same work for which they themselves have been trained. That is the tragedy of the blind person, and it is very hard, as I know, to see blind persons with nothing to do. They become restless, irritable and, certainly in a large number of cases, feel morbid.
§ Here, again, I ask the Government and the local authorities to give to the blind organisations all the work they can in the way of making spring interior mattresses for hospitals, the baskets—not a certain number, but all—for the Post Office, and the doormats and the like which are required in Government and local authority offices, hospitals and so on. I feel that in granting these services to the blind people and giving them the chance to do these things, the Government and the local authorities will get the job done, at a fair price, that a good job of work will be done and that, in the long run, it will save money and eventually make these people into happy and contented citizens.
§ When dealing with a proposed concession for the blind in connection with the Budget, it was a matter of very great regret to me to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuse to give tax relief for guide dogs for blind persons who were employed. It hurt me very much when I heard him say that he was not prepared to do it. I 1152 have seen, as probably other hon. Members have seen, a guide dog very skilfully guiding a blind man across a road among pedestrians and leading him safely to his bus stop. I feel that if the Chancellor could see that, he would relent and would grant the relief that has been asked for. Those who collect money to provide those dogs to help the blind would get great encouragement by such action. As it is, they are disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Many of the disabled persons are men and women who gladly volunteered to fight for their country in World Wars I and II. They will feel very disappointed if the response from the Government is not as generous as was their action in defending this country. Therefore, I ask the Government to do as the Good Samaritan did—help them now.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I have the very pleasant duty, which I have never had before, of congratulating an hon. Member on his maiden speech, and I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds). He spoke with a great deal of experience and feeling on behalf of the people whose case he put. I listened with particular interest to his statement that he has a blind son, and I congratulate him on the way in which he presented the problems of the blind in industry.
His speech reminded me of a firm where I worked where blind people were put on to "viewing" the finished products. In a very short time, the sightless people were "viewing" those objects with far more efficiency and faster than the sighted persons. That shows that we have not gone far enough in industry to take advantage of the great gifts which everyone possesses. It also shows that if one loses a faculty one very often acquires added efficiency in the use of other faculties.
We should do everything possible to make certain that the disabled, however they may have been disabled, can find posts where they feel they are of service to the community. All the way through his speech, which we know was a maiden speech and, therefore, should not be controversial, the hon. Member put his points clearly. I believe he did a great service to this Committee in putting his 1153 experiences before us. We shall all look forward to the time when he can be a little more controversial, and we shall listen with very great interest to the future contributions which he will make to our debates.
The hon. Gentleman pinpointed another thing, of which we should never lose sight, because it is important. It is that the type of industry in an area may dictate the kind of rehabilitation. Some areas have light industries which can probably absorb a lot more disabled than the statutory requirement because they can give them a job after very little retraining. In heavy industry areas it is more difficult to fit the disabled into industry. We should always consider the type of industry in the area and what sort of rehabilitation we should have. This applies even to the location of the rehabilitation centres. In areas where there are such problems there may be far more disabled persons who need to be completely retrained for new trades. This is better than doing what is often done, bringing men into full production in their old crafts after they have been partially disabled.
I have been a member of a local disablement committee, and during that too short period I saw many of the things which are done and I know others that can be done. New people were always coming into the committee, as representatives of employers, trade unionists, and all the rest of it. The membership changed quite often, and because of those changes there came a new impetus from local industries. Every new representative of the employers on the committee realised after some time what the prospects were. Up to that time he had probably thought in terms of the statutory minimum of employing 3 per cent., but once he had seen how an industry could benefit by adapting itself a different attitude was adopted. Anyone who serves on a disablement committee, whether as employer or trade unionist, immediately realises that there are great advantages in making certain that all disabled people obtain employment at the earliest possible moment.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), in a reference to disablement throughout the country, said that 3.2 to 3.4 per cent. of disabled people were employed in industry. He suggested that 1154 Government Departments should set an example to industry by trying to employ the maximum number of disabled people consistent with efficiency. If the debate has done nothing else but draw the attention of everyone in industry to the problem of disablement, it will have done good. People tend to leave the problem alone and not to look at it.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the sense of complete helplessness and despair which is felt by disabled persons who see no prospect of re-employment. We must also take this into account. If one has a serious illness, like pneumonia, it is amazing what a feeling of helplessness one has. On leaving hospital, one feels a certain amount of lassitude and one asks oneself whether there is any future, any prospect. If we feel like that after a major illness, how much more must that feeling exist in people who are permanently disabled. They can only look forward to going to their employers and asking, "Is it possible for you to re-employ me, either in my old trade or after training me for a new trade?"
Fortunately, the rehabilitation centres do a very good job in making certain, not only that they retrain men because they are no longer fitted for the job they are doing, but in bringing men back to a state in which they can be confident that they are able to do their job. That is an advance on the old days when the general practitioner would give a man a note saying, "This man is fit for light duties". The man would approach his employer who would ask him, "What does the doctor mean by light duties?" The man would say, "I do not know", and the employer would then say, "I have not got any light work for you to do; that is just too bad". That sort of haphazard handling of the problem has gone by the board. Now there is the expert attention of the rehabilitation centres and rehabilitation officers, who make certain that a person is either retrained or rehabilitated, with all the occupational therapy which is required.
It can then be said that the man is capable of doing a particular job, and, in fact, capable of doing it over a number of hours each week for many years to come. In those circumstances, employers are naturally prepared to take into employment not only those of their own employees who have suffered accidents— 1155 which is extremely important—but those who have been disabled in the service of their country. It is important that the community should always be prepared to pay the debt it owes to those who have received injuries in the service of the community. I believe that is the way we are going, with all this moving forward by which more and more people in industry realise the problem. We want to keep what we call sheltered employment down to a minimum and concentrate always on helping these people to fit into open employment so that they may feel confident that they are competent of doing a job and earning their living.
A number of other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate; therefore, all I say in conclusion is that we should not sit back now but rather try to make certain that we keep this effort going at as high a rate as possible so that disabled persons can look forward to being absorbed into employment, whether open employment as we hope, or through Remploy schemes in sheltered employment.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I wish, first, on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself to add to the congratulations offered by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) to my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) on his maiden speech. I am sure the Committee will agree that in that speech my hon. Friend showed a wealth of knowledge, practical knowledge, of this human problem. He spoke with quiet confidence and firmness and brought to this debate a number of practical suggestions. We on this side of the Committee look forward to hearing him speak on many occasions, but we hope that his next speech will be delivered from the other side of the Committee. [Interruption.] I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends misunderstand me, but I do not think I need explain what I mean.
One morning a few weeks ago almost the whole of the Southampton Remploy Factory workers, all who were fit to travel, were in this very House. Some had to be wheeled in and some had to be carried in by our good friends the attendants, who are always willing to 1156 help. Those workers were visiting the Parliament which had provided them with an honourable living and an honourable livelihood. They came at their own expense. Such a visit, I suggest to the Committee, would have been unthinkable for such crippled men and women thirty years ago.
So I welcome this debate as an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Remploy. We are spending something like £2½ million a year on it. I believe it is money well spent. I believe we could double it very usefully, and that doubling would probably treble its influence. Much of the expense, to which Committees which have studied the matter have previously referred, goes in overhead management. The expansion of Remploy could provide greater services than would be accounted for by the actual amount of the increase.
It is my very happy privilege to be closely associated with the Southampton Remploy Factory. There, as in all Remploy factories, disabled men and women are earning their own living. It is not easy work, but work which a person with defective limbs can do. This is a very happy factory, thanks to the devotion, skill and leadership of its manager, Mr. Herod, whom I am very pleased to mention in this debate—he rose from the position of a worker in a Remploy factory—and also thanks to the outstanding character of the factory foreman, an able-bodied man. It is usual for the foreman of a factory to be the subject of a music-hall joke, and I find it very difficult to convey to the Committee not only the efficiency but almost the parental interest he takes. He acts not only as an overseer, but as a foster father. Especially is it a happy factory because of the grit and courage of the disabled workers themselves. I find this cheerfulness and courage of the disabled folk of this country an inspiration. If I may say so without appearing to be presumptuous, I find that true—as I am sure all hon. Members find it true through experience of the way in which he tackles his job—of the Parliamentary Secretary who is to reply to the debate.
Running such a factory presents a manager with very many problems. Physical defects bring all kinds of psychological difficulties. I am very 1157 glad to see present the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson), who has devoted so much of his Parliamentary life to the problems of those who are mentally sick. The matching of disability to endeavour, the encouraging of the productivity of workers in such a factory by all kinds of bonus incentives without penalising those whose smaller quantity of work is due not to slackness but to greater disability, is a real problem for the manager of a Remploy factory.
Keeping the team spirit, keeping the factory happy on the job when the job in every Remploy factory—in our case knitting surgical stockings—is a monotonous one, and when the people themselves are sometimes trying, must indeed be a very difficult task. I wish to assure the Parliamentary Secretary, and through him the Minister of Labour, that Remploy at Southampton is a model of its kind, that in Mr. Herod, the manager, he has found a man who tackles the job of managing in the spirit of dedication. I know from my visits to other Remploy factories in the country that similar men are at the head of them.
In Southampton we have a long waiting list of people who would like to get into Remploy. Remploy is closely in touch with the disablement officers of the Ministry of Labour. I should like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the disablement officers attached to the employment exchanges. It has, however, been my sad duty to sit with selection committees picking out of numbers of disabled people sent to us by the disablement officer one, or perhaps two, who would fill vacancies in the Southampton Remploy Factory.
If the work were available and the factory space were available in our little factory we could easily take double the number. Those who are excluded at the moment are worthwhile men and women who ought to be inside the factory, if we could get them there. The work of any disablement officer of the Ministry of Labour must be most frustrating, but it is particularly so in this case where there are more disabled people than there are special jobs which he can allocate to them. I wish that the country would turn its mind much more to the question of finding work for the disabled.
1158 I was very happy with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) that we should set up an all-party committee of the House for all time with a special duty of considering the problems of the disabled. I feel sure that there are still able-bodied men and women in this country holding down jobs which make inadequate demands on able-bodied people, when such jobs could provide a livelihood for men and women who are handicapped in some way and would give to such disabled people the satisfaction that they were earning their own living.
I know that by law we reserve a percentage of jobs in various factories and in Government Departments for disabled men and women. I hope that the Minister will accept my right hon. Friend's suggestion and will investigate how far this is being carried out and how far it has been carried out in the spirit with which the country adopted it at the end of the war. I hope that we shall see whether we can stimulate what I am sure is latent in the minds of all good people in this country—a drive to see that jobs which disabled people can competently do are filled by disabled people.
Some years ago when I visited a number of Remploy factories the complaint was made to me that when giving contracts to the Remploy factories Government Departments were by no means generous and that the prices which they put on the work done were as savagely competitive as they would b; to any industry employing able-bodied people. I urge the Government, local government and indeed private enterprise to temper the wind to the shorn lamb and when in doubt to give a contract to the kind of factory which is employing disabled people. For instance, in Hampshire we have a factory making toys and furniture, and the whole of its manpower is tubercular. It is making first-class products. It may not be able to compete absolutely to the last penny with some of the great factories, but if local authorities and Government Departments will keep their eye open for such places when giving contracts, they will be able to contribute much more to the wealth and happiness of the country than they realise.
I should like to see much more research into the kind of jobs suitable for Remploy factories. The simple story of the 1159 Southampton factory is that for five or six years we had knitting machines making surgical socks. We moved out of that five years ago into another type of production, but came back to it because the new production was not suitable. The whole of the ten years of the life of the Southampton Remploy factory has been on such monotonous work. It ought to be possible for man's brain, which devises atomic and nuclear power projects of all kinds of complexity, to break down the work of a civilised community and to pick out of it a variety of jobs which would be within the compass of a man with one arm or a man with one leg or a man who cannot stand or a man who cannot sit or a man who cannot keep his hands steady.
For some years I have felt that we have had hanging over Parliament what I regarded as a singularly unsympathetic Report of a Committee of the House, made some years ago on Remploy. That Report emphasised much more the economic non-viability of Remploy than the great and noble work which it is carrying out. I have a feeling that when that Report came out the Government clamped down on Remploy. There was a period in which the Remploy factories even shrank and had fewer people in them than before the Report was published. It is true—and I am glad that my right hon. Friend pointed this out—that there has been no expansion in Remploy during the last six or seven years.
May I put another thought to the Committee? We are steadily expanding that part of our educational system which deals with defective children—the blind, the deaf, the spastic, the epileptic, the debilitated, the mentally backward. The work of the so-called special schools is magnificent and is expanding dramatically year by year. I would point out to the Committee that there is a very wide gap in our social system when the child, at the end of its days in the special school, tries to find work. It is ironic that, having spent so much time in training, the young blind child or the young deaf child who has been in this educational system, which is working miracles, walks out into the open market at the age of 15 and has little chance of competing on equal terms with his 1160 brother or sister from the ordinary schools. Anyone who has seen the film made by the National Spastics Society can never forget the picture of a crippled young man with a tottering body going from factory to factory, smiling at the manager or foreman and asking for a job, and then turning away dejected.
Let us contrast that picture of the tragic search for work by young people who want to work but who cannot offer 100 per cent. physical or mental capacity with the happiness which exists in every Remploy factory in the country where a group of people are doing a job which they are capable of doing—a group of people who canot muster together a full complement of legs and arms and healthy bodies, but who are earning a weekly pay packet and who feel independent.
One of the outstanding jobs in social work, which probably seemed minor at the time, was the setting up of Remploy by the first Government after the war. I am glad that this debate is being concluded from this side of the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who played a key part, even before he was Minister of Labour, in setting up Remploy. He was director of the first Committee and he was the first Minister of Labour who had the responsibility of administering Remploy. My right hon. Friend has many laurels to his credit, but when he retires from Parliament—and most of us are very sorry to think that that is to be at the end of this Parliament—I feel that one of the most precious jewels in his retirement crown will be the work which he began when he set up Remploy.
I congratulate the present Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on this part of their work in the Ministry of Labour. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to the organisation running Remploy, which is in a way a separate organisation, the thanks of the Committee and of thousands of disabled folk. I hope that the next Government, whatever their political complexion, will devote some of their energy to the great human problem of helping disabled citizens to play a full and honourable part in the community, and that the debate will contribute to that end.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
I welcome this debate, which draws attention to the position of the disabled, which will, we hope, lead to some nation-wide effort on their behalf in the manner already suggested. I am very glad to be able to take part in it, because one of our special difficulties in Carlisle is placing disabled people. Being an isolated place, we do not have the same advantages for training and rehabilitation as there are in many larger and more populous areas. It is, perhaps, the most intractable of the problems in a constituency which is fortunate in not having many outstanding problems. I sympathise very greatly with the frustrations our disablement officer must feel in placing many of these men and in the difficulties he has found, of the type already mentioned by other speakers.
These difficulties tend to concentrate themselves on those people who lack the dramatic appeal of being accident cases, having war injuries or something more obvious of that kind. A man with a duodenal ulcer may be just as much a casualty of industry as a man lacking an arm or a leg, but he does not attract the same attention or gain the same sympathy. One finds the greatest difficulty in placing people of that kind-such as middle-aged persons debilitated by chronic duodenal ulcers. This is a matter of some importance, because in peace time the duodenal ulcer is probably the biggest disability in industry and our national life.
That brings me automatically to the point which it was my intention to make. The debate has naturally centred mainly on the physically disabled, but I was very pleased that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) mentioned the mentally disabled, whose plight I am glad to say is receiving considerably more attention today than it did in previous years. The hon. Member put his finger accurately on the point, because there are intense efforts, to which I am only too pleased to pay tribute, in our mental hospitals and colonies to rehabilitate the mentally ill, the mentally defective, and so on. One can enter hardly a single mental hospital in the country today without being shown this work, of which the workers in the hospitals are very rightly proud.
1162 The difficulty arises, as the hon. Member pointed out, in bridging the gap and rehabilitating these people into ordinary life. Sometimes they have not been trained in a practical way. Sometimes the machinery on which they have been given mechanical training is out of date and unsuitable. Although those matters are important, even more important are the difficulties and prejudices which have to be overcome in rehabilitating the mentally ill and fitting them for ordinary work and everyday life.
This applies particularly in the case of brain workers, who are naturally just as susceptible, if not more so, to mental illness as manual workers. In one's experience in the ordinary run of correspondence as a Member of Parliament interested in this subject, one finds that people with even the most limited responsibility, in clerical jobs, for instance, have the greatest difficulty in getting back into their own walks of life after a period in a mental hospital.
I cannot do better than quote two actual cases to illustrate my point. The first case is that of a professional lady who was in a mental hospital for three years. She was quite severely ill, as can be gathered by the length of time she spent in hospital. At the end of that time she was told that she was fit to work. She was also told, however, that she could not leave hospital unless she obtained a job. But unfortunately the only job she was likely to obtain whilst still in hospital, being still a certified patient, was domestic work of some kind or other. She took rather a tough view of that and, being a determined person, said that she meant to obtain employment in which she could use her abilities. It took her two years to do so. At the end of that time, by a sort of tour de force, she obtained employment as a scientific librarian. Admittedly that case happened two or three years ago, but it could well happen today. It illustrates the problem of bridging the gap for brain workers who have been in a mental hospital.
The second case is actually happening now and is still an unsolved problem. It is the case of a young man who when he was taken ill was a research worker in physics in a Government Department. He had a very serious attack of schizophrenia, which necessitated him staying 1163 in hospital for most of a couple of years. When he left hospital, the Department which had employed him would give him no help to re-establish himself and would not take him back in his job. He is still looking for a job in which he can use his abilities and is undergoing all the disappointments, difficulties and frustrations, and naturally a certain deterioration in his condition, while he is looking for work.
Rehabilitation is difficult enough in the case of manual workers and mental defectives, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but it is still more difficult—it is indeed a very major problem—for brain workers to re-establish themselves on coming out of mental hospitals. I put in a plea to my hon. Friend that perhaps Government Departments in the case of their employees could give a lead instead of shutting the door, as they have done in the case of this young man.
There is great room to expand the excellent work of the Remploy factories of which we have heard to include not only those who are injured in the ways described, which is the main purpose of the scheme, but those suffering from such other physical ailments as duodenal ulcers, and also the mentally ill. As interest in this subject wakens and widens, I hope that that will prove to be the case.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
Time is short, otherwise there would be a great temptation to follow the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) in his exploration of the disablement problems presented by those who have recovered from mental illness, and especially the problems presented by cases of physical disability of nervous origin. It is very difficult to classify these cases neatly, but can the Minister tell us what proportion of those on the disablement register are on it because their disablement has a nervous origin? Clearly, this is a problem on its own and it needs its own solution, but as we are talking at the moment in terms of percentages it is fair to say that the Government have been unable to absorb more than a certain percentage of disabled people into the Remploy factories.
Some of us have been pressing the Minister, and have asked Questions, and 1164 have shown concern about the fall away in the number of disabled placed, and the admitted difficulty there has been in placing them in the last year or so. That is not the main reason for this debate. I believe that we ought to debate this problem as regularly as we debate any other aspect of the workings of the Welfare State and the social services. There are bound to be lessons to be learned from experience, fresh suggestions to be discussed and fresh policies to be outlined for the future.
Neither does the question of cost enter very much into this subject. I have never heard anyone grumble at the subsidy required to sustain the people engaged by Remploy. The cost to the nation of not rehabilitating them is undoubtedly greater, although it may fall on the Votes of different Departments, than is the present cost of rehabilitation. Therefore, the main thing is to ensure that the money is sensibly spent and that it produces the desired results.
I listened with respect to what I might call the warnings issued by the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr). The hon. Member has served in the Ministry of Labour. He is also a business man, and he gave a business man's warning; but although those observations carry great weight, I wonder if it is really fair to lump all the varied tasks of Remploy under one head and to say, "This is a very big organisation. There are a lot of factories. We should pause, and consolidate."
I hope that the Minister will tell us what he has in mind for the future of Remploy. I am not here to advocate any particular view. One knows that there have been internal discussions and talks outside about the best organisational set-up for Remploy, but I do not think that any of the aspects can be excluded. If anyone says in reply to the criticisms of those of us who are anxious that Remploy should undertake more responsibilities, "It is getting rather large now," the answer is to divide the work into categories for which different types of management and supervision are required.
If it is merely a question of finding sheltered employment for a certain number of people, one very simple answer is to use the list of priority suppliers—a list that has been established by 1165 negotiation and argument in the last few years. It is admitted that it is light that the Treasury should accept a list of priority Government suppliers. There are enough items that the Government and the various branches of the social services need to purchase in steady, known quantities to enable us to devise a programme of employment for a very large number of disabled persons.
Has the Minister arrived at a settlement with the Treasury as to what constitutes a fair price in the arrangement by which certain Departments are allowed to place orders with priority suppliers without going to tender? That is one of the outstanding small difficulties in the way of an expansion of this scheme.
There is something of which Remploy has had some experience, in respect of which some private firms have organised themselves, and which the Ministry of Supply is now anxious to throw back to the manufacturers of certain products. I refer to what is called packaging and identification. It sometimes happens that for ease of identification and transfer of some very small component of a very important machine or piece of equipment to wherever it will be needed, the item has to be so packed, painted, stencilled and identified that the cost of doing that is very much greater than the cost of the little gadget itself.
I understand that private manufacturers are a little wary of the Government in this matter. It is something that does not lend itself to simple processes of stencilling or stamping, but something about which the purchasing Departments are liable to change their minds, and to say that, instead of there being two blue upright stripes, identification must be by means of horizontal green stripes so that it may be recognised more easily by certain other ranks when collecting the item from stores.
As a result of that experience, private manufacturers have tended to make a rather high charge for that work, but I believe that it is work that in almost every case could be done by Remploy. When one is looking for the work best suited to disabled people—whose skill may be of high degree but limited range—what we want is work which, if it is done slowly, does not hold up somebody else's work. We do not want the sort of work which is part of a gigantic 1166 planned flow where a serious handicap arises involving loss of production if one section of it is liable to hold-ups. We want the sort of work involving patient skill, where time is of no importance.
There is another branch of Remploy's work about which one would like to hear more, and that is the scheme for sponsored factories, for getting private manufacturers to undertake to supply the knowledge, and to integrate into their own firms certain components made by Remploy under an arrangement whereby the price paid would be no greater than the cost to the manufacturer in his own factory of the component made by people without physical handicap. I expect there have been some failures, but I know there have been some successes. I should like to know what the Minister feels about the future of sponsored factories and the degree to which he now feels it is safe to encourage other manufacturers to come into this scheme. I wonder what his view is of the results of the schemes that have already been developed.
In another category there is the work done by Remploy in the ordinary field of commerce. One is glad to see Remploy vans distributing their products, gaily painted with advertisements and indications of what is inside, as though they were hard at it like anyone else to earn a living in the tough world of commerce. One is glad to know that they have been encouraged to show so much initiative, that they have risked competition from outside in building up a sales force which, of course, is most important when venturing into the ordinary world of commerce. But I feel strongly that there is no reason why one of these approaches should exclude any of the others. If there is to be any feeling that Remploy has grown too fast and ought to pause, I should have thought that the alternative would be to form different branches of it to deal with these different categories of work. After all, Remploy itself is only a device. Nobody ever thought that the problem was solved because my right hon. Friend thought it up years ago and sold the idea to other people. He would be the first, as I expect he will shortly tell us, to advocate fresh ideas and experiments.
I am wondering whether some of the seasonal trades might not be a suitable 1167 field into which Remploy should venture—trades in which the products can be sold only at certain times of the year and where, in the ordinary way, a fair amount of capital is tied up in the finished product and in paying for the storage of the finished product when it is made by a private manufacturer.
Another subject which bears investigation is home work. That has a very bad reputation, particularly among trade unionists and the working class generally. They have very unhappy memories of sweated labour, of menial tasks carried out usually by women and sometimes by the sick and children at home, and it is an activity which for a long time the trade union movement has wanted to see abolished. But it is an interesting thought that if Benjamin Franklin and his kite had made more rapid progress than James Watt and his kettle, we might have had electricity as the motive power before we had steam, and in that case we would not have had the factory system except as an assembly point. The factory system as we know it was necessary only because the machines driven by the steam engine had to be hitched to the shafts. If we had had electricity first we might not have lost our cottage loom. We might have had much more industry at home.
I believe that a great deal of the skilled and properly paid work is at present farmed out in small units. The Ministry are the best people to know about that. They could have a survey to find out whether there is any scope for development of a system in which work is done at home by disabled people with power-driven tools, of course in decent surroundings and with proper ventilation and so on.
I should now like to say a word on the special problems of London where there are long distances to travel. There are a lot of disabled in London, and a lot of disabled come into the category mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlisle. I think they constitute the biggest problem that we have in the constituencies. I do not think the problem of placing disabled workers in London will be solved apart from the problem of London industry as a whole. Within ten years there will be a need to declare London a Development 1168 Area. Within five years, unless something is done to plan to meet the situation, London Members will be complaining bitterly about what has happened to industry in London.
Since the Ford factory was built at Dagenham, there has been no large factory constructed in or near London, and there never will be. No new industry has been allowed to come near London. The children of London today have the most wonderful opportunities for training, as have the disabled in London. They can take their choice. If one wants to know how to make glass eyes or christening cakes, or how to crack oil, one only has to lift the telephone and one can arrange an evening course at short notice which will lead to a high diploma and some of the finest qualifications in the land. But the new electronics and plastics industries will not be allowed to develop in London. All the successful firms in London will begin to say, "What about Stevenage or Harlow or some other new town?"
A great deal of work of a servicing nature is done in London, which brings me back to the point that I was trying to make earlier. Surely the sort of work that skilled disabled people can do best is that where it does not matter whether they take time over it, as long as they use skill. For instance, there must be a number of parallels to the cleaning of watches. There must be machinery, equipment and instruments which must be patiently taken to pieces to be overhauled, work which can be done only by those with training and understanding although not the physical ability to do the work rapidly. I expect that as the nature of work available in London changes there may be more and more of that type of work and less and less manufacturing work.
Those are the points that I wish to make to the Minister, and I hope that he will give us an encouraging reply, telling us his ideas on the necessary solutions for this problem in London.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)
I came to the Committee expecting that we should hear on this occasion, as we have heard so frequently on other occasions, a specific reference to the cost involved in this work. Tonight, we have 1169 had very few statistics. We have not heard much about finanical considerations, but we have heard a good deal about rehabilitation, not only as a useful economic activity but as something that creates self-respect in every person taking part in it and also gives him the prospect of a settled place in industry. We have heard about Remploy. We have heard criticisms and suggestions about it, but even now I doubt whether hon. Members know what was the idea behind the inception of Remploy. I wonder how many people appreciate that it was a war-time measure, brought into existence with the complete co-operation and approval of all parties in the House. It began long before the Bill came into the House. It began as a tripartite organisation.
At the time that Remploy came into existence the Ministry of Labour was under the control of that great trade union man and great friend of all of us, Ernie Bevin. He conceived the idea of Remploy. Having conceived it, he discovered that he had some brilliant brains in the Ministry to help him to bring it into operation. The first thing to do was to work the scheme out, and therefore a tripartite committee, like the International Labour Organisation, was established,. It consisted of representatives of the employers' organisation, of the Trades Union Congress—I was one of those—and of the Ministry. When I mention the name of the Chairman, everyone who knew him will remember him with respect, happiness and affection. He was George Tomlinson, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour.
That Committee was exceedingly fortunate. The name of one of the representatives of the Ministry is not known, but it will be known after I have mentioned it tonight. The name of a most senior official representative of the Ministry—I never could understand their ranks; I did not know whether they were generals, lieutenant-generals, or what, but he was one of the "blokes" almost at the top—was Mr. Wiles, and he helped us to get the matter through and to get us on the right lines. We had a lot of troubles. First, we had to determine whether we should extend the scope of the Bill beyond industrial injuries. That was the view that people at first held. 1170 At any rate, after a lot of talk, we got it to cover domestic injuries. What was most difficult of all, we got it to cover what I believe are called congenital injuries—the sort of afflictions with which one is born or those which become apparent without a person sustaining an accident.
There was a good deal of "ganging up "Sometimes the trade unions and employers ganged up against the Ministry. That was all right. Sometimes the trade unions and the Ministry ganged up against the employers. That was all right. Sometimes, to our great astonishment, the Ministry and employers ganged up against the trade unions. I did not think that that was quite right, but we got away with it. We got out a draft which was brought before the war-time Parliament. We were getting towards the end of the war, and Ernie Bevin—if he was alive and here now I would have to call him my right hon. Friend, but, although he is not here, he is still my right hon. Friend—handed the Bill over to George Tomlinson to pilot through the House.
The same tripartite arrangement was in operation then. George Tomlinson was a Ministry representative on what was then the non-Government side—we did not then call it "the Opposition". There was myself and, on the other side, a representative of the employers, for a long time a member of the House of Commons. He did not represent the employers there, but he was a representative employer, all the same. He was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, now in the other place as Lord McCorquodale.
With the co-operation of the Government, of the employers, of Members of the House who were employers and Members who were trade unionists, we got the Bill through with the good will of all concerned. The next thing was to put it in operation. As soon as the Bill had passed through the House—to use the old saying, I do not suppose that His Majesty's signature was yet dry upon it—Ernie Bevin set about establishing the corporation. I was glad to accept an invitation to become one of the first members, one of the charter members of the corporation. I had the privilege and pleasure of working with the corporation for a short time, seeing it set to work and witnessing the keenness of all those 1171 who came m. I am interested to read in the Report now that there is still, as an executive director, one of the first people to be employed by the corporation to act as a kind of staff officer to set things going. I mean Air Commodore Venn. I am glad to know that he is still with the corporation. It was a very hard task—all of us green at the job—to find out who would be a good man to undertake this almost impossible task of finding work and starting factories for the disabled.
We found the man. The job was started. Then, I was thrown off the board of directors. After being appointed Minister of Labour, I was not good enough for the board of directors, so I had to leave. The Ministry was entrusted with the task of assisting the corporation. We had to assist it in providing proper material with which to work. As a matter of fact, it was all a kind of education scheme. One could really call it "the three Rs"—rehabilitation, retraining and reemployment. It was under the control of a staff of officers, to whom the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) referred, the D.R.O.S as they are called, the disablement resettlement officers. What is meant by "rehabilitation"? I would say that it means regaining the use of limbs. "Retraining" means learning to use those limbs in an organised and coordinated manner. "Re-employment" means getting people back to work.
So that all hon. Members may understand the spirit and feeling behind this work, I will give one of the many examples which come to my mind. I went to one of the training centres which was preparing men and training them to be ready for work with Remploy. It was on the East Coast, up in Lincolnshire. I was taken to speak to a young man of about 30 or 35 years of age, very strongly built, with a fine head, a most intelligent man, who had been so badly crippled that he had never been able to walk at all. Rehabilitation for him meant putting him into hospital, breaking his legs and resetting and straightening them again. Finally, he was able to walk. He called it walking. It looked to me more like the movement of a crab, but he was able to get about and stand on his feet. The next job was to train him. He was trained as an electric welder. The only thing wrong with him 1172 affected his legs; his hands and his brain were all right, and in a short time, he became quite skilful. He was to start work two or three days after I visited the factory.
I spoke to this young man and asked him how he felt. I do not remember his exact words, of course, but the effect of what he said was this: "Minister, I have never been able to do a stroke of work in all my life. My mother is a widow, and, for years, she has taken in washing so that she can keep and feed me. From next Monday, my mother will never have to do any more washing at all "That is a good example. There we found a man who had regained his own self-confidence.
We must remember, also, that there is often a double problem. In the poor streets of London where I spent my early days, I met many people who were badly disabled. There was no Ministry of Labour for them, nothing but the Board of Guardians, and they would rather die than go there. They stayed at home, and their wives would try and find a bit of work in order to keep body and soul together. The man not only lost his self-respect, he felt that he was no more than flotsam and jetsam, and a bally nuisance to the missus as well. When we take one of these disabled persons and get him out of his miserable surroundings, find him a job and send him to work, we not only make him happy but make his people at home happy, too, where there was only misery and despair before.
I saw this great work begin. I was at the Ministry of Labour for over five years and I have never had a chance of blowing its trumpet until now. Looking back, I want to say how I admire and respect the conscientiousness of the devoted band of workers in that Ministry, from top to bottom, who undertook every difficult task given to them—building up forces, reversing the machine, and bringing down forces—training people in building work and all sorts of other work; and on top of that they were given this job. They did it. What happened? The hon. Member for Mitcham made reference to the fact that Remploy had to check, to pause for a while, to re-examine the situation.
I remember all about that. The reason was that Remploy was pushing on a 1173 little too quickly. I doubt if there was an hon. Member in an industrial constituency who did not come to me as Minister and press his claim for Remploy in his constituency. I was interested to hear the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) and I compliment him upon it. Not only was it a good maiden speech, but he took up the point that Frank Anderson was always chasing me about. My hon. Friend wants Remploy. Frank Anderson always wanted Remploy. My hon. Friend should carry on and fight for it. It is not possible to plant Remploy in every constituency. It has to have plans and it must have work. It is not my place here to defend or to explain the actions of Remploy. I think the Report does that itself.
What did Remploy do? It started from scratch with nothing. It had then, and still has, a great number of devoted people serving as directors and getting no financial reward. There is no pay attached to it, but, thank goodness, there are not so many kicks as there are in some other branches of public service. They are giving their time and doing their best to help Remploy carry out the job which it has been given to do. Over the years, it has employed on average 6,000 disabled workers each year. I wonder what those workers would have done if Remploy had not found them a job.
I should mention the other part of the Act, which required all employers to employ a certain percentage of disabled persons on their staffs. Every time a difficult job had to be done by the Government it was bunged on to the Ministry of Labour. The Government said, "These people can tackle anything. Let them have a go at this." That was carried out, and the disablement resettlement officers took a hand in the different areas to help those people who were not able to go into ordinary industry. It was found that not all the number could be absorbed, and it was a great disappointment when we found that we could not get enough factories built immediately to take in all these people.
We have heard about money and we have heard that the last time that Remploy was discussed it was not doing as well as had been expected. However, I notice that sales last year increased by £564,800. There was a paragraph 1174 in the Report which seems to have been lifted from the first Report ever printed and to have been published ever since. It says:… during the year under review we have increased our sales by £564,800,… no mean achievement, especially in view of a noticeable recession in the commercial market towards the end of the financial year. Our sales would have been even more satisfactory if the orders which we had expected from Government Departments had materialised.We have always had that trouble. The problem is that each Ministry is an empire of its own. Each Ministry looks to its own statements of account and so on. It is very difficult for the Ministry of Labour to persuade another Ministry to accept Remploy orders if the other Ministry can say that it can get the article much more cheaply from somewhere else and that it will have the Treasury "step on its neck" if it spends more money than it needs.
We tried to have instructions or advice given to other Departments on this matter, but we were always up against it. It was finally decided that other Departments should give a small percentage of their contracts to Remploy at the price at which the contract had been accepted. So far as my recollection goes, it was something like this: if a contractor had contracted to supply 100,000 articles at £1 each, 10 per cent. of that order could go to Remploy, but Remploy would get only £1 for each article, and at that rate, obviously, it could not make it pay.
The result has been that Remploy has been unable to make a profit, in money terms. On the other hand, it has made a profit in another way. Last year alone 141 severely handicapped persons returned to normal industry, so that Remploy is providing a good service in other ways. What does this mean in costs? I am happy not to find the words "profit and loss" in the Report. I compliment Remploy on avoiding that phrase, because there is no loss in this job when we weigh it all up. There may be an excess of expenditure over income, and in the year under review Remploy spent £2½ million more than it received.
The Parliamentary Secretary is a better mathematician than I am, so I pass the buck to him, but I work that out as £2½ million spread over the population 1175 of about 50 million and that, in the phrase of the old workers' union organising scheme, works out to "a bob a nob"—Is. per head of the population per year. Who will grumble at that? Every member of this Committee when approached by someone on a flag day will donate more than Is.—unless there is someone who thinks that he ought to "bang it down to saxpence".
That is the cost of Remploy in money terms. What is the cost in happiness and contentment? I am happy to know that. nobody has suggested cutting down Remploy. The suggestions have been for its development and expansion. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some information on those lines and some encouragement that the corporation will be given the facilities and opportunities to do more than it is now doing.
As is shown by this Report especially, up to now the directors have shown that they know what they are doing and how to do it. I conclude by borrowing a phrase used in war time by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), although I have distorted it a little, and I say this to the Ministry and through the Ministry to the Treasury: "These directors know what they are doing; give them the tools and they will get on with the job."
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)
I am grateful to the Committee for having allowed me, probably only too willingly, to keep my speech to the end of the debate when I can try to answer the many points that have been raised.
May I add my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) on his maiden speech. I hope that he is not getting tired of being congratulated, but we were pleased to hear him and I hope that we shall hear him often. However, I do not share the hope expressed by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) that the hon. Member's next speech will be from this side of the Committee. The hon. Member for Whitehaven represents a very beautiful county. The trouble with doing that is that the problems of remoteness there are such that training, rehabili- 1176 tation and Remploy facilities are apt to be rather sketchy, but I appreciated what he said and the interest that he showed in the rehabilitation and re-employment of these unfortunate people in his constituency who cannot find work.
There is natural concern in this Committee at any increase in the unemployment of the disabled. We are all grateful to those who arranged this debate for giving us a chance, which we get all too rarely, of looking at this matter and examining ways in which the position can be still further improved. In my remarks tonight I should like to deal with the question of disabled unemployment generally, then with the question of those who need sheltered employment, and, lastly, to talk about the part which I believe that the Government should play.
There are four main categories of the disabled. All Governments accept the obligation to assist those who are handicapped, though, in the knowledge of us all, there are many who are generally considered to be handicapped but who suffer no disadvantage whatsoever as far as employment is concerned. We know of a number of such people who are absolutely secure in their jobs, just as secure as any able-bodied person.
Secondly, there are those who, although considerably handicapped, have important abilities remaining and who are capable of highly useful work as long as care is taken in selecting the job. This is something in which doctors, almoners and D.R.O.s have a part to play, but a great deal depends on the attitude of the employer. Perhaps most depends on the attitude of the employer in the field which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) mentioned, the rehabilitation and resettlement of those who have been mentally ill.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) asked me what proportion of registered disabled people had received their disabilities through nervous origins. The figures given in the Ministry of Labour Annual Report for 1958 show that 2.8 per cent. of the total had a disability beginning in psycho-neurosis, and 1.4 per cent. in mental defects and disorders other than psycho-neurosis. Those two categories total 4.2 per cent. and amount to about 30,000 out 1177 of a total of 740,000 registered disabled people. That is a considerable proportion.
As I said, a lot depends on the attitude of the employer, whether his attitude is that any old job will do for someone who is disabled or whether he takes infinite care, as some of them do, to try and find the right job and adapt tools and environments to suit the particular circumstances of the disabled worker. Ever since I became interested in the subject I have seen a consistent improvement in the attitude of employers. Taken generally, their attitude has become consistently more helpful. I sometimes feel that it might be useful if a study could be made of successful attempts on the part of employers to fit work to the functionally remaining capacities of disabled people—attempts which have completely eliminated the effects of disability on the disabled workers' productivity.
In this connection, a most important matter is that of training, which the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. A. Robens) and other hon. Members have mentioned, because a great many of us know of men and women who, merely because of their disability and subsequent training, have eventually found themselves in much more satisfactory jobs than they had before they were disabled. That is a great example of the need for training the disabled and the immense potentialities that they still have if properly trained.
I was pleased to hear the references made by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) to the value of voluntary service. Not only in the Government training centres but in the training colleges—with one of which the right hon. Gentleman and I have the pleasure of being connected—training of very great value is being undertaken. I listened with a sympathetic ear to the plea of the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) for more money in this respect. I do not think that he would expect me to answer him tonight, but I can tell him that his plea did not fall on deaf ears; the ears were only too ready to hear some of the things he said.
The third category of disabled, which is much in our minds tonight, comprises those who, for some reason or other, find their rate of production so slowed 1178 down that they have to work either temporarily or permanently under sheltered conditions. There are about 15,000 of these people, including about 4,000 who are at present unemployed. We are only too glad to hear from the right hon. Member for Southwark that over the years many of these people have graduated from Remploy and other sheltered industry into open industry, doing work on level terms with able-bodied people.
Lastly—certainly not to be lost sight of, but probably not a subject for debate tonight—are those so badly disabled as not to be in the employment field. The consideration mentioned by the right hon. Member for Blyth in respect of the earnings of the home-bound being allowed to rise to a higher level before they diminish other benefits is a question for some of my right hon. Friends. I will see that it is brought to their notice. The needs of these people, which are very great, are recognised both by the Government and by local authorities, who have taken great steps to try to meet them.
The right hon. Member for Blyth and other hon. Members mentioned the need to follow up the Report of the Piercy Committee—to see that the recommendations of the Committee are implemented and to watch over the progress of the service for the disabled. I am delighted to see here the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). since he and I had the pleasure of serving on the Piercy Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a standing committee on the rehabilitation and settlement of disabled persons which meets regularly and has issued three reports. It has been sitting under the able chairmanship of Dame Mary Smieton.
In my opinion this is the body, together with the National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled, which can keep a continuous watch on the affairs of the disabled, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am in the closest touch with these committees. Any recommendation of the Piercy Committee which the right hon. Gentleman thinks is being lost sight of will come within the purview of both those bodies, and will be examined on the Floor of the House.
1179 Regarding the unemployment of disabled generally, the present figure of Section I, those eligible for open industry, is 51,000, and that of Section II, those needing sheltered employment, is 4,000—a total of 55,000—against a total register of 715,000. I think I ought to make the point that the register has fallen in the last five years as was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, from nearly 850,000 to just over 700,000. Therefore, there is a smaller field for the placing work of the Ministry.
Lookng at the figures for disabled unemployment over the last ten years one finds considerable fluctuations which are not always possible to explain by the general employment situation. In June, 1949, the figure was 63,000. In June, 1951, it fell to 44,000. It rose again to 53,000 two years later and in June, 1955, it went down to 36,000 which was its lowest point. Last year it rose again, and in January of this year it was up to 63,000. I am glad to say that in the five months between January and June it has fallen to 55,000. There has been a decrease in each month of this year, but I will be frank with the Committee and say that while unemployment generally is lower than last year, unemployment among the disabled is higher all over the country except in the London and South-Eastern Region.
I feared that when the unemployment figure was rising the disabled would be among the first to suffer from the recession, but, in fact, the increase in the disabled unemployed was proportionately much smaller than the general increase. From January, 1958, to January, 1959, while the able-bodied unemployed figure increased by 60 per cent. the disabled figure increased by 28 per cent. Part of the reason for that is the quota scheme. I also think that part of the credit must be given to the improved outlook of employers because over the years the employers of disabled workers have become much more conscious of the competence of these people and are reluctant to discharge them.
My conclusion, which I think is borne out by the facts, is that, in general, disabled workers hold on to jobs more tenaciously than do able-bodied workers. On the other hand, when unemployment is falling the exact opposite seems to be 1180 true. It is more difficult then for a disabled person to recapture a job or find a new job than for an able-bodied person. This is partly because able-bodied people are more mobile, both geographically and industrially. Certainly in recent months, while the unemployment figure generally has fallen by 36 per cent. the disabled unemployed figure has fallen by only 13 per cent.
There is also a difference in the length of time taken by disabled persons who have lost their jobs to regain them. Two-fifths of the able-bodied who are unemployed have been out of work for less than six weeks. Only one-fifth of the disabled have been out of work for less than six weeks, four-fifths have been out of work for longer. Age is an important factor. Half of the disabled unemployed are over 50 and about 30 per cent. of the able-bodied are over 50, so that it is difficult for the D.R.O.s.—who have been complimented very often in this debate—to place older men and women who are disabled when younger able-bodied men and women are in competition with them. But I am confident that as the economy expands and vacancies increase, the employment situation generally will become easier, and I hope that the disabled who are at present unemployed will share in that general benefit.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some facts about the quota, and said that the percentage of disabled employed by Government Departments had fallen from 5.5 to 4.7 per cent. I think that is true, and one main cause of it, as he well knows, is that a great many of the 1914–18 war pensioners were employed in Government Departments, and a great many of them have retired in the last few years. That is the greatest single cause for the reduction in the percentage.
The right hon. Gentleman was also entirely right in saying that the overall average percentage employed by employers who have quota obligations has fallen, although it is still above the specific obligation of 3 per cent. I will, therefore, consider his suggestion about more frequent inspections to see whether there are not employers who are under the quota. On this matter we are advised from time to time by the National Advisory Council for the Disabled, and its advice is that it is not so much more 1181 frequent inspections that are needed as for the Department to return to its annual inquiry on quota obligations. For a time, when employment was very good, we dispensed with the annual inquiry and held one every two years, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) asked, we have now returned to the annual inquiry, and we believe it will give us more of the information that we ought to have.
I should like to say something about the Section II disabled. These figures also follow the recent trend, but there is considerably less fluctuation, for the very obvious reason that most Section II disabled are employed in sheltered workshops and are, therefore, not so subject as the others to the ordinary uncertainties of unemployment. Here the average figures of the unemployed in Section II, requiring sheltered employment dropped every year in the last ten years, without exception, up to the time when they reached their lowest level in 1956–57 of 3,670. There was a small rise in June last year and in January of this year the figure was up to 4,250, but in June of this year, I am glad to say, it was down again to 4.160.
I should like to say frankly to the Committee that some of these 4,160 are, in my opinion, very unlikely to find work because, while there are more than 3,000 in areas which are served by existing Remploy factories or other sheltered workshops, there are, as we have been reminded several times today, a number, probably over 1,000, who are remote from such possibilities of sheltered employment. I understand that Remploy capacity could be increased by about 1,000 if the trading position and the work available allowed. There will, however, be a considerable number of these 4,000 Section II disabled whom it will be very difficult to help by Remploy, or other sheltered industries, because some happen to be so far away from them and because a great number of others are unsuitable for the work that happens to be available in their own locality. This problem of remoteness suggests the need for a greater number of smaller workshops.
Up to fairly recently it was very difficult for the Government to offer capital help, but I should like to tell the Committee now that the Government would 1182 be willing at the present time to consider suitable schemes for capital expenditure where the need is clearly established. Therefore, the hope for the disabled unemployed lies, first, in ordinary industry for all those who can work in it, and, secondly, in the provision of adequate sheltered employment facilities not only by the workshops for the blind but in other workshops and in Remploy.
Remploy has been much discussed tonight. It is important to examine the ways in which the Government might be able to help Remploy and other sheltered workshops to try to do the job for which they were created. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour back in March, 1956, announced for Remploy his five-year plan which was to run from 1956 to 1961. The Government promised £1 million in capital expenditure for that time and up to 2½ million a year—I humbly say to the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) that his arithmetic was exactly right—to meet the net trading deficit. Both those sums would be subject to adjustment for inflation.
As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Southwark, sales have increased during the past year, but at the same time the company has had much higher costs to contend with, in the way of wages, rents, rates, and so on, which have swallowed up the gains that it hoped to make from increased production. Partly because the total sales of Remploy have increased, and partly because Government contracts have decreased—they have been moving in opposite directions—the Government's percentage of total contracts is much lower than it was in 1955. Some hon. Members have pointed to this fact and have deplored it. I deplore it too, but I do not think it is wholly undesirable. There are certainly bright patches in the picture. One of them is the great credit which ought to be reflected on the directors of Remploy in developing other markets.
It is unlikely in the future that the Government's share of the total contracts will be as great as it was in the past. Nevertheless, it is important to examine the ways in which we might increase our orders. We must first get clear what function Remploy and other sheltered workshops should perform.
1183 This is a matter on which several hon. Members have given their views tonight, with most of which I think I agree. Remploy and other sheltered workshops were never expected, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, to make profits, and the Government were always ready from the start to stand behind them in support. The hon. Member for Padding-ton, North expressed what is in the minds of most of us when he suggested—I am not quoting his actual words but giving the sentiment of them—that to spend money on giving men and women useful work is a far more desirable social objective than giving them allowances to live their lives in idleness. With that sentiment we should probably all agree.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham expressed the view—I hope the Committee does not feel that the two views are incompatible—that it was important that Remploy and other sheltered workshops should be plainly recognisable as commercial concerns. If they were not so recognisable I am convinced that they would soon become very little different from welfare centres. The effect of that upon those working there would be extremely pernicious. It would have a demoralising effect on the many excellent people in Remploy to know that the firm for which they work was not in competition at all with other industries.
Secondly, and this is most important, the present flow from Remploy to open industry, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, would, if Remploy became completely uncommercial, soon be reduced to a mere trickle. That would be a very serious result. Therefore it is essential that losses should be kept to a reasonable figure. I think it also essential that the competitive conditions, even if they are cushioned, should in some way be preserved. This limits the expansion of sheltered industry and also rather circumscribes the action which the Government can take. Against this background, I should like to examine some ways in which Remploy might be helped to expand.
Before I come to these, there are the sponsorship schemes, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Paddington, North. There are ten of them at the moment employing 400 workers 1184 and soon there will be two more. There are possibilities of others being arranged. We take the most encouraging view of them because in many cases they contribute to a regular flow of work for Remploy with no sales or distribution costs. I think the directors of Remploy feel it would be unwise, however, to put all their eggs into the sponsorship basket because this might make them too vulnerable to fluctuations in the level of trading activity.
The first matter which, no doubt, would help Remploy and other priority suppliers would be a widening of the field of Government work available. It is for this purpose—in fact, I think this is one of the main services that it might render—that the standing Committee, of the priority suppliers, on the one side, and purchasing departments on the other largely exists. It is very much an information-exchanging body. It was never expected that this body itself would lead to a vast increase in contracts for the priority suppliers, but I am sure it can perform a most useful function in the sense of acquainting each side with what the other side can do, and I hope it will have an effect in widening the amount of work available.
Another suggestion made by the hon. Member for Whitehaven was that in some fields priority suppliers should be given exclusive rights of supply for certain selected items. This suggestion was recently made in another place and the difficulties were explained by my noble Friend, Lord Dundee. I certainly should not reject it as a possible solution. In fact, it has been followed very largely in the case of the supply of stump socks, but, if we build too much hope on it, we are likely to be disappointed because this particular method is unlikely to have a very significant effect in increasing orders from priority suppliers.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North mentioned the question of the fair price and wanted me to comment on it. There is sometimes a slight misunderstanding about the fair price, as I think the hon. Member knows well. One sense in which the phrase is used is the assessment a Department makes of what the lowest tender would be if tenders were asked for. In cases where tenders are not asked for, it might fix what it thinks is a reasonable price for the product. 1185 There is another sense in which the phrase is used. That is in fixing a price to include wages, materials and an appropriate allowance for overheads. If then the purchasing Department said that was a fair price, Remploy and the other priority suppliers would feel they bad a much greater chance of acquiring the contract. In other words, the Departments under this scheme should pay to priority suppliers whatever costs they might incur in making the goods.
There are various objections to that. First, as the hon. Member pointed out, purchasing Departments have to buy in the cheapest market. Secondly, there is the objection that the Departments would certainly feel that by the use of their limited funds they were subsiding a particular group of suppliers. The third objection is what Parliament might feel in seeing money which was voted for one purpose being used for another. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage and difficulty is the lack of incentive to priority suppliers to keep down their costs and the absence, as I tried to stress a moment ago, of the stimulus of competition.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North apparently wishes to intervene. I might anticipate him if I say a word about a variation of the fair price which does not exclude competition. It is suggested that sometimes, when Departments are buying, the lowest tender put in is unrealistic and is put in by someone who wants the job almost at any price. It is suggested that such tenders are not fair tenders for Remploy and other sheltered industries with the inevitable disadvantages which they have to compete against.
It has been suggested that it might be fair to allow a percentage addition to the lowest tender in the case of priority suppliers. This suggestion, unlike the fair price proper, has the merit of preserving some form of competition, while it offsets some of the handicaps which are suffered by priority suppliers. On the other hand, it still violates the obligation which I think ought to be felt by any Government Department to obtain supplies as cheaply as it can. However one looks at it, it is a departure from the strict doctrine of competition. It is. moreover, a subsidy, and many people feel that if we are to have subsidies, these should be openly admitted and administered.
§ Mr. Parkin
The hon. Member is giving a very important answer to a very important question. I do not think that anyone would disagree with the comments which he made earlier about the activities of Remploy in normal commerce. Everything he there said about incentive is true. These people have been given a handicap in the race. Having been allocated a handicap, they know where they stand and they have an incentive to go ahead. If they beat their competitors and win the race, well and good. I cannot see any essential difference between that and supplying the goods, with the agreed handicap, to Government Departments. The difference is that if they go into the ordinary field of commerce they must employ large sales and advertising forces which they may not always be able to staff from among the disabled themselves, whereas if they are selling to a Government Department they are relieved of those overheads. I think that this business of a fair price might be settled on that basis.
§ Mr. Wood
The last suggestion which I made has in my opinion some merit, although it still has some disadvantages. The last disadvantage is that it involves a hidden subsidy. Some people might feel that if we are to help in this way we ought to try to do it by means of direct subsidies. The difficulty of helping by direct subsidies is that if we give a sheltered workshop or Remploy a direct subsidy for these purposes there is no guarantee that it will be used in lowering the prices and there is therefore no greater certainty that more orders will result from that subsidy than were obtained before. The effect of the direct subsidy would be to weaken the healthy effects of competition.
I give the Committee an undertaking and an assurance that these suggestions are at present being examined by the Departments concerned. I am certain that the Committee feels it essential to ensure that any action which the Government take results in more orders for priority suppliers. It is not much good the Government taking action if the priority suppliers find that their contracts and orders do not increase. It is therefore extremely important that we should carry out detailed investigations to discover why, in the past, orders have been 1187 missed and have not been secured by the priority suppliers and also to investigate the likely effect of the measures which have been suggested.
I am certain that in their financial support for Remploy, which has caused no contention at all between successive Governments, the Government are on the right lines. I am also willing, as I said earlier, to examine other projects for capital expenditure in sheltered workshops where a need can clearly be presented. I am also, as I have been trying to explain to the Committee, looking at ways in which priority suppliers might be helped to secure more Government orders. I hope also that improved employment prospects generally will help the disabled more easily to find jobs.
There are two other steps which the Government want to take to help the disabled more easily to return to old jobs or to find new ones. The Government have attached, and do attach, the greatest importance to industrial rehabilitation units—I.R.Us. There are now 15 of them and they give courses of industrial rehabilitation to 10,000 people a year. During last winter—although it has declined a little between March and June of this year—there was a considerable increase in the waiting lists for I.R.Us., largely due to the slacker employment situation, but also due to the growing recognition by the medical profession and others of the value of industrial rehabilitation.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven was one of the hon. Members who mentioned this. The Committee knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced last week that detailed planning work is to begin for the building and equipment of an experimental comprehensive rehabilitation and assessment centre on the lines suggested by the Piercy Committee at the Belvidere Hospital in East Glasgow.
The other thing I should like to tell the Committee tonight is that the Government have decided also that work on the necessary alterations to the existing Government training centre premises at Perivale will begin at once so that a new industrial rehabilitation unit to serve north-west London and relieve pressure on the Egham centre can be opened early in 1960.
1188 The Committee will agree that when these two new industrial rehabilitation units are in operation there will certainly be a very great improvement. It will then be possible to cater for an additional 1,200 applicants each year. This increased provision is likely to reduce the present waiting lists considerably.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £14,379,000 (including a Supplementary sum of £20,000). be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1960, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, including expenses in connection with employment exchanges and the inspection of factories; expenses, including grants and loans, in connection with employment services, training, transfer, rehabilitation and resettlement; a grant in aid of the Industrial Training Council; expenses in connection with national service; repayment of loan charges in respect of employment schemes; expenses of the Industrial Court; a subscription to the International Labour Organisation; and sundry other services.
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, forthwith to put severally the Questions, That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including a Supplementary Estimates, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for Revenue Departments, and the Ministry of Defence Estimate, and in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Estimates, including a Supplementary Estimate for Air Services, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates: