HC Deb 06 June 1972 vol 838 cc226-8
19. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the services provided by his Department to help find work for the disabled: and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I am satisfied that my Department provides effective services for helping disabled people find work. But, as I told the hon. Member on 17th May, these services have recently been reviewed internally and I shall soon be consulting the National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled and other bodies concerned on whether any changes are necessary.

Mr. Ashley

How can the Minister be satisfied with a national scandal? Does he realise that the unemployment rate for registered disabled people is now 15 per cent. and that no less than 58 per cent. of all British employers are failing to fulfil their quota of 3 per cent. disabled employees? Does the Minister know that no fewer than 14,000 of these employers are breaking the law if they are failing to fulfil their quota and to taking on new workers? Will he prosecute these employers with the same vigour as he prosecutes trade unions when they break the law? Will he not talk about persuasion, since for the last 10 years successive Governments have talked about persuasion and employers are taking no notice of it?

Mr. Smith

This is a difficult matter. Successive Administrations have taken the view that widespread prosecution of employers in what, apart from isolated cases, are technical infringements may well jeopardise the important good will of the majority of employers in trying to help the disabled. It is a matter that we have under review. It was spotlighted by an internal inquiry, and my right hon. Friend and I are giving urgent attention to it at present.

Mr. Marten

As the percentage of registered disabled unemployed seems to be rising, what have the Government done in the last year, over and above what they were doing in the previous year, to improve the situation?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is right, but the percentage has risen in proportion to the general increase in unemployment. There is always a three-month lag in the disablement figures and I hope that the next figures will show a far more favourable position. We have mounted a number of initiatives, which we have talked about before in the House. One which is important is a reinvigoration by our officers of the inspection of registers to encourage more firms to take on disabled people. This is having some impact. I hope that as time passes it will have an even greater impact.

Mr. Harold Walker

The hon. Gentleman talks about jeopardising the good will of employers. Does not he realise that a statutory obligation has been imposed on employers by Parliament, an obligation which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has pointed out, is being widely ignored? The quota system has become a farce. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that rather than wait for a review—the review to which he referred—he has the possibility of immediate action which would meet with the full support of the House? It would be warmly welcomed if he would instruct his disablement resettlement officers either to insist on employers implementing their statutory obligations under the Act or to prosecute offending employers.

Mr. Smith

Again this matter is not as simple as it sounds. In effect, undertaking prosecutions may not provide extra jobs for the disabled. That is what we are trying to achieve. Even if all those who are registered as disabled persons and are unemployed at present were placed in employment, there would still be insufficient for all firms to satisfy their quota obligations. I do not think that there is a widespread ignoring of those provisions. There is a great deal of good will but, as we know, so often many firms have not the right sort of employment for disabled persons.