HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc960-2
5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the percentage unemployment rate among the registered disabled in Scotland; how this compares with the overall Scottish rate; what were the comparable figures in 1970; and if he will provide similar statistics for England and Wales.

Mr. Dudley Smith

On 10th September 1973 in Scotland 13.6 per cent. of registered disabled people were unemployed whilst the overall unemployment rate was 4.1 per cent. The comparable figures for 1970 were 13.8 per cent. and 4.3 per cent. respectively. On 10th September 1973 in England and Wales 10.8 per cent. of registered disabled people were unemployed and the overall unemployment rate was 2.0 per cent. The comparable figures for 1970 were 11.1 per cent. and 2.3 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that there has been very little improvement in the last three years? Is it not for him and his Department to take more forceful action against those firms which are, and have been, deliberately flouting the law for 25 years? At a time when the Government are castigating the trade unions for disobeying the law, is it not time that a levy was imposed on these firms if they have no certificate of exemption?

Mr. Smith

Throughout the United Kingdom the rate of unemployment among the registered disabled is now lower than at the same period three years ago. Moreover, in Scotland there has been an improvement in the rate of employment among disabled people relative to that of the able-bodied during those three years. I agree with the hon. Member that the position is unsatisfactory, and that is one of the reasons why we have had a study made on the subject and published a quota document. I do not think that a witch-hunt at this stage, before radical changes in the approach are made, would necessarily be right. The position is improving the whole time because we have instituted firmer inspections, and the total number of firms which are evading their responsibilities is coming down fairly dramatically.

Mr. Marten

The whole House will be disappointed in the decline shown by the figures on a national basis. Is not the remedy to educate employers that the disabled wish to live as normal a life as possible? That is the message to get home.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is an expert on the subject and he knows that, as far as possible, one must treat disabled people as normal, and that is what we in the Department of Employment seek to do. The process of education goes on the whole time, and it will be intensified as a result of the review which has just taken place.

Mr. Harold Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that it was as long ago as 23rd May that I pointed out to him in debate that 9,000 firms were in flagrant and deliberate breach of the law in respect of the quota? Every month since then I have asked the hon. Gentleman what he intends to do about it. It is not good enough, when Opposition Members ask the Government to enforce the law, to describe it as a witch-hunt. Will the Minister have another and more serious and responsible look at the matter?

Mr. Smith

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to agree that, with the quota document now before us which proposes various alternatives of a radical nature, it would be wrong to embark on a whole series of new prosecutions at this juncture. Successive Governments have relied on persuasion rather than on coercion. As a result of these new proposals, more Draconian measures may well be proposed against employers.

However, the number of employers who are below quota and do not have permits from my Department has decreased from 14,648 in May 1971 to 8,225 in May 1973, which is the latest figure. I hope that the figure is still going down and that, with the new approach which has been instituted by the present administration, the situation will be much better regularised.