HC Deb 28 February 1978 vol 945 cc230-3
15. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what extra efforts, in view of the continual high level of unemployment, he is making to assist those registered disabled persons at present on the unemployed list.

Mr. John Grant

I am advised by the Manpower Services Commission that it has recently published its development programme of employment and training services for disabled people over the next 5–10 years. The programme includes a substantial number of proposals for improvements and developments and gives indications of relative priorities. The Commission is also carrying out a long-term campaign encouraging employers to adopt the six major guidelines of "Positive Policies", the guide to employing disabled people which was issued in May 1977 to about 55,000 employers. The job introduction and capital grants schemes are also assisting, although take-up has been disappointingly slow.

Mr. Smith

Is the Minister aware that, because of persistently high levels of unemployment, those disabled people without jobs are becoming increasingly disheartened and disenchanted? Although the difficulties can be admitted, does he not think that in the present circumstances he owes it to them to initiate a much stronger drive than the one he has enumerated, which is aimed at 5–10 years hence?

Mr. Grant

No. I think, with respect, that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. Although I talked about the development programme for disabled people for 5–10 years hence, the positive policies are not aimed at the long term but are being implemented now and will have a continuing effect. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular methods that he would like to see adopted, he may, of course, suggest them. Some people think that greater enforcement is the answer, but I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman would go along that road.

Mr. Ashley

Is my hon. Friend aware that every time I call for the prosecution of employers who are breaking the law with regard to the disabled quota system I am told that the Department prefers persuasion to prosecution? Is he further aware that in 1976 the Department prosecuted 2,000 workers who fraudulently claimed unemployment benefit? Why do the Government adopt double standards? Why cannot they either prosecute all lawbreakers or none?

Mr. Grant

Our reason for taking the view that persuasion is better than coercion is that that is the advice that we have had very strongly from, in particular, the National Advisory Council for the Employment of Disabled People. That body is expert in this field. It represents disabled people and has on it representatives of employers and trade unions. At present, when more positive policies are being implemented, it is right that we should give that line of approach a fair wind. But the quota system will be reviewed by the Manpower Services Commission before the end of 1979, and perhaps we shall have to look at the question of harsher methods of enforcement.

16. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give the latest figures of disabled unemployed.

Mr. John Grant

I am advised by the Manpower Services Commission that on 12th January 1978, the latest date for which figures are available, 148,688 disabled people were unemployed, of whom 74,992 are registered as disabled.

Mr. Hannam

Does the Minister accept that these figures indicate the disastrous failure of his policies for the disabled unemployed?

When are we to receive the review of the fares-to-work scheme which has been undertaken by the Minister's Department since February last year? Does he appreciate that the Manpower Services Commission, in many of its expensive advertisements, is not including any reference to disabled people?

Mr. Grant

I do not think that it is true to say that it is a disastrous policy. The hon. Gentleman is not being fair unless he tells us what sort of measures he would like to see adopted.

I hope to be in a position to announce very shortly the changes in the fares-to-work scheme. We want to get away from complicated means-tested schemes of the kind which exist. I expect that before the summer is out we shall have a new scheme in operation.

Mr. Terry Walker

As my hon. Friend knows, I have written to him about this problem. As a short-term measure, could not some moves be made with local authorities to make sure that they employ their quota of disabled persons? Many of these authorities—as in the case of those around Bristol—are certainly doing so.

Mr. Grant

I have pressed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to take further action to draw the attention of the local authorities to the low level of compliance with the quota, but it is only fair to say that although there is a lot of criticism of the public sector in this respect, we are not able to look at figures for the private sector. I have carried out a small experiment in the private sector among opinion formers as employers, and have asked to see the figures of the national newspapers, television companies, the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, and leading trade unions and employers' associations, as well as the Conservative Party Central Office, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party, although the Liberal Party, with only 18½ employees, does not have an obligation. I hope that we shall be able to get permission to publish the figures.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Minister be a little more frank and admit that the reason why the Government do not wish to use their statutory powers to pursue employers who are in breach of their obligations under the Act is that the Government, as the largest employer in the country, are overwhelmingly again and again in breach of their own statutory obligations?

Mr. Grant

No, that is not so. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, as always, is reading sinister motives into a situation when such motives do not exist. I have already given the reason. We have had independent advice—which is more than one could say for the hon. Gentleman's advice—that we should follow a policy of persuasion at this time.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In view of the last reply, will the Minister give a definite assurance here and now that every one of the Government Departments and every one of the Ministries is carrying out the statutes? If he is unable to give such an assurance, what will he do about it?

Mr. Grant

Of course, I cannot give such an assurance. I can only conclude that the hon. Gentleman has not read the Department of Employment Gazette of the Official Report. [Interruption.] If hon. Members would listen for a moment, I would point out that there would not be enough registered disabled employees to go round anyway, if they were all found jobs.

Mr. Hannam

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Loyden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not raising the matter at the time that I received the answer from the Under-Secretary of State, but his answer was improper and misleading, in the sense—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to save the time devoted to Questions to the Prime Minister, I ask the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) to make his point a little later.

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