§ 9. Mr. Sheerman
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a further statement about the Government's intentions regarding the quota system for employing disabled people.
§ Mr. Prior
The Manpower Services Commission is currently reviewing the quota scheme and will be making recommendations to Ministers later this year. In the meantime, I am encouraged by the interest shown in the "Fit for Work" campaign. I recognise that the employment prospects of disabled people is a matter of great concern to this House, and this concern I fully share.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with growing unemployment, this category of person is even more affected than the ordinary worker who has all his faculties? If the 3 per cent. quota scheme is not working in its present form, we urge the Government to introduce a viable alternative quickly.
§ Mr. Prior
As I have said, we are awaiting the review of the quota system which the MSC is carrying out. The real problem is that many disabled people do not register and are taken into employment. That sometimes gives the impression that the 3 per cent. figure is not working, whereas we believe that on the whole it is. This is a serious problem, and it will undoubtedly become more serious if unemployment rises.
§ Mr. Hannam
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the reasons why the present quota system is not working is that the 3 per cent. target is set too high? Will he consider reducing it to 2 per cent. and strictly enforcing it to ensure that all employers contribute to the employment of disabled people?
§ Mr. Ashley
Although it is true that many disabled people do not register, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is the worst possible time to drop legal safeguards for disabled workers, because the rate of unemployment is very high? The quota system should be implemented and strengthened by the imposition of a levy on those bad employers who never have responded, and never will respond, to the "Fit for Work" campaign.
§ Mr. Prior
I shall, of course, bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said. I recognise that there are a number of bad employers in this respect. However, many other good employers employ well over the 3 per cent. figure, although not all those employed are necessarily disabled people. Therefore, I think that we must wait for the review.
§ Mrs. Knight
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government have cut contracts for some of the items produced in workshops for the disabled, notably the Birmingham workshop for the blind? This is having a serious effect on work for the disabled in the area. Will he look into the matter?
§ Mr. John Grant
Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the previous Government introduced a number of measures to try to maintain and improve the position of disabled people seeking employment? We assure him that if he continues those measures, or improves upon them, he will have the support of the Opposition. However, I also assure him that he will incur our bitter resentment if 191 changes to the quota system, which we recognise needs review, which are nothing other than a cover for further public expenditure cuts at the expense of disabled people.
§ Mr. Prior
With regard to the last point, I am seeking to protect the disabled in every way I can from any cuts in public expenditure. I may not be able to do so entirely, and I if I cannot I shall tell the House where I am not able to do so. As to the hon. Gentleman's other point, the House has always adopted a bi-partisan approach to problems of disablement, and I hope that we can continue that.