HC Deb 27 April 1993 vol 223 cc833-5
3. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what progress is being made to reduce discrimination against disabled people in the context of employment; and if she will make a statement.

7. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what measures she is taking to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

We aim to raise employers' awareness of the abilities of disabled people and to provide practical employment help and advice where necessary.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that, either deliberately or inadvertently, a significant number of employers discriminate against disabled people in terms of employment? Does he accept that the overwhelming majority of organisations working with and on behalf of disabled people want anti-discrimination legislation? What is the Department's latest thinking on how to make that a reality?

Mr. Forsyth

I know how much time the hon. Gentleman spends on this subject, especially in his role as vice-chairman of the all-party disablement group. I accept his point that we need to do even more to encourage employers to take on disabled people and to make use of their skills. Disabled people certainly find it harder to obtain work when unemployed, especially during a recession.

I am sure that we must look at ways to reduce discrimination and to encourage opportunities for disabled people. Although it is easy to look to legislation as the answer, the hon. Gentleman needs to address some of the difficulties that arise because of the legal complexities and the costs it would impose, which may not be to the advantage of disabled people. I am happy to continue the helpful discussion going on with the hon. Gentleman and others in the House on how some of the problems may be addressed.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the private sector has a much better record than the public sector in employing people with disabilities? Will he recruit more disabled people in the civil service? Will he expand the successful sheltered placements scheme? Is not privatisation in the best interests of everyone, not least the disabled?

Mr. Forsyth

The answers to my hon. Friend's questions are: I am not sure, yes, yes and yes.

Mr. Galbraith

Can the Minister say why, despite the fact that only 23 per cent. of employers adhere to the quota, there have been no prosecutions whatever under the Government? Is it not time that the Government reviewed the quota system with a view to enforcing it properly?

Mr. Forsyth

We are certainly examining the quota system. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the 3 per cent. figure relates to registered disabled. The number of people who are registered as disabled is less than 3 per cent. of the work force and, therefore, it would be mathematically impossible for all employers to meet the quota. We take seriously employers who are not meeting their obligations. We try to ensure that they do so by persuasion. The policy of not having had prosecutions reflects the conduct of every Government in the past 40 years.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does my hon. Friend agree that the end of the recession and the extremely welcome recovery in the labour market make it an especially appropriate moment to introduce legislation to prevent discrimination in employment against disabled people? Will he reflect that the fears that have been expressed about the cost implications of such legislation are invalidated by the immense contribution that disabled people could make to the economy and that experience shows that nothing less than anti-discrimination legislation would enable that contribution to be released?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend that enlisting the talents of disabled people is a key element in ensuring that we maximise the performance of our economy as well as meet the needs of individuals. I would want to discuss my hon. Friend's specific ideas for legislation and its form before jumping to the conclusion that he reached. I would point to some of the difficulties that have arisen in other countries as a result of perhaps not thinking the matter through as carefully as it should have been. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his ideas in detail.