HL Deb 27 October 1981 vol 424 cc900-1

2.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what consultations and other action they are carrying out upon the recent recommendation by the Manpower Services Commission that the quota scheme for employment of disabled people, established by legislation in 1944, be replaced by a new general obligation for employers, linked to a code of practice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Elton)

My Lords, as was announced on 23rd July, the Government are giving interested parties and individuals until the end of this year to comment on the commission's proposals, before coming to any decisions on the future of the quota scheme.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware that some organisations representing disabled people are very worried at the prospect of the abandonment of the quota, in spite of the fact that the quota of 3 per cent. has in practice become a target only rather than an obligation? Does my noble friend agree that one of the main problems has been that many disabled people seeking work have not wanted to be registered?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can certainly reassure my noble friend, whose work for the IYDP in Scotland is widely regarded, that there is no question of abolishing the quota scheme without looking at it in the light of what is thrown up by discussion of this paper. I also take on board what he says about the effectiveness of the quota scheme. As, in fact, only 2 per cent. of the workforce is at present registered as disabled, it is physically and mathematically impossible for all employers to honour the 3 per cent. undertaking.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as there are those who stick to this misguided belief in the quota system, the facts, which show it to be ineffective and virtually unworkable, should be made better known so that the merits of the MSC's review of the system and the alternatives suggested therein are more widely recognised?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government issued a press statement on 23rd July to draw the general public's attention to this review and I trust that interested parties will indeed look closely at how the quota scheme is working.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of these well-meaning schemes to help, assist and encourage the disabled to earn a living and to make their contribution have never fully fructified because of some employers dodging the issue? One of the things that we ought to consider is a method of enforcement of the law of this land and punishment for those who so dishonourably and disgracefully evade their responsibilities to the disabled folk of our nation.

Lord Elton

My Lords, that is perhaps less easy to achieve than the noble Lord thinks. We have looked at the scheme used in, for instance, Germany where a levy is imposed on firms which do not honour their obligations. The danger is that some firms regard the levy as being an acceptable imposition in order not to honour the obligation; on the other hand, firms which cannot afford to pay the levy find themselves disadvantaged.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, will my noble friend ensure that the consultations being carried out are very wide and that enough time is given for bodies representing the disabled, employers and trade unions to put forward their views?—because one hopes that a better scheme than the quota scheme can be produced, but many people will need to be convinced that it is a better one.

Lord Elton

My Lords, both organisations and individuals have until the end of this year to make known their views. It is not surprising, therefore, that so far we have received only about three dozen submissions from organisations and individuals. I trust that the attention which the noble Lord has drawn to this issue by asking this Question will help to get others to interest themselves in this important matter.