HL Deb 13 April 1994 vol 553 cc1575-96

5.37 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

rose to call attention to the future of the quota system for employment of disabled people; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In introducing the Motion, I remind your Lordships that the quota system was introduced by the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944. This year sees the 50th anniversary of its Royal Assent. In a few weeks' time there is also to be another 50th anniversary—of the Normandy Landings. I shall myself be in Normandy for that anniversary at the beginning of June.

There is a connection between those two contemporary events. The 1944 Act was intended at that time to make provision primarily for war-disabled people, including of course civilians injured by bombing. A very large majority of those in the Armed Forces who had been disabled were in their 20s with many years of working age before them. I remind your Lordships also that the quota scheme required employers of 20 or more people to maintain a percentage of registered disabled employees. The percentage was to be prescribed by a Minister, and it has for many years been 3 per cent.

In recent years, the Act has not been effective in the way intended. The reason has been the failure of the registration system. My principal argument today is that if the quota scheme is to be continued, a very special effort must be made to reform the way in which registration is carried out. Hitherto, registration has been supervised centrally: first, by the Ministry of Labour, as it was, then by the Department of Employment, and for a time by the Manpower Services Commission.

There are registers in each appropriate area of work in the country. What has gone wrong during the past 30 years is that over a large part of the country less than 3 per cent. of the working population has been registered as disabled for the purposes of the Act. It has been virtually impossible for all the organisations employing more than 20 people to achieve that 3 per cent. when, for example, the percentage of persons on the register in their area is 2 per cent. or less. Where firms have achieved the 3 per cent. or more, it has been because the smaller employers in their area were employing few, if any, disabled people. That produced a situation of notional achievement but was entirely contrary to the spirit of the Act.

One does not have to be a brilliant mathematician to see that the 3 per cent. quota system cannot he enforced in areas where the register contains considerably less than 3 per cent. of the local working population. The latest figure that I have (for the year 1993) shows that for the whole of the UK the register contains only 1.3 per cent. of the working population. That is what it has stood at in recent months. That disrupting discrepancy between the percentage of registered disabled and the quota makes it essential that the scheme be overhauled. I shall return to the registration system later.

I shall now return to 1944 and examine more closely the provisions in the Act. I suggest that I may be a suitable person to do so as I was one of those for whom the Act was intended. A few months after its. Royal Assent, I was wounded, aged 23. I emerged from hospital more than a year later, aged 25, and still unable to walk. In fact I had made an unexpectedly good recovery thanks to the surgery of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and I was partially disabled only. The quota was not needed in my case because I took the Foreign Office examination on leaving hospital and was successful.

Your Lordships might be amused by the next hurdle, which was the Foreign Office medical examination. Still not walking, but 100 per cent. fit in other physicians' requirements, I was passed by the medical board, the chairman making the memorable remark, "As a diplomat of course, you will never need to walk or stand". That may have been true in those days, but of course things changed later. That personal reminiscence is a reminder of the climate and attitudes when the 1944 Act was coming into effect. The need was obvious and accepted: to assist young war disabled to start and settle into occupations.

Section 10 deals with quotas. There was to be a standard percentage, the figure for which was to be prescribed and specified by order, after wide consultation. That has been 3 per cent., I think, from the beginning. But the figure was not in the Act; it is prescribed.

Also in Section 10 there were to be special percentages which the Minister could specify for particular sectors of employment. The object was clearly to take into account the suitability and distinctive characteristics of various parts of trade and industry. So far as I know, those special percentages have never been put into operation. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will tell us today whether they have ever been used.

Section 11 provides for exemptions. The Minister can grant permits allowing employers to be below the quota in certain circumstances. That provision has been used, though it has little meaning or effect in areas where the number of registered disabled is well below the 3 per cent. quota figure in any case.

The register under the Act is a voluntary one. No one is compelled to put down their names. It is separate from other registers such as those for the disabled held by local authorities. Under the Act those to be recorded in the registers are defined as: substantially handicapped in obtaining or keeping employment". Why are so many who ought to be on the register not there? Is it because they are not aware of the register? Is it because they do not think that it will help them? I understand that three or four years ago the Department of Employment commissioned a survey and that the report stated that about half of those who could qualify for the register had never heard of it, and some of those who had heard about it thought that it would not help them in any case. It is clear that a great deal needs to be done if the quota system is to continue. My information is that the Government have no plan at present to discontinue or replace it and that they are keeping it under review. That is not a new expression for most of us. I should be grateful if my noble friend would tell us more about that.

Most organisations representing disabled people are in favour of keeping the quota scheme. They criticise its imperfections but prefer it to nothing. For years the 3 per cent. figure has been merely a target rather than a goal which can everywhere be achieved for the reasons that I have given. Most of the organisations representing disabled people would prefer to keep it rather than to change to something else which might be worse.

Some employers' organisations, on the other hand, favour radical change or repeal. In particular, the organisation Employers' Forum on Disability would replace the quota scheme by other measures, including a strict code of practice. That is supported by the argument, which all of us as parliamentarians should respect, that laws in Acts of Parliament fall into disrepute when it is, in practice, mathematically impossible to observe them or to enforce them.

The MSC made similar recommendations in the early 1980s. During the International Year for Disabled People (1981) I was appointed to a role in this country during that year and the MSC was asked to review the quota scheme. It recommended that it be ended and replaced by a code of practice. I understand entirely the reluctance of governments to follow that advice when the disabled organisations are so anxious about the complete disappearance of the scheme.

My view of the quota scheme is that, although it is creaking and much discredited, it should not be dropped until there is clearly something better to replace it. In that connection, I acknowledge the additional schemes which exist. My subject today is the 1944 Act quota scheme so I shall make a passing reference only, to complete the scene, to sheltered employment. Pre-eminent in that field is the organisation Remploy, assisted by government, with factories in different parts of the UK producing goods for commercial purposes. Only last month my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced new measures to finance sheltered employment, in addition to Remploy, for severely disabled people. I accept that there are schemes in addition to the 1944 quota scheme.

It is sometimes stated that there are some 6 million disabled people in the UK—more than one tenth of the population. That figure has no application whatever to my subject today. First of all, some of them are people with minor disabilities, though on that a lot could be said. Someone who loses a finger, for example, is not severely disabled, but if he happens to be a pianist by profession then of course it is a calamity.

The main point is that of that figure of 6 million about three-quarters are over working age. They are past retirement. Their disabilities are mostly those which must be expected to attend advancing years. Their lives and their problems are of concern to the nation, which can and should respond in various ways, including efficient systems of community care.

Today we are discussing in the Motion disabled people of working age. That of course is a much smaller number than the 6 million. Within it, I suggest it is people in their 20s and 30s in particular to whom we should be giving special attention. Once they are started in a trade or occupation, it is easier for them to stay on in it. Yet many of them are not even on these registers.

Returning to the quota scheme, in the early 1980s a proposal was considered that fines or penalties be imposed for those organisations which were not meeting the quota and had not received the exemptions from the Minister. Clearly, this would not be fair or acceptable while the registration system was so ineffective and unable to produce the numbers of disabled employees required for a 3 per cent. quota.

Also, there was a feeling among some of the disabled organisations that fines would misinterpret the worth of disabled people and that they should not be regarded as an unwanted burden which could be avoided by the option of a financial payment. I was made very much aware of this during the international year because I was told it directly by disabled people and their organisations. Disabled employees, while some may need technical aids, can give as valuable a contribution as able-bodied workers and should not be treated as though they were in a second category.

However, Germany and France are operating quota schemes, combined with financial penalties in Germany and a levy system in France. The money collected from them goes to funds for disabled purposes. It is clear to those of us who have looked into it that some firms simply pay the fines in those countries and do not seriously attempt to meet the quota. They just decide to pay the money and not to try to employ the disabled people. Nonetheless, the schemes in those two countries are working.

I ask: how do France and Germany make their registration arrangements effective? Will the Government study their systems of registration? I hope that the Minister can tell us something about that. Unless our system is greatly improved, we cannot hope to emulate their results.

The subject would not be complete without mention of recent developments in the United States. Their legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, does not include a quota scheme. Its aim is to prevent discrimination. In the part on employment, employers of 25 people or more must accept any disabled applicant for a job, subject to "reasonable accommodations" being made. The figure of 25 is due to come down to 15 after four years.

The key words in this are "reasonable accommodations". They normally mean in the United States special equipment or adaptations. The word "reasonable" has come to have the effect of excusing employers who would suffer hardship and where an accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense. The United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has the role of mediation to obtain settlement of these factors in individual cases. It is hoped in the United States that most cases will be settled reasonably—that is the word which is used a great deal —without going to civil courts, which is the next stage in the process.

It remains to be seen at this early stage how this new American legislation will work in practice. The words that I have quoted, "to make reasonable accommodations", are also being used on this side of the Atlantic —as I am sure my noble friend knows—in a Private Member's Bill which received its Second Reading in another place on 11th March. The words have again been used, I think in the hope that it would lead to settlements without having a lot of litigation in the courts.

I hope that my noble friend will give us the Government's latest views on the quota system. While the scheme continues, it could be transformed—favourably, I believe —by making the registration procedure work. Surely this could be done. What are the difficulties? If there are serious difficulties, why not start a completely new register under the Act, accompanied by intense publicity? I am sure that the media would help, and it would encourage everyone who would qualify and who was looking for work to be listed in the registers.

In due course, I accept that the quota scheme may be overtaken by better arrangements, and there is not enough time in this debate to consider possible alternatives. I suggest that the American experience with the new Act should be studied closely. If satisfactory results are being attained there by discussion and without the courts being cluttered up with cases, we certainly ought to look in that direction too. In the meantime, I urge the Government not just to review or "keep under review"—the traditional words —the registration arrangements but to subject them to a thorough overhaul. I beg to move for Papers.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Disabled people and their employment is probably a subject to which we do not pay enough attention, especially when we consider the amount of time which, on the numerous education Bills which have travelled through the House, we have spent discussing those with special educational needs. I have often felt that in this field we are very good at training people who are in school or education generally to achieve their full potential, or at least at equipping them better to do so. The present Government have been overseeing most of the changes which started with the 1981 Act. However, we are rather in the habit of ignoring the problem of what happens to these people for the majority of their lives when they are actually in the workplace.

The 1944 Act is 50 years old and, as the noble Lord rightly said, much of the problem is that, for a variety of reasons, there is tremendous resistance to it from people who are disabled. The first is possibly the perception; the idea of disability is increasingly being fought against by those groups who have what are referred to as disabilities. Many people say, "We are not disabled, we are differently able". I appreciate that political correctness looms large in that statement and many noble Lords will have a great fear of what counts as political correctness. It is disabled people's idea of themselves that we are dealing with here. A person who, for example, has lost the use of a limb or his or her hearing is not necessarily disabled in every sphere of activity. Clause 1(1) of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 states that: 'disabled person' means a person who, on account of injury, disease or congenital deformity, is substantially handicapped in obtaining or keeping employment". I am dyslexic, therefore I have a congenital deformity under the Act. I am a registered disabled person. I feel that that description of myself is not the one that is normally considered when people see me. Indeed, I remember that, when registering for disability, I did it more or less as a matter of principle; I came in, sat down and registered as a disabled person with my rugby kit on the desk beside me as I signed the forms. There is a perception of disability which does not sit well with many people. It also does not sit well with employers.

When employers are dealing with disability—and we are often talking about mental illness or learning difficulties in this context—they do not know what to expect. If someone has a mental illness, it does not mean that he is an axe murderer. However when mental illness is spoken of, that is the perception which is conveyed. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, stated, perhaps the first step that the Government should take when considering either changing the law or trying to ensure better enforcement of the Act is to try to educate all those involved in this sphere, both those whom the Act is designed to help and the employers. Unless it is understood what is meant by "disability", there will be no participation in any scheme because those with handicaps may feel that their dignity is being attacked and employers may feel that they are taking on an unacceptable burden.

If that is taken as a starting point for future legislation, we may well solve many of the problems which currently exist in this area. It will also lay a firm foundation for any new action which is proposed.

The current system is failing and we must ask whether it is still an appropriate system to use, even if it is changed. Work patterns have changed fundamentally since its introduction. People are no longer expected to work standing at production lines for long periods of time. For example, a person who has a damaged limb may not be required to stand to work when to do so would put him at a disadvantage. Many people now work at a keyboard or a desk. We no longer require repetitive manual skills as part of the normal process. For example, the use of a pen is no longer absolutely essential for most office jobs. Our employment situation is changing fundamentally. Therefore, I suggest that any legislation in this field should place emphasis on assisting people with disabilities to gain access to job situations.

That means that a form of support structure must be framed to give a degree of assistance to people with disabilities. That may be a very narrow form of support. During our discussions on recent Education Bills and the problems of disabled people and those with special learning difficulties, we have advocated improving access facilities. In many cases that entails merely the provision of ramps on staircases. It is that simple. It may involve merely the provision of a chair, which, after all, is a fairly mundane item in many people's private homes. Once such an item is placed inside a building, it is there for all time and for everybody to use. After a small initial capital outlay, the item is available for permanent use. For example, if a chairlift is provided for a disabled person, that may also enable a person who has broken an ankle in a skiing accident to go into work. Therefore, it does not help only one person. If that employee leaves, the item is still available for use by other employees.

We must start to allow that help to be given. The Government have made considerable advances in the educational field but they have not really tackled the issue of giving the same degree of support to those people with difficulties once they have obtained employment. I hope that the Government will not say that that is too much of an intrusion in the workplace. We must bear such matters in mind.

I know that it is rather feeble to say this as only the second speaker in the debate, but many of the points that I had been going to raise have been brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. However, I can safely say that we must try to foster a degree of cohesion. Also we must try to include in the present structure those disabilities which were not originally envisaged. Finally, we must try to change the attitudes of all those who are involved, because, unless we deal with attitude, which is the primary drawback of the present system, no new system will be successful. It cannot be successful because there will not even be sufficient understanding of the questions that are being asked.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Holderness

My Lords, it would be impertinent of me, although very sincere, to congratulate my noble friend and to thank him for the assiduity with which he brings a number of extremely important matters to our attention. But I must express my particular admiration for the work that he does on behalf of handicapped people. I have heard him speak in support of them on a number of occasions.

I am glad that my noble friend took us back 50 years because it was in 1944 that I was honoured to be asked to join the national advisory committee on the employment of the disabled in the then Ministry of Labour at the end of a war which, I think my noble friend would agree, had wrought an enormous change in society's attitude towards handicaps and disability.

It was a hunger for labour in the 1940s that resulted in an extremely imaginative programme of training and industrial rehabilitation. The wartime government enabled hundreds of people to take part in productive employment, many for the first time. The names that occur to me, and probably to most of us, are Ernest Bevin, George Tomlinson and my own mentor at the then Ministry of Labour, Sir Archie Gordon, who later made a great name for himself among the trade unions in the United States.

Through the national advisory council, I was connected closely with two of the innovations: one was the quota, of which my noble friend spoke; the other was the scheme of designated employment, which reserved specific jobs—I remember lift operators and car park attendants—for the disabled. In the 1940s I gave complete support to those proposals but I do not believe that they occupy the same position of importance some 50 years later.

It is always stupid to make generalisations about anything and I hope that I should not be sufficiently arrogant to express a view on behalf of those with handicaps. However, my own experience and my conversations with others convince me that the one wish of a large number of disabled people is to be, as far as possible, like other people. They do not wish to be considered different, and they do not wish to be segregated. I cannot see how one avoids the impression that those employed as part of a quota because they are on a disabled register are somehow different from other people. Even more, the reservation of certain jobs suggests that those occupying them are adequate for those jobs but not adequate for jobs which are more skilled and demanding. Therefore, some time ago, I began to feel that a consequence of the designated jobs scheme was to lower the objectives which most handicapped people wished to keep before them.

However, I believe that one beneficial result of the quota scheme, and possibly the other scheme too, has been to open a little wider the eyes of many employers both to the abilities to work of those with disabilities and also to their determination to excel. It is clear to me that in a number of cases—I do not know how many—the output of disabled workers is as great or greater than that of the able bodied. When it is harder to move around, one's mind tends to concentrate more intently on the work in hand. Therefore, many disabled workers are very reliable.

I have followed with interest—as my noble friend said he had done also—the progress of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in another place. I admit that in the past I have been very critical of it, both privately and in public. That is because, by its very nature, it sets apart disabled workers from the able bodied in employment. I know that many of the disabled, even those with very severe handicaps, remain certain that they can win jobs on the strength of the abilities which remain available to them. Their selection against able-bodied competition is a powerful builder of self-esteem.

But—and it is a very big but—I have to admit that, for a very large number of disabled people, the chances of gainful employment are far fewer than those for the able bodied. Unfortunately, that is a fact which stares us all directly in the face. The reasons for it are very evident. Almost by definition, many jobs are just not open to disabled people. No one in their senses would send me to climb up a ladder. I might reach the top in the end, but it would take a very long time.

Similarly, there are undoubtedly problems for employers in taking on disabled workers. The problems are fewer than they think, but they are there. Ideally, I should like to see handicapped people finding jobs not because they are disabled but because, in many respects and in a whole variety of jobs, they are as competent or more so than their able-bodied competitors. But that is the ideal which has been in my mind and in the minds of others for a very long time, at the end of which we must now face the fact that thousands of handicapped people who long to work still find the way barred.

One day—perhaps during this Session—the civil rights Bill will be accepted by Parliament. If so, I hope that its supporters will not assume that it holds the key to immediate entry to the promised land of equal opportunity. I do not believe that it does; nor do I believe that penalties or levies on employers who do not employ such workers holds the key. In the past, the Government have pinned faith on other methods to increase opportunities. I hope that their determination to press ahead with persuasion and education will not be dimmed in any way if and when the civil rights legislation receives Royal Assent.

Ministers rightly argue that we are now far more conscious of the needs of those who have been injured. For example, access to buildings and to transport is much easier. Travel by rail and air and parking in busy cities, if not simple, are a great deal less difficult than before. Moreover, many employers have enlightened ideas. However, there are still a large number of employers—and I am sorry to say that some Government departments do not set an entirely splendid example—who either are not enlightened; who find people with disabilities a bit frightening; or who quail before the necessary changes that they would have to make.

Whatever the fate of the Bill in another place, I beg the Government to press on with their more positive approach and to be prepared to offer a great deal more help to employers with the cost of necessary adaptation. When my noble friend replies, I hope that he will be able to give encouragement not only to me and to other noble Lords but also to hundreds of disabled people who would like to see it made easier for employers to do what my noble friend himself would, I feel, dearly like to see carried out over the whole country.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I should like, first, to join the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on having given us the opportunity to return to the question of what can be done to improve the employment opportunities of disabled people. The noble Lord, himself severely disabled by war wounds, has a long and distinguished record of seeking to introduce legislation for the benefit of others who are disabled. It is typical of that concern that he has chosen this subject for today's debate.

When we discussed the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, two years ago, I recalled from my own industrial experience that even as soon as 10 years after the end of World War II the 3 per cent. quota system was not working. Now, 40 years later, I believe that there is general agreement that the 1944 Act has fallen into at least a degree of disrepute because there are not enough people to fill the quota and the law has proved impossible in practice to enforce. That being so, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will forgive me if I say no more about the quota as such, but follow the line of thought which was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Holderness.

In debating the Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, there were those of us, on the one hand, who felt that the remedy lay in introducing general legislation which would enable disabled people denied employment by unreasonable recruitment practices to gain redress. But, on the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, speaking for the Government, said that he preferred education, co-operation and specific legislation as a means to the end that we all favoured; namely, the elimination of unjustified discrimination.

I believe that we should give the Government credit for all that they have done since then to encourage better practice through the voluntary approach. They have continued to try to help unemployed people who are disabled to find work by relaxing the criteria under which such people can gain entry to various employment and training schemes. Recently, the Government also decided that firms should no longer be required to pay half the additional cost of employing disabled people under the access to work scheme. Welcome, too, is the way in which over 50 leading employers have committed themselves to good practice in recruiting and giving continued employment to disabled people. But, as we all know, there are still far too many examples of discrimination.

In my view, the educational practice would have a better chance of success if it were to be underpinned by legislation of a practical kind. After all, that is the rationale of the Disabled Act which has now come into force in the United States. I readily accept that legislation will not of itself eliminate ignorance and prejudice, but I believe that it could produce some modification in behaviour that might subsequently lead to changes in attitude. As my noble friend Lord Addington said, such changes in attitude are a fundamental need.

What struck me most since we last debated the subject is the way in which more and more prominent people and reputable organisations have reached the conclusion that a piecemeal approach to a problem that allows only for targeted legislation is insufficient. They have decided that voluntarism has had its chance and that in circumstances where official figures show that, compared with others, disabled people are three times more likely to be out of work, are unemployed for longer and are paid on average 25 per cent. less, it is time for the law to intervene.

Notable among these converts is the Institute of Personnel Management whose members operate in the front line of industry. As recently as three years ago the institute continued to favour self-regulation in this matter. But in the written evidence it has now presented to the House of Commons Employment Committee it has called for new anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people along the lines already established in the case of sex and race.

Most significant is the way in which the balance of opinion among Members of another place of all parties has swung in the same direction. Where two years ago the same Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, introduced in your Lordships' House was in the other place talked out at Second Reading, this year the Prime Minister himself said of the same Bill, only three days before it was reintroduced, I hope that the Bill will go into Committee for detailed examination of its provisions".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/3/94; col. 147.] The Minister of State took the same line when the Bill was debated on 11th March and it duly received its Second Reading without dissent. It is noteworthy, too, that the Law Society has said of the Bill's employment provisions, with which it was principally concerned, that they go in, precisely the direction in which the law should move". I hope that this positive attitude will be reflected in what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has to say when he replies to the debate. At the very least, now that the Bill's provisions are being given detailed, consideration in Committee in another place, I trust he will confirm that the Government will judge them in an open-minded way.

6.22 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for introducing a debate this evening on this important subject and for the well informed and detailed way in which he introduced it. Those of us lucky enough not to suffer from a disability and to be regarded as able-bodied do not always realise the extent to which our society is unfriendly to those perceived as disabled persons.

It was not until my husband became disabled as a result of arthritis that I realised how difficult life often is for those with a mobility problem. There are so many places that are out of bounds to them and so many public places built by architects with a liking for long staircases and which have lifts tucked away in inaccessible places. When provisions are made for disabled people they have to be sought out by the disabled persons themselves. Our railway stations and underground systems illustrate the problems exactly. However, my husband is retired: the problems are so much greater for the younger disabled person who needs employment not only to earn a livelihood and gain some semblance of independence but also to preserve self-respect and a feeling of belonging to the community.

Moreover, the number of people involved is not so very small. A survey carried out for the Department of Employment in 1989, which used a fairly narrow definition of disability by reference to employability, estimated that 22 per cent. of adults of working age had a health problem or disability. The survey measured the adult disabled population at 7.3 million persons. The research further calculated that 8 per cent. suffered an occupational handicap as a result of their health status. Further sub-analysis of the data led the researchers to conclude that disabled persons who are occupationally handicapped and economically active—that is, in work or seeking work—represented 4 per cent. of the population.

We are therefore talking about a sizeable minority group. Furthermore, only a minority of disabled adults are in work and this compares unfavourably with the general population. When in employment, disabled employees are likely to be under-represented in the professional and managerial occupations and non-manual jobs, but disproportionately represented in semi-skilled and unskilled employment. Not surprisingly, disability also has an adverse effect upon earned income. Full-time disabled men, according to this survey, earn only 81 per cent. of average gross weekly earnings, and 84 per cent. of average hourly pay for the general population. The comparable figures for female disabled workers are 88 per cent. and 91 per cent. Research undertaken by the Spastics Society appears to indicate that a non-disabled applicant for a job was 1.6 times more likely to receive a positive response than an application from a disabled person. The society carried out experiments with paired applications based on standard letters from individuals with the same or similar qualifications, one application being from a registered disabled person and another from one who was not. Analysis of the results showed that 97 per cent. of the applications from able-bodied people received a positive response, as compared with only 59 per cent. of applications received from persons who identified themselves as disabled when making their applications.

Further studies reveal that the experience of disability and employment is an extremely depressing one. There are real problems to be overcome by disabled workers. First, there are often physical and vocational obstacles to be overcome with regard to education and training. According to the study to which I have referred, disabled workers are nearly twice as likely as non-disabled workers to lack formal educational qualifications and to have had skill training. Then there are the difficulties often presented by architectural designs and transportation systems. How very few architects seem to give the plight of disabled individuals a thought when designing public buildings, let alone offices and factories. Then disabled people often encounter resistance from employers to hiring persons with disabilities. And this resistance persists despite evidence collected by the Department of Employment which indicates that disabled workers are so glad to get jobs that they are ultra-reliable!

Disabled workers often experience self-doubt as a result of their previous experiences of rejection because of their disability. Finally, they must often overcome the tests created by inflexible medical examinations which are used by many employers often without questioning their appropriateness or their validity. In other words, there is a framework of discrimination built into the way in which our labour market operates.

What have we done to try to create working opportunities for disabled people? As we have discussed tonight, we have the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944. That Act is 50 years old. I agree with much of what has been said on that matter and I do not wish to repeat many of the detailed explanations and descriptions which have already been given by other noble Lords. The main plank of the Act is the statutory disabled quota scheme under which employers with 20 or more employees are obliged to have a 3 per cent. quota of disabled persons. It is also an offence to dismiss a. registered disabled person without reasonable cause if, as a result of that dismissal, the employer would be failing to comply with the quota. However, as we know, there is provision for employers to escape responsibilities under the Act because it allows for exemptions.

As all of us have commented this evening, the scheme does not appear to have been successful in preventing discrimination against disabled persons. It has failed to guarantee employment opportunities for them. It does not deal with employment issues generally, as do the anti-discrimination laws on race and gender, for there is a failure to deal with training, promotion and remuneration. Why has it failed to deliver, as clearly it was introduced with the best of intentions? First, many employers do not appear to be aware of the quota scheme or its requirements. The Department of Employment estimates that only about 24 per cent. of employers currently meet their quota target.

Secondly, there has been a widespread reluctance among disabled persons to register; a point referred to by a number of noble Lords. It is apparently difficult to ascertain why this should be so, but it is possible that many disabled persons do not want to be separately identified in this way as it might hamper social acceptance and their general integration into the workforce. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has already given some examples from his own experience of the feelings of persons in the category to which I have referred. Many disabled people may also have doubts about the benefits of being so identified.

Therefore, on the one hand there is a lack of awareness on the part of employers, plus a lack of enforcement by the authorities, and on the other hand there is the reluctance of any who might benefit to identify themselves and take advantage of the scheme.

There have been no prosecutions since the 1970s and it is more than possible that the authorities believe that the reluctance of disabled workers to register makes the matter of enforcement academic. In any event, it has been the policy of the department to rely on advice and encouragement rather than enforcement measures against employers who are not fulfilling the quota.

Nevertheless, whenever the quota system has been discussed —and I remember such discussions among trade unions when I was a member of the Social Insurance and Industrial Welfare Committee of the TUC —the upshot has always been that we should keep the quota system because it was better than nothing.

However, I believe that organisations concerned with disabled persons' employment are now seeking the introduction of laws that would give individuals the opportunity to take action against being unfairly treated by employers. The Department of Employment has opposed this to date saying that an anti-discrimination law would be complex to draft and uncertain in its application. That view is not held by a number of eminent lawyers practising in the employment field. The House of Commons Employment Committee in 1990 concluded that the Government should explore urgently the possibility of equal opportunities legislation for the employment of people with disabilities and should report to Parliament on the potential costs and effects in the labour market. In addition, as we have heard tonight, there has been recent legislation in the United States, which clearly ought to be thoroughly examined.

Although the Government's opposition has to date remained unchanged, since apparently they still prefer to rely on education and persuasion, we have heard tonight of the progress made with the Bill in the other place. We shall no doubt have the opportunity of further debate when it reaches us. I hope that the Government will move from their previous position and will be prepared to give it a sympathetic run in both Houses.

There have, of course, been no fewer than 15 attempts to introduce anti-discrimination legislation by way of Private Members' Bills since 1982, but all have failed to make progress. However, I detect a change in general perceptions. It may very well be that this time round there will be a shift in the Government's position. In our view, it is the job of Government to protect the vulnerable. Disabled people are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to prejudice and stereotyping and are thus being prevented from playing the part that many wish to play in their communities and in society.

If by chance we fail to achieve overall legislation and continue with the quota system, I commend to the Government the propositions made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, in opening the debate. We really ought to look at making the system work better. We can do that through appropriate publicity and by ensuring that employers know that if they accept the recommendations of Government and accept people from the register those people will be willing and able to play a full part in their enterprises and will undoubtedly turn out to be very good workers indeed. We have to do something to assist people who want to work but are currently not able to do so because of prejudice and stereotyping.

Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject tonight.

6.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, along with all other noble Lords I should like to join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on introducing this debate, which is so apposite on the 50th anniversary of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944. I also echo the words of my noble friend Lord Holderness when he stressed how much my noble friend Lord Campbell had done, and is doing, for disabled people over the years. Exactly the same could be said of my noble friend Lord Holderness.

The 1944 Act was, we believe, a landmark Act for disabled people. In addition—and I should stress that this is in addition—to establishing the quota scheme, it also contained powers for the provision of vocational training, employment rehabilitation and sheltered employment for severely disabled people. In discussing the quota scheme itself we should not lose sight of the fact that it was merely part of a range of measures to help people with disabilities to secure employment.

Of course I accept that things have moved on considerably since 1944. Economic and legislative developments have moved past the Act in some areas. More importantly, the aspirations of disabled people and the attitudes within society have changed. Disabled people, quite rightly, are increasingly asserting their wishes to be treated as individuals, to train and work alongside non-disabled people and to earn their living in productive jobs in open employment.

A reflection of those changes is that increasingly help with employment and training is being provided through modern schemes and services aimed at meeting the needs of the individual and the employer in their localities. For example, the training and enterprise councils and their Scottish equivalents, the local enterprise companies, are now responsible for training and help with enterprise. The special schemes, some of which were introduced under the 1944 Act, will soon be replaced and enhanced by Access to Work—about which I shall say a little more later on.

The vast majority of people with disabilities who are helped by the Department of Employment are now helped by the integrated mainstream employment and training provision, a situation that was certainly not envisaged in 1944, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, quite rightly stressed, in many cases many of the training schemes relaxed entry for disabled people.

Nevertheless, the 1944 Act remains important and relevant in its 50th year. Many severely disabled people depend on the support that the Department of Employment can give them because of that Act—in sheltered factories and workshops (Remploy was mentioned by one speaker earlier today, and only this morning I was visiting a county council sheltered workshop in Gloucestershire; I was very pleased with what it was doing and the help that it was able to provide) and also with the supported placements which we offer with employers. As my noble friend Lord Campbell stressed, we have recently announced changes to the funding arrangements for supported employment under the terms of the Act which we believe will give more flexibility to providers to offer a range of support in special workshops and placements.

There was some discussion of the numbers of disabled people by both my noble friend Lord Campbell and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. Both quite rightly referred to the figure of about 6 million disabled people in the country. They rightly accepted that that was far larger than the number of those who were actually available for work and wanted to work and were otherwise active in the labour market. It may help if I share with the House some of our research on the sort of numbers we are talking about.

The research I am referring to is Employment and Handicap published in 1990. This seemed to show that there were 1.27 million disabled people—3.8 per cent. of the working population—of whom about 3.1 per cent. (1.06 million) were registrable. The number of actually registered disabled people was a mere 371,000 in 1993. In 1950 it had peaked at a little over 900,000 and has steadily declined since—I shall say a word or two later as to why people are not registering and what has happened—that is a little over 1 per cent. of the population today, well below the 3 per cent. that we are aiming for.

In terms of the numbers of economically active disabled people in employment, on the basis of the same research we reckon that some 78 per cent. are in work and 22 per cent. are wanting work and are therefore unemployed by any definition. Of the little over 980,000 who were in work, some 844,000 were employees and the remainder self-employed.

Perhaps I may turn to further evidence relating to ILO unemployment rates, based on the Labour Force Surveys which come out each year and now each quarter. The figures have to be treated with some caution in that the LFS uses a wider definition of disability than under the 1944 Act. It includes people with short-term health problems and impairments and is therefore not strictly comparable with the data I have just quoted. The interesting point about those figures is that they show that since spring 1990 there has been, as we would all accept, a consistent rise in unemployment for all classes of people as measured by the ILO figures. There has been a consistent rise for both able-bodied people and the disabled during the recession. However, the proportion of people with a limiting health problem who are unemployed by the ILO definition has risen by only 22 per cent. between spring 1989 and winter 1992–93 compared with those without the limiting health problem, the able bodied population, for whom there was a rise of 56 per cent. over the same period. I believe that those figures show considerable improvement in the work of the Employment Service and the attitudes of employers in that the rate of unemployment for disabled people does not seem to have increased as fast as for others.

I now wish to turn to the quota. The House is aware that the scheme imposes a duty on all employers with 20 or more employees to employ registered disabled people as 3 per cent. of their employees. My noble friend Lord Campbell also asked whether special quotas for particular employment sectors have been used. I am aware of one special percentage that has been prescribed. That is 0.1 per cent. for employment as a master or crew member of a British ship. However, other than that I am not aware that much use has been made of the provision.

I turn now to the mainstream quota. As noble Lords will he aware, there are criminal sanctions if an employer dismisses a registered disabled person unreasonably while below quota and also if an employer engages someone other than a registered disabled person without a permit while below quota. That is the scheme in essence. However, as all noble Lords have made clear, there are not enough disabled people registered under the scheme to allow all employers subject to the 3 per cent. quota to meet it. As I made clear, it looks as though the figure is something around 1 per cent.

It is because the scheme has a dated approach to employing disabled people and because disabled people are less inclined to register that we have had the scheme under review. I have to say to my noble friend Lord Campbell that we have not yet come to any conclusion, but we shall continue to keep it under review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, touched on the question of why people do not register. There were many who were eligible to register but many did not do so because they did not consider themselves to be disabled. They objected to being labelled as disabled. They see no advantage to themselves as individuals in being registered; or in many cases they see disadvantages to themselves in being registered. Perhaps I may support that argument with anecdotal evidence. On my visit this morning to a jobcentre in Gloucester, the disability employment adviser there again confirmed that in her view, although she would like to see many more people registered, a great many saw no particular advantage themselves in registration and in fact could not be persuaded of any virtue in registering or in the need to register.

The quota scheme has both its critics and supporters. We recognise concerns that the quota scheme is not as effective as was originally envisaged. We have been quite open about that. However, we believe that there are some positive aspects to the scheme. It helps some registered disabled people to obtain and keep employment; and it can be argued that it can set an aspirational target for employers. As my noble friend Lord Holderness put it, it has done something at least to keep open the eyes of some employers to the abilities of many disabled people. As we have always said, it is the abilities of people that we must look at.

The Employment Service will continue to administer the scheme as part of our continuing campaign to educate and persuade employers to implement good practice in the employment of disabled people. We believe that the scheme to some extent underpins those efforts.

The quota scheme has continued for many years. However, as many have made clear, there is still no consensus in favour either of its repeal or replacement. There are arguments to support a wide range of options for dealing with it. But I have to say that we are not yet convinced by any of the arguments to support any of those options.

The House may be aware that my department recently commissioned research from the Social Policy Research Unit at York University—I have the statistics here—into legislation and services for disabled people in 15 different countries. Its report found no clear answers on the effectiveness of different approaches.

Many of our European colleagues operate quota schemes or something along those lines. Again research showed that there were problems associated with quota schemes in all the countries examined and that compliance was not widespread. My noble friend Lord Campbell referred to France and Germany. They impose a levy on employers who do not meet the quota with the main aim of redistributing income from employers who are unable to meet quota requirements to those who can. However, most employers appear to choose to pay the levy rather than to meet their obligations under the quota. In many cases therefore the quota does not provide the incentive to employ disabled people. In effect it simply provides a way for employers to avoid meeting their obligations and does little to change employers' attitudes to the needs and aspirations of disabled people. Certainly I should like to commend that research to my noble friend and all others who have spoken in the debate.

I wish to make it clear that the Government are prepared to look at all possible schemes in all other countries to see just how effective they are. So far I have merely mentioned those countries which operate on what one would call quota principles, but the research also looks at the slightly different way in which the Americans, Australians and many others pursue the problem. For example, among the non-European countries we studied both the United States and Australia. As noble Lords know, they have recently introduced anti-unfair discrimination legislation. Legislation against disability discrimination is a comparatively recent development. The report com-mented, for example, that it is unclear how effective such legislation has been in America and how effective it will continue to be.

Noble Lords have touched upon other alternatives to the quota scheme. Perhaps I may say a word or two about a number of them. I do not think that anyone suggested that we could simply resolve the problem by reducing the quota level from 3 per cent. to some lower figure. I believe that everyone accepts that that would not do anything to help disabled people in employment and would send out the wrong signal to disabled people and to employers. We could, of course, remove the requirement to register. Again, I do not believe that that would obviously help disabled people into employment.

There are considerable problems with self-certification: who would decide on qualifications, and so on? There have been problems encountered in other countries with self-certification. It is also likely to be a burden on employers, as they would not be familiar with the appropriate requirements. It could in addition create uncertainty both in the minds of disabled people and employers. I believe that there would also be the risk of abuse. It would be difficult to avoid that.

The third line that has been pursued most actively by my noble friend is that we should campaign to encourage much greater registration—to encourage more people to register. As I have said, registration is a voluntary matter. I have pointed out some of the difficulties in encouraging people to register. But certainly I would be happy to consider my noble friend's suggestion as part of our review of quota. I ought to point out some of the difficulties that I see following on such a point.

As we have all made quite clear, at present it is mathematically impossible for all employers to meet the quota as we have only about 1 per cent. of the workforce who are registered as disabled. Therefore, to be effective we would need to encourage several hundred thousand disabled people to register. I am not confident that there are sufficiently large numbers of disabled people who would consider that registration would be of benefit to them personally. Moreover, I believe that a campaign which sought to persuade disabled people that a large number ought to register would be extremely costly. I know about the costs of some of those campaigns and I suspect that any impact would be likely to be short lived. Having said that, I can give an assurance to my noble friend that the department will certainly continue to encourage registration as far as possible. But we believe that it must be a matter for the voluntary decision of any individual as to whether he or she wishes to register.

I touched earlier on the American position, and some mention was made of what we shall refer to as the Berry Bill in another place. Perhaps I may just say a word or two about that Bill. It would not be right for me to comment in detail on a Bill that is going through another place at the moment other than to say that, as I believe we have made clear, we are not convinced that simply outlawing discrimination against disabled people would necessarily improve their prospects for employment. It would be very difficult to frame such legislation, and experience in other countries shows that its application is uncertain. Perhaps I may end by repeating what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said only yesterday in another place: As I have indicated to the House … we share the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people. We have done a great deal for disabled people in recent years and will do yet more, both in this Parliament and the next. What we need to do in Committee [referring to the Bill] and thereafter is to look at the practical implications of the Bill and that will be done". —[Official Report, Commons, 12/4/94; col. 15.] To return to the SPRU report, it concluded by stressing that one had to take considerable care about transferring lessons that have been learnt in one country to another country. They are not necessarily transferable. The appropriateness of a particular measure depends fundamentally on its historical and contemporary place within a country's employment provision for disabled people. Nevertheless, research findings provide useful information on legislative alternatives and are helping to inform our review of the options.

We recognise that quota has been an issue for some time, but we have to be certain that whatever action we take will provide effective help for disabled people. Our decision must increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. It must not result in an unreasonable burden on employers which stops job creation and reduces precisely the opportunities that we are trying to open up.

Of course, we have not put other matters on hold while we review the position on quota. I can certainly reassure my noble friend Lord Holderness that we are currently taking other action to help disabled people to participate fully in the labour market and to promote employment opportunities for them. For example, with the introduction of Access to Work on 6th June, we shall have in place a key part of our framework for practical support for disabled people. Indeed, our schemes and services compare well with those of other countries. From our knowledge of provision in other countries I am pretty confident that Access to Work compares most favourably with what is available elsewhere. And we are more advanced than many countries in integrating disabled people into work with non-disabled people, in working with the voluntary sector and—again I should like to stress a point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington—in raising employer awareness of the abilities of disabled people. For example, our disability symbol has now been adopted by nearly 700 employers, an increase of over 100 per cent. since June last year. And we are currently promoting that symbol to disabled people and their employers through national and local advertising and marketing campaigns. We are also helping people with disabilities to find and retain employment. In the year ending 31st March 1993, Employment Service specialist advisers placed over 40,000 unemployed disabled people. In the year ending 31st March 1994 they are likely to have placed over 50,000 unemployed disabled people; and for the year ending 31st March 1995 we have challenged them to place at least 55,000.

We need to build on those successes. Irrespective of the outcome of our review of quota, I believe that we need to work to ensure that the full range of support, advice, education and persuasion work together. It is through this help that we shall see attitudes changed, barriers removed and more disabled people trained and in work.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to all the speakers who have taken part in this debate. I am also glad that they have not had to watch the clock and trim their proposed speeches, as so often happens in debates with a limited time. They have therefore given to us the full benefit of their views and thoughts on the quota scheme.

I thank particularly my noble friend Lord Holderness, who was on the advisory body concerned in 1944 when the Act was passed and was coming into effect. The noble Lord underlined for us very clearly the dilemma posed by the desire that I believe we all share to provide all possible opportunities for handicapped people and avoid discrimination, and the objections to handicapped people being treated as a difficult, expensive and less acceptable group. That is the dilemma with which governments and all of us are faced. We must try to ensure that any new Acts of Parliament do not pretend that that dilemma does not exist.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke to us about the less visible handicaps. He gave the example of dyslexia, and the unfortunate descriptions that can be given in official documents to various conditions. His noble friend Lord Rochester spoke to us from his experience of dealing with the administration of personnel and management in business and industry. I am particularly grateful to him for taking part.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, gave suggestions for the future. I am very pleased that she supported my suggestions for improving the system of registration and urging the Government to do the best that they possibly can through publicity to promote a system to get more of the people who could qualify and benefit to register on the list. The noble Baroness also contributed her impression of the past attitude of trade unions to the quota scheme. What she said was entirely consistent with my own understanding: that is to say, most of them, like disabled organisations, were keen to continue the scheme, although they realised its defects because it was better than nothing.

I am also particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Henley. At the outset I must say that I agree with him—I hope I did not give any other impression—that the 1944 Act dealt with much more than merely the quota scheme. But of course in this debate I could only concentrate on that scheme, which, as other speakers have pointed out, is very topical and concerns a lot of people in the country. I hope that I conveyed appreciation of the work of our predecessors in Parliament in the early 1940s who produced not only this scheme but also other parts of that Act which were far-sighted enough to be relevant or are being replaced by similar schemes even today.

I am grateful to my noble friend for producing so far as possible the up-to-date figures. We were struck by the figure that he gave of only 371,000 disabled people being registered for the purposes of this Act, while three or four times that number in the country are known to be disabled; and by the fact that the larger number in the country as a whole, 78 per cent., are employed but as many as 22 per cent. are seeking employment. If I am wrong in those figures I hope that my noble friend will correct me. I think that that is what he was telling us. Again, I think that we have to take on board the difference between the figure for those who are registered and the very much larger figure for those who could be registered and are available for work.

I am grateful also to my noble friend for keeping us informed on the use of the special percentages in the 1944 Act. It does not surprise me that only one has ever been put into operation. Some of us would have thought that none had been put into operation. It is very wise to limit the quota to 1 per cent. in the case of people in charge of vessels at sea.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may correct my noble friend. The figure was 0.1 per cent. and not 1 per cent.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am grateful to my noble friend. I thought he said 1 per cent. but it was very much less.

At this stage I must say, because I did not mention it in my opening speech, that the safety of the public must come first. Of course there are suitable jobs for disabled persons in particular capacities at sea. However, many people would feel more secure when they travel in British ships knowing that those in charge of the ship do not suffer from bad eyesight or some other handicap which would be inappropriate for the work they do.

I am not surprised that at the moment the Government are continuing the quota scheme. As I said, it would cause great anxiety if they were to announce that they intended to bring it to an end unless there was something which the whole country was already prepared to accept which was a better replacement.

I asked about the schemes in France and Germany, to which my noble friend replied. However, he did not mention the registration part of their schemes, in which many of us are interested. He confirmed my observation that those countries impose financial penalties and levies and that a number of employers simply pay the levy and do not bother to employ the disabled people. That is thought to be unacceptable in this country. However, this country could learn from their registration schemes, which have quotas as high as 6 per cent.—not our 3 per cent. —and fines can be levied if employers do not observe them.

I thank all those noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful to the Government for their long reply, which dealt with most of my points. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.