Clause 2. — (Selective Employment Refund.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Selective Employment Payments Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st July 1966.

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Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton 12:00 am, 21st July 1966

I apologise to the Committee that my voice is rather weak as I seem to have been rendered almost speechless by the events and announcements of yesterday, but I will do my best. In any case, I do not wish to detain the Committee for very long because many of the arguments have been put very sincerely and thoroughly. I do not want to go over them again, but I wish to comment on what the hon. Lady said.

She rested all her case, if I understood it rightly, on the fact that this tax is not a tax against the disabled. That, of course, we accept. It is not a tax against the disabled. Although we brought out in all our speeches and arguments the fact that the tax will hurt a large section of the disabled, we accept that it was not primarily a tax against the disabled. Of course, those in the manufacturing industries will have the premium and they are on all-fours with able-bodied workers. People in the category in which there is a refund are on all-fours with able-bodied workers. It is only the small percentage in the service industries with whom we are concerned in this Amendment. It is those whom we are trying to help.

6.0 p.m.

The hon. Lady and I approach this question from totally different angles. I want to weigh the scales slightly in favour of the disabled. It would be only very slightly and marginally, but we are in very difficult economic circumstances. We are in circumstances where the disabled in any case, even if they are in full employment in a sheltered industry, are at greater risk than any other section of the community. They have to have transport. This is to be more expensive. They have higher laundry and cleaning bills, often because of the nature of their disablement.

From the beginning we want to weigh the scales in favour of protecting people. I have been an employer of labour. I hope that I was a humane and compassionate employer of labour. We had some difficult times in the immediate post-war years when I took over the management in my industry. I know that one must be ruthless when balancing who to employ. There are many occasions when one must say, "I must make my head govern my heart", as the hon. Lady has done today. If the hon. Lady had followed the dictates of her heart, she would not have adduced the arguments which she presented to the Committee. She would have given way immediately.

Employers who are trying to get through a stringent economic situation and who are fighting for every penny of a very narrow profit margin will have to look harshly at those on their labour roll, if the Government measures are to work, as they must work if the nation is to pull itself out of its present difficulties. The firms which must make such an appraisal will be the small firms. The big firms can carry one or two extra people. I am not so much worried about them. I am worried about the disabled who are employed by small firms. Such firms may well have to say in this economic crisis, "X who is legless, is inflexible, because he can do only one job ". Last night reference was made to the fact that a badly disabled cashier behind a cash desk could not help in a shop because of his disability.

All known factors have to be weighed. The sickness record is very often weighed in the balance. We all know that in bad weather it is often impossible for disabled people to get to work. Therefore, an employer of disabled workers has to have a bigger margin.

I approach this question on the basis that, if social justice and compassion mean anything at all, this is an argument which should weigh very heavily with us, particularly at this time. It was relevant when this tax was introduced, but it is even more relevant today, because we are discussing the tax in a new set of circumstances, when we know that, if the Prime Minister's "shake-out" is to mean anything, it will mean difficult circumstances for many people and it will mean unemployment.

The hon. Lady has said that these people can be retrained and brought back into employment. Of course they can. I know that the hon. Lady appreciates the agonies of mind which people undergo through having to be retrained and rehabilitated. It is easy to say that somebody who has been dismissed from an undertaking in, say, Melton Mowbray can be retrained, that there is probably a vacancy in Loughborough in a manufacturing industry which such a person can fill.

However, it is not only a question of retraining. It is a question of moving the person and of all the difficulties of rehabilitating him in different circumstances. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity of visiting the exhibition presently being held in the Central Hall, which I have visited. It is organised by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, and people from all over the world are showing aids they have thought out to help people in their everyday lives. What struck me was the excitement which the disabled feel when some little extra help is provided which enables them to go into employment or to lead a fuller life.

Other hon. Members have said how essential it is for these people to be employed. It is essential that they should not be unemployed. The disabled so easily give up hope. After a few months of unemployment, during which they are waiting for a retraining scheme, these people often give up hope and sink back into the lethargy that working in the community does so much to dissipate. First and foremost, the argument here is not an economic one, nor even a logical one. It is one of social justice and of compassion.

If it is such a small number of people involved, who may or may not be hurt by the tax, surely at this moment in time we have an extra duty to look after this very small residue. I cannot accept the hon. Lady's assurance. She used the words, "if there is any savage effect". I do not hold the word "savage" against the hon. Lady. She does not mean that. She means that, if she finds the problem building up, she will take action. The word "savage" may be the right one, although I do not hold it against the hon. Lady in any context.

We must not wait until the problem has arrived and people have been hurt by the tax. Large masses of people are not involved. Those involved will not be easily identifiable. The hon. Lady gives us the assurance that she will wait to see what effect the tax has. What provision is she now making to discover what effect the tax will have? I would guess that no work was put in before the tax was brought in to find out what effect it would have. We have constantly asked what sort of consultations took place and have tried to find out what opinion could be given. These are matters of opinion. We have constantly asked what efforts Ministers have taken, whether it be the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Social Security or the Government as a whole. We have had no answer.

The truth is that the tax has been introduced without any consultation and no steps have been taken to ensure that we can quickly tell what the effects will be. When the hon. Lady arrives at her Ministry tomorrow morning, I have no doubt that she will put things in train. That is not good enough. We want to know what consultations have already taken place and what steps are in train to discover what effect of the tax will be if we fail to carry our Amendment.