Mr. R. C. Mitchell:
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the quota scheme for the employment of disabled people, arising from the consultative document published by his Department.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment made a statement about the consultative document on the quota scheme in answer to a Question on 22nd May.—[Vol. 857, c. 39–40.] This explained the purpose of the document and made clear that I shall not make up my mind about the future of the quota scheme until I have had the opportunity to consider the views of my National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled and the many other organisations and individuals concerned. I hope that the Government will be in a position to take a decision on this—within the wider context of my Department's review of all its policies and services for disabled people—in the course of 1974.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the consultative document contains some very controversial matter, particularly the implied suggestion that the quota scheme might be abolished? While he is making up his mind what action to take, will he take steps to ensure that the present law is enforced and that employers take their quotas under the existing scheme?
I am well aware that the proposals in the consultative document are controversial, and the document makes it plain that there are disadvantages in all the proposals put forward. This indeed is why we are having this degree of consultation on it, including consultation with the National Advisory Council on the Employment of the Disabled. As to what can be done meanwhile, there are some firms which could well be in breach of the law since they have not received permits to engage people other than disabled and are presumably engaging them.
The difficulty is twofold. First, there are not enough disabled people to go around, in the sense that if all firms were to take their theoretical quota they would be employing more disabled people than there are. Second, there is a considerable number of disabled people in employment who are not registered. I should not like to take action which would lead firms which are employing disabled people to press those people to register when they do not wish to.
Does not the best form of help for disabled people lie in retraining? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Government are doing enough in retraining the disabled and others as well?
My hon. Friend will know that we are producing a further paper, first of all on sheltered employment and second on industrial rehabilitation and vocational training, which we hope to put to the National Advisory Council early in 1974.
The Government have been persistent in their demand that people in industry must obey the law. The right hon. Gentleman has been told today that there are 9,000 firms in breach of the law since, without permission from his Department, they are not operating the quota scheme. Will he now give us a straight answer as to what he and his Department will do about these 9,000 law-breakers?
The hon. Member says that they are law-breakers, but that is a presumption and not a fact. There are 9,000 firms that do not have permits from my Department to employ people other than those who are registered——
Not necessarily; they may not have taken on people.
This Government, in common with their predecessors, have taken and continue to take the view that the right way to try to help the disabled is by a range of policies to encourage their training and employment. It is not always possible to ensure that disabled people can get the employment they need, because it is not available in the areas in which they live.