Is my hon. Friend aware that proposals to change the scheme will be welcomed by disabled people who have come to regard the present scheme as a cruel farce? Will he ensure that his proposals are more enforceable and effective than the present system, under which only 40 per cent. of the firms bother to meet their obligations? Will he also ensure that those firms who are in breach of the law are prosecuted?
I share my hon. Friend's concern about firms who do not comply with the quota scheme, though it is important to bear in mind that firms do not have to comply with the quota if they are given permission from my Department. I am sure that my hon. Friend and I are both concerned about the 20 per cent. of firms—totalling 10,000—who neither employed their quota nor obtain the necessary permission from my Department. I authorised prosecutions recently. In one case I was described as a bureaucratic madman and in another the defending solicitor said that he could not understand why his clients were being prosecuted. With regard to possible changes in the scheme, I think it would be unwise to anticipate the statement that I shall be making.
With regard to the 60 per cent. of firms which employ fewer people than their quotas, have the Government given any thought to a form of tax relief to firms to encourage the employment of disabled people?
Is my hon. Friend aware that it would be disastrous for unemployed disabled workers if we simply dropped the quota scheme and left a vacuum? Does he agree that the Government have a clear duty to make the scheme work effectively, or replace it with a better scheme? Is he aware that the best way of solving the problem would be to make every employer pay for the 3 per cent. quota, whether he employs disabled people or not, because then the boot would be on the other foot and instead of thousands of disabled people begging employers to take them on, employers would be looking for disabled people to work for them?
There have been statements in the Press about the future of me scheme that my hon. Friend may eventually find to have been misleading. With regard to the other part of his question, he will know that this was one of the options canvassed in the consultative document of 1973, and it has been examined by the National Advisory Council. While the problems are easily identified, the solutions are more difficult to find.