I apologise for the rather long reply.
The Manpower Services Commission published the report of its review of the quota scheme on 23 July. The report reviews a number of possible approaches, including variants of the existing scheme, and recommends its replacement with a statutory duty on employers in respect of the recruitment, retention and career development of disabled people, linked to a code of practice.
The Commission's proposals contain a number of fresh ideas and would represent a significant change of approach on this important subject compared with existing arrangements. As I indicated in reply to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North-East (Mrs. Short), the Government will therefore give interested organisations and individuals until the end of the year to comment on the Commission's proposals before coming to any decisions.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that in view of the savage cuts in the MSC's budget it is difficult to have any confidence that the Government will make sufficient resources available to improve the existing scheme or to make any new scheme effective? The Secretary of State said that there will be consultation. Can he assure the House that, before he comes to the House with any legislative proposals, it will be possible to have a debate on the matter?
I shall refer the latter question to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I should have thought that the answer must be "Yes." We have been extremely careful to ensure that help for the disabled is not cut.
As to the savage cuts in the Manpower Services Commission's budget, I should point out that, on the youth opportunities programme alone, in the coming year we shall be spending between £750 million and £800 million.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that all the organisations representing disabled persons are opposed to the abolition of the quota system? Will he examine more closely the possibility of strengthening the register for disabled people instead of abolishing a system which could be made to work more effectively, as it does in Germany?
There are mixed views on the matter. That is one of the reasons why a further period of consultation is necessary before asking the House to discuss the matter or the Government to make up their minds.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the view of many specialists, unemployment among disabled people who are actively seeking work is now effectively twice as high as for people generally and that it is as high as 80 per cent. in some parts of the United Kingdom? In reminding the right hon. Gentleman that unemployment for a disabled person is a double handicap that often leads to double despair, may I urge him not only to consult organisations representing disabled people but to be guided by their advice?
I always listen carefully to all that is said to me. The right hon. Gentleman's figures for unemployment among disabled people are not correct. The figure—which I agree is far too high—is 15·7 per cent. compared with 10·5 per cent. for the nation as a whole.
Is the Secretary of State aware that any weakening in the quota provision during the International Year of Disabled People would be regarded as wholly unacceptable? Is he further aware that there is a fear that the pressure on the Manpower Services Commission in this regard comes from people who want to employ fewer disabled people and that any new proposals by the MSC will therefore be weaker? Will he examine the possibility of ensuring that there is riot only a proper sanction but a carrot in the form of financial help to employers who employ disabled people?
All these matters are relevant. Many of the points were raised during the consultation undertaken by the Manpower Services Commission. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the House will consider carefully what the commission says in its report because many of these points are fully discussed.