Instructions to disablement resettlement officers require them to consider the availability of suitably registered disabled people, and the degree of commitment shown by employers towards meeting their obligations under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944.
Does the Minister recognise that more than three quarters of firms do not fulfil their quota obligation to ensure that disabled people make up 3 per cent. of their work force? Is he aware that more than half of those firms receive a permit from the Department to enable them to evade their responsibilities to disabled people? Does the Minister accept that the Department is showering firms with permits as though they were confetti—18,500 of them—making a mockery of the quota system? The Minister should advocate granting permits only in exceptional circumstances when there are no disabled people available to do the job, which is not so today, with two thirds of disabled people looking for jobs.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we are examining the quota system as part of our wider review. The first draft of the review document is with Ministers now. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had been showering permits on firms. In fact, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the numbers have been constant for some years.
We are always doing just what my hon. Friend suggests and I also stress that the Government have spent substantial amounts of money on help for the disabled—about£220 million in mainstream employment terms and a further £128 million on specific programmes in 1988–89.
Would it not make more sense if. instead of making threats about abolishing the quota system, the Minister made a positive attempt to ensure that the system worked? For example, when will the number of disablement resettlement officers be restored to its 1979 level? Should not the Minister be keen to help disabled people rather than trying to ruin the existing system which is being destroyed by his Government's policies through the Department's allocation of permits?
As I have said, the Government are spending a substantial amount in trying to help disabled people in a host of ways. I resent the hon. Gentleman's claim that we are threatening the quota system. That is far from the truth. I am saying only that the quota system is being examined sensibly as part of our overall review. In addition, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the Public Accounts Committee questioned the quota system and pointed out that it was costing £1·4 million to administer.
Does my hon. Friend agree that surveys show that disabled people give loyal, capable and consistent service? Will his Department point out to employers just how valuable disabled people are and encourage them to employ more, voluntarily?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We believe in a policy of promoting the employment of disabled people by good practice rather than by legislation and with the increasing tightening of the labour market there are greater opportunities than ever before for the employment of disabled people.