asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the operation of the quota system for the employment of disabled people.
The Government have been concerned for some time about the working of the quota scheme. I have recently received from the Manpower Services Commission a report on the scheme by a working group representing all interested parties. I am now considering its advice and recommendations.
As only 30 per cent. of employers reach the 3 per cent. quota, will the Minister use the code of practice on the employment of disabled people as a means of strengthening the quota? If the code of practice does not work, will he give statutory backing to it?
As the House knows, the hon. Lady has long and valuable experience of this subject. From our evidence to the all-party disablement group six weeks ago, she will be aware that the principal difficulty is the reluctance of disabled people to register. However, the DROs in the employment service are doing their best to persuade employers the advantages of employing disabled people. I am glad to say that this is reflected in the figures for placings, which have gone up from 69,000 to 71,000 against an extremely disappointing general employment background. We hope that this trend will continue. If it does not, and in the light of research which the special MSC report recommends, we shall consider what further action to take.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is at last beginning to tackle the problem. What does he intend to do about the certification of exemption, which is all too readily available to employers? Does he agree that the regulations for exemptions should be much stricter and stiffer?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The reluctance of disabled people to register means that only 32,000 registered disabled people are eligible and available for the quota scheme, so, even if every one of them were taken into employment, the total would still be less than half that required by the Act.
Does the Minister agree that Government Departments could set a good example by fulfilling the quota themselves? Is he aware that data made available earlier this year show that only five out of 44 Government Departments reached the 3 per cent. quota, and that, even more disgracefully, the DHSS, which ought to be well above the quota, accounts for only 1.5 per cent.? Will the Minister ask his colleagues to do something about that?
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. The Government should set an example. As I have explained, the sheer mathematics of the problem makes it virtually impossible to comply, but I take his point about the poor figures for the majority of Government Departments. I have written to them once about this and I shall be writing again. I am glad to say that by Department has the best record of all with a figure of 2.5 per cent.