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1992 - Mr Major’s Speech on Disability

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech on the Employers’ Agenda on Disability, held in London on Wednesday 29th January 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Alistair, thank you very much indeed. When I left Number 10 a few moments ago, one of my Private Secretaries pressed into my hands some notes and he said: "You will find these extremely useful", and I won't and I have not read them and I will pass them back.

Can I pick up some of the things that Alistair Frame said a few moments ago. I think one thing ought to be more readily understood than it is, and that is that disabled people are a resource, not just a difficulty.

We have a large number of people in this country suffering from one form of disability or another. But within that pool of people suffering that particular disability there is a huge amount of talent, a huge amount of understanding. And quite apart from the personal elements of life, it is a huge waste of a national and economic resource not to use that particular talent.

And it is perhaps for that reason, amongst others, that I welcome very much what the forum is doing and the lead that it is giving to employers in government I think as well as in local government and in the private sector.

It is important that we use that resource. Increasingly we have seen over the years how that resource is both necessary in the market and how it is often providing a particular set of skills that may not be so readily available elsewhere.

So although I congratulate without any reserve the employers who are part of this initiative, I do say to the private sector and the public sector collectively that there is an element of self-interest for all of us in making sure that this enormous resource is properly used in the future.

I had the privilege, for alas too short a time, of being Minister for the Disabled. There have been very few such Ministers in the history of government, a number on the Labour side, Alf Morrison, his successors, Tony Newton on the Tory side, myself and Nick Scott who is here this evening and has been Minister for some time. And amongst that cross-party alliance there is an extraordinary concurrence of view about what can be done, what has been done and what needs to be done.

And I believe that the year I spent as Minister for the Disabled was one of the years in politics I have found most rewarding and that I have most enjoyed. One learned a great deal that is not readily apparent.

I think when one sees at close quarters some of the especial difficulties faced by people who are disabled and one talks to them, one learns something that I think others perhaps do not learn. And that, above all, is what those people who are disabled themselves most want.

I will tell you firstly what they do not want. They do not want to be patronised, they do not want to be treated as different, they do not want to be felt that special things are being carved out in their direction. What they do want is the opportunity on a level playing field to use their talents and when they use their talents to be fairly rewarded for using their talents and I believe they are absolutely right in each one of those ambitions.

There is much that has been done, there is a lot still that remains to be done: the 3 percent target across industry and in government is not yet met everywhere. In government, if I may say so, their record is a good deal better than the private sector collectively, indeed it is twice as good as the private sector collectively. But even amongst government departments at the moment only five government departments and agencies meet the 3 percent target, four others are very close to it, others are a little way behind. But we are moving in that direction.

Some great companies and some small companies in the private sector set an absolutely magnificent example. Many others have not yet followed that example and I for one hope that they will and I hope that they will do so speedily. It is in their interest to do so, I think it is in society's interest generally that they do so, and I believe it is in the interest of people who are disabled that they do so.

So I hope that this initiative will spark a further degree of innovation in both the public and the private sector and I would say to its organisers: firstly that the initiative deserves to succeed; and secondly, that insofar as I can, I will give it my fullest backing.

I hope it achieves, above all, the forum's prime objective: to help more disabled people get jobs, good jobs, permanent jobs, worthwhile jobs, fulfilling jobs. And once they have got them to have increased access to development and promotion opportunities as well. There is no reason, as we march through the years immediately ahead, where right through the promotion scales of industry and commerce and politics there should not be the same opportunities for people who are disabled as there have traditionally been for people who are not disabled.

We live in a changing world, a changing country, opportunities differ, industry differs, the structure of the way in which we live our life differs, the capacity to understand and accommodate differences, some of them perhaps disabilities, becomes greater as year succeeds year. And I hope the aggregation of those changes will enable more disabled people to fulfil the ambitions that we have for them and perhaps more importantly than that the ambitions that they justifiably have for themselves in the future.

So I think, if I may, I will end just upon this point. This is a worthwhile initiative, I am grateful to all of you who had a part in framing it and all of you who are here this evening. I hope it is successful, I wish you well in it, I wish your members well in it, and I hope on behalf of all the people who may benefit as a result of it that the success of this is not only outstanding but swift and thank you very much for inviting me this evening.