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Heathrow Sustainable Development (Air Quality)

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published the technical report of the Air Quality Technical Panels instituted after the 2003 Air Transport White Paper to review the basis upon which air quality assessments should be carried out for Heathrow Airport.

We continue to support further development at Heathrow, including the addition of a short, third runway in the 2015 to 2020 period, after a new runway at Stansted, but only if we can be confident that the conditions set out in the White Paper can be met. Publishing this report is a significant milestone in the programme of work to review the scope for meeting those conditions. I am grateful to the panel members who have devoted their energies over the past two years to a very full review of the issues and have produced a detailed and comprehensive report.

The report has been peer reviewed and I am happy to accept its recommendations. It is primarily concerned with methodology—how future assessments of air quality around Heathrow should be conducted. It does not attempt to prejudge the question whether development at Heathrow is more or less likely to be achievable within the critical air quality limits. But importantly it provides a sound scientific basis on which we can now proceed to carry out the remaining stages of the work to address that question in the coming months, building on the panels' recommendations.

Copies of the report are available in the House Library and full details will be available on the Department's website.

Work and Pensions

Strategic Direction for Remploy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): Increasing the number of disabled people that we support into work is a core part of our Welfare Reform agenda. This is central to meeting the Department's aim of an 80 per cent. employment rate, and central to ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people.

Remploy was set up after the Second World War to provide employment to facilitate rehabilitation and progression to open employment. Employing around 5,000 disabled people, the Remploy factories are engaged in a wide range of sectors ranging from office furniture through textiles to electronics. These industry sectors have experienced significant change over the last sixty years—not least through increased international competition.

In addition, the way in which we support disabled people into work has evolved. Strengthened disability rights mean that we are now in a stronger position to support people in a mainstream environment. This is why Remploy developed its Interwork business—which supported 4,300 people into jobs in 2005.

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These changes have raised significant questions about the future strategy for Remploy. That is why in March I commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers and Stephen Duckworth (a disability expert with wide experience of disability rights and employment issues) to conduct a strategic review of the future business options for the company.

Today I have published the findings of the review. Copies of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report have been made available in the Libraries, Vote and Printed Paper Offices and on the DWP website

The report delivers a hard-hitting financial assessment of the challenges facing Remploy.

The report sets out a range of possible scenarios for the business—from no change to complete closure of the factory network. I am ruling out both of these options.

It is clear from both this report and that of the National Audit Office that doing nothing is not an option. This view is shared by the Remploy Board, its management and the trade unions. The necessity for change is clear, but I believe there is still a role for sheltered employment in the future.

We recognise that change will have an inevitable impact on the disabled people Remploy employs. We want to give Remploy the time and support to determine the best way to modernise and restructure its business. We intend therefore to provide the necessary funding to enable this to happen, in particular so there is sufficient time to consider factory reorganisation as part of an overall restructuring package. This is not a cuts package for Remploy; on the contrary we will be maintaining the baseline funding and investing more this year to help deal with the short term issues.

I will be asking the Board of Remploy to undertake the preliminary work to bring forward later next year a five year restructuring plan with proposals both to modernise the business and to support substantially larger numbers of disabled people into work. Full consultation will take place with the trade unions and employees in developing this strategy. I will be making clear that any such proposals must protect Remploy's disabled employees from compulsory redundancy. Once this plan is brought forward, we will consider whether we are able to offer the Board additional funding for modernisation and we will also consider at
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that stage with the Chair whether we need to enhance the range of skills on the Board to help them to do this.

Currently Remploy supports around 9,000 disabled people in factory employment, Interwork and managed services. In the longer term our ambition is that any restructuring should enable us to help significantly more disabled people in work than if we continue with the status quo thus providing substantially more opportunities for disabled people and better value for the taxpayer.

The efforts of Remploy's existing workforce, its Chair and current Board, and its supporters must not be under-estimated or taken for granted. They have much to be proud of. But Remploy cannot stand still and we need to examine how the ideals which lay behind its creation 60 years ago can fit the world which it now faces.

Disability Rights Commission

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The Disability Rights Commission's Annual Report and Accounts 2005-06 have been published today and laid before Parliament. The Annual Report demonstrates the DRC's continuing success in its important work to eliminate discrimination against disabled people; promote equal opportunities; encourage good practice and keep the working of the Disability Discrimination Act and the DRC Act under review.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Reports (Publication)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the following councils were published today: Bath and North East Somerset Council, Elmbridge borough council, Exeter City Council, Gateshead borough council, Reading borough council, Shepway district council, Stevenage borough council and Walsall metropolitan borough council. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI’s findings.

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