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Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to the work that he has done throughout the country and in the House to advocate increased rights and opportunities for disabled people. He has talked to me about his ideas and they are admirable. I agree that mainstream employment is a major objective of the whole of Government policy towards disabled people, and we want to see supported employment where it can be a stepping stone into mainstream employment. We are putting huge resources into Remploy over the next five years—more than £0.5 billion pounds—and there will be a vital role for supported employment. When it comes to supporting people in getting into mainstream work, Remploy’s employment services and factory network must work hand in hand.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): As the other Member in this House who represents Brynamman, I am extremely disappointed with the Secretary of State’s statement. Why is it that the factories in Brynamman and Ystradgynlais, which produce a profitable product line, should be closed to make up for a shortfall in orders elsewhere in the Remploy group? The offer of the transfer of ownership is an empty one unless a product line comes with it, because a factory without a product line is simply not a credible business option.

Mr. Hain: I do not accept that the two factories are viable, because they would not be candidates for closure otherwise. We have gone through all the different criteria that we have applied and the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong: those are not viable factories. I wish that they were, as I have constituents who work at both of them and they have come to talk to me about them. I know the plants well; I have visited both. However, instead of adopting the stance that he has, I would urge him to work for a future for the site in his constituency, as many other hon. Members have done, including my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy). The best future is to ensure that this plan works and to see what we can do with the existing sites and their workers.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I should like to express my disappointment at my right hon. Friend’s response to the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), and to beg him to reconsider the idea of the product. While Baglan is ideally situated to provide a training centre that can do everything we want to get people into other employment, there is no doubt that if we have a product that is successful and is making a profit, in an isolated valley community, it does not make any sense for a third party to take over without having the option of making that product. I would like my right hon. Friend to reconsider what he has said and see whether there is any way in which that product can be taken over if we find a viable third-party group that can do so.

Mr. Hain: I am afraid that I have to disappoint my hon. Friend. To tell it absolutely straight, I have constituents in both of these sites; I know them, and I tried my very best to save them both. But no Remploy site anywhere in the network is profitable. The network needs a huge subsidy, as it has had in the past, which
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is right, because we are talking about supported employment. I wish it were otherwise, but those two sites are not viable. If we tried to keep them open, they would pull down the rest of the network, including those working in the furniture area at Baglan as well. Having had Ystradgynlais and Brynamman in mind, which are remote from the Baglan site up at the top of the valleys, we have made additional transport cost support available where necessary, and I hope that that will help. I hope that my hon. Friend noted that.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): We agree with the principle that as many people as possible need to be encouraged into mainstream work, but can the right hon. Gentleman reassure me that support will be in place for vulnerable people who may have been working at factories for a very long time and for whom closure or even merger, which represents longer journey times, will pose significant difficulties? Will he give some more detail on the specifics of skills and counselling advice that will be given to those people?

Mr. Hain: Yes, I can confirm that those important points are built into our plan, and they were reinforced in detailed discussions we had with union leaders last week.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): May I say to my right hon. Friend that many of us appreciate that he has had a most difficult job in dealing with this situation? I thank him and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disabled persons’ rights for the sheer sensitivity that they have applied to this extremely difficult situation. It is important that my right hon. Friend continues to work with management, and Mr. Russell has made a substantial contribution; in many ways, it is a great pity that he was not there earlier. The role of the trade union movement is extremely important because it understands that for many people, working in Remploy is therapeutic.

Finally, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) on his outstanding representations, which have meant that the Lanarkshire factory has been retained and that training will take place? Given the support of the Lanarkshire community for Remploy—I am sure that such support is present elsewhere—we welcome that decision in what is an extremely difficult situation.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support and for what he said; the situation has been very difficult. I think that we have the best possible outcome, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) on the work that he has done in his constituency. That is a model of what needs to be done in such circumstances, and I urge others with local concerns to look at it.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The Remploy factory on the west side of Edinburgh at South Gyle is not down for closure. Will the Secretary of State take on some concerns expressed to me by employees there? One is that all Remploy factories struggle to be viable because of the central, top-heavy management costs
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that have been distributed throughout the entire network. Secondly, while there is a push to get many employees into mainstream employment, many struggle. For example, those who use sign language can do a mainstream job, but are isolated if they are the only such person in their workplace.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes some good points, to which we are extremely sensitive. He will have noted that I said that management costs are to be reduced by a quarter, which is a pretty substantial amount. I also said that I wanted better management. The new chairman, Ian Russell, who was appointed earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), has proven to be outstanding. He has won the confidence of trade unions so they feel that they have someone who is driving forward the best possible plan. We wish him all the best.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State say what decision he has made on the Remploy factory in the Wirral? Will he clarify the conditions for workers moving from secure employment to the private sector? Are we right to conclude that they will never suffer pay cuts or cuts in pension entitlement throughout their working lives? Although everyone in the House wants the Government’s programme to be a success, sometimes successes are more difficult to achieve than we realise at the outset. Will the Secretary of State come back to the House in a year’s time so that we can consider how performance has matched his high hopes?

Mr. Hain: The conditions that Remploy workers who are unable to continue to work for the company will enjoy are unique, as my right hon. Friend has noted, and final salary pensions and salaries will be maintained. We have built in a monitoring mechanism. I am certainly happy to report on where we are, in writing or orally, in a year’s time.

Mr. Field: Wirral?

Mr. Hain: There is a full list—I am not sure what the factory is called. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps it is Wallasey? There is a full list in the Vote Office. I am trying to search for the correct one. It is not called the Wirral.

Mr. Field: It might be Birkenhead, or Wallasey.

Mr. Hain: Birkenhead is one of the factories that is to merge. There is a CCU unit there.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his statement? It was an extremely difficult statement to make, as hon. Members and hundreds of Remploy employees today had the final confirmation that their factory is to close. I am in the fortunate position that the factory in my constituency, the Aberdeen Remploy, is to be saved. My right hon. Friend did not read out the list, but I hope that it still is.

My right hon. Friend made a number of references to changes in management. That is crucial. One of the most serious criticisms of the way in which Remploy
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has been run concerns the quality of the management. Management needs not only to be cut, but to be improved, too. Extremely difficult targets have been set, and I for one do not want to be here in three or four years’ time after we have gone through another similar process.

Remploy management have been particularly deficient in centralised purchasing, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) mentioned. Since we launched the campaign to save our Remploy factory in Aberdeen, we have encountered a huge response from the local community and local businesses. “Local, local, local” is a strong marketing tool.

Mr. Hain: I very much welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and the work that he has put in to get new work for his factory, including from the oil industry. Aberdeen will remain open, partly because of the work that he has done.

Let me clarify my earlier point for my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), because there is a long list of factories involved. Birkenhead CCU will merge, but Birkenhead factory will stay open.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am glad to hear that the Treforest site is now off the list for immediate closure. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about that? Would it not be a better idea for Treforest to become a social enterprise, perhaps with help from the Welsh Assembly? It could move into a new factory and not work under the badge of Remploy, but retain its contracts. Instead of making table tops in south Wales, taking them all the way to Sheffield to put legs on them and then bringing them back down to Wales to sell them, would it not make sense to make a complete unit in south Wales? What on earth has Remploy been doing, buying tables from Complexia which is not a disabled company?

Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend’s points. Treforest is on the list for closure and will remain so. I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that I have had expressions of interest from two Welsh Assembly Government Ministers—the local Assembly Member, Jane Davidson, and the deputy Minister concerned, Leighton Andrews—to consider whether the Assembly Government can help to give Treforest a viable future. As my hon. Friend says, it will operate under a badge other than Remploy. If that is possible, we will facilitate it if we can.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I appreciate the endeavours of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who has responsibility for disabled people. However, I am greatly disappointed by the decision on the Barnsley factory, which is in my constituency. It is listed as a merger with Sheffield but it is in effect a closure because Sheffield is a good distance from Barnsley and many people from that factory will not travel to Sheffield. In Barnsley, we have a high level of people on incapacity benefit and probably a larger number of disabled people than any other metropolitan borough. There will be little chance of finding those people jobs in the mainstream. Will the Secretary of State consider reviewing whether
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factories should be kept open in areas such as Barnsley, which have high levels of incapacity benefit and disability? In such situations, there is a need to keep supported employment. Will he review his decision? The factory in Barnsley has started to improve, and I ask him to give us the opportunity into the next year to see whether we can build on that improvement and retain the factory.

Mr. Hain: I am afraid that, much as I would like to, I cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. He came to see me a few days ago with colleagues. Much as I would like to keep the Barnsley factory open, along with the others that are due for closure, to do so would pull the whole lot down. That is the problem. In the Jobcentre Plus district that encompasses Barnsley, 580 disabled people secured employment in the first six months of 2006-07. It is possible to see a future for his constituents, and I hope that we can work together to achieve that.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): In Sheffield, we have an excellent modern Remploy factory that has not been threatened with closure, but my concern whenever I have been to visit is that it does not appear to be working at anything like full capacity. The complaint that is heard over and over again from trade union reps and employees is about the several multi-tiered levels of management and the lack of focus in management on getting in high-quality, high-value work. The Secretary of State has given assurances on a national level about reductions to management costs and refocusing. Will he assure us that there will also be local discussions between management and trade unions, so that there can be agreement between them to work together to ensure that we get in the extra work that is needed to keep the proposals on course?

Mr. Hain: I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. To visit a factory such as his—many others are like it—that does not work at its full capacity and where working practices have not been of the current age, to put it diplomatically, has often been as much of a disappointment to the employers as it has to everybody else. He will see in the detail that Remploy will be restructured and reskilled from top to bottom, led from the top by the chairman, Ian Russell. We are determined to get a modern, viable Remploy network, of which the Sheffield factory will be an important part.

Mr. Denis Murphy (Wansbeck) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the powerful arguments put forward by the work force at the Ashington factory and lifting the threat of closure. That has been welcomed by the whole work force. The Ashington factory is the only facility of its type in Northumberland. However, although it is an excellent site, it is much underused. Would my right hon. Friend consider expanding the Ashington site and making it a centre of excellence for training, allowing not only disabled people but able-bodied people and apprentices to use the facilities?

Mr. Hain: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said and for his constructive suggestion. I agree that it has been a source of frustration. I visited his constituency, although not the site, earlier this year. He lobbied me most strongly on the matter. It is a source
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of frustration that the maximum potential for Remploy sites has not been developed. Ashington is a good example, as the training dimension could be so developed.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): It would be churlish not to accept that there has been significant progress under the stewardship of my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team, not forgetting the terrific campaigning work carried out by the trade unions. However, Glasgow’s Hillington factory is still under threat of closure. If there are talks with third parties, will my right hon. Friend allow reasonable time for those discussions to come to fruition? If and when the factory is closed, will he assure those who want to stay in the Remploy family that they will be allowed to transfer to other Remploy sites that are close at hand?

Mr. Hain: Yes, of course, if it is feasible for transfers to take place, they will. I applaud my hon. Friend for his work to secure alternative opportunities, about which he is in discussion. That is why I mentioned his site of Glasgow Hillington, for which we are looking to provide a secure future. I want to place on record, as my hon. Friend has, my appreciation of the work of the trade union movement. It has made life difficult for the Government, but that is its job, and it got a much better plan out of it. The trade unions did not get all they wanted—I did not get all I want; it is not possible—but a much better outcome was secured through the pressure that they applied.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for the decision to keep the Wrexham factory—the only such factory in north Wales—open, in response to the tremendous local campaign that Councillor David Bithell led. Union representatives Dennis Morgan and Ray Lonsdale also played an important part. I am anxious about the local stakeholder groups, which I want to be taken forward as powerfully as possible. May I therefore invite the Secretary of State to chair the first meeting of the Wrexham local stakeholder group, of which I expect to be a member, as soon as possible?

Mr. Hain: I appreciate the work that my hon. Friend, local councillors and others that he named have done, which helped persuade me that the Wrexham plant has a viable future simply because it has so much energy behind it. However, it is still important to lever in more public and private procurement, and I know that my hon. Friend will do his best through the stakeholder group to achieve that, and we will support him. I cannot promise to chair the group’s first meeting. If I visit his constituency, as I have done from time to time, I will see what I can do, but I do not want to mislead him about that.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The reason that my right hon. Friend has not heard from me or my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) is that we are not yet in a position to approach him with a project for the Woolwich factory. In our discussions, it has come to light that the cost of the site to the freeholder is £24,000 a year, but it shows up as £140,000 in the Remploy budget for Woolwich. There is more to investigate regarding the Woolwich factory.
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Remploy has said that it will lay on a bus to take workers from Woolwich to Dagenham, which will take approximately an hour on top of the journey that factory workers have to make to Woolwich to get the bus. The cost is likely to exceed the costs of the site, as described by the freeholder. We believe that more is to be had from the site and that more investigation is needed. May I urge my right hon. Friend to give us a little more time so that we can approach him with a project to salvage the site, if possible? It looks as though it will cost Remploy more to effect its plans than to keep the site open.

Mr. Hain: I do not think that that is right, but I shall obviously look into the figures that my hon. Friend cited. As in other areas, 300 disabled people were placed in mainstream work in the Jobcentre Plus district that includes his constituency and the Woolwich plant in the first six months of last year. There are opportunities out there, and we will work with those who do not want to move to the alternative site with which Woolwich is merging. I know, because my hon. Friend has spoken to me about it, that the time problem is serious. If there is an alternative—if the local borough council or anyone else can help provide an alternative for the site, albeit not under a Remploy badge—of course, we want to help facilitate that.

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Points of Order

1.13 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be very grateful for your guidance. During business questions today, I suggested to the Leader of the House that topical debates should be chosen not by her but by Mr. Speaker or by ballot. There is a good precedent for both. Although she seemed to understand my point and be reasonably sympathetic to it, she appeared to labour under the misapprehension that the House had placed upon her the responsibility for choosing the debate. I have had a chance to cast only a cursory look over Standing Orders, but that does not appear to be the case. I should be grateful if you could confirm that.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that there was an exchange of views about topical questions at business questions. It is the case that the Leader of the House sought to give the House the impression that she was interpreting and implementing new Standing Order No. 24A, which the House passed on 25 October. During the debate on the modernisation of the House, the Leader of the House said in response to the shadow Leader of the House:

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