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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 26 November 2014

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

Remploy Workers

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Harper.)

9.30 am

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to raise the very important issue, both in Wrexham and across the country, of the re-employment of redundant Remploy workers. Until 2012, we had a Remploy factory in Wrexham. Although the numbers employed at Wrexham Remploy had declined over a number of years, about 43 people worked there by 2012. They were manufacturing, in particular, office furniture, which was then sold.

There had been a previous proposal to close the Remploy factory by the Labour Government in 2008, but there was a very strong local reaction. It was resisted. There were campaigns, marches and a weekly street stall in Wrexham town centre to support our Remploy factory and the Remploy workers. As a result of that hard-fought campaign, in which Councillor David Bithell played a very important part, the decision was reversed and the factory remained open. Effort was put in to securing more work for the factory, and the production of office furniture continued. One of the great lost opportunities was the lack of procurement opportunities in relation to local government and the Ministry of Defence. That has meant that, unfortunately, the factories that were open in 2008 have now largely closed.

When the Government came to power with the agenda of reducing the money spent supporting disabled people, I had fears that the decision would be revisited. It was not long before my fears proved to be justified. In March 2012, the Government announced that they would close the Remploy factory in Wrexham and make the staff redundant.

The Wrexham Remploy factory was a very special place. During the 2008 campaign and, indeed, in the years leading up to it, I had begun to know the Remploy workers in Wrexham very well. Most of them had worked there for many years, and there was a tremendous atmosphere of mutual support. There was no resistance at all to anyone securing employment anywhere else in the mainstream job market, but for particular individuals, there was strong value in working with other people who were disabled and who had challenges in trying to secure work in the mainstream market.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I apologise because I have to leave the Chamber to chair a meeting. I recall my hon. Friend’s engagement with the Remploy workers, via their trade unions, in his local factory. Can he confirm that, throughout the process, under the last Government and this one, the workers at that factory, through their unions, were willing to engage in any forms of restructuring, were looking at alternative opportunities for income generation in particular, and

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were willing to engage in a discussion about changing working practices? They were willing to do that all through the period, in a constructive and committed way, in order to ensure not only that the factory remained open, but that it fulfilled its original purposes.

Ian Lucas: Indeed. That was very much the case. Such was the commitment to the factory that it seemed to me, certainly in Wrexham, that people were willing to consider any proposal at all. The workers and the unions looked at any way at all of keeping the factory open. The history of the Wrexham factory, which I will come to, is that exactly that happened. There was a very strong effort to keep the factory open.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend will remember that one of the callous decisions that this Government made was when the Welsh Assembly asked whether the Remploy budget could be devolved to the Assembly. It was a very good plan; it could have saved jobs and kept the factories open, but the Government said no. Would my hon. Friend say that that was quite cruel?

Ian Lucas: It was cruel and unnecessary. The Government very often fall over themselves to pass on difficult problems to the Welsh Government. In this case, the Welsh Government came forward and suggested that the Remploy budget be devolved, but the UK Government refused. There was an absolute dedication on their part to close the factories. They were determined that they were going to close them, and despite what the Minister has indicated previously, I am convinced that that was part of a cost-cutting exercise on the part of the Government. They have a stated commitment not to reduce the budget, but I will come on to the figures that show that the money the Government are spending on disabled people is decreasing.

I have made the argument repeatedly to the Secretary of State and to the then Minister for the disabled, who is now the Minister for Employment, that there was a group of people who wanted to continue to work in Remploy factories, doing gainful, positive work, and working for the most part with other disabled people. That argument was consistently ignored and the factory closed, despite a further and intense campaign to keep it open. Efforts were made in Wrexham to secure private investment to keep the factory open, and additional support, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) mentioned, was suggested by the Welsh Government. However, the UK Government were not prepared to consider allowing the Remploy site in Wrexham to be used and, as a result, it was very shortly thereafter sold off for housing development, which two and a half years on is proceeding in Wrexham town.

There was a private sector effort to keep the factory open. A business called Enterprising Employment, which worked with the Welsh Government for a period, employed about a dozen former Remploy workers for a time, but it was unable to continue and those workers were ultimately made redundant and lost their jobs.

We therefore have a picture of the people who worked for Remploy, many of whom had worked for many years on the site, being made redundant. The site in central Wrexham was sold off for housing development. I make no criticism of the fact that the site is now being

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used—thankfully, in a positive way—but it would have been much better if those people who were working there continued to work there.

The Government’s rationale for closing the Remploy factories was that they wanted to spend the budget of the Department for Work and Pensions more efficiently, so two and a half years on from the publication of the Government’s response to the Sayce review, back in March 2012, is an appropriate time to look at the Government’s record on those vulnerable people. What is their record?

John McDonnell: Before my hon. Friend moves on from the Sayce review, it is worth putting one point on the record. The Government have prayed in aid the Sayce review all through the process. The Sayce review said that there should be a proper process of consultation—that was envisaged to be six months so that people could engage in a proper dialogue about their futures, but we got 90 days. That was one of the earliest grievances and it betrayed the Government’s intent, which was to make cuts rather than to protect those individuals.

Ian Lucas: There was never any doubt about the Government’s intent. There was never any real effort to keep the factories open. The intent was to close them. What has been the consequence? We know from an answer to a parliamentary question given to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on 15 October 2014 that, nationally, 1,507 people are, to use the Government’s euphemism,

“choosing to work with our personal case workers to find another job”—

that means they are unemployed—and 774 are in work. From the Government’s figures, we know that, nationally, twice as many former Remploy workers, who used to be gainfully employed, are without work than have work.

I am speaking about the matter today because, 10 days ago, I went to visit the Remploy employment agency in Wrexham and met the staff who are working to try to place disabled individuals in work. That is a dedicated service for finding work for disabled people in the town. The staff who work there are impressive and committed to their work. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not criticising their work, because they are working hard to place disabled individuals with jobs in today’s job market—I commend them for their efforts, but they have a tough job.

On my visit to Wrexham, I met three men whom I have known for a number of years, who were in the agency and who previously worked in the Remploy factory. They had all worked at Wrexham Remploy for many years, and they were still sitting together because they had known each other for a long time. They had been part of the campaign to keep the factory open, with all the marches, the street stalls, the efforts and the camaraderie that that entailed. When the 2012 campaign was in force, the Government’s response to that camaraderie was to have a very limited period of consultation, make no real effort to engage in keeping the factory open and reject the Welsh Government’s proposal to devolve the budget. The result was that individuals who had been employed became unemployed. I listened to the accounts

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of the difficulties that those three gentlemen had encountered in securing work. Some of them had secured work for some time, and some had not, even though they had had dedicated support for their efforts to find work. I applied for this debate to report on the efforts that they have been making and to hold the Government and Ministers to account for the failure that their own statistics show.

The employment market in Wrexham is now intensely competitive. We are fortunate to have a diverse economy, with people working in manufacturing, retail, and the service sector. However, agency work dominates the market, especially for those who are unemployed, and access to new jobs is often subject to rigorous gatekeeping by employment agencies. The result is that former Remploy workers are, as they told me, at an immediate disadvantage in the job market because of their disability, and the agencies have no interest in accommodating the needs of the disabled. Agencies look for the most physically able staff, and often reject disabled staff either before they are taken on or shortly thereafter. Even when jobs are available, they are subject to the vagaries of reduced-hours contracts that are often terminated at short notice, which play havoc with the arrangements that the Government impose through the local jobcentre.

The overall consequence is that, during the past year in Wrexham, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, median weekly earnings have fallen by 7.4%. Even for those who are in work, life is getting tougher under this Government. The Government present the 774 former Remploy workers who are in work as successes, but those individuals are worse off as a result of their current jobs and income. They also have to deal with the obstacle course that the Government have imposed on individuals in the employment market.

When people lose work, securing access to benefits is a lengthy process and there are often delays in paying benefits to which people are entitled. The majority of applicants to the local food bank are awaiting payment of benefits. In Wrexham, 2,864 people have been forced to use the food bank in the six months from April to September 2014, a figure that has increased by 40% in the past year. When I spoke to former Remploy workers, they told me that they were applying for jobs they knew they had no chance of securing in order to comply with requirements imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions and the jobcentre. If they do not do so, they will be subject to benefit sanctions.

That is the reality for Remploy workers who were sacked by this Government more than two years ago. For many years, they had gainful employment doing productive work. The excellent briefing provided by the House of Commons Library tells us that a coalition Government in 1944, led by a Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who were worthy of the offices they held, legislated to set up Remploy. The current Government, by their actions and approach, have let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and they should be ashamed. As a taxpayer, I pay my taxes to support vulnerable people in Wrexham and across the country. We are talking about worthy individuals who deserve support and who want to work. They now face intense competition in a difficult job market, in which it is difficult for them, with their disabilities, to compete. The Government’s decision to take away their opportunity to work for Remploy, a dedicated business

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for which they had worked for many years, was a cruel step that took away their opportunities, their camaraderie and their strength.

The Government promised to help former Remploy workers, but the Government’s own figures show that those promises have not been kept, because two out of three of those workers are unemployed. That is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Government. They need to look at those disabled workers and act. Why have the Government failed to secure re-employment for so many former Remploy workers? What obligation is there on job agencies to accommodate the needs of disabled workers? What percentage of individuals placed in work by employment agencies are disabled? What proportion of former Remploy workers are employed on reduced-hours contracts? What proportion of former Remploy workers are being paid less than they were when they were employed by Remploy? How much did the Government receive for the sale of the Stansty road site in Wrexham, which is now being used for development?

This is a sorry tale of a Government who, in their commitment to reducing budgets, made people redundant, put people out of work and broke the spirit of a proud work force who had worked together for many years. I believe in Governments who support the most vulnerable in society, and I hope we will shortly have a Government who meet that fundamental obligation, an obligation that any worthy Government would maintain. This is a dreadful tale that the people of Wrexham will remember when they vote next May. I hold the Government responsible for the dreadful actions they have pursued throughout this matter.

9.50 am

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. It is fitting that you are in the Chair today because, like me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), you also had a Remploy factory in your constituency. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend not only for securing this debate but for the passion and fire with which he spoke. He articulated how Opposition Members feel about the way in which Remploy workers were treated by this Government.

A great many things have made me angry since I first came to this House. I have been angry about the way that people, and working people in particular, have been treated. I have been angry about the way that those who find themselves on welfare have been treated like scroungers when they are just looking for a second chance. I have been angry about the way in which those who find themselves ill are being let down by the NHS. But the thing that makes me the angriest is the treatment of Remploy workers in Croespenmaen.

I worked for my predecessor, Lord Touhig, for a number of years, and I remember when, similar to Wrexham, Croespenmaen first came under threat of closure in 2008-09. Workers in Croespenmaen did not stand back and let it happen to them. They fought back in the way that any business would fight back. Instead of sitting back and letting things go, they went out looking for business. They went out asking people and businesses whether they needed packaging. They were not afraid about whom they asked. One of the proudest

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moments of Lord Touhig’s career—I remember him saying this, and it was one of his last acts as Member of Parliament for Islwyn—was overseeing the signing of a packaging contract between Remploy Croespenmaen and BAE Systems. As you serve on the Select Committee on Defence, Mr Havard, you know that BAE Systems is not a Ronnie and Reggie outfit; it is a blue-chip, FTSE 100 company. BAE Systems does not sign contracts for the fun of it; it signed the contract because it saw Remploy as the best provider of that product.

Two years later, the then Minister with responsibility for disabilities, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), effectively told Remploy Croespenmaen in a side room—it was not even announced in Parliament—that it was closing. Remploy Croespenmaen was told via a press release through BBC news. The House was not told until that Minister was forced to come to make a statement at the end of the day. Hundreds of people lost their jobs, and what a shabby way to treat them. That was just the start. I remember standing up and saying that the workers of Remploy Croespenmaen had worked hard and felt that they had been kicked in the teeth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, I pay tribute to the trade unions. Much of the work to secure new business was done by the trade unions, particularly by Ian Lloyd, the GMB trade union representative. To say that the unions are anti-business is a mistake, and it is another myth peddled by the Government.

What happened next was even worse. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) stood up at Prime Minister’s questions and asked directly whether the Prime Minister would seriously consider the idea of devolving Remploy budgets to the Welsh Assembly, which would give Remploy hope. A couple of weeks later, Remploy was met with a big, fat no. The worst thing is that, of all the packaging companies, Croespenmaen was the only one that closed; the others stayed.

We now found ourselves in a far worse situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, since the 1940s Remploy factories have provided good, well paid jobs for thousands of people with disabilities, mainly those who were injured during war. Most people employed in the factories had job satisfaction, a supportive and accessible environment and a sense of community, and I have an example. When the announcement was made, I went to Remploy Croespenmaen as quickly as possible. I stood in its canteen and saw many people in tears because the future suddenly went from being hopeful and bright to looking bleak. Those people stood and said, “Is there any way you could save our jobs?” We MPs are very privileged because we can do a great many things and help many people, but there are times when we feel powerless. Unfortunately, that was one of those times.

Remploy employees made a valuable contribution to UK manufacturing. They worked hard, and it was the same across the country—it was not just in Islwyn or Croespenmaen. Remploy employees did not, as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions suggested at the time, sit around and make coffee. For someone with responsibility for disabilities to make such a comment is crass and unhelpful. We have heard other Ministers say exactly the same things about people with disabilities, and they are still not condemned and it is still not seen

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as shameful. I have looked all over


for the Secretary of State’s apology, and I have not got anywhere. All we have seen from this Government is a total disregard for people with disabilities and ignorance of what workers actually do. The Government are out of touch and downright disrespectful.

I asked the Secretary of State at the time—he does not have to do it now, because I asked him at the time—whether he had ever visited a Remploy factory, looked into the workers’ eyes and said, “You are only good for making a cup of coffee.” I doubt that very much. If he had gone into a Remploy factory, he would have seen people with skills who are able to manufacture and make things, which is the one thing that the Government are talking about. Do the Government really believe that those people counted for nothing? Are we to believe that the Secretary of State’s comments represent exactly what the Government mean? I know the Minister quite well, and I respect him, but will he now apologise for those comments on behalf of the Secretary of State? Despite claims that Remploy was closed because it no longer made commercial sense, the Secretary of State’s comments suggest otherwise.

I believe that people with disabilities should be valued. People work their best when they feel valued. The worst thing is that I raised with the then Minister with responsibility for disabilities, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, the fact that we had a 90-day consultation. That was 90 days to formulate a business plan, to cost it, to find suitable funding sources and partners, to review the plan, to contact key stakeholders, to consult unions and Remploy management and to write and submit the report. I would never suggest that the Government wanted most of those plans to fail, but it seems that they did not give the plans the best chance to succeed.

The Government have made much of how they have followed the independent Sayce review—I have a lot of time for Liz Sayce—so why did they not follow her recommendation for

“a sufficient window (for instance, six months) to put forward a business plan”?

We will never know how many jobs would have been saved if the Government had followed that recommendation. We will never know how many communities in which Remploy prospered have now been damaged. We will never know how many former employees have been left depressed and isolated.

What we do know, however, is that less than one in four former Remploy employees had found work by October 2014. Most of those people are working fewer hours for less pay than when they worked for Remploy. The facts are simple. In the year since Remploy closed, only 24.1% of its former employees are in work; 45.7% are working fewer hours; 59.5% are on worse pay; 64.7% have worse benefits, holiday time and pensions; and 69% preferred their time at Remploy to what they are doing now. The simple truth is that they have been let down. They were promised help into new jobs, but most are still unemployed. They were promised support to keep leading active lives, but unfortunately most cannot do so.

There is a lot of talk about welfare reform, but the only way out of welfare is work, which I am afraid is not happening. We are getting closer and closer to the

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end of the 18-month period of extra support for former Remploy employees, yet so many remain unemployed. The fears we raised at the time are unfortunately being realised. How do the Government expect to help people back into work when they could not do so during the time in which Ministers planned to provide more funding and support? I would welcome the Minister’s answer to that question. The people whose lives are currently more difficult and the communities that built up the Remploy factories that the Government closed will be grateful for the answer as well.

I remind the Minister that for nearly 70 years, under Labour and Conservative Governments, Remploy existed and flourished as a way to provide disabled people with work at good pay. For many people, over the years, working at the Remploy factories was the only time they got out of the house to socialise. They were their communities and their social lives and they gave them purpose in life. They helped them to be productive, active and, above all, happy.

Since the Government closed most of the factories, many of the disabled people who were employed by them have lost all that. They have lost their community and some have become isolated and, in the worst cases, depressed. We can argue back and forth on the economic reasons for that. I would say that closing the factories was wrong economically, but what is undeniable is that it was the wrong choice not only on a business level, but on a moral and social level. That has shown once and for all what the Government really think about the most vulnerable in society. For the Government to say that they are on their side is a joke that is not funny to those former Remploy workers. The sad thing today is that it is far too late to reopen any of those factories, but it is not too late for the Government to repair their mistake. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, but, of all the crass decisions, closing the Remploy factories was among the most cruel.

10.1 am

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing the debate. It is pertinent to remember that it is in meeting people and experiencing their despair in a very difficult job market that we see the personal side of the Government’s decision. Although I will address my comments to a broader economic perspective, we must never lose sight of the effect on the individual. The difficulty is that the actions the Government have taken in closing the Remploy factories and the lack of support they have given to workers to find new outlets for employment have happened against a backdrop of the destruction of the economy in the very parts of Wales where those workers are looking for jobs.

Former Remploy workers face some of the greatest barriers. Recruitment agencies inevitably go for the people who can be most flexible, because that is the type of job market we have. Former Remploy workers are often based in areas with the least transport connections to other job opportunities—that is why the factories were set up in the first place.

From the figures we have, we know that the tops of the valleys—the areas that are furthest from the job markets—have suffered most under the Government’s

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tax and welfare reforms. The knock-on effects on those local economies make it particularly difficult for anyone who faces barriers to travelling or being employed. That particularly affects former Remploy workers.

A Sheffield Hallam university report recently analysed the effect of the tax and welfare reforms on Wales. It showed that they are taking £1 billion out of the Welsh economy and that the people in the least well-off communities are suffering most. Because those on the lowest incomes spend their money quickly in their local economy out of necessity, the knock-on effect of the loss of £1,000 a year of income per working adult—if there are two adults in a home, that is £40 a week—has been net losses of 7,000 jobs in the local service industries in Wales. That is purely as a result of those reforms.

Even before Remploy people came into the market, the number of jobs was decreasing, so before new jobs can be created, it is necessary to overcome the loss of jobs in those areas. Inevitably, spend is in the bigger towns, meaning that there is even less in some of the deprived areas where there is the most difficulty in finding any opportunities for people to get new employment. That affects anyone who faces any barriers to the workplace, which is the case for many former Remploy employees.

Ian Lucas: Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the difficulty in securing work, the income of those in work is falling? That means that the spend in the local economy is decreasing, which adds to the depressed nature of the economy in those areas.

Nia Griffith: Absolutely. The way in which the Government have implemented their tax credit reforms means that many working people have lost out significantly. Add to that the fact that 7,000 whole jobs have been taken out of the economy, and the result is that many people have fewer hours and fewer shifts, so they have less to spend. At the same time, they are hit by high fuel prices, which the Government are not doing anything about. They cannot avoid paying them, so they have less money to spend in the local economy. In fact, four times as much money has been taken out of the Welsh economy as comes in from the EU grant to the valleys and west Wales. That has a significant knock-on effect.

What is sad is that we recognised that this was a difficult time, which is why the Welsh Government wanted to step in to do their bit to support the Remploy factories and look at ways to help. The Welsh Government have put in support through the employer’s support grant, which encourages employers to take on additional workers, and there has been some success in the Swansea area in setting up successors to the Remploy factories. However, the climate is difficult and those measures cannot account for all the former workers. Therefore, although we have one or two successes to celebrate, they are not sufficient. There are Remploy workers in my constituency who have not been re-employed in any way.

We want a much more determined effort by the Government to help the individuals concerned. In the Welsh Affairs Committee report on the Government’s Work programme in Wales, we did not find that the work being done was successful. The success rate for people with disabilities getting jobs in the Work programme was 5%, which is below the national average of 7%. That shows the scale of the problem: only one person

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in 20 is being found a job opportunity. A huge failure of the Work programme is its ability to address people who are former Remploy workers and those who might have looked to work in the various opportunities provided by the Remploy factories.

While the Government have thrown out the Welsh Government’s proposal to take a more positive approach to the Remploy factories, they have not put anything else in place that would lead us to jump for joy and say, “What an excellent idea.” There seems to be a failure. Oxfam Cymru suggested that, in some instances, those in the more-difficult-to-find-jobs-for category are being parked. That is a damning statement.

The worry is not only that there is a total failure to identify and help people who have specific disabilities, but that, within the greater economic context, the Government’s decisions have made it difficult for poorer areas to generate employment opportunities. In fact, those decisions have exacerbated the problems in those areas where we are trying to find employment opportunities, where there have been major job losses, and where there are difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, the Government programmes are not working to help the people in those areas.

We praise those employers who have made an effort, who are trying to take on people and who are trying to accommodate people with different forms of disability. However, even in the harsh reality of the present time, the evidence given by Remploy to the Welsh Affairs Committee shows that there is such a large number of temporary, short-term and short-hours types of employment that that situation is creating a huge difficulty. That reminds us why the form of employment at Remploy, with a proper timetable, proper week and proper factory to work at, was so important, particularly for people for whom routine is essential.

Former Remploy workers face travel problems in my area. They must cope with difficult travel arrangements to get down to the various centres, which makes things even harder for them. The result is that some do not attend those centres—it is simply impractical for them to do so.

When the Minister responds, I ask that he comes forward with positive ideas, because we would like a significant improvement in the outcomes for Remploy workers, and we would like the Government to take the initiative.

10.11 am

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Havard, for calling me to speak. I apologise in advance, because I will have to leave this debate early to chair another meeting. I wanted to say a few words before I go.

It is important that people understand the architecture that Remploy fitted into. Way back, after I had come off the shop floor and been to university, I started working for the National Union of Mineworkers. Then I went on to the TUC. One of my roles with the NUM was to work within the social insurance department, and then within the TUC I worked in the social welfare department. In those roles, I dealt with disability, largely because of the expertise I gained in my NUM days of dealing with ex-miners who had suffered both industrial injuries and industrial illnesses.

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The architecture of support for people with disabilities was, of course, that if someone could not work, we would put in place, under the measures introduced by the Attlee Government, sufficient welfare benefits to ensure that they did not go into poverty. The workmen’s compensation supplementation scheme dealt with industrial injuries. To a certain extent, it was a no-fault scheme. For those who could work, there were rehabilitation services to get them back into their industry. If that was not possible, the rehabilitation services got them into other sectors.

Within the architecture of support for people with disabilities, we also had a 3% quota, whereby companies were required to take on 3% of their work force from among people with disabilities. That target was never fully achieved, but at least it was something we could rely upon in our negotiations with employers to get disabled people into work.

In addition, there was always a recognition within that architecture that some people would need to work within a supported work environment, in some cases for just a limited period and in some cases permanently. That is the role Remploy fulfilled.

Mention has been made of the introduction of Remploy under the Churchill and Attlee Administrations. It was specifically for those people who had a disability. Many of them were soldiers coming back from the second world war, but Remploy’s existence was also a recognition of industrial injuries. A large number of people who went into the Remploy factories were not ex-soldiers but ex-miners. In some ways, the factories were located in particular areas to cater for that need.

In the early 1980s, the TUC put me on the first committee that tried to end discrimination against disabled people. There was a discussion about the architecture of practices to end discrimination and ensure integration. There was also a recognition that there needed to be an improvement on the quota system for getting people back into work. However, there was always an acceptance that there would need to be a supportive work environment at some stage, even if it was only for a limited period of time during which people could be supported to get back into work. There was also a recognition that some people would perhaps never be able to get back into the work stream, but they still wanted the dignity of work, and the dignity earning a decent income to support their families. Again, that is the role Remploy fulfilled.

When there was a discussion about Remploy under the previous Government, there was a recognition that there had to be financial support for a period of time. Many people and organisations, the trade unions in particular, accepted that there had to be a tightening of the finances of the Remploy administration. Like many Members, I can remember that, when we met trade union delegations, we argued about the top-heavy management of Remploy. The unions came up with reforms that could be undertaken to save the Remploy factories and to operate them in a different way, with much more worker involvement in their management, in some ways moving towards a co-operative model. Although I was anxious about some of the decisions that were being made about individual Remploy factories, I thought at least that we had a process of engagement

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with the work force under the previous Government that would maintain at least an element of a supportive working environment for people who needed it.

When the Sayce report came out, I was extremely concerned about its conclusions. However, as my hon. Friends have already said, at least we were given the prospect of a process of engagement: six-months of discussions would take place; the options would be discussed; and the work force would have the opportunity to bring forward their own ideas. The reason we seized upon the suggestion of a six-month period, at least as a period of dialogue, was that many of us said that, if there was a rush to closure, there would be the prospect of a large number of people never working again. Unfortunately, all our predictions have come true.

We need to listen to the people on the ground. There is a quote from Jerry Nelson, the GMB national officer, in the House of Commons Library pack that has been produced for the debate. As a union, the GMB has kept in touch with its former members, and we should remember that quite a few of them took redundancy before the process of final closures had even started. In the GMB’s annual report, Jerry Nelson says:

“It is now one year since the final day of the Remploy factory closures. Over 2,700 disabled workers had their lives destroyed by this government’s callous and thoughtless attack on the disabled workers, who relied on their employment to maintain their sense of independence, working in an environment of protected equality. The factories were a sheltered environment and for many of these workers it was their only connection with life outside of their own homes.”

He went on to say that the GMB had kept in touch with many of its former members, and many of them were now sitting at home feeling “depressed and isolated”.

Many of us hear a similar story time and again when we meet the ex-Remploy workers. Many of us who have tried to keep in touch with them during this very difficult period know what a struggle they have gone through, and we also know the efforts they have made, using the advice and assistance they have received, to try to find alternative work.

The press release about Remploy that came out from the Department for Work and Pensions states:

“Since last year, over 80% of ex-Remploy workers have found jobs or are receiving specialist employment support and training to help them find one.”

People found that element of spin unacceptable, because if we drill down into the figures, as my hon. Friends have done, we find that the bulk of ex-Remploy employees are desperately seeking employment and that most have not found it.

I can get extremely angry about what has gone on but I try not to, because getting angry is not constructive. Instead, I say that we need to learn the lessons about what happened at Remploy, including the lessons about the harm that the process has done to so many individuals and their families, and their local economies and communities. Individuals and whole communities have been depressed as a result of the decisions made by this Government. With a new Minister taking responsibility—the previous ones dealt with it scandalously—it is time now to stand back and think again.

With regard to the need for continued support, we were given a time limit of 18 months. That must continue. It needs to be properly funded, at the same level as now, and perhaps with additional resources applied. At some stage, a Government—if not this one, perhaps the next

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one—will have to start thinking about reinventing supported work environments such as those Remploy provided. It provided such a constructive role to people who will never be able to enter into the mainstream. I say that because increasing numbers of soldiers are coming back from combat zones, just as they did after the second world war. They will want support to get back into work. In addition, large numbers of people out there with disabilities just want the opportunity of the dignity of work and of supporting their families. That is what Remploy gave them.

Having come through this absolutely disgraceful period of callous behaviour towards people with disabilities and having learned, a year on, about so many being unemployed, and about the effect it has had on so many people’s lives, there needs to be some humility on the part of Government about their policies for the future and the continued support that is needed. They need to look again at the need for supported work environments for people with disabilities, which are necessary if we are to tackle their needs.

As I have said, people can get very angry about this. I am at that stage now where I have moved beyond anger. I just want the Government and Ministers to start listening to the people who have gone through this and learn some lessons.

10.21 am

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing the debate and all colleagues who have contributed to it. I thank the former Remploy workers whom I have had the opportunity to meet over many months, who have spoken to me about their feelings about the Remploy closure, and the Unite and GMB trade unions who support them. In that connection, I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Today’s debate comes just over one year after the closure of the last Remploy factory. It is clear from what we have heard that there is a wide gulf between the picture painted by Ministers when the closures were announced, which suggested that the Remploy model was outmoded, outdated and not offering genuine employment opportunity to disabled people, and the real situation we find ourselves in today. My colleagues have highlighted some personal consequences of that prejudice against the Remploy model: the fear that people have been left with, the insult to their dignity as proud working people and their sense of loss of hope for the future. That has come as no surprise to many of us, and it would not have surprised us when the closures were proposed.

Even when Ministers announced the intended closure of the factories, many colleagues sounded the alarm. They highlighted the challenge that many Remploy staff would face when trying to find work in mainstream employment, particularly in areas that have already been hit hard by job losses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, and particularly for those workers who were employed by Remploy for many years, often for decades, or who lack formal qualifications. Such circumstances do not give people a head start in the labour market. That was well known and well understood from the outset.

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Concerns were raised when the closures were proposed, and well before then, about the failure of the then Remploy management to optimise business performance. That has been mentioned during the debate. Accusations by trade unions and others suggested an over-costly management structure and an absence of will and determination on the part of senior Remploy management to seek and develop new business.

The business plan put in place in 2008 under a Labour Government had not been allowed to run its full course when the present Government announced the wholesale closure of the factories, but many Remploy workers strongly believed that, with the right management and focused business development efforts, that business plan offered the basis for a successful future for Remploy. When it was announced that the factories would close, some workers hoped to take over parts of the business themselves, such was their faith in the future of the Remploy model, and they were determined to make a go of it. It was a reasonable ambition. Evidence from other European Union countries, including Scotland, suggests that supported employment alongside other labour market strategies to promote the employment of disabled people can be effective in increasing their employment. This blanket assumption that supported employment is a dead-end for all really is not borne out by an analysis of the evidence.

As hon. Members have said, the real situation we face is that, according to the DWP, 1,507 disabled workers were laid off as a result of the closure and were, in the DWP’s words, “choosing to work” with personal advisers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said. The Library quotes a higher figure of around 2,000 workers losing employment, possibly because the DWP figure only reflects stage 1 lay-offs or because it is deliberately ignoring those workers who are not engaged with DWP, as the Department simply does not track them. Will the Minister be absolutely clear about the figures? How many people were previously employed in Remploy at the time of the closure and what destination has each of those individuals reached today?

At best, only about half the former workers are now in employment. The Minister said in a written answer to me on 15 October, that 774 are currently in work, 389 are in receipt of employment and support allowance, 345 receive jobseeker’s allowance and 382 confirmed their intention to retire. A survey by GMB in 2014 suggested that only a quarter of former workers were in employment and that many of those were working short hours or were on lower pay than when they worked in Remploy.

Ian Lucas: I noted an interesting statistic from the written answer that my hon. Friend mentioned. Does she agree that the fact that 345 former Remploy workers are in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance suggests they are not receiving dedicated help as disabled workers? Does not she find that disturbing?

Kate Green: I, too, found that statistic interesting. I hope that the Minister will explain whether they are receiving the same access to the personal help and support programme as those workers who have been placed on employment and support allowance, because it would be a matter of concern if a two-tier offer was being made to former workers, all of whom have emerged

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from the same circumstances. It also points to the fact that these workers have much to offer the labour market, with the right support.

Of course, we know that the assessment processes for determining who is in which category of employment support allowance or jobseeker’s allowance are not particularly trusted—I think that it would be fair to say—by those seeking employment support. The Minister would do well to delve a little more closely into the destinations of that JSA group, particularly, because if the Government’s logic is correct, it ought to be moving into work very easily. Yet here we are, 18 months on, and it would appear that 345 of them have not done so.

The GMB survey suggests that the picture is rather more gloomy in any event, with only a quarter of former workers in employment, often in poorer conditions than under their Remploy contracts. We know from the GMB research that many more of those who are now categorised as retired have chosen to retire in the light of futile searches for alternative employment or because of a lack of help from the Department. That is dispiriting, because Ministers assured Parliament at the time of the closure programme that extensive support would be put in place. An extra £15 million was committed to the Access to Work programme and £8 million was committed to create the guaranteed people help and support package, which was to provide support to each affected disabled employee for 18 months after they left Remploy.

Despite that funding, we have to accept that the employment outcomes are disappointing. It is unclear what the additional funding committed to Access to Work and PHSP has achieved. In a written answer on 14 October, the Minister told me that 265 former workers were receiving Access to Work support and that 827 former workers had taken part in community support fund projects, of whom 348 were helped into employment. Unfortunately, the DWP does not track those working fewer than 16 hours a week and has no information on whether the type of employment they are accessing is fixed term, temporary, part time or voluntary.

Former workers have reported difficulty in accessing the support they want. One group of workers in Yorkshire who have established their own business and are attracting contracts from former Remploy customers reported a rigid reluctance on the part of the DWP to support them with grants, other funding and advice. Other people have told me that the employment support they were offered was inadequate and did not meet their needs, although the Minister told me in a written answer on 14 October that the DWP has spent £5.5 million on providing individual specialist support. I would be grateful if he offered his analysis of why, when more than £20 million has been spent on supporting former Remploy workers, around half of them remain without work. Is he satisfied with that performance? If not, what further action is he taking to increase the employment rate of former workers? Why has only £5.5 million of the £8 million allocated to personal support been spent more than a year after the factory closures? What will happen to the remaining funds?

According to the DWP, former workers who receive specialist support through the PHSP will continue to receive specialist support after the first 18 months of support is complete, usually from the same specialist

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adviser. Where is that support coming from and how is it being paid for? How are the advisers being remunerated? Are they being paid on the basis of results? How many former Remploy staff have moved on to other labour market programmes, such as the Work programme or Work Choice? What outcomes are being achieved for those workers if they are participating in those programmes? Will the Minister comment on the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham of the attitude of private employment agencies? What are their success rates in placing former workers into employment? What fees are they receiving? What is their attitude to former Remploy employees?

What steps have been taken to assist former workers in reskilling and developing new skills for a different labour market? How successful has that been? What process is in place to analyse, identify and prepare them for specific employment opportunities in their local communities? As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli pointed out, travel is not a reasonable option for many. In some parts of the country—Wales is a good example—travel distances would be extremely large in reaching any other offer of employment.

What support is being given to enable groups of former workers to come together to form their own businesses or social enterprises? In particular, what steps are the Government taking to help them in accessing public contracts? It was noted in the debate that the failure to put energy into delivering public contracts to the Remploy factories through public procurement processes as intended was a factor in the difficulties they experienced in achieving their business plans. It would be useful to know what advice is being given across central and local government to encourage procurement from social enterprises, where those have replaced Remploy.

The wider well-being of former Remploy workers has been raised in the debate. My hon. Friends have highlighted the importance of social contact with colleagues and of employment routines for this otherwise potentially isolated group of individuals. It seems that information on the nature of the impairment or the condition of former workers has not been tracked, so we will not know how their ongoing physical or mental health has been affected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham highlighted that there would have been a capital receipt from the sale of the former Remploy factory in his constituency. Will the Minister say more about what has been achieved overall from the realisation of capital assets? How much has been recouped in that manner? If the Government have received capital money, where does that funding sit and what will it be used for?

It seems that there has been complacency in the Government on the future of former Remploy disabled staff, both at the time and subsequently. There is little sign that Ministers can show what has worked in helping former workers into sustainable employment. There is little evidence of help to build successful businesses or social enterprises. For those individuals left without work, the future remains bleak. I hope that the Minister can provide details of further effective, ongoing support, since he surely cannot be satisfied that half the former employees remain without work. Many fear that they will never work again.

In conclusion, if the Minister proposes further sensible plans to maximise the employment chances of former Remploy staff, the trade unions, the workers themselves

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and all my parliamentary colleagues here today, as well as those colleagues not present who had Remploy factories in their constituencies, stand ready to do what they can to support the Government in increasing the employment chances of those workers.

10.37 am

The Minister for Disabled People (Mr Mark Harper): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing the debate. It was surprising that we spent so little time on the full history of the process, going back to when the previous Government started the factory closure programme and recognised reality. I remember those events clearly, because I was the shadow Minister for Disabled People between 2007 and 2010. I had a small Remploy factory in my constituency in Lydney.

It is worth putting on the record that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the time, was right and had our support. It is disappointing that Opposition Members have ignored the reality. In a statement on 29 November 2007, he recognised that change was necessary. He said:

“The reality is that without modernisation Remploy deficits would obliterate our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy would require £171 million a year on current trends.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 448.]

That would have represented the entire annual Workstep budget at the time. I know that he did not find that a comfortable process, but he recognised the reality that the situation simply was not sustainable and closed 28 factories. We know nothing about any of the employees involved in that, because the previous Labour Government chose not to follow their progress.

It was interesting to hear about the GMB survey. If I heard the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) correctly—I am disappointed he could not stay for my response to his questions, but I am sure he will read it in Hansard tomorrow—he referred to 2,700 or so employees. As there were not that many disabled employees employed by Remploy enterprises when the Government came to office, it must be the case that quite a lot of those employees were made redundant by the factory closures under the previous Labour Government. We simply do not know anything about them, because the previous Labour Government failed to track their progress. That was an improvement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) when she was the Minister; she said that we would track employees’ progress. The only reason why we have any of the statistics is that we chose to maintain them while the previous Government did not.

Ian Lucas: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He said that Opposition Members ignored the previous Labour Government’s record, but I specifically referred to it and to their initial decision to close the Wrexham factory. Will the Minister withdraw the suggestion that I ignored the previous Labour Government’s record?

Mr Harper: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record, he will find that he characterised it in a slightly different way. He skated over the matter. He characterised

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the decisions that this Government made, when faced with the same financial reality, in a completely different manner, and ascribed motives to the decisions that my hon. Friends took that are simply not warranted. He did not ascribe such motives to the right hon. Member for Neath when he made similar difficult decisions.

Ian Lucas: The Minister said that we ignored the record of the previous Labour Government. I specifically referred to it in my speech, so will he withdraw that suggestion?

Mr Harper: I am happy to say that he did not ignore it, but he skated over it and ascribed motives to my hon. Friends that were simply not warranted. He did not ascribe such motives to the right hon. Member for Neath who made similar decisions when faced with exactly the same difficult financial circumstances.

Kate Green: I alluded to the revised business plan that was brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) in 2008. Why was that business plan not allowed to run its full course under the present Government? If there were problems in achieving its objectives, what consideration was given to whether that might have been due to faulty management?

Mr Harper: The statement of the right hon. Member for Neath made it clear that, despite the 28 factories that he had to close, the previous Labour Government managed to keep open the sites that they did only

“on the basis of very stretching procurement targets and a tough forward plan.”

He continued:

“It will be up to everyone with an interest in Remploy—Government, management, trade unions, local MPs and other political representatives—to pull together to ensure that those factories meet their ambitious targets, otherwise they, too, could be put at risk.—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 449.]

The reality is that when this Government came to office we faced an even more challenging financial situation, due to the previous Government’s appalling fiscal legacy, which included borrowing £1 for every £4 that was spent. It is no good the hon. Member for Wrexham shaking his head. When this Government came to office, we inherited the worst fiscal position of any Government in the western world. The budget deficit was 11% of GDP. It is no good his shaking his head again. He simply cannot ignore that fact. We had to deal with it, and wanted to ensure that we could support disability employment programmes, on which we have increased spending. That would not have been possible had we not made difficult decisions about the Remploy factories.

Ian Lucas: When this Government came to office, they inherited growth and falling unemployment from the previous Labour Government. Will the Minister confirm—he should know this, because I have checked him on it once already—that the deficit is higher now than it was this time last year?

Mr Harper: The deficit has been reduced by a third compared with the position that we inherited from the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman can ignore those fiscal realities, but there are now 2 million more

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jobs in the private sector. The most recent set of statistics contained the excellent news that the number of disabled people in work has increased by 259,000 over the past year, and that the employment rate for disabled people has also increased. There is more to do of course, but that is welcome news.

It is worth putting on the record the financial position that was faced by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, when she had to confront the challenges. Two factories were specifically referred to in the debate. The Wrexham factory, referred to by the hon. Member for Wrexham, was losing £878,000 a year in 2011-12. The Croespenmaen factory, referred to by the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), was losing £889,000. I do not deny that they may well have won some contracts and increased their business, but the truth is that those factories were losing a significant amount of money.

That is important because that money—around £25,000 a head—was being spent on a small number of disabled people when thousands of disabled people in all our constituencies were not benefiting. If that money had carried on being spent, it would have put at risk the Government’s other employment programmes. We have increased the amount being spent on the Access to Work programme, and we are increasing the resources going into both the Work programme for employment and support allowance claimants and Work Choice. If we had not taken these decisions on the Remploy enterprises that were losing money, those programmes would have been put at risk. The entire Access to Work budget is £108 million a year, which is less than the Remploy factories were costing. The situation was simply unsustainable.

The decisions were difficult. In this very room, the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), then the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, had to set out and defend her Government’s policies to some of her colleagues. She received my support, because she was doing the right thing. Even if they are from an opposite political party, Ministers who do the right thing deserve support.

Looking back at the decisions that we made, various organisations were supportive of what we did. Disability Wales said at the time that it

“endorses the promotion of fully integrated services and does not see Remploy as either progressive or forward thinking in their approaches to service provision”,

and that Remploy

“are now standing in the way of full integration and indirectly hampering individuals’ chances of progression.”

Those are not my words, but those of Disability Wales. Disability Rights UK said:

“We appreciate that the Sayce Review has caused some concern for disabled people and their trades union representatives working in Remploy factories. However, we believe segregated employment for disabled people is unacceptable.”

On Monday, I was at a Scope event with the shadow Minister and spoke to several representatives from disabled people user-led organisations, all of whom told me that closing the Remploy factories and moving away from segregated employment towards supporting people in mainstream employment were the right things to do.

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We have put aside more support for disabled people, not less. The hon. Member for Wrexham said at the beginning of his remarks that we were spending less money on disabled people and that he would go on to set that out, but I did not actually hear him do so. We are spending £50 billion on support for disabled people through things such as personal independence payments and ESA. We have signed up 1,100 employers to our Disability Confident campaign in order to increase the chances of disabled people finding work. The employment figures bear out that that is starting to be successful.

Nia Griffith: Will the Minister elaborate on exactly what he will do to help those Remploy workers, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who are currently unable to access work opportunities? Will he also explain why he did not take up the Welsh Government’s offer to try to put things right? Nobody is pretending that everything was perfectly okay with the way that Remploy was run previously. Nobody is saying that. However, there have been opportunities to create social enterprises, but it seems as though the Government have deliberately turned them down—

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. The intervention is a bit too long. I think the Minister has a grasp of the questions.

Mr Harper: I am grateful, Mr Havard. Let me tackle the point about the Welsh Government’s offer, mentioned by the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Islwyn. The offer was not really an offer. The Welsh Government wanted us to carry on subsidising the factories and to carry on spending a significant amount of money—some £25,000 a head—on a small number of disabled people, which would have been at the expense of the programmes that we were running to support a much larger number of disabled people. If the Welsh Government had said that they had a significant amount of money to put on the table, things may have been different, but they did not. They wanted us to continue to subsidise the factories, which was simply unsustainable. The previous Government knew that. I sat in here and listened to the uncomfortable decisions that Ministers in the previous Government took. They were not comfortable decisions, but they were the right decisions. Those Ministers had the support of my party and me when making those decisions, because they were the right thing to do.

The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) wanted me to cover the support that we have provided to Remploy employees. We put in place the people help and support package, which has been referred to by a number of Members. It was an £8 million package available for individuals to access for up to 18 months after factory closure, and it included access to a personal caseworker and a personal budget. The caseworkers hold meetings and discussions with employees affected to identify suitable support and opportunities, and to signpost or refer them to appropriate provision.

The hon. Member for Wrexham mentioned three individuals. I spotted a report of his meeting with them in the Daily Post, in which he said:

“I saw three Remploy workers last week who are still unemployed and I met them at the Remploy Agency”.

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I am happy for him to correct me if I am wrong, but Remploy tells me that of the three individuals whom the hon. Gentleman met, one is in employment at a local cleaning firm, working in a local educational establishment; one has just received his Security Industry Authority licence and has a job offer at a local company; and one does indeed remain out of work, but he has been on a work placement and work trial, and he received a job offer, which he decided to decline. Two of the three are in work or about to start work, which is positive.

Ian Lucas: It is two and a half years since the Government made the announcement of the redundancies. Two of those three people were out of work. In my remarks, I did not say—the Minister can check Hansard—that they were not in work. A lot of my speech was about the fact that people are worse off even when they are in work. That was a specific aspect of my speech. He should not misrepresent what I said in the debate.

Mr Harper: I am not; I am quoting from the newspaper report. If that is not what the hon. Gentleman said, obviously it has been misreported, but the quote is that he met three Remploy workers “who are still unemployed”. I am simply pointing out that one is employed, one has just received a job offer because he has his SIA licence, and the other person does indeed remain out of work but had received a job offer. I am simply putting that on the record. If he did not say that they were unemployed—

Ian Lucas: Two and a half years.

Mr Harper: The thing is, we know about the Remploy workers who lost their jobs through out factory closures; we know nothing about those who lost their jobs under the previous Government. More of them lost their jobs under the previous Government, who did not track the progress of such employees, but we did so, which was welcome.

Let me say more about what the hon. Member for Llanelli was asking about. The other thing that we built into the package of support was a community support fund, providing grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations so that they could run job club projects to support disabled Remploy employees. In Wales, three local organisations have successfully delivered such community support fund projects, supporting 90 participants, 72 of whom have moved successfully into employment. In July I had the chance to visit one of those community support fund projects at the Lennox Partnership in Glasgow. I understand that 833 former Remploy employees have participated in such projects, which have enabled 352 people to take up new employment opportunities.

On the statistics, we can of course only track employees who have given us permission to do so—we cannot find out what is happening to employees if they did not wish us to know that. On the figures that we have, therefore, 774 of the 1,507 people who were made redundant are in work, which is more than half of them. At the end of October, to update the figures that the hon. Lady had, we had spent £5.7 million of the £8 million support fund; we expect the budget to be fully spent.

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It is also worth mentioning Remploy employment services. When the right hon. Member for Neath made his statement, which I remember clearly, he said that the employment services part of the Remploy business had got some 5,000 people into work that year, which was the same as the total number employed in the factory network. The employment services business has continued to be successful. Since 2010, it has supported more than 100,000 disabled and disadvantaged people into work. As Members know, a commercial process is under way at the moment and on track to be completed by next March. The employment services business has been successful in getting a significant number of people into work. As shadow Minister, I had the opportunity to visit some of the successful people whom it had placed in work.

The hon. Member for Islwyn mentioned the consultation process and the time line. I deliberately read out the relevant section from the 2007 speech of the right hon. Member for Neath, so it is not as if the factories did not know that there was an issue. From 2007, he put on the table the fact that those factories that were not closed by the previous Labour Government had to hit what he described as stretching targets and a tough forward plan if they were to be successful. The idea that people only started thinking about such things when we set out our proposals is not true; those factories all knew that they were losing money, and that there was a significant challenge to get profitable work from 2007, or five years before we set out our proposals.

Furthermore, when the Sayce review was under way, there was a consultation on our process in which people could commit to things. That process was not as swift as the hon. Gentleman made out. There were two stages: in stage 1, the Government reduced its subsidy to Remploy from the beginning of the new financial year, so that we ceased funding factories that made significant losses and restricted funding to those factories that might have the prospect of a viable future. The Remploy board looked at all the factories and decided which ones had a reasonable chance of being successful. At the end of that early stage, therefore, some factories were closed.

In a further commercial process, the board worked with bidders and interested parties to see if there were other viable options. The fact is, however, there were no viable options for most of those businesses. Some of the businesses successfully exited Government control. At stage 1, the health care business in Chesterfield and the filters business in Barrow successfully moved into the private sector, and the employees there have ongoing employment. At the end of stage 2 of the commercial process, three businesses successfully exited Government control, completing the process.

A reasonable chance was given to those businesses that had a reasonable prospect of being successful, but in the commercial judgment of the board some businesses simply did not have a viable future. That is why the decision to close them was taken at that time.

Chris Evans: Did the Secretary of State not rub salt into the wounds when he commented that workers at Remploy were not doing real jobs, but only making a cup of coffee? Will the Minister condemn those comments as crass, out of date and offensive to so many Remploy workers throughout the country?

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Mr Harper: I have not seen the specific comments referred to by the hon. Gentleman. What I understand to be true is that some Remploy factories did not have any work to do; the factories did not have orders and the employees were not kept busy with productive work, because the factories were not keeping busy.

The decisions were difficult; I do not deny that. The hon. Gentleman made a point about visiting factories, and I met Remploy employees at the small factory in Lydney in my constituency. I worked closely with the support provided to ensure that those employees were able to move into mainstream employment. I have visited Remploy factories and I know the sorts of things that they did. It is worth saying that when they were set up, they were not designed as a destination; they were designed as part of a rehabilitation process to get those service personnel who had been injured, for example, back into work—retrained and back into the workplace —and the idea was that people would then move on to mainstream employment. Somewhere along the way, however, that goal was lost.

The decisions were difficult, but there were incredible financial challenges. The previous Government started to take those difficult decisions, and they received support from us, because they took the right decisions, uncomfortable though they might have been. I will not apologise for our decisions; they were difficult ones, but they were the right decisions. The fact that we now have more disabled people in work—259,000 extra over the past year—and the success of the Disability Confident campaign show that the Government value disabled people. We want to give them the same opportunities to get into work as non-disabled people have. We have a record that I am proud of, and I want to build on it in the coming months running up to the general election.

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International Development and Disability

11 am

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): I call Liz McInnes.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Havard.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. May I just say that you are not a Front-Bench spokesperson—are you?

Liz McInnes: No, I am not. This is my first Westminster Hall debate.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Exactly. I am trying to be helpful to you in terms of convention; I am not trying to be difficult. Normally, you would sit in a seat for a normal Member and speak from there.

Liz McInnes: I am happy to do so.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Sorry to be procedural at this stage. [Interruption.] That is smashing. Thank you for your help. You will soon catch on to the strange ways within the circus.

Liz McInnes: This is almost a maiden speech again.

People with disabilities make up one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups within society throughout the world. Sightsavers estimates that one in five of the world’s poorest people are disabled and that 80% of those people live in developing countries. They are routinely denied their most basic human rights; they are cut off and unable to benefit from mainstream education, employment and health care services. For far too many disabled people, having a disability means they will never receive an education, never have employment and never be independent.

The vast majority of disabled people in developing countries live in extreme poverty. Global efforts to address poverty cannot afford to ignore people with disabilities, yet they are frequently left behind in the international development debate. Estimates by Sightsavers indicate that unemployment among disabled people is as high as 80% in some countries. For disabled children, mortality is as high as 80% in countries where mortality rates for children under five as a whole have decreased to below 20%. Furthermore, 90% of disabled children in developing countries do not attend school.

The millennium development goals, set in 2000, did not explicitly address disability issues at all. One of the goals set was to achieve universal primary education. The deadline for achieving that goal is next year. Significant progress has been made in many parts of the world, but there has been no progress at all for many disabled children. The education goal will not be met because, as Handicap International notes, 19 million disabled children still do not go to school.

Over the next nine months, we must ensure that the sustainable development goals, which will succeed the millennium development goals from September 2015, focus greater attention on those who live with and are affected by disability. World leaders meet in January to begin formal negotiation on the new goals. The UK Government, alongside other Governments, must ensure

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the retention under the education goal of a target from the Open Working Group outcome document that explicitly targets tackling disparities in provision of education in relation to disability. We must learn lessons from the past, when disabled children were failed when it came to access to education.

We want the UK Government and the Department for International Development to consider disability as a central component of all their development programmes and to target explicitly the needs of disabled people. A good start would be to ensure that all buildings and facilities that DFID funds are accessible to disabled people. Disability has too often been an afterthought; for example, it was only in late 2013 that DFID announced that schools built with its funding would have to be wheelchair accessible.

It is not only in education that global agreements have failed disabled people; being disabled means you are less likely to access health care and less likely to work. In 2012, a joint publication by the World Health Organisation and the Liverpool John Moores university centre for public health reported that a child with a disability is three to four times more likely to be a victim of physical or sexual violence. In nearly all cases, disabled people are the most marginalised, vulnerable and poorest group in developing countries.

Violence against women and girls with a disability is of particular concern. The Violence Against Women with Disabilities Working Group has reported that disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence as non-disabled women and more likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of that violence.

We must recognise that disability is diverse and ensure that we have an explicit focus on all types of disability, including motor and sensory disabilities, and mental health.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In a time of political and economic unrest across the whole world, when disabled people are more marginalised than any other group, it is important that we focus our attention on them. Some 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries and 20% of those with severe disabilities live in the poorest part of the world. Charities do great work. The Minister, who is newly appointed, is responsive to hon. Members’ opinions. Does the hon. Lady feel, as I and many others outside the Chamber do, that disability issues should be key in the Department’s official role wherever it acts or has influence across the world?

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Lady answers, I will help her. Normally, when there is an intervention, we sit down—you did at the end. The intervention was a bit long; they are not normally that long. It is your debate, and you would normally tell me if someone else wished to speak. If other Members do not wish to make a speech I am happy to take interventions, but they should be short and to the point.

Liz McInnes: I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his intervention.

As the World Health Organisation notes, the global estimate for disability is on the rise because of the ageing population and the rapid spread of chronic

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diseases, as well as improvements in the methodologies used to measure disability. Disability therefore requires urgent consideration and action from policy makers in development.

Additionally, we must not forget carers. Disability does not affect only those who suffer from it directly; there is also a significant impact on those caring for people with disabilities. We in turn must do more to support them, so that we can ensure that a child’s ability to go to school is not predetermined by whether their parent has a disability. When it is, that leads to a cycle of deprivation of opportunity for millions of children and young people around the world.

In nearly all cases, disabled people are the most marginalised and vulnerable and poorest group in developing countries. We want the UK Government and the Department for International Development to provide more support to organisations for disabled people in developing countries and to include more disabled people and groups in the design and delivery of programmes.

Disability has been absent from the development agenda for far too long. As the world meets over the next nine months to finalise the sustainable development goals—the successor to the millennium development goals—we must ensure that we learn lessons from our past mistakes and make explicit reference to targeting the needs of disabled people.

Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Before I call the Minister, I remind hon. Members that they can intervene on him if they wish, to reinforce a point or get, perhaps, a better answer than the one they think he is giving them—although I am sure that, as ever, he will give comprehensive answers.

11.9 am

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): I will not be alone in congratulating the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) on making her mark on this vital subject so early in her parliamentary career. It is a subject in which her predecessor took a particular interest, and I am confident that she will fulfil that role.

As you said, Mr Havard, the hon. Lady occupied the Front Bench inadvertently for a few moments, but I am confident that if merit had anything to do with occupation of the Front Bench she would be on it by right. I am certain that after today’s performance that is just a question of time. I hope that I can reassure her on all the concerns that she has raised, and I hope to reassure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is rightly always in his place for these important debates, on the point that he raised. I pay tribute to the Minister for Crime Prevention, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) who, when she held this brief, was a real champion for disabled people. She has much to be proud of in her record.

The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton is right. Of the world’s 1 billion disabled people, 80% live in developing countries. One in seven of the world’s poorest people are disabled. She quoted the figure from Sightsavers for extreme poverty, which is one in five, although I am not sure whether the figure is even

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higher. The unemployment figure for Burma is 3.5% among the population at large, but 80% of disabled people have no means of providing for themselves. I do not believe that there is any prospect of a reduction in the number of disabled people. Indeed, the thrust seems to be in the opposite direction, and with increasing disasters, more violence, particularly targeting civilians, and ageing populations, we need to take more cognisance of the needs of the disabled.

The hon. Lady was right to say that an opportunity was missed with the millennium development goals and that we must not miss that opportunity again when we review the post-2015 development agenda. I am glad that when the Prime Minister chaired the UN working group on that agenda, it came up with the essential principle that we can eradicate poverty within a generation if, and only if, no one is left behind in respect of their ethnicity, their gender, where they live or their disability. That must be the key principle driving us forward. No one must be left behind. We cannot tackle extreme poverty, or even poverty, without tackling disability. That will be the guiding principle.

Let us assume that we now have a goal to pursue. We will not be able to pursue that goal effectively unless we have data to measure our progress. The hon. Lady pointed out that we only recently had an internationally agreed definition of disability. We are seriously short of data to disaggregate the figure, which we must do to see how people of different ethnicities, in different geographical regions, with disabilities or of different genders are affected. That must be measurable and the singular contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green was driving forward that data revolution. Last month, she co-hosted the UN a conference here in London on that subject. We have been the driving force for that agenda.

Let us assume we have a goal and that we have developed the data to pursue it. What should be the motor? I believe it must be inclusion. Inclusion must be our guide at all times. For too long, disabled people have suffered from a stigma and that must be eradicated. That inclusion, as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton said, must include consultation with disabled people on the formulation of the very policies in which they will be included. It is absolutely right that we work with the advocacy groups, and we have done so. “Nothing about us without us” must be the principle for consultation. I am glad that the Department works with the Disability Rights Fund, ADD International and some 400 disability groups.

I was once told quite forcefully and bluntly by a constituent who was severely disabled but nevertheless was organising a community project that she did not want my pity; she wanted help. She wanted help not just so that disabled people could fend for themselves, but so that they could contribute to the community. Our ambition must be that disabled people are not a burden but are an asset to our communities. That gives rise to four implications for policy.

First, prevention remains important. If we can prevent people from becoming disabled, we will be able to concentrate more resources on those who are disabled. The hon. Lady drew attention to the vital issue of maternal health. For every mother who dies in childbirth, 30 will

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suffer severe disablement. Maternal care and sexual reproductive health is a vital ingredient of the agenda, as is the prevention of disease.

One of my first meetings after assuming my present role was to meet Bill Gates to discuss the GAVI—the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—programme to which we are the largest contributor. In 2012-13, we put £139 million into work on preventable disease. It is our objective that from 2011 to 2015 we will have vaccinated 80 million children against preventable diseases and the 2014 report shows that that objective is on track.

Secondly, we must design programmes aimed specifically at disabled people—I make no apology for that—that fit within our overall strategy. For example, in Mozambique, there are resource centres for 24,000 children with special needs, and in Ethiopia, Braille products are being produced for 10,000 children between the ages of four and 17. Our funding to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2012 allowed it to provide 240,000 people with prostheses, orthoses, wheelchairs and physiotherapy.

Thirdly, having developed programmes specifically for the disabled, we must tailor all our programmes for everyone, so that they take account of the needs of the disabled. The hon. Lady was particularly strong in her remarks about what we need to do in education. I take her point. Accessibility for schools is vital. I am glad that we made our announcement in 2013, and I share her disappointment that that is an agenda that we have got on to only lately, but it is right that we pursue it. It right that we pursue accessibility not just when dealing with schools, but when dealing with water and sanitation, so that disabled people have access.

We are working closely with the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF and others to ensure that when we are taking forward the education agenda disabled people and their needs and special needs are included, so that they can be identified and assisted.

Jim Shannon: Is the Minister aware of the campaign that goes on in probably every constituency’s schools for an education for every child? We take petitions to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing street every year. Primary and secondary school-age children show great interest in and knowledge of education provision throughout the world. Does the Minister recognise how good that campaign is?

Mr Swayne: I do; I have participated in it every year. I have been to schools and collected those petitions. What is more, when I was the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary at Downing street, I was on the receiving end, ensuring that the Prime Minister saw the petitions and responded. Some of them were fantastic art works and quite intricate.

One of the most heartening and enjoyable things to me about my constituency duties is going to schools in June and July to collect those petitions. There is usually a fantastic presentation by the pupils. Each time I go, I tell them that I am heartened and encouraged by their concern for their fellow pupils throughout the world who may either not go to school or go for only part of the day but instead must work or go elsewhere. I tell the pupils that I want them to go home and give their parents the same enthusiasm; because it is taxpayers who, more often than I would want, write to me to

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complain about the level of international development funding. The children have bought into the idea that the hon. Member for Strangford has raised, and we need their parents to do so as well.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The Minister is making a powerful case and I agree with all he is saying, but before he moves off education, I wonder whether he will help me to reconcile his strong attitude in favour of assisting disabled people overseas with recent UK domestic pronouncements about the disabled students allowance. A completely different message is being sent about our support for people who need access to education and assistance in overcoming disability.

Mr Swayne: Unfortunately, I do not speak on domestic affairs—my remit is, with respect, international development —but I shall ensure that I get a quality answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question and pass it on to him.

The fourth implication from the principle of inclusion is that there is a gap in our knowledge, to which the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton rightly drew attention, with respect to mental health. We lack knowledge about what works in countries without the resources that we have in the developed world to attend to some ailments, disabilities and mental health issues. We pay for international studies all the time, and we have launched PRIME—the programme for improving mental health care—which is a significant study of what works in mental health in low-resource economies.

The hon. Member for Strangford asked for my reassurance about how we take things forward. The Select Committee on International Development set us a challenging task in its report on our response to disability, which was published during the previous Session. We accepted virtually all its recommendations, and the principal one, in my view, was that we should publish a framework setting out exactly how we would make progress with the issues and informing DFID staff of how they should react to and take account of disability in all they do; we should appoint a disability champion in the Department and double the number of its staff working on disability. That framework was drawn up with enormous consultation with stakeholders, particularly disability organisations. It will be published on the international day of people with disability on 3 December, and thereafter it will be a living document, to be revised in line with what works and the representations that are made. It will be republished every year.

I look forward to the reflections of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton and other hon. Members on that document, because the agenda is one we must take forward together. I thank the hon. Lady again for drawing our attention to it by obtaining this important debate.

11.24 am

Sitting suspended.

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Illegal Encampments (East of England)

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): It is a pleasure and an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am hugely grateful to the Speaker for granting me this debate on illegal encampments in the east of England, something that has been a particularly big problem in Harlow over the past year. I would especially like to thank Marysia Rudgley and the Harlow antisocial behaviour team, who have been working tirelessly to solve the issue, and individual Harlow police officers who I know have the best interests of Harlow at heart. Most of all, however, I would like to give special thanks to the local residents of Harlow, some of whom are here. Despite many of them suffering misery over the past year, they have been patient, kind and tolerant under the circumstances.

I should stress that I have nothing against Travellers as a community. I have nothing against their way of life, and I believe that they have a right to equality before the law. I appreciated speaking and meeting with the Travellers in Harlow, who have made their views clear to me, but like most residents, I cannot accept that it is acceptable for them to build illegal encampments wherever they like. Equality before the law means that everyone should be treated equally before the law, so in this debate, I will concentrate on four issues: first, the failure of the authorities in the east of England to deal adequately with illegal encampments; secondly, the failure of the police to uphold the law consistently; thirdly, the failure of our police and crime commissioner to scrutinise the police and to represent residents properly, as his job requires; and fourthly, what the Government should do to improve the situation.

According to recent Government statistics, 1,280 caravans were in unauthorised encampments on land not owned by Travellers in July 2014. Many of those were in the east of England. In Suffolk, there have been over 200 unauthorised encampments since 2007, and there have been high-profile camps across the region in places such as Wisbech, Basildon, Thurrock and Peterborough. However, few places have suffered as badly as Harlow and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). Since October 2013, as of yesterday, 81 illegal encampments have been set up in Harlow.

I have been contacted daily by hundreds of residents in distress by phone, e-mail and on social media, with stories of alleged antisocial and intimidating behaviour committed by the occupants of the sites, and I have seen for myself the mess that each site has been left in. Every time the illegal camps are moved on, the occupants just create another site, often just down the road. So far, Harlow council has spent over £40,000 of taxpayers’ money dealing with the problem, and over 2,100 residents have signed my petition calling for urgent action.

The situation has become so bad that The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Times and national TV have covered the story in Harlow, and The Sun newspaper did a two-page spread on Harlow last week with the headline, “The town under siege by gypsies”. Harlow is a beautiful town. I am proud to live there and to represent it as a Member of Parliament, but illegal encampments are destroying our reputation, our quality of life and the peace and stability for many Harlow residents.

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Initially, I would like to talk about the response of local authorities to the issue, and I want to make a number of points: the first is that adequate laws are available to be used; the second is about pursuing the occupants of camps for compensation; and the third is on the issue of needing more sites.

As I mentioned, I have nothing but admiration for the hard-working members of Harlow council’s antisocial behaviour team. They are the true heroes of this story, and they have been working day and night 24/7 over the past year to try to alleviate the situation. However, I am concerned that Harlow council as a whole has been reluctant to use all the powers available to it, and has given out confusing messages. For example, despite the Department for Communities and Local Government recommending that councils can use byelaws to deal with unauthorised encampments, Harlow council has said:

“It would be difficult to justify attaching this power to a main dwelling thus effectively making a person homeless.”

It has also said in communication with me that it cannot use section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as vehicles are frequently changed by Travellers. However, that also applies to caravans, and it seems surprising that the illegal occupants would be changing such big-ticket items so often as to make enforcement of the law impossible.

I hope that in this debate, the Minister can set out what powers are available to the local authorities so as to avoid any further confusion in such cases. I am also disappointed that in some cases, our local council seems slow to act, a point that has been echoed by colleagues from other councils across the east of England, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock. According to what is available on the Harlow council website, the local council did not approach the Department for help or guidance until 17 July 2014. That was nine months after the problem began, and the town had already experienced 35 illegal encampments during that time.

Another problem that many of my colleagues will have faced across the east of England is the mess that is left after an illegal encampment has been in an area, and I know my hon. Friend will speak about that. In Harlow, it has been particularly bad. Many residents have written to me complaining about churned-up mud on green spaces due to cars constantly driving on and off fields, and about fly-tipping and human waste. One mother told me that she could no longer allow her children to play outside as she had witnessed children from an illegal encampment using the local playground as an outside toilet. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify how such waste should be dealt with. Who is responsible? Is it the council or the Environment Agency? It is really disappointing that just one individual has been arrested for fly-tipping, and they were not even prosecuted.

Harlow council has said:

“With regard to public excrement while this is evidence of harm there is insufficient evidence at this time to show that it amounts to a public health issue that Environmental Health Officers could prosecute for”.

Yet one resident wrote to me saying that the land outside their home and their fence had been turned into an open public toilet, and they are now seriously concerned

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about their children’s health. Action must surely be taken urgently to stop that kind of thing. Furthermore, the council should be much more aggressive in pursuing the perpetrators for compensation. It is outrageous that hard-working Harlow residents have to spend thousands of pounds through their taxes on clean-up costs. The council says on its website that

“there is very little any Council can do to recover money from illegal encampments.”

I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether that is indeed the case.

Furthermore, I would like to address the issue of Traveller pitches. A spokesman for the Travellers in Harlow has said that they cannot leave because they have nowhere else to go. There has been a persistent criticism, mainly from those in the Labour party, that the Government have failed to provide enough camps. Indeed, I am disappointed that Essex council has not provided any transient camps, and that neither Essex council nor Harlow council applied for Traveller pitch funding from the grant available from the Government that was designed to meet the needs of the travelling community. However, I am not convinced that that would solve the problem in Harlow. Our town already has two legal Traveller sites—more than anywhere else in the county of Essex—one of which has 10 free spaces on it. Furthermore, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) will confirm when he speaks, when transient sites do exist, such as in Peterborough, they are rarely used. That has been confirmed by a BBC “Look East” report.

I certainly suggest that any further sites in Essex not be sited in Harlow. We already have more than our fair share. Furthermore, not having a transient site—this is the nub of the argument—is not an excuse to break the law. Many thousands of residents in my constituency do not have a home; they are on the waiting list for housing. They are not allowed to set up illegal encampments, or camp on private or public land, so why, when certain individuals set up illegal encampments, does everyone seem to allow that to happen? We cannot allow one group of people to break the law. We cannot say, “Yes, because of their situation, they are allowed to break the law,” because otherwise the whole of our society would break down.

I shall now talk about the police response to illegal encampments, focusing on the communication with residents and the inconsistent use of available laws. As I said, there are good examples of individual local police officers in Harlow going above and beyond their duty to help residents. I have also, though, received many complaints about allegations not being taken seriously. One lady got in touch to say that her car and property had been damaged, but the police did not even come to see the damage. To date, only 11 section 61 notices have been served, despite there having been 81 illegal encampments. I have been told by the police that guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers make use of section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in this context complex. In the ACPO guidance, section 1.6 states:

“Decisions to evict or not must…be balanced (as directed by legislation and Government guidance), and be compliant with the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998, demonstrating legality, necessity, and proportionality, as well as principles of common humanity.”

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Interestingly, in a letter to the Minister, the chief executive of Harlow council states:

“The Council is concerned about the differing decisions taken in respect of whether a Section 61 Notice should be used or not. We do not feel that the guidance provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers…is particularly helpful in this regard.”

I agree with Harlow council on that point: it is essential that section 61 notices be served consistently. I would appreciate it if the Minister confirmed today that the ACPO guidelines are exactly that. They are not tablets of stone from Mount Sinai. They are ACPO guidelines, not the law, and the police do not have to follow them. I and the residents of Harlow fear that the police are using the ACPO guidelines as a convenient excuse for inaction and are hiding behind issues such as human rights. As the residents always say, “What about the human rights of residents and their families to live in peace, without fear and without having to face antisocial behaviour?”

The council has also said that section 62 of the same Act, which can be used when Travellers trespass on land and are not using pitches available to them, cannot be used because no legal sites are available. However, as I mentioned, there are 10 pitches that could be made use of in Harlow, and if that is such a necessity to prevent criminality, it is even more astonishing that neither Essex nor Harlow council applied for Traveller pitch funding when it was available.

Even if it is not possible to issue section 61 or 62 notices, the police could use section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which deals with vehicles being used in a manner that causes “alarm, distress or annoyance”. Surely that applies to cars or caravans driving aggressively down, and blocking, cycle paths.

The lack of action is sadly resulting in a serious loss of faith in the chief constable of Essex. One resident recently wrote to me about a group of caravans parked illegally on the roadside by a school:

“The police were contacted by one of the other parents and the school’s headteacher. The police simply recorded the information but don’t appear to be doing anything about it”.

I have also been written to and telephoned by residents about police driving past and seeing Travellers driving up and down cycle paths, but simply ignoring that. Sadly, I then get residents asking me what would happen if they did the same—if they parked their car on a cycle track. I can only conclude that the police would usually, and should, take action in such circumstances. As I said, it is so wrong and so dangerous that many people in Harlow now believe that those individuals who occupy illegal encampments are above the law.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, I have written to the Home Secretary asking for an inquiry into whether the chief constable of Essex police is upholding the law properly, and whether his response until now has been appropriate. I welcome the agreement of the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to a meeting with me and my hon. Friend to discuss these matters.

I say again that although I respect the contributions of individual officers, residents of Harlow believe that the police are more concerned about the human rights of Travellers than those of law-abiding residents, and that the police are hiding behind ACPO guidelines while trying to put all the burden on the local authorities and the courts.

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It is incredible that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and I have had to write to three Cabinet members—the Justice Secretary, the Communities Secretary and the Home Secretary—because of a lack of confidence in the chief constable of Essex police and the police and crime commissioner. I do not think that there have been many occasions on which two MPs have written such a letter.

It is to the police and crime commissioner that I want to refer now. The problem is that we have a police and crime commissioner who still has no proper Essex-wide strategy to deal with the problem of illegal encampments and who does not hold the chief constable to account on this issue, represent residents or, as many residents have told me, respond to residents in a timely fashion.

Following the joint letter that I wrote with my hon. Friend to Cabinet Ministers, I received a letter from the police and crime commissioner that I found astonishing. In the letter, he states:

“We must encourage residents to report incidents of concern to them to the police, but I know from close contact with the police there have been relatively few of these and when the allegations you have often repeated on air have been investigated the reality is not as you tend to represent it.”

I ask my police and crime commissioner what planet he is living on. He should not just do the odd public meeting, but come properly and meet Harlow residents. He should go knocking on door after door and actually represent the people who elected him. Even Harlow council is at odds with that view and has said:

“The experience in Harlow is such that regrettably criminality is often associated with illegal encampments.”

I would like the police and crime commissioner to think about his statement when he hears the following stories and explain to Harlow residents why he thinks that there are “relatively few” incidents, which does not reflect reality.

Let me tell hon. Members about a few of the incidents. A group of young men shouted abuse at one elderly lady while she was walking her dog and followed her to the shops. She was so scared that the police had to come and take her home, although no action was taken against the men. She did not go out for several weeks, despite its being Christmas, and became seriously ill because of stress.

One family told me that tools were stolen from the back of a van. They told me that despite the fact that they knew who had taken them and they were on an illegal encampment nearby, the police just said that they should claim on their insurance and should not go and try to get their tools back. Several days later, they saw their tools being sold at a local DIY store car park from the back of a van. That is unbelievable. Then there is the husband who was punched by a group of about 20 young men but has lost so much confidence in the police’s ability to act that he did not report it. I do not believe that my Harlow residents are exaggerating, but I do feel that many have lost faith that the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner will act on their concerns.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): Like my hon. Friend, I was astonished by the response of the police and crime commissioner when we raised these issues with him. I was copied in on an e-mail from a resident just today. The response to her complaint about encampments in Thurrock referred to working hard with people in

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Basildon to tackle them. It just shows a degree of complacency about reacting to the public. Frankly, when we introduced police and crime commissioners, we expected that that was where accountability would come from. I do not think that it is acceptable for the police and crime commissioner to shoot the messenger, as he has done in this case.

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock —I call her friend in the true sense of the word—has been fighting similar problems in her constituency. We wrote our joint letter because we were so upset about the response of the authorities. It was not an easy thing for us to do, particularly given that the police and crime commissioner is a Conservative. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with some of the things that I will go on to say.

The police and crime commissioner has also criticised my call for zero tolerance of illegal encampments. I quote his letter to me:

“I do need to make it clear to you that I believe you are doing little genuinely to help the problem and you are at risk of exacerbating it...too easily what you are saying should be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach is interpreted as zero tolerance towards travellers.”

I find that incredible. That is a Conservative police and crime commissioner saying such things. His letter continues:

“That cannot be right and I would urge you to be really cautious. As I say I do not intend to respond in public to what I regard as frankly insulting comments but I think you are on thin ice”.

Well, Mr Commissioner, that is our fundamental disagreement. I believe that we should have a zero-tolerance policy towards illegal encampments and illegality. I am calling for zero tolerance not towards any minority group, but towards people who break the law. I believe that the police and crime commissioner should represent residents and put in place a proper Essex-wide strategy on the matter, similar to the strategy that he has implemented for tackling domestic violence across the county. He has done good work on that.

The police and crime commissioner has complained about my use of social media to highlight the problem, and my response is simple. I will continue to use social media to highlight what is going on in Harlow, and I will urge every resident in my constituency to contact him on Twitter and Facebook when they have concerns about the authorities’ response to illegal encampments. I am sorry that he does not like that. I hope that he will tackle illegal encampments with the same passion and commitment as he has shown for dealing with domestic violence.

I turn to the changes that the Government should make. I recently took part in a debate with a senior police officer and the police and crime commissioner on BBC Essex radio, in which we expressed serious disagreement with one another. The presenter, Dave Monk, made an important point when he asked me, “Aren’t you all passing the buck?” On reflection, I believe that he was right, in a way. I will not say that it is simply the fault of the local authorities, the chief constable or the police and crime commissioner, because there is a lot more that the Government can do.

The Government have taken some significant steps towards dealing with the problem of illegal encampments, such as lifting restrictions inherited from the previous

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Government on temporary stop notices and strengthening the Localism Act 2011. There are still some deficiencies, however, and I want to raise three things: the law needs to be clearer; the law needs to be strengthened; and delays in the court need to be tackled.

The Government should look at clarifying existing laws, so that the authorities and the police are in no doubt about the powers available to them, but the law could be strengthened further by making intentional trespass a criminal offence. A law already exists in the Republic of Ireland to allow the arrest of trespassers who refuse to move after being asked to do so by the police. I am arguing that anyone who trespasses on public or private land, as do individuals who set up illegal encampments, should be seen as having committed a criminal offence rather than a civil offence. The Conservative party said in opposition that it would do that, and we must follow through with a proper pledge and make that happen.

The law must also look at ways to stop the game of cat and mouse that often occurs. For example, a group may be evicted from one area and prevented from returning for three months, but they will simply move down the road or return to the same area a few weeks later. That must be addressed if progress is to be made. If a group who have set up illegal or unauthorised encampments are eventually moved on by the police or the courts, the law should state that they cannot return to within at least 15 or 20 miles of that location, otherwise they will face criminal sanctions.

Delays in the court system must be addressed. When the antisocial behaviour team move on occupants of unauthorised encampments, one of the difficulties that they face is the length of time that it may take to secure a court hearing. In the worst cases, Harlow council has had to wait 14 days to obtain a hearing date. It would be helpful if the Government looked at what can be done to speed up the process. I am grateful that the Justice Secretary is coming to Harlow this Friday to tour the illegal sites, and we will speak to him directly about the issues that I have raised.

We have been living under siege in Harlow for the past year, and we are, sadly, a town in crisis. We have had 81 illegal encampments all over the town, which is simply unsustainable. We cannot continue in such a way, and we need serious action. So far, 2,100 Harlow residents have signed my petition calling for urgent action, and I hope that the Minister can ameliorate the situation by setting out some serious changes to the law. I hope that he can ensure that our police and crime commissioner holds the chief constable to account, so that our town can reach Christmas without being blighted by illegal or unauthorised encampments, antisocial behaviour and mess.

2.56 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing the debate, and I agree with every word he has said. The nuisance created by unauthorised Traveller encampments causes distress to far too many residents, and public authorities have failed to get to grips with the problem for far too long.

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Like Harlow, Thurrock has been subjected to a number of unauthorised Traveller encampments in the past couple of years. That has caused residents considerable stress and generated considerable frustration with the seeming inability of the police and the local authority to uphold the law and deal with unauthorised encampments. If we are to establish good relations between the Traveller community and the settled community, we must ensure that the legal framework is appropriate and upheld. On that note, I am horrified to hear of the words of the police and crime commissioner, who accused my hon. Friend of behaviour towards the Traveller community that was implicitly intended to make the situation worse. If we do not deal with unauthorised encampments, we will lose the confidence of the public, and that will generate hostility towards the Traveller community. We have a responsibility to the Traveller community to get to grips with encampments that are causing nuisance and distress.

In Thurrock, a large number of established Traveller sites happily co-exist with the settled community. In particular, I would like to highlight the community at Buckles lane in South Ockendon, which is a settlement of show people. That settlement illustrates the fact that we will help the Traveller community if we get the law right. The Buckles lane site is the largest settlement of show people in Europe, but it is on a site that has no planning permission. Although it is tolerated by Thurrock council, the people have effectively been left in limbo because the local authority has failed to put the site on any kind of settled footing. The Travellers who live there want to do the right thing. They want planning permission, and they want to know that after 14 years they can be sure of being able to settle there for good, but they have no security. It is an absolute disgrace that Thurrock council has not stepped up to the plate and worked co-operatively and collaboratively with them. It is almost as though dealing with Travellers, whatever the issue, is always considered to be too difficult. The time has come to have a proper strategy for dealing with the wider issues. We must ensure that, where Travellers are trying to do the right thing, they are supported, and where they are breaking the law, the law is thrown at them.

We have heard the suggestion that one reason why the police cannot take action against unauthorised sites is the absence of alternative pitches, but I do not buy that. Those in many of the illegal encampments have absolutely no intention of settling on a legitimate site, for a number of reasons. There are Travellers who buy the land and settle, and build structures and grow things, without securing planning permission. For residents who live alongside those sorts of settlements, it is offensive to see the council turn a blind eye and refuse to enforce planning laws, because they know that, if they tried to install a dropped kerb or build a garage, the law would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Too often we hear—I am sure this has been said to my hon. Friends—that there is one law for them and another for the rest of us. That is the nub of the issue.

We must get to grips with the problem. There must be equality before the law. We cannot allow members of the Traveller community not to uphold their responsibility to the law and expect the settled community to do so. If we do that, we will undermine confidence in our system of law enforcement, which will lead to much deeper social problems.

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The police have assured me, as they have assured my hon. Friend, that they are dealing with illegal encampments in accordance with Essex police policy and Association of Chief Police Officers guidance. As he said, that is where the problem lies. The guidance was drawn up by the diversity team at ACPO, which gives an idea of the ethos behind the rules. The principle that underpins the rules is that Travellers should not be moved on if alternative sites cannot be provided, because that would breach their human rights. That is not acceptable. As he said, if we expect settled communities to abide by legal norms, we should not fail to apply the law to Travellers out of respect for their lifestyle.

I have talked about the activities of Travellers who buy land and subsequently build on it. It falls to the local authority to ensure that those people abide by their obligations under the planning rules. However, the people about whom I am really concerned have no interest in occupying transit sites. They move around sites across Essex and engage in illegal and criminal activities. Frankly, by turning a blind eye to the offences of some Travellers and not promptly applying the law, the law enforcement agencies have left the door open for people to up their game and engage in criminal activities.

That is the situation in Purfleet in my constituency. A criminal gang—I will put it that starkly—has been moving around Thurrock unchallenged. At one point, it settled at Cory’s wharf, which is a large site in Purfleet owned by the local authority and earmarked for housing development. When the site was vacated, the volume of waste left behind was considerable. It could in no way be described as the natural domestic waste of 15 caravans. Bluntly, it stretched for a whole mile along the Thames riverfront. It is clear that the gang was running a commercial waste disposal operation, which was unchallenged by the police and the council for two months. The initial estimate of the cost of cleaning up the site is £1 million. The likelihood of the council or the police securing funds to meet that cost is negligible, so the bill will be picked up by council tax payers in my constituency.

The Essex police and crime commissioner said that the police will deal with the situation proportionately and professionally, but there is a mile-long pile of rubbish that will cost £1 million to clean up. It is understandable that the public are losing confidence in the police’s ability to deal with the problem. I must defend the police, because I am sure they would have used their section 61 powers if the landowner had asked them to do so.

In this case, the landowner was Thurrock council. The council has been caught with its pants down. It is the landowner, but it let the settlement continue for a number of weeks because the site is off the beaten track —it cannot be seen from the road, so nobody knew what was going on. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind. The council thought that, if the gang settled there, it would not cause a nuisance elsewhere. For that six to eight-week period, the gang ran riot and ran a successful business, and we are left counting the cost of cleaning it up.

Even now, the council has failed to get to grips with the situation. It advised the press that the Environment Agency is investigating the situation to see whether the waste is hazardous, and to find out what action needs to be taken to prosecute those people. However, the Environment Agency told me that, although it has had

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discussions with Thurrock council and the police, it is firmly within the council’s remit to take action. It told me that no inspection of the waste has taken place because there is no reason to believe it is hazardous. Having examined it myself, I agree that it is clearly construction and house dumping waste—it is not industrial waste, but waste dumped by small builders.

It is time that Thurrock council stopped buck-passing. It let the situation develop, it let the settlement establish itself for a number of weeks on its land, and it turned a blind eye to what was clearly a criminal operation. It is Thurrock council’s responsibility to sort out the problem, but sadly, due to its sheer incompetence, it will be down to council tax payers in Thurrock to foot the bill. The criminal gang must be laughing itself silly at our criminal justice system, which has allowed it to run a business unchallenged, and no doubt it has made a healthy amount of money.

Thurrock council shares services with Barking and Dagenham council. I know the Minister is an enthusiast for shared-service arrangements. However, if council officers spent less time driving up and down the A13, they might have had a better idea of what was going on in their backyard.

Travellers continue to maraud around Thurrock unpunished, and they have moved to various sites around Purfleet. They had a short stay at Sandy lane in Aveley, where they were promptly moved because a public sector landowner was not prepared to tolerate them on their land. I have been told that the police and the council are working with the Environment Agency to bring forward prosecutions. However, the Environment Agency advised me today:

“It is extremely difficult to gather evidence and take enforcement after waste has been deposited. Preventative measures such as securing the site”—

that would have been good—

“are more effective than taking action after the event”.

I suspect that no prosecutions will arise from that disgraceful incident. How can the public have any confidence in public authorities if that is allowed to occur?

Since raising this issue publicly, I have been accused of racism, but there is nothing racist about expecting the law to be enforced equally on all who are subject to it. Last year, my partner, who is a councillor in Thurrock, found himself on the wrong side of the law when he challenged Thurrock council for failing to enforce against an unauthorised encampment. He was investigated for inciting racial hatred by the police and the local authority, which was outrageous. To be fair, the investigating officer was clearly embarrassed about interviewing my partner. We were then surprised to hear that voluntary groups across Thurrock were contacted by the police to establish whether they had heard of any hate crimes that had been committed following my partner’s comments.

It is a disgrace that the police service turns a blind eye to the nuisance and distress caused by illegal encampments, but investigates an elected representative for the offence of standing up for his community. I wonder at the culture of political correctness that has been allowed to infect our police. Elected representatives have a responsibility to speak for our communities, and freedom of speech should never be undermined by officers of the local authority or police officers.

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We have heard on many occasions about the mission creep of human rights legislation. I was pleased to receive a letter last week from the Minister, in which he stated his concerns about what he described as the “gold plating” of human rights legislation. I feel very strongly that the unwillingness of local authorities to enforce against illegal Traveller encampments in a timely way is symptomatic of that.

I want settled communities to have greater tolerance for Travellers, but we will never get that unless we apply the same standards for upholding the law to everyone. Central to that is swifter, tougher action against unauthorised encampments. Let the mile-long rubbish dump across the Thames seafront at Purfleet be the last time that some members of the Traveller community take us all for mugs.

3.10 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Connoisseurs of parliamentary proceedings may find it wry that I have the honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I hope your mind is cleansed of those occasions when the roles were reversed and I may have had occasion to call you to order.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for giving us this opportunity to raise these issues—issues that I imagine a large number of Members have, to varying degrees. I am in his slipstream in what I want to say this afternoon. He is a doughty champion of Harlow and its residents, and he can rightly describe Harlow as his beautiful city. Equally, I hope he recognises that the district of Uttlesford, which comprises a large part of the Saffron Walden constituency, is continually cited as one of the most desirable places to live in the country. That, of course, adds to some of its problems, as people reading that fact may think about moving to the area. Those people may include Travellers, because we have regular visitations.

It would be hard for me to compare any of the situations in my constituency with the scale of the problem that my hon. Friend is confronted with in his; even my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) might take second place in the order of crisis, given the situation that my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has described. There are many different situations, but too often, across the piece, those situations give rise to public fury; hence the involvement of Members of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has graphically described what can go wrong, and I recognise most of those situations as having also arisen at encampments in my constituency.

Those who know me will understand my particular concern, not only as president of the West Essex district cricket board, when an incursion in the village of Hatfield Heath interfered with the local cricket ground, causing a competitive fixture to be postponed at a critical time. An ordinary, very English activity that is traditional to villages was disrupted by caravans being parked on the ground. The pitch was scuffed—one remembers a test match that was affected by the pouring of oil on the pitch —and water was taken, causing total disruption. That is part of the general annoyance that has been caused. The general annoyance is that such disruption is a regular thing in the village of Hatfield Heath. Just as people think they have cleared one situation, there is an anticipation, borne out by history, that it will be repeated,

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which gives rise to extra annoyance. The annoyance is caused not just by that continuity, but by the regular reappearance of caravans, although they are not necessarily the same ones.

A quite different situation arose in Little Dunmow, where the houses came after the Gypsy settlement. There had been no particular complaints about the Gypsy settlement, which has been established for quite a long time, but once houses are built close by, some of the disturbances that come from such settlements become a source of difficulty—dogs barking at all hours of the night, shotguns being fired and stray horses wandering around. Although Essex county council has a Gypsy liaison officer, it is hard to imagine someone not invested with police powers, or anything of that kind, being able to control a situation and bring about harmony between the newcomers in the houses and the longer-established people on the Traveller site.

Uttlesford district council and the city of Chelmsford, the rural areas of which I also represent, are known to be looking for pitches to accommodate certain numbers at the Government’s behest. People are starting to ask questions. I accept the logic in trying to establish the requisite number of official pitches, because the theory is that, if those pitches are established, we can swiftly move on caravans that park on unofficial sites. There is nothing more infuriating for anyone than to wake up and find a caravan or caravans on greensward in front of their house, or in a field next door. People naturally expect the authorities to do something, but nothing is gained if all the authorities can do when they succeed in moving the caravans on is cause a second unofficial parking.

I see the logic in trying to have official pitches, and it all seems straightforward, but unfortunately it is not. Hopefully the Government can help, but we need to know exactly for whom we should be providing the pitches. Are they for itinerant Travellers, or are we also meant to be covering static caravans? There is an important distinction between the two. What criteria should apply? If Travellers can just turn up, whether on a village green that also hosts a cricket pitch or on an area by the side of a road such as a lay-by, surely there need to be basic facilities, otherwise we will see the unsavoury activities of human beings without any kind of facilities for ordinary toilet practices and so on. People will also have to search for basic facilities such as water, and there seems to be no advance provision. If a site is volunteered, there should be criteria and minimum standards; otherwise, it should not apply.

Highways issues should also be taken into account. The city of Chelmsford is battling with its need to provide an allocation, and it seems to have set its sights on a possible settlement at Drakes lane in my constituency. The road that serves the site is wholly inadequate, as there is surrounding industrial activity. What is the sense of encouraging provision for Travellers—in many cases, one expects, with children—where heavy lorries are pounding down an unsuitable lane? The scope for accidents is obvious. We need to know more about what we have to do and for whom.

I will not be censorious about the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow was, but the relevant bits of legislation covering all their powers are longer than the ten commandments. In all the different circumstances that could apply, such legislation helps to confuse the

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police about what they can do. It is often down to the status of the land. Is it private or public land? What are the rights of access for members of the public? If there are rights of access, how can we discriminate between one type of member of the public and another?

I am grateful to the police for coming together with all the local interests to solve—finally, we hope—the recurring problems in Hatfield Heath. The key lesson I got from those discussions was that a crime has to have been committed to make it easier for the police to apply section 61 of the 1994 Act. If that is the case, to put things at their simplest, we need to know what constitutes a crime in relation to the sorts of problems that my hon. Friend described.

Robert Halfon: My right hon. Friend will be aware of what section 61 states. If there are six or more vehicles trespassing on private land, the police can issue instructions under section 61.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: That was not exactly how it was explained to me by the police officer who came to the discussions at Hatfield Heath; but what my hon. Friend says demonstrates my point. There is uncertainty about what must happen. If the law is being applied unevenly because police discretion means variation from one place to another, that is not helpful to any of us.

To sum up, what we need and what the public are looking for is fairness. This is not a matter of discriminating against the travelling community, let alone those of the Romany tradition; it is a matter of fairness. If one person is not allowed to do something, why should someone else be allowed to do it without any kind of retribution being visited on them? That is basically what people want dealt with. If we legislators cannot provide a clear definition of what is or is not fair, we will continue to have very dissatisfied constituents.