3.37 pm

Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP): Mr Pritchard, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, like some other Members here, the first time. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing the debate.

I will outline some of the Scottish National party’s views before I sum up. On the ongoing debate between Gatwick and Heathrow, the SNP has been fairly agnostic on airport expansion and the choice of location. Our main proposal would be to secure two-way benefits and sustainable connectivity between Scotland and our global markers. We need assurance that we can enjoy sustainable access to the hub airports that serve Scotland. Clearly, some of the final decisions to be made—the costly and large infrastructure decision—affect many billions of pounds in commercial activity. Like the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), we are particularly disappointed that it seems to have turned into a bit of a bunfight for political advantage. A quick decision on airport capacity is needed. There is a risk attached; if the decision is further delayed, it is to the detriment of all concerned. We cannot allow the machinations of the Landon mayoral elections to get in the way—that point was clearly made by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden has made a good case that his local airport is successfully managed. He mentioned the number of apprenticeships and jobs that were created by the airport and the increase in passenger traffic. It is also vital to recognise that where we have a successful airport such as Stansted, we do see a clustering of high-quality businesses. Again, for the long-term sustainability of the economy, these are extremely valid and good reasons to have airport expansion across

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the UK. However, he made the point that if such expansion was to take place, connectivity to such airports, particularly rail links, would be vital.

I cannot comment on the scandal of the A20, as the right hon. Gentleman called it; I think he was going back 38 years. I might not be chronologically challenged on that one, but I am geographically challenged, because I am not fully aware of where the A20 either starts or goes to. I am sure that is something we can discuss at a later stage.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): The hon. Gentleman need not be too embarrassed. It is a devolved matter, so I do not expect to know all the road numbers in Scotland, either.

Douglas Chapman: I take that on board.

The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden mentioned that the rail infrastructure around his airport is not nearly as good as the rail infrastructure around Heathrow and Gatwick. As a Scottish MP, all I can say is, “Welcome to the club.” We have to deal with that daily.

I will quickly address the comments of the right hon. Member for East Ham. Obviously, there is the issue of the Stratford link and ensuring that people in his constituency can gain employment by making it an easy move for them. There is also the promotion of London City airport. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden will already be aware that, as soon as such a debate comes up, we get people from all over the country saying, “Our airport should be the one that is favoured,” or “Our part of the country should be favoured,” and supporting various airports that are close to their heart.

Stephen Timms: I think I am right in saying that London City airport has more flights to Edinburgh than any other London airport does. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in celebrating its contribution?

Douglas Chapman: Certainly. I am a regular user of London City airport in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I am grateful for the services provided from that airport.

It is also a shame and a great pity that the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is not here to support the proposal for “Boris island.” Perhaps he is too busy playing whiff-whaff—I do not know what he does in his spare time. The “Boris island” proposal is obviously another part of the discussion that maybe has to take place.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) helpfully not only highlighted the capacity issues but focused on economic growth for the eastern England corridor. He made the good point that that should also include Peterborough, which is a fine city. He also recognised that, under many parties that have been in UK government, joined-up strategic plans that support our air industry have been missing for a great number of years.

Like other Members, the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) highlighted Luton and the need for a more strategic approach—there seems to be more speed behind that. He also highlighted the weaknesses

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of the current report, which only considered the Heathrow-Gatwick dogfight. Many more passengers and cargo need to be moved from across the UK in a much more strategic way, rather than just focusing entirely on what he called a London-centric approach.

3.44 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing this debate. He has been passionate about this issue for many years, and in a previous debate said that,

“the word ‘Stansted’ will be found engraved on my heart.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1562.]

His contribution today confirms how strongly he feels about this issue, and particularly about the rail infrastructure linking Stansted to our region. Everyone who has spoken in this debate is united in wanting the best possible outcome for people in our region, a region whose economic prosperity and job growth have perhaps too often been let down by poor transport infrastructure. Alongside those concerns, many of my constituents in Cambridge—I share their concerns—feel just as strongly about the environmental and community factors linked with airport expansion, which must always be weighed carefully against the economic and operational arguments for expansion.

We have had some strong contributions today. I am delighted to say that three quarters of the members of Labour’s east of England parliamentary team are here today—it is amazing what can be done with statistics. I am delighted to hear the kind words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), for which I thank him. He has always been a good friend to Cambridge, which we have always appreciated. He made a series of points about the important role of London City airport.

Obviously, my hon. Friends the Members for Luton South (Mr Shuker) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) also require commendation. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North is always a passionate advocate for Luton—both my hon. Friends always are—but I was particularly struck by his comments on the opportunities offered by new aircraft, which brings something new to the debate.

There were also strong contributions from Government Members, including my regular sparring partner from up the road, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). On this occasion, we probably find ourselves much more in agreement than on some other occasions. His points about regional connectivity were very well made. It was good to hear some kind words about Cambridgeshire’s guided bus, which has been much maligned over the years, but I agree is now doing rather well.

I think we can all agree that the aviation industry is important to Britain’s economy. As we have heard, it generates some £50 billion in GDP, 1 million jobs and £8 billion in tax revenue, servicing and connecting millions of passengers every year. On Labour’s side there is no doubt that if Britain wishes to remain a global player in the aviation market and to enjoy the subsequent economic benefits, there is a strong case for a new runway in the south-east. Heathrow is operating at full capacity while

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Gatwick is operating at 85%. The Airports Commission has found that, without action, the entire London airport network would be operating at the limits of capacity by 2040.

As the Opposition, it is our job to scrutinise decisions on airport expansion made by the Government whom we are opposing. That puts us in a slightly difficult position because, of course, the Government have been unable to set out that decision, breaking their own promises and leaving the country effectively on hold. The Prime Minister guaranteed a decision by the end of last year but is now dragging his heels. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Transport has said only that he hopes to make a decision this year. That strategic dithering is not only farcical and weak; it is completely unacceptable. It potentially means years of additional uncertainty for people living close to airports. That tactical indecision is also economically damaging. Furthermore, considering that the Government have claimed that the delay on airport expansion is for environmental reasons, it seems absurd that they are not backing the industry’s attempts to deliver cleaner fuels. Aviation is not included in the renewable transport fuels obligation, thereby damaging potential investment.

In addition to their promise to unveil a decision by the end of last year, the Conservatives also pledged in their 2010 manifesto not to add a runway to Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, which means there is likely to be yet another promise reneged upon by the Government. It seems that we will just have to wait and see which one it will be.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I do not wish to take away from the hon. Gentleman’s kind words on those matters on which we are in accord, but I am slightly disappointed that he has chosen to bring party political differences into the debate. There is blood on all hands over the years as far as airports policy is concerned. I could somewhat mischievously say to him that, had a Government of his political colour not cancelled the Maplin project in 1974, we would not be in the difficulties we are in now.

Daniel Zeichner: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point. As a historian, I always find it interesting to note which point in history people like to go back to in order to attribute blame but, as the Opposition representative in the Chamber, I fear it is my role to make these important points about the potential damage being done to our country by the Government’s lack of decision. We shall see. Probably after the London mayoral election, all will become clear.

Once the Government set out their expansion recommendation, we will be able to examine its relative merits properly based on four tests that the Labour party has set out, including commitments to meet our legal climate change obligations and mitigate local environmental impacts. Only then can we truly assess the impact that expansion will have on the south-east, the wider Anglian region and the rest of the UK.

We know now that, regardless of the decision made, its effects will not be felt quickly. A new runway will take about a decade to come into being, even without further delay in Government decision making. Thus any short-term changes should positively impact the connectivity of our country, including our region. Indeed,

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the fourth test that Labour set out to inform our response before the publication of the Airports Commission report was that the benefits of any expansion should not be confined to London and the south-east. The Government might be standing still, but the aviation industry will not. We must act to help connect UK businesses and people with new markets and places in the meantime.

The Airports Commission has also called for the improvement of surface access links to other airports, which has formed the basis for much of our discussion in this debate. In its response to Network Rail’s consultation on the Anglia route strategy, the Airports Commission called for a more joined-up approach to meeting the needs of Stansted airport users. Improving rail infrastructure to Stansted is a key request of both Stansted and the London-Stansted-Cambridge Consortium. It is worth noting in passing that the current Stansted Express service uses a relatively new fleet of trains introduced under a Labour Government.

Mr Shuker: My hon. Friend is making the point that surface access is key to all airports, including Luton airport in my constituency. It sets the airport’s reputational standard. People do not judge an airport based only on the airlines, the airport itself or the journey there but on the whole experience. Certainly in Luton, surface access is letting us down at the moment.

Daniel Zeichner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I suspect that that is something on which we can all agree. I assure the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden that we heartily agree with his argument about improving surface access. I am absolutely sure that local commuters would benefit, including those in my constituency. We can agree that the Government should invest in a West Anglia line, making life that little bit easier for many in our region.

To conclude, the Government need to stop dawdling and decide. Until they get their policy off the ground, we will be unconvinced that they are taking environmental concerns and capacity needs seriously. While in this state of flux, the Government could still take decisive steps to improve access to our country’s airports, helping provide short-term solutions to capacity and connectivity problems. Anything less would do a disservice to people and businesses in our region and across the UK.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Before I call the Minister, I remind him that, under the new Standing Orders for this Parliament, as I am sure he is aware, the mover of the motion is allowed two or three minutes to wind up the debate. I remind the mover of the motion that if he wants the question to be put formally, he must allow the Chair at least 30 seconds to do so.

3.53 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing this debate. I enjoyed his recap of the history of Stansted; I do not think I grimaced even once. He talked eloquently about the importance of airports not only for the Anglian region but for maintaining the UK’s air connectivity and for

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jobs and economic regeneration across the country. I therefore welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government.

I hope my right hon. Friend will be encouraged that we all have the same interests at heart. I acknowledge his specific points about the continued and future importance of Stansted airport. Indeed, I have visited some of the facilities with him to see them at first hand. I made a point of travelling there by train, so that I could experience that journey myself. When I visit airports, I try to travel in the same way as members of the public in order to experience the whole journey that they would cope with in some cases or enjoy in others.

As my right hon. Friend mentioned, Stansted is one of the largest employers in his constituency, employing 11,500 people on site across 200-plus companies. It provides significant economic benefits not only locally but to the wider Anglian region by supporting the globally competitive high-tech and biomedical industries, not least in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who speaks for the Opposition.

This is a timely debate, given the Government’s recent announcement on airport expansion in the south-east. The Airports Commission set out a convincing case for new runway capacity in the south-east by 2030, which the Government have accepted. We also accepted the commission’s final shortlist of three schemes. It is vital that we get the decision right so that it will benefit future generations, which is why we will consider further the environmental impacts and continue to develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate impact on local people and the environment.

Mr Jackson: Mr Pritchard, I was remiss earlier in not saying what a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of sustainability, it is also important to concede that even during the 10 years that we have been in the House, aircraft have become cleaner and quieter? There have been big technological changes in the development of aviation fuel, for instance. The aircraft industry and airlines are much more sustainable than they have ever been.

Mr Goodwill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that aircraft have become much quieter. Each generation of new aircraft is quieter than the previous one. Of course, the problem with aviation tends to be the very long life of aircraft. Cars might have a 10, 12 or 15-year turnaround, but many 25-year-old aircraft are still flying. It happens more slowly in the aviation sector, but it is good news that both Boeing and Airbus have thick order books and that companies such as easyJet, which is based in Luton, are buying new aircraft. We heard that, at London City airport, new Embraer aircraft are providing quieter and cleaner journeys.

Of course, the issue of air quality around airports is not just about aircraft. In some cases, it is mainly about other sources of pollution, particularly NOx from traffic. I need not remind Members of the problems that we experienced last year with vehicles that did not come up to the emissions standards that might have been expected from the lab tests. That is one factor that we must consider to see how we can improve air quality in areas,

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particularly London, where air pollution has not decreased as much as we would have expected based on the replacement of old vehicles with new vehicles that perform to Euro 6 standards.

Crucially, the timetable set out by the Airports Commission for delivering additional capacity to the south-east by 2030 will not alter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden will, I am sure, appreciate the importance of airports for businesses and residents in the Anglian region. This debate has shown that it is not just larger airports such as Stansted and Luton that are important to the Anglian region; some of our small airports also play a key role in supporting the economic growth of the regions that they serve. The Government have always made it clear that regional airports make a vital contribution to the growth of regional and local economies as a way to provide convenience and travel choice for air passengers.

Kelvin Hopkins: Has the Minister, or have the Government, been lobbied by a group that seems to make a reasonable case for expanding all the airports as a better way forward than an extra runway at Heathrow? I leave it with him; I have not definitely made up my mind one way or the other, but there seems to be a case.

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Mr Goodwill: Virtually every airport that I have visited around the country shows increased passenger numbers and investment, both by the airports themselves and by the airlines that use them. I support the growth of regional airports. It is all about choice. We have a fantastic opportunity in this country to provide more choice, aside from the arguments that we will revisit later this year about the main decision on airport capacity at either Gatwick or Heathrow.

The smaller regional airports help to encourage investment and exports. They provide valuable local jobs and fuel opportunities for economic rebalancing of their wider region or area. In the 2013 aviation policy framework, we emphasised the importance of regional airports for the availability of direct air services. Indeed, I prefer to call them local international airports rather than regional airports, because if someone lives in a region their local airport is their international airport.

Flights from those airports help to reduce the need for air passengers and air freight to travel long distances to reach larger UK airports. The Civil Aviation Authority’s statistics for 2014 show that the UK’s regional airports handled 92 million passengers, which was about 39% of the UK’s total. That underlines the point that the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) made about the importance of regional airports. Services from UK regional airports operated to more than 100 domestic and international destinations.

It is heartening to see that many of the airports that were impacted by the economic downturn a few years ago are now seeing real growth again, like the rest of our economy, and we want to see that growth continue. We warmly welcome the ambition of the UK’s airports. They are responding to local and regional demands by investing in their infrastructure to enable services to more destinations, better facilities and more choice for their passengers. That is particularly true for airports in the Anglian region.

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At Stansted airport, passengers are seeing the benefits of a £260 million investment programme. That funding is transforming the airport and the passenger experience, with a terminal upgrade, improved security and immigration areas and investment in car parking facilities. It is not just the passengers who are benefiting from that investment. The airport has recently invested half a million pounds in a new education centre for five to 18-year olds to create an inspirational airport-themed learning environment for the local communities. That will encourage the next generation to consider jobs in the aviation industry. Indeed, I was pleased to hear about similar work being done at London City airport.

At Luton airport, a £100 million investment programme is seeing expansion of the existing terminal, investment in the latest security scanning technology and improvements to the airport’s forecourt.

Southend airport did not get much of a mention today, which I was a bit disappointed about. However, I will visit it in two weeks’ time. Substantial redevelopment of the airport has seen a new control tower, a dedicated rail station, improved terminal facilities and a runway extension. The Secretary of State for Transport had the pleasure of opening the new £10 million extended passenger terminal back in April 2014. Private sector investment at Southend airport has also meant the dedicated railway station being opened, providing direct rail links to the airport for passengers travelling on the line between Southend Victoria and London Liverpool Street.

We have heard from almost everyone who has contributed today that good surface access links to our airports are essential, because getting to and from an airport as quickly and easily as possible is vital for passengers. Also in Southend, investment by the Government is seeing improvements to routes in and around the town, including those to the airport. More than £38 million of funding has being provided through the local pinch point fun and local growth fund. In addition, funding secured by the South East local enterprise partnership will see further expansion of the Southend airport site to create a business park, commercial developments and jobs.

The Government’s plans for the first road period, from 2015 to 2020, include investments that will improve access to many of England’s major airports. For Stansted, that will include a technology upgrade on the M11 between junctions 8 and 14—incident detection improvements, automatic signalling, variable messaging signs and CCTV cameras will all benefit those travelling to Stansted airport. Further improvements are scheduled for passengers travelling to Stansted by rail.

Between 2014 and 2019, which is control period 5, Network Rail will deliver the construction of a third track between Tottenham Hale and Angel Road and power supply improvements on the line, along with a new station at Cambridge science park. Those changes will benefit passengers from the rest of the Anglian region and from London who travel by rail to Stansted.

I am well aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden chairs the West Anglia taskforce, which I understand is looking at ways of improving rail connections between London Liverpool Street, north-east London, Cambridge and Stansted airport. We look forward to seeing the taskforce’s findings when they are presented later this year. During the debate today and

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on other occasions—often over breakfast—my right hon. Friend has made his own position on the issue more than clear.

At Luton airport, we have funded improvements connecting the M1 spur to the wider motorway network, improving access to the airport and helping to reduce congestion. The South East LEP has also secured more than £21 million of funding to improve road access for passengers and planned development around Luton airport. By the way, we will also consider the recommendations set out in the Transport Committee’s study of surface access to airports when they are published later this year. I was pleased to be able to give evidence to that Committee.

Stephen Timms: Given the Minister’s remarks, does he recognise the potential benefit of the expansion that is proposed at London City airport? Of course, that expansion is now subject to a planning appeal procedure, but it is a potentially worthwhile and significant addition to airport capacity for London, the south-east and the Anglian region, which could be delivered quite quickly.

Mr Goodwill: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I will be very careful about what I say in the light of the planning inquiry that is scheduled to take place in March. As he mentioned, the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Communities and Local Government will make the final determination on the application, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment. I very much enjoy using that particular airport. Indeed, I timed myself passing through security the last time I used the airport. It took just four minutes, which is just what members of the business community want. They want to arrive very late at the airport but still get on the flight, although I am not sure that the airport management would suggest that as a strategy.

Within the UK, airlines operate in a competitive and commercial environment, and we consider that they are best placed to determine which routes they operate and from which airports. We know that the commercial aviation market brings many benefits to air passengers. However, the Government also recognise that aviation plays an important role in connecting regions, so there may be occasions when aid is necessary to develop air services to airports where local economic conditions prove unattractive to airlines. However, we are conscious of the risk of competition being distorted by Government intervention in the commercial market. That is why we have been careful in balancing the commercial imperative with the need to provide support for new air routes from our smaller airports.

The Chancellor announced in November that 11 new air routes from smaller UK airports would be supported, with about £7 million of start-up aid over the next three financial years. Those routes—two of which are from Norwich airport and one from Southend airport—will begin operating from this spring, and they will provide domestic links between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as international connectivity to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Mr Jackson: The Minister is being generous in giving way. Will he undertake to continue to monitor the fiscal impact of air passenger duty, including on the growth of regional airports and on potential new long-haul routes? APD is an important issue, although it does not lie within his remit.

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Mr Goodwill: Yes, I almost say without thinking that that is a Treasury matter. However, as my hon. Friend outlined in his speech, we have seen massive investment in road and rail, which has been funded in part by air passenger duty and other taxes. I point out that APD raises £3.2 billion per year, and the Chancellor has responded to concerns about it in a number of Budgets, not least by simplifying the banding so that people travelling on the longest-haul flights are not penalised. Most importantly, however, he has recognised the problems that many parents face with the high cost of flights during school holidays by bringing forward exemptions to APD for children. If there is one thing that I cannot criticise the airline and airport industries for, it is making clear their views on APD.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden raised the issue of the A120 from Braintree to Marks Tey. In the July Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would co-fund a study with Essex County Council into dualling the last single-carriageway section between Stansted and the A12. That puts the scheme in a strong place for the next roads investment strategy. If funding is secured for the scheme, it could be one of the first schemes at the start of construction in roads investment strategy period 2, which I think is the equivalent of a control period in the rail industry.

The hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) talked gloriously about Luton airport and its benefits. Luton Borough Council is part of the east-west rail consortium of local authorities, and the rail investment strategy has made funds available for the reinstatement of passenger and freight services between Oxford, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury. The infrastructure is expected to be completed by 2019, although the final stage of the electrification between Bletchley and Bedford will not be completed until 2020-21, to coincide with the electrification of the midland main line.

The hon. Member for Luton North also, not surprisingly, talked about Luton airport. Luton airport will assist the Department and Network Rail in examining the opportunity to secure four fast train services an hour to London. Upon completion of the Thameslink programme, the new franchisee Govia Thameslink Railway expects to operate 16 trains an hour between London and Luton Airport Parkway at peak times.

I have received a copy of the Oxford Economics study on the benefits of Luton airport, and I will consider the points made in it. Having visited the airport, I am aware that the short journey up the hill would be much improved were there a rail link, but given that such a link would benefit mainly the airport, it is not a project for which I would expect the taxpayer to stump up most of the money.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) talked about the importance of connectivity to all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. Indeed, part of the assistance that we are providing to build connectivity is helping airports in Scotland. He also said that we must not be London-centric. I say “Hear, hear” to that, coming from Yorkshire as I do. He wisely did not touch on Prestwick airport, which is now run by the SNP—the Scottish nationalisation party, as it is becoming—and he did not update us on how that is turning out. He shakes his head—I am not surprised.

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The hon. Member for Cambridge was kind in recognising the high level of agreement on aviation issues, and I am pleased that we will be scrutinised in that spirit. He talked about the sustainability of aviation, which is a subject close to my heart. This year will give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a global market-based mechanism at the International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting, so that we can bear down on aircraft CO2 emissions. I hope that that mechanism will be agreed later this year. Of course, airlines such as British Airlines and Virgin do tremendous work on alternative fuels produced from waste and from by-products of the steel industry.

I will give my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden plenty of time to sum up. The Government have established the right foundations for moving forward, gaining consensus and securing the benefits that aviation brings to the whole nation. We are clear about the economic and connectivity benefits that all our airports bring to regions and to business.

4.12 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst: I am grateful to colleagues for their contributions to the debate, which, as I anticipated, has covered a wide range of points. In response to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), I respect the role that City airport can play and I hope that it will not be constricted in future development. I mentioned Stratford because I believe it will become an increasingly important destination for people coming down the West Anglia line and for those going up that same line to take up job opportunities in Essex and Hertfordshire.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) that I share his worries about the cross-country service. Perhaps we need to consider how we can strengthen it. I plead with him not to refer to Boris island, because when Maplin was conceived and started to be implemented our hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was probably still wearing short trousers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), in his brief intervention—he had to return to the Chamber—mentioned the A120, and the Minister’s words on that subject were helpful. It really has taken a long time.

The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) understandably spoke, as he always does, in support of Luton airport. Within its runway constrictions, I think that it has to look for point-to-point services, and there are possibilities there with the development of aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787.

I say to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) that I sought to make a speech not wholly about benefits to my constituency but about a much wider area. One has to take a balanced approach, and in that sense I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). It is about quality of life versus economic prosperity, and we have to get the balance right. It is important to be able to draw employment and benefit from as wide a field as possible, rather than having to concentrate those things in any one particular area and give rise to a lot of popular opposition.

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Minister said, but we have no promises yet, and I hope that the West Anglia taskforce will deliver a message that gives

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the Government confidence that the project must go ahead. That project was my starting point, and I believe it is the key to a major improvement for the whole region. Although the four-track section might have a price tag of £2 billion, it is in fact cheaper than some of the other projects that we need to carry out over time, and it is key if people are to have any kind of decent transportation in their everyday lives, and key to supporting businesses and the airport. I leave that with the Minister, as the kernel of what I have been trying to say.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the effect of airport expansion on the Anglian Region.

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Swine Flu Vaccination: Compensation

4.15 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the compensation for people with narcolepsy and cataplexy linked to swine flu vaccination.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I thank Mr Speaker for allowing this debate on an important issue, and I thank the Minister for being here to respond to the concerns that I will raise on behalf of my constituent, Lucas Carleton.

I begin by saying something about vaccinations in the broad sense. We are fortunate in this country to have a robust and comprehensive vaccination policy. The policy has saved countless lives since its incarnation almost 100 years ago. Through our vaccination programmes, and those of other nations, we have successfully eradicated diseases such as smallpox across the world, and have reduced the number of people affected by polio by something like 98% over the past three decades. To this day, the advice from mainstream medical professionals and the national health service is that everyone should be vaccinated, not only to protect themselves but for the wider benefit of the communities in which we all live.

Historically, we have seen the tragic consequences of terrible epidemics that vaccinations can protect us against. For example, during the ’20s and ’30s, Spanish flu killed more people than the first world war had. Vaccinations, which are often brushed off in our everyday lives as a painful exercise, save thousands of lives a year, reducing human suffering and misery on a huge scale.

There is no serious scientific debate among mainstream scientists about the benefits of vaccination to public health—medical advice is clear that vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health measures—but vaccination is not without controversy. There have been a small number of instances when vaccinations have been responsible for adverse reactions, causing sometimes long-term and sometimes irreversible problems. I stress that that is rare, but tragically it is the reason we are here today.

During 2008 and 2009 there was a global swine flu pandemic, also known as the H1N1 pandemic. The particular strain of flu originated in Mexico, but it quickly spread, leading to the World Health Organisation issuing its first ever “public health emergency of international concern” declaration. Cases were confirmed in 171 countries and more than half a million people are thought to have died as a consequence.

During the outbreak, the British Government decided to purchase enough swine flu vaccine to immunise the entire population with two doses, meaning that 120 million doses were ordered. Almost 99% of the vaccines that were given out were Pandemrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline—GSK.

Vaccines, as with all pharmaceutical products, are subject to extensive clinical trials. However, it is recognised that during a pandemic the trials may not be as rigorous as they would otherwise be, because of the demand to safeguard lives. Completing mass trials can takes months or even years. For that reason, the European Union intervened and licensed Pandemrix for use within the EU, including the UK, without the completion of the

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normal rigorous trials. That was followed by advice from the UK’s Joint Council for Vaccination and Immunisation, which advised that the Government begin immunisation to protect against a swine flu pandemic in this country.

As a consequence of the speeding up of the licensing process by both the EU and national Governments, GSK was not prepared to supply the vaccine to Governments unless it was given indemnity from any liability. The UK Government gave GSK that indemnity. For a number of reasons, other countries were much more cautious about granting an early licence. For example, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States had a policy of not licensing adjuvant vaccines—that is where a substance is added to vaccines to increase the body’s immune response—without robust clinical trials demonstrating that they are safe. Adjuvant vaccines have additional chemicals that speed up the body’s immune reaction to the antigen, and it is considered that that sometimes increases the risk of adverse reactions. That possibility led other countries, such as Switzerland, to license Pandemrix only for adults and not for children.

Pandemic swine flu vaccinations were added to the Vaccine Damage Payment Act 1979 by the Vaccine Damage Payments (Specified Diseases) Order 2009 in September 2009. The vaccine was added to the Act for the duration of the pandemic campaign, which lasted from October 2009 to August 2010. The campaign ended when the Swedish and Finnish Governments expressed concerns about a vast increase in the number of paediatric narcolepsy cases in children under 10. The condition usually shows symptoms in those in the 15 to 30 age bracket. It was not until August 2010 that the Swedish and Finnish Governments discovered a link with Pandemrix. On 1 September 2010, Finland stopped vaccinating with Pandemrix. The UK Government discontinued the pandemic campaign from the same date, but encouraged GPs to continue vaccinating with Pandemrix where no seasonal flu vaccine was available.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Figures indicate that one in 2,000 people have narcolepsy that is not related to vaccination. When it comes to compensation, how would the hon. Gentleman ensure that those who are vaccinated and are due compensation actually get it?

Stephen Twigg: The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is timely, because he raises the issue to which I now turn. Lucas Carleton is a young boy who lives in my constituency in Liverpool. On 17 January 2011, he was vaccinated with Pandemrix. He was seven years old at the time and was in good health. His mother, Pauline, asked her GP to vaccinate Lucas because a family friend had recently been very ill with swine flu and, perfectly understandably, she believed it was a responsible step to get her son vaccinated. A week or two after Lucas received the vaccination, he began to experience excessive daytime sleepiness, which is a common characteristic of narcolepsy. He also started falling when he laughed or got excited, made strange facial expressions and experienced a loss of control of his tongue. That is known as cataplexy and is a common symptom of narcolepsy. After two to three weeks, Pauline sought medical help from a GP and Lucas was taken to hospital on a number of occasions. In August 2011, he was diagnosed with narcolepsy.

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Narcolepsy is an incurable neurological disorder that until 1999 was classified as a psychiatric condition. Its main symptoms involve excessive daytime sleeping, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, temperature control problems and cataplexy. Cataplexy is a side symptom of narcolepsy that causes involuntary muscle relaxation brought on, for example, by laughing or anger. Narcolepsy begins in the hypothalamus, the part of our brain that controls our autonomic nervous system, which involves processes such as breathing and the regulation of the heart. Narcolepsy occurs when the brain cells that produce neurotoxins in the hypothalamus are destroyed, either through a trauma or through the body’s immune system mistaking those cells as foreign bodies.

The Department for Work and Pensions has accepted that the Pandemrix vaccine is capable of causing narcolepsy in children. It has also accepted that, in many cases, Pandemrix did in fact cause narcolepsy in children. However, it disputes that narcolepsy amounts to a severe disability. That is an issue on which the DWP has been defeated in court, but I understand that it is appealing against the decision. Herein lies the issue: the 1979 Act recognises that there can be adverse reactions to vaccines that can cause severe and irreversible damage to patients. Since the Act was passed, around 900 people have been awarded compensation, which is a very small number when compared with the 650,000 children vaccinated every year. Compensation can range from £120,000 into the millions.

The pandemic swine flu vaccine was part of the 1979 Act from September 2009 until it was removed by the Vaccine Damage Payments (Specified Disease) (Revocation and Savings) Order 2010. That is preventing Lucas from claiming compensation, as he had the vaccine administered outside that period, in January 2011. If the pandemic swine flu compensation period was simply extended to April 2011, Lucas and others who had adverse reactions could claim compensation for the vaccine.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. My constituent Ben Foy sadly suffers exactly the same symptoms as Lucas, and the DWP has acknowledged that there is a link between Ben’s swine flu vaccination and the development of narcolepsy and cataplexy. The Department appears to acknowledge that he is disabled as a result, as Ben is in receipt of disability living allowance, but it is saying that his case is not severe enough and there are no grounds for that disability compensation. As can be imagined, the family feel that that is a complete insult. Does the hon. Gentleman have any thoughts on that?

Stephen Twigg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. While the focus of my remarks has been on the compensation period, there is clearly a related issue with the attitude of the DWP on the severity of disability. I concur with the important point that he raised on behalf of his constituent. A number of other families in other constituencies around the country are also affected, and I welcome the colleagues from all parties who are in the Chamber for this debate.

It is worth reiterating the point that the hon. Gentleman just made: the Government have accepted that there is a causal link between the vaccine and narcolepsy. Since 2014, the Department of Health has had responsibility

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for the 1979 Act, which is a welcome change. Bringing the Department of Health into the process should ensure that responsibility for the legislation is controlled by health professionals, rather than benefits officials. That shift of responsibility can be a good thing for constituents like mine who have outstanding compensation claims. I am asking the Department for Health to extend the compensation scheme to make it possible for all citizens who have life-changing conditions as a result of vaccines to claim compensation. That is not only important for the individual families suffering as a consequence of adverse reactions; it is crucial in ensuring public confidence in the vaccination system.

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the quality of life of people who have been affected or damaged by the vaccine is dreadful and quite deplorable? We should be doing something as soon as we can to sort that out.

Stephen Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. He is absolutely right. In preparing for today, I was struck that some of the aspects of this subject are technical in character. It has been a little like going back to school and doing biology again in learning some of the terminology. What lies at the heart of the debate, however, is the lives of children and their families. I raised this issue on behalf of my constituent because I want to ensure that he and his family have the quality of life that any family should have the right to expect.

I was about to say that extending the compensation scheme is important not only as a matter of compassion and decency for the families concerned, but to ensure public confidence in the system of vaccination. There is barely a one in a million chance that people will react badly to a vaccine, so if it was certain that, were that to happen, there would be compensation, that would not only be right for the affected families but increase confidence in vaccination.

In conclusion, I am aware that the Department of Health has for some time been in discussions with the lawyer representing Lucas. I thank the Department for listening to my constituents’ concerns, but, on behalf of Lucas and his family, I urge the Minister to do everything she can to ensure that those discussions are brought to a successful conclusion.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate. I am aware that he has sought to support his young constituent and his family on this difficult matter for a number of years, and we have written to each other about this case previously. I was very pleased that, despite this sad case, the hon. Gentleman emphasised his general support for vaccination programmes. We are lucky to have a world-class national immunisation programme. Such programmes are a vital way of protecting individuals and the community as a whole from serious diseases, so I am grateful for his sentiments in that regard.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the global swine flu pandemic and the arrangements for licensing drugs during a pandemic. Flu pandemics are natural phenomena.

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They occur when a new flu virus emerges and spreads around the world and most people do not have immunity. Each pandemic is different. The nature of the virus, the population groups most likely to be affected and the impact cannot be known in advance. It is impossible to predict the severity of a new virus strain. Large swathes of the population can become infected over a relatively short period if transmission spreads rapidly. The potential impact of pandemic flu makes effective measures to limit the spread and morbidity of virus infection a public health priority. Countermeasures are employed in combination. Vaccination, when possible and appropriate, is one such countermeasure.

Thankfully, the H1N1 strain of swine flu turned out to be relatively mild, but we should not forget that it still caused more than 450 deaths in the UK. Pandemrix, the vaccine that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent received, was developed specifically for use in a flu pandemic when the number of lives lost and people with serious illness could not be known. Once a new pandemic strain emerges, it takes several months to produce batches of a specific vaccine to protect against it. As a pandemic strain of flu generally spreads rapidly, there is of course little time to undertake large-scale clinical trials. To address such constraints, the European Medicines Agency has a mechanism for the fast-track licensing of pandemic vaccines to address the immediate public health threat. The mechanism includes accelerated clinical trials while permitting the use of the vaccine in advance of receipt of all the required clinical trial data.

It would be unfeasible to conduct very large clinical trials in the midst of a pandemic, when time is of the essence, to identify risks that are very rare. Indeed, regardless of the pandemic situation, very rare potential risks can generally be identified only after a medicine or vaccine has been licensed and used in the wider population. All Governments have a responsibility to protect public health. The decision to commence the swine flu vaccination programme, which was made by previous Ministers in 2009, would have been based on the expert advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, an independent expert committee that advises Ministers in the Department.

Pandemrix was used against H1N1 swine flu in the UK from October 2009 to March 2010. It was used again on a limited basis in the following flu season until March 2011. The hon. Gentleman has noted that his constituent received Pandemrix in January 2011, during the seasonal flu vaccination programme for winter 2010-11, rather than the specific response to the swine flu pandemic in 2009-10. As he noted, that is highly relevant. He summarised his constituent’s experience and described the impact that narcolepsy and cataplexy can have on an individual. I very much assure him that I do not underestimate how distressing narcolepsy can be, for both those with the condition and their carers. Indeed, I was talking to a constituent about that very issue only this past weekend. I fully recognise the impact that narcolepsy can have on quality of life. It is important that anyone with narcolepsy, with or without cataplexy, receives the appropriate care and attention so that they can manage their illness.

At the time Pandemrix was used in the UK, no potential association with narcolepsy was known. Following suggestions of a possible association with narcolepsy, its use was stopped in the UK in March 2011, on the

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advice of the EMA. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Vaccine Damage Payment Act 1979, which was designed to help to ease the burdens on those individuals to whom, on very rare occasions, vaccination has caused severe disablement. The degree of disablement is assessed on the same basis as for the industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme. It would not be appropriate to comment on the case raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Despite the title of this debate, I would like to clarify for the House that the vaccine damage payment scheme is not a compensation scheme. The hon. Gentleman referred to compensation ranging from £120,000 to millions of pounds; in fact, the VDPS provides a one-off, tax-free lump-sum payment of £120,000. The scheme does not prejudice the right of the injured person to pursue a claim against the manufacturer of the vaccine. As the hon. Gentleman alluded to, his constituent is pursuing that course of action and, again, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on that case.

Stephen Twigg: I appreciate that the Minister cannot comment on an individual case in this forum and that the discussions are ongoing, but is she able to comment on the affected time period? It is the definition of the time period that is denying my constituent access to the scheme.

Jane Ellison: I am aware of that and will address it shortly, although I suspect the hon. Gentleman might be disappointed by what I have to say.

A VDPS payment is for those who are severely disabled as a result of a vaccination against those diseases listed in the 1979 Act and those that have been specified by statutory instrument since then. As I have already mentioned, the hon. Gentleman noted that his constituent received Pandemrix in January 2011; however, the Act relates to diseases, not vaccines. The list of specified diseases covered by the Act includes pandemic influenza A (H1N1) swine flu, where vaccination was administered from 10 October 2009 to 31 August 2010—the period of the swine flu pandemic. That was a temporary addition considered appropriate by Ministers at the time. The hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s vaccination was administered in January 2011, so was not given for pandemic swine flu, which is covered by the Act.

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Peter Dowd: GlaxoSmithKline was indemnified because there was an issue of risk—that is the whole point. Why are the Government not as quick to effectively indemnify the victims of this vaccine?

Jane Ellison: Perhaps it would be easier if I wrote to the hon. Gentleman after the debate to clarify that point.

As I have said, it appears from the timing that the constituent of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby received the vaccine during the 2010-11 flu season. The 1979 Act did not cover seasonal flu vaccination at that time as it was not part of the routine childhood immunisation programme. Influenza was added to the Act as a specified disease in February 2015, but the order stipulated that the vaccination against influenza must have been administered after 1 September 2013, when flu vaccination became part of the routine childhood immunisation programme. Unfortunately, that will not assist the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I am afraid that it is not possible to accept a claim outside the conditions laid down in the Act. I recognise that that aspect of the scheme has produced an unfortunate result in this case, but we must work within the confines of the law. The Act has been in place for many years on the basis of disease rather than vaccine, and the Government currently have no plans to change how the scheme is run.

Of course, I have sympathy for the case that the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his constituent, and I recognise the frustration and disappointment that his constituent and his family will feel at my response. This is a complex topic, with no quick or easy answers, as successive Governments have found. I stress, though, that the VDPS is only one part of the wide range of support and help available to severely disabled people in the UK. Other examples include the disability living allowance, which provides an important non-contributory, non-means-tested and tax-free cash contribution towards the disability-related extra costs for severely disabled children. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to consider what other entitlements might be available. I know that the hon. Gentleman will continue to offer Lucas and his family every support in that regard.

Question put and agreed to.

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Access to Jobs: Disabled People

4.40 pm

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered access to jobs for disabled people.

It is a pleasure to address the Chamber under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. It is important when assessing the impact of Government policy and judging its success to look closely at the individuals we represent. We must bring to the attention of Ministers—I know this particular Minister quite well by now, and I know that he is assiduous in his duties—individual cases that we consider representative of the failure or success of Government policy.

I want to talk about a constituent of mine, Margaret Foster, whom I have come to know quite well over a number of years. Margaret has suffered from cerebral palsy from birth. She has been directly affected by Government disability policy in recent years, because for 26 years she worked at the Remploy factory in Wrexham. During that period, she was a taxpayer who contributed to her community and all of our communities by paying taxes and working hard in her job. She did not particularly like her job; she is quite frank about that. She is a very bright woman, and she felt that it did not stretch her capabilities. Nevertheless, she held down the job for 26 years and took great pride in it.

I first met Margaret in about 2007-08, when the then Labour Government proposed to close the Remploy factory in Wrexham. I argued against that proposal at the time, and I was pleased ultimately to win the argument to the extent that the factory remained open in 2008. Unfortunately, the coalition Government revisited the issue of Remploy in 2012 and decided to close the factory in Wrexham, as they did a large number of Remploy factories across the country, affecting many disabled people.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing such an important issue to the House. Does his constituent feel as betrayed as my constituents about the Government’s broken promises about the closure of the Remploy factories? The Government guaranteed support into employment, which is not there any more, but more than two thirds of the people in my constituency who worked for Remploy have not been able to get employment since the closure of the factories.

Ian C. Lucas: Part of the reason why I secured this debate is to point out the failure of Government policy and the way in which it affected Margaret, who worked for Remploy for 26 years. Since the Prime Minister and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government decided to close Remploy, making Margaret redundant, she has not been in employment for a single day and has not been offered a job.

Rather than being a taxpayer, Margaret now lives on benefits. She has an income from the disability living allowance, and she receives an enhanced level of mobility allowance—£57.45 per week—and the middle-rate daily care component of £55.10 per week. She has even been refused employment and support allowance. When the initial assessment was made, she received no points.

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Even on appeal, she was given only nine points. She needs 15 points to qualify for the allowance. How can the disability benefits system present a case such as Margaret’s? She wants help to work and has been disabled from birth, but does not qualify for the benefit put in place by the Government supposedly to support her into work. What does the fact that the taxpayer is not supporting Margaret in her attempts to find work say about the Government’s policy?

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is telling a powerful story about his constituent, Margaret. Is he aware that in Gloucestershire we recently launched a programme called Supported Internships? Remploy was a partner, as were the local authority, the local further education college and two employers. Supported internships are an effective way for people with significant disabilities to get back into employment.

Ian C. Lucas: I have no doubt that they can, but I am afraid they are not happening.

The 2014 labour force survey recognised that,

“disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people.”

There is a 30.1% gap between levels of employment for disabled people and non-disabled people. I welcome any efforts to find internships and support individuals into work, which is what we all want. Margaret was in work when the Government decided to close Remploy factories, and we were told at the time that they would support those disabled people into jobs in the mainstream. When Remploy in Wrexham was closed and Margaret was put out of work, we received all sorts of assurances about how disabled employees would be helped into the mainstream jobs market.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I lost a Remploy factory in Croespenmaen in my constituency, and the Welsh Government Minister at the time offered to take on the Remploy factories on the proviso that the Westminster Government devolve the Remploy budget to the Welsh Assembly. Does my hon. Friend think it is an absolute shame that, rather than looking at that proposal properly, the Westminster Government flatly said no to those Remploy workers?

Ian C. Lucas: It is a matter of profound regret that the Welsh Government’s helpful offer to take over responsibility for the Remploy factories in Wales was not taken up. Their constructive effort to address this issue was rejected out of hand. Consequently, the 35 or so people in Wrexham who would have been in work if the Welsh Government had taken on the responsibility for ensuring that the factories remained viable lost their jobs, and Margaret has remained out of work ever since.

Margaret is not alone. I am grateful to the large number of organisations that are interested in the fact that I secured this debate and forwarded me numerous briefings, all of which I have read. Time does not allow me to refer to them in detail, but Mencap said:

“Current back-to-work support for disabled people has proved ineffective. Job outcomes for disabled people on the Work Programme are low at only 8.7 percent”—

nine people out of 100—

“for new ESA claimants, and 4.3 percent for other ESA/Incapacity Benefit customers.”

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4.50 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

5.2 pm

On resuming

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Since all the key players are here, I call Ian Lucas.

Ian C. Lucas: Thank you, Mr Chope. It is always good to be described as a key player.

I was quoting Mencap:

“Work Choice, the Government’s specialist employment support programme, is ineffectively targeted and offers support to a small number of disabled people with just 17 percent of referred customers claiming ESA. This represents only a small proportion of disabled people who are looking for work and it is unlikely that many people with a learning disability are benefiting from it.”

Incredibly, between 2011 and 2015 the number of jobcentres employing a full-time adviser to help disabled people fell by more than 60% from 226 to only 90, with reductions in every recorded year. It is only going to get worse. Under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is being considered in the Lords, employment and support allowance for those in the work-related activity group will be cut by almost £30 a week for new claimants from April 2017.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Given the context that the hon. Gentleman is describing and the shocking statistics that he is giving us, is it not not in the least surprising that 3.7 million disabled people in this country live in poverty? That number increased by 300,000 last year and will only get even worse in the light of the issue that he is raising.

Ian C. Lucas: Absolutely. We want to get people into work. The irony of Margaret’s case is that she was put out of work. The responsibility must rest with the Government. I am not talking about a private sector job, but about a job taken away by a Government led by our current Prime Minister. He must take full responsibility for that, and it makes me angry.

Seventy per cent. of respondents to a recent survey carried out by the Disability Benefits Consortium said that the £30-a-week cut would affect their health and more than half said that it would mean them returning to work later. So constituents are now approaching us. Margaret is only one example, but it is important to refer to individual cases—one of the benefits of being a Member of Parliament, having constituency surgeries and getting to know our constituents, is learning from them how they are directly affected by Government policy. I want the Minister and everyone in the Chamber to be aware of how Margaret has been affected by Government policy, because if the Government really want to address the situation that they have created for someone such as her, they must give proper support to those who are unemployed.

The mentoring scheme that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned sounds like a good one, but we need more of them. We need to find placements for disabled people to give them experience of work and to give them the opportunity to be in a workplace. If someone who has worked somewhere for 26 years has that job taken away by their own Government,

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that Government have a responsibility to persuade employers to ensure that such people have an opportunity to go to a different workplace and to have proper support.

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate.

My constituent worked in Remploy, as Margaret did, under a skilled seamstress. She has learning disabilities and although she has worked since, it has been in wholly unsuitable jobs. The ESA group to which she has returned is the WRAG, and the concern for people such as my constituent is the disincentive to go to work because of cuts for new claimants in the WRAG. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that threat of having less work will not promote work for people such as my constituent and Margaret? When things go wrong and their disabilities perhaps prevent them from being able to carry out their employment—

Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. I understood the hon. Lady to be making an intervention, rather than a speech.

Ian C. Lucas: It is difficult for me to respond to a speech, Mr Chope. I might get an opportunity later, but in view of the number of people present I should move on for now.

We need support, incentives for employers and mentoring of employees. None of that has happened for Margaret in my constituency since 2012. Margaret is only one example and there are many more. Many more people who were made redundant by the Government were told that they would be able to go into mainstream employment, but have not been able to do so. Some are now not even being provided with support through the ESA. As a consequence, they remain unemployed.

I want to hear from the Minister that the Government have a real intent to address the issue. He should be providing the level of support to which I believe citizens such as Margaret are entitled. The Government failed following the closure of Remploy. They have let Margaret and others such as her down. The Government need to up their game, because people’s lives are being destroyed and they are suffering because of ill-advised and improperly implemented Government policies.

5.8 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Given the number of people wanting to speak, I will keep this as brief as I can.

When I saw the name of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) leading on this debate, I rather suspected that we might dwell a bit on Remploy, because he has a long track record of campaigning on the issue. He is, however, right to draw attention to the plight of his constituent. Personally, I take a much wider view of disability employment. On many occasions I have said that I regard Remploy as but one model, and a model that harks back to a different era of how we saw disabled people fitting into the workplace.

I know that people rarely read election manifestos—I make the effort to read my own at least, if not the Opposition’s—but one of the proudest moments of my

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life was to see in the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 election a commitment to halve the disability employment gap. Such a commitment cannot be seen in any other party’s manifesto—only in the Conservative party’s. I for one am proud of that fact. I am equally proud of the fact that, over the past two years, we have got 340,000 more disabled people into employment, although I recognise that there are individuals who have not benefited and that there are always detailed reasons for how things can be done better.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing this important debate, which should be not only about what has happened over the past two years, but about what is in the spending review. As I understand it, the spending review included a real-terms increase in the Access to Work budget for disabled people. Will my hon. Friend reflect on that for a moment?

Paul Maynard: I certainly will. I served with the shadow Minister on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, where we looked at the Access to Work scheme in some detail. I am sure we had different interpretations of what we heard, because we normally do, but that is a really important project that the Government have at their disposal—it is often described as their best-kept secret.

We could do far more on Access to Work, which is one of the few uncapped Government benefits in the sense that no artificial cap has been placed on the overall amount spent. It is really important that we realise that and understand what else it could do. It is not just for critical adaptations any more. The number of people with mental health conditions who benefit from Access to Work has increased by 202% since 2010—it has more than doubled.

That demonstrates a really important point that I want colleagues on both sides of the House to understand. Once upon a time, disability employment was about physical access: the nuts and bolts of equipment, doorway widths, desks and chairs and so on. While that remains important, today, mental health issues are just as important, but they do not get sufficient attention.

I hope Opposition Members will join me in paying tribute to the Minister’s commitment. He is working tirelessly to pursue the goal of halving the disability employment gap. The Disability Confident campaign occupies a great amount of his time and I know that he is personally committed to it. We should welcome that. In the previous Parliament, we saw frequent changes in the identity of the Disability Minister. I sincerely hope that our current Minister stays in his post for the entire Parliament—he may not wish that, but I do, because he is doing a superb job.

To return briefly to Access to Work, while one may think that the entire picture is rosy based on what I have said, it is far from that. Certain groups in the disability community are really struggling to get on to the employment ladder, such as those with learning difficulties and autism in particular. The hon. Member for Wrexham quoted the labour force survey and, I think, the 47.6% figure in it, which I saw in the Mencap briefing, too. There are arguments about the starting point, but, while the overall employment gap is 19%, for groups such as those with autism it is significantly greater than that and much more challenging.

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If I had to give one recommendation to the Government, it would be to ensure that Access to Work is available at the pre-employment stage when people are looking for work. The employer needs confidence that Access to Work will be available. It cannot be something for them to discover after they have made a leap of faith to take a person on. That would be one way in which Access to Work could benefit a new group of people.

I am fortunate enough to chair the all-party parliamentary group for young disabled people and, when a few months ago the muscular dystrophy campaign Trailblazers did a short report on the right to work, it found that much more support was needed at the job-seeking phase of engagement with employment. That cannot all occur after employers have decided to employ someone, because only then can they start solving some of the practical problems.

There is a wider reason to increase disability employment not just for the sake of human dignity and equality, but, I am afraid to say, for fiscal reasons, too. If we can halve the employment gap, the gain to the Treasury, according to Scope, is somewhere in the region of £12 billion. That is a sizeable amount of money that should not be ignored by any Chancellor of any political persuasion.

I also want to make a plea. To go back to my point about Access to Work, one of the avenues I pursued in the Select Committee’s inquiry was the similarity between the ultimate purpose of disabled students’ allowance and Access to Work, which are both about allowing people to participate in their place of work, be that a college, university or workplace. I still struggle to understand why they are managed by two different Departments on different sets of procedures and with different criteria. It would be far better to bring them together, because they both seek to equip people to function in everyday life. I urge the Minister to look at that.

I will move on to my final point, because, while there is much more I could say, I want others to be able to contribute. No one should underestimate the difficulty of halving the gap. That will not be easy. I know that policy makers like to use the cliché “low-hanging fruit.” That is a disrespectful way to talk about individuals, but some will be closer to the workplace than others and it will be easier to get them into it. The difficulty will come when those with much more complex needs that are more costly to address come into play in terms of meeting the goal.

No one should underestimate the courage, ambition and confidence that young people need to try to seek work. A young person in their teens is probably still at the family home and in the school environment that they have always been in. To a certain extent, they are in a safe environment. It is not until one gets out there and tries to find a job that one really discovers the existence of prejudice against the disabled in society. That can be quite a shock to many young people—it certainly came as a shock to me. I was not expecting to encounter it when making job applications, yet I rapidly ran into it and I do not consider myself to have a particularly severe form of cerebral palsy at all.

When we discuss disability employment overall, it is worth remembering that we need to encourage young people. They do not aspire to a lifetime of supported employment and their families do not aspire to that on their behalf, either. They want full equality in the workplace and we must do all we can to make that happen. It is not

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easy. I do not doubt that it is a very ambitious target. We are making progress now, but there is no guarantee that that will continue for ever. I therefore thank the Minister for what he is doing. I have offered a few helpful suggestions and I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say.

5.16 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on bringing this extremely important debate. I will declare an interest: I previously worked with individuals with disabilities and I chair the all-party parliamentary group on disability.

The importance of employment to those who are disabled should not be underestimated. As for all members of society, having a job is not just about earning a living; it also contributes to psychological wellbeing. A job, and the day-to-day experiences that come with it, can provide people with a sense of belonging and purpose. It can help them to build confidence and self-esteem. It can also help to provide social opportunities for people who may otherwise be vulnerable or isolated. In addition, closing the disability employment gap and helping people to reach their full potential has benefits for society and our economy as a whole. The Conservative party committed in its manifesto to halve the disability employment gap, although at present there appears to be no comprehensive strategy on how that is to be fulfilled.

Changing Faces has highlighted ongoing issues with attitudes and stigma, which can affect the employment prospects of people with facial disfigurements. Low confidence and poor expectations can also be internal barriers for disabled people.

Yesterday, my office team met Callum Russell, who is blind from birth and the founder of disabledgapyears.org, which seeks to encourage and enable young people with disabilities to volunteer on a gap year or a shorter-term project. The key point Callum highlighted was the benefits of such opportunities being available to those with disability.

I want to speak only briefly, because I am aware that so many people wish to contribute, but in addition to securing jobs it is also extremely important that the Minister considers enabling people with disability to start their own business and supporting people to maximise their skills and abilities in that realm. I am pleased to have been able to speak in this important debate. This is an area that the APPG will focus on and inquire into in the next 12 months. It is critical to address that, which is about empowerment, enablement and, ultimately—this is one of my favourite words—independence.

5.19 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak on this incredibly important topic. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing the debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) mentioned, the Conservative party committed in its election manifesto to help open

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up opportunities for the disabled, which I was very pleased about. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday repeated the theme that the Government must be the enabler of people and the destroyer of prejudice. It is not just about providing this or that service.

Many great national third sector organisations such as Mencap, Scope, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Action on Hearing Loss do so much to help those with disabilities, and we all welcome and appreciate the work they do. We are fortunate in Portsmouth to have some great work being done to support those with disabilities by the Beneficial Foundation—I declare an interest as patron of that organisation. It is a great organisation that works with people with a variety of needs, and I had the pleasure of showing the Prime Minister the work it does in 2014 when he visited Portsmouth.

I know from discussions I have had with the Beneficial Foundation’s chief executive, Jenny Brent, that finding a job or placement is just the first step in a journey back into secure and rewarding work for anyone with a disability. It is vital that there is support for that disabled worker in terms of adaptations so that they can do their job and have equal access to facilities.

Julian Knight: Will my hon. Friend reflect on the Disability Confident events that are run around the country, which bring together charities, employers and potential employees and help to bring people into the workforce?

Mrs Drummond: We have had examples of that in Portsmouth too. It is extremely important, as with any job fair, that people know exactly what opportunities are out there.

It is equally important that others in the workplace understand the needs of disabled workers and what disabled workers do not need. There is a difference between treating someone with respect and perhaps unintentionally adopting patronising attitudes. Organisations such as the Beneficial Foundation offer in-role support to both the disabled employee and their colleagues, ensuring that everyone makes the most of the opportunity.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to encourage people to look not at a person’s disability but their ability, to ensure they can bring that out?

Mrs Drummond: Yes, and if more organisations did that, many more people with disabilities would be employed. That is a message we must put out.

Local organisations are able to develop strong links with businesses and respond both quickly and flexibly. We know that there is still a big challenge to ensure that the disabled are able to take advantage of opportunities. The Access to Work programme helps a large number of people to overcome their physical disabilities in the workplace, but given our focus on achieving parity of esteem for those with non-physical conditions, I am pleased to see that Access to Work is also helping a growing number of people—the number has doubled since 2007—with dyslexia, learning difficulties or mental health conditions.

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Everyone will welcome the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday on opening up opportunities across society. I am pleased that the state is standing up for its responsibilities as an enabler and not just a provider.

5.23 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing this timely debate. Like him, whenever I think of Remploy, and particularly its Croespenmaen factory in my constituency, I feel anger, because I remember standing in the factory canteen on the day when it was announced that the Remploy factories were going to be closed. Some people were in tears and many were angry, begging me to save their jobs, but there was nothing I could do. That was one of my worst days as a Member of Parliament.

When that factory was under threat in 2007, the Remploy workers and the management did not sit back and protest. They went out and found business in the market. Indeed, one of the last acts of my predecessor, Lord Touhig, in 2010 was overseeing the signing of a contract between the blue chip company BAE Systems and Remploy to provide packaging.

What made me even more angry during that period was not only all the hard work that had gone to waste, but, as I mentioned in my intervention, what happened when the Welsh Assembly asked whether the Westminster Government would consider devolving the budgets so that it could provide a future for Remploy. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister gave a commitment to look at it. Unfortunately, the question was met by the Department with a big fat “no”.

The comment by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the time that Remploy workers were only good to make a cup of coffee rubbed salt into the wounds and was absolutely damning. I try to hold back my anger when I think of comments like that. There was never an apology, and I am ashamed to say that that man is still in post.

I will, however, say this: there is nothing that can be done about Remploy now. It is no good looking back to the past. Those factories are gone. The workers unfortunately do not have a job, as in the case of Margaret, who my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham spoke of. She has no future and is parked, like many of my constituents who worked in Remploy on employment and support allowance.

The worst thing is that, according to the solicitors firm Leigh Day, one in five people who have disabilities and find themselves in work still believe they are under pressure and under duress, and are fearful of announcing that they have some sort of disability. People who have short-term disabilities, such as those who have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or colitis, find themselves in disabling situations where they cannot work and find it difficult to come back to work. They rely on understanding employers, but many of them do not have that. Many of them find themselves out of work because of that.

I always want to give the Minister some suggestions, as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) did; he made a very good speech and

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spoke from the heart, with great knowledge as a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. I think the Minister knows what I am about to say, as I have said it to him on a number of occasions until I am blue in the face: the main tool for getting people back into work—Jobcentre Plus—is not fit for purpose. I am basing that not on anecdotal evidence but on the fact that 80% of people who gain a job through Jobcentre Plus are back out of work in six months. The fact is that statistical evidence shows that the most effective systems are not provided through Jobcentre Plus but based in the community. A job club or a training scheme based in a local library or supermarket is more effective.

Anybody who has ever had to walk into a jobcentre will know that it is akin to walking through Pentonville prison. There is a security guard on the doorstep. The seats are screwed into the floor. If someone is not there on time, the adviser will sanction them. They are not good places to look for jobs. What jobcentres are essentially doing when they sanction people is reaching at the most vulnerable. Those who are stuck in the system are being pushed further into it, and they are not being provided with the help and support they need. I have said over and over again that it does not matter how many schemes we have.

Richard Graham: Has the hon. Gentleman had the experience I have had of a really good Access to Work programme provider—in my case, Pluss, which has had considerable success in helping people with disabilities back into work? Does he agree that one thing we might do is put together some films of agencies and businesses that have had real success, so that we can show them in Parliament and spread the word about some of the great success stories, to encourage other employers to do more?

Chris Evans: I have come across Pluss. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I was once the unsuccessful candidate in the constituency of Cheltenham, right next door to his constituency. The work that Pluss does is absolutely fantastic, and I agree that we need to do more inside and outside Parliament to promote such training organisations.

The point I was coming to, which ties in well with the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, is that since the 1970s we have had 43 schemes in this country, introduced by Governments of all colours, and all of them have failed. Long-term unemployment is still stubbornly high, particularly for young people and those with disabilities. We now have to think outside the box. We can rebrand all our schemes—whether it is the youth training scheme, employment training, the new deal or even the Work programme—but they are not getting the outcomes we want.

I expect the Minister to defend Jobcentre Plus, which is a Government scheme; that is his right, but I want him to give people some hope that we will start thinking outside the box more.

5.29 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Mr Chope, may I ask how much time is left, so that the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and I can divide it between us?

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Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair): There should be ample time for you and the other hon. Gentleman who is seeking to catch my eye. The latest we can start the wind-ups is 5.47 pm, but we do not have to use all the time until then.

Jim Shannon: You have inspired me to speak longer, Mr Chope, but I will not; I will divide the time clearly between us. I thank the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. It is a really good subject matter and one on which we are all keen to participate. In my short speech, I will mention some good things that we do in Northern Ireland—I know this is a devolved matter, but it is good to exchange ideas about what we do in Northern Ireland and what is done here in the mainland.

Despite the great services that exist and the Access to Work scheme, the proportion of people with a learning disability in paid employment has remained stubbornly low—we cannot ignore that fact—and according to Mencap UK, which represents people with learning difficulties, appears immune to economic factors. There are clearly issues to be dealt with. I know the Minister is totally committed to that and that he has done great things. We respect him greatly, but I think we need to look at what we can do better.

The proportion of learning-disabled people known to social services in paid employment fell from 7% in 2012-13 to 6.8% in 2013-14. Some hon. Members have spoken about the good things that have happened in their areas, and when that is the case, that is good—let us recognise those. We need to exchange such ideas and make others aware of them. However, that fall in numbers happened despite the fact that the majority of people with a learning disability can and want to work. There is an eagerness and a keenness to work, and we should encourage it. The figures are stark if we compare them with a national employment rate of 76% and an overall disability employment rate of just below 50%. As hon. Members have said, the Government pledged to halve the disability employment gap. Indeed, that pledge was in Conservative party’s manifesto, and we recognise and welcome it. It is good to see a commitment to it—well done.

Although welcome moves have been made to realise that commitment, the facts show that we need to do a bit more. I know the Minister will respond in a positive fashion, and I look forward to his comments. The Government need to monitor the disability employment gap, identify the factors that are still preventing it from closing and preventing disabled people from having access to work, and take action on those factors. There are things that the Government can do.

Department for Work and Pensions data show—I say this respectfully—that between 2011 and 2015, the number of jobcentres employing a full-time adviser to help disabled people fell by more than 60%, from 226 to 90, with reductions in every recorded year. We cannot ignore that issue. We all know that the Minister is a very pleasant person who is approachable and who does his job well, but that fact needs addressing. Perhaps he can tell us what steps the Government have taken to address the fall in the number of jobcentre advisers, and how we can best help people who are disabled when they come looking for assistance and help. That reduction surely contradicts the Government’s commitment to reduce

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the disability employment gap, and the effects of that cut in services need to be closely monitored to ensure that it is not having an adverse effect on the efforts to reduce disability unemployment.

I will give an example from Northern Ireland, because it is always good to put in the mix what we have done back home. We have an additional scheme to help reduce the disability employment gap. As well as the Access to Work scheme, there is Workable (NI), which is delivered by a range of providers contracted by the Department for Employment and Learning. Those organisations have extensive experience of meeting the vocational needs of people with disabilities, and using them is a great way of advancing social enterprise and supporting that sector.

Workable (NI) is a two-year programme that helps people out of economic gloom, gives them support and hope and prepares them for employment. It tailors support to individuals to meet their specific needs. The provision can include support such as a job coach to assist the disabled worker and their colleagues adapt to the needs of a particular job, developmental costs for the employer, and extra training, including disability awareness training. Those are all vital factors for any and all disabled people who want to work.

As I said, I am a great believer that this great country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is better together. We know that, and many of us would subscribe to it. Let us exchange the good points and good practice that we have in every region of the United Kingdom. Lessons can clearly be learned from the approach in Northern Ireland, and we can develop additional strategies here in the mainland to help make good the Government’s comment to halve the disability employment gap.

5.34 pm

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing this important debate, and I pay tribute to him for the powerful personal testimony he gave about his constituent, who will feel very well represented tonight. I thank all Members who have contributed, including the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who also gave powerful personal testimony—I would not want to pass by his contribution.

I grew up in a household in Wythenshawe where I saw a parent with progressive multiple sclerosis move from being in hard-working employment all her life to being on benefit. That was what really inspired me into public life. My recruiting sergeant was a certain Lord Alf Morris, who was my constituency Member of Parliament at the time. He introduced the absolutely groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which revolutionised the way we looked at disabled people. It was about their rights, rather than what we gave them, and about how they could aspire to a better life. He also became the world’s first Minister for the disabled. I still get calls to my office asking if Alf is the Minister for disabled people in the Government today. I follow in the footsteps of giants, but I am prepared to do my best.

I also want to mention my predecessor, Paul Goggins. I worked with him when I was a local councillor in 2007 and the first threat to the Remploy factory in Wythenshawe

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came up. We lobbied the then Member for Neath, who was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Paul did amazing things. He got on board with JCB and with the Authentic Food Company in my constituency. We brought together a whole host of businesses. He really turned things around—it went from having a £200,000 turnover to having a £600,000 turnover. It did not help in the end, and unfortunately the factory was shut in 2012.

I do not want to make a particularly party political point, even though 20 people lost their jobs. The hardest thing for my predecessor and for me at the time was not just those people losing their jobs—following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, a lot of them have not gone on to find new work—but the fact that during the time we ran the campaign, 500 people got into employment through the work that we did. It was a solid way for disabled people to build skills and confidence and get into the workplace. It was measurable, attainable, smart and specific. It was a really good campaign.

I want to press the Minister by comparing and contrasting what Remploy did with what the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said about Disability Confident. Because of my personal passion, I am a supporter of any scheme that helps disabled people get into employment. I was therefore pleased to be asked by the DWP to get involved with a Disability Confident event in south Manchester. I worked with my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is just as passionate about the subject and who held the post of shadow Minister for disabled people in the last Parliament.

We attracted 80 employers to the event, representing nearly 100,000 people around south Manchester. It included Manchester airport, Wythenshawe hospital and British Gas, which is in my neighbour’s constituency, and we had an extraordinarily good event. It was hosted by Vodafone—I asked it to host—which also sponsored the event, and I want to place on record my thanks to it for doing so. We had Cherylee Houston from “Coronation Street”—the disabled actress—who provided extraordinarily powerful testimony about her life and how she struggled to get into employment and into the acting industry. People from ITV talked about the company as an employer and about the changes and adaptations that it had made to make sure that she could play an important role in that TV series. I pay tribute to her and to ITV for providing role models of disabled people on our TV sets day in, day out.

I want to press the Minister on Disability Confident and how I think it should be improved. The event relied extraordinarily heavily on the contacts of the local MPs. That is an important point. Really it was the MPs, with their business contacts, who brought businesses to the event. That is a good thing, but the administration had to be done in the MPs’ offices, along with all the other things. It placed an inordinate strain on my extraordinarily hard-working staff and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, but we did it. The DWP lacked co-ordination and leadership. It wanted us to lead as MPs, but things were extraordinarily difficult on the ground. I do not want to criticise DWP officials—far from it. They were well intentioned and worked hard, but there was a lack of a

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joined-up approach between various parts of the DWP and the agencies that it brought in to help. That needs to be looked at.

We know from our feedback surveys that the companies found the event extraordinarily informative. Many of them went away and implemented the good practices that we had showcased there. That involved companies, chief executive officers, human resources directors and the disabled people working in those companies—we had a number of disabled people there. However, as a politician and policy maker, I like to see numbers and outcomes. It was the lack of follow-up that was so difficult to understand—I am talking about getting all those companies in and understanding how they implemented the good practice. How many disabled people did we put in touch with them for pre-employment and employment opportunities? I just do not know those figures, and I find that quite frustrating as a Member of Parliament.

There is a strong narrative about getting disabled people into work, and we are trying to show leadership as local Members, but we need some resources from the DWP so that we can accurately measure the outcomes of such events—what we have achieved—and then plan further ahead by looking at the areas and expertise that we need to develop in order to go forward. I would like to run a similar event in the next year or two, but until I get substantive data about what we were able to achieve with the first events, that will be quite difficult.

5.42 pm

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): The reason why I was so keen to speak in the debate is that 22% of my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran aged 16 to 64 are recognised as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 or have work-limiting disabilities. It is therefore very important that I participate in the debate in order to represent my constituents.

We know that a compassionate and decent society dictates that halving the disability employment gap, which the Conservatives pledged to do and which is an extremely laudable aim, requires the correct amount of support to be provided, not the withdrawal of support, which is causing so much concern. The reduction of the ESA WRAG payment from April 2017 will force many sick and disabled people backwards and further away from getting the help that they need to get back to work or, indeed, to enter the workplace for the first time. That is despite the fact that the WRAG was created specifically to support the ill and disabled back into work, rather than simply placing them as jobseeker’s allowance claimants. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself acknowledged in his recent Budget statement that ESA WRAG payment recipients are usually—very often—actively seeking a sustainable place in the workforce, but there is a credible argument in the community and voluntary sector that instead of incentivising work, the Government are actually disincentivising it. Many hon. Members have touched on that today.

Many sick and disabled people find the prospect of the demands of the workplace increasingly challenging, especially in terms of how employers will react to them. According to the Disability Benefits Consortium, one third of disabled people live below the poverty line; I also mentioned that earlier. It is the case that 3.7 million people who are disabled are living in poverty, and that

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figure is increasing. We know that because the figure increased by 300,000 last year. What is needed to enable those living with a disability to enter the job market is to treat disabled benefit claimants with personalised and compassionate care, instead of implementing reforms that ignore the complexities and challenges of these people’s lives. If we want to support disabled people into work, the benefits system designed to achieve that end must reflect that.

We have all heard in our constituencies anecdotal evidence of the shocking treatment of some claimants since the introduction of the work capability assessment, with “fit to work” decisions being made that seem to defy all logic and reason. Thankfully, many of those decisions have been overturned, but the stress and trauma that they cause the claimants in the first place is simply not acceptable. Far too many disabled people continue to face barriers that deny them the chance to find fulfilling work opportunities. What a tragedy that so many of those barriers have been erected and—looking into the future—appear to be continuing to be erected by the Government themselves, marginalising a group that is already excluded in so many ways. I urge the Minister to reflect on those concerns in his response.

5.46 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) for securing the debate. He spoke powerfully about his constituent who has been personally affected by the decision taken in the last Parliament to close the Remploy factories. As many of us predicted at the time, that move has had a devastating impact on the lives of those directly involved, the vast majority of whom have been unable to move into alternative employment. That has been the case for Margaret and others we have heard about today.

Few would disagree with the aspiration of the Sayce review of supporting disabled people into mainstream employment, but that has proved much easier to hypothesise than actually to deliver. Too many disabled people who are seeking work find it difficult to enter the labour market or to access the kind of support that they need to help them to sustain employment.

Let us not forget, however, that about half of disabled people of working age are in work, most of them in mainstream jobs. Obviously, there are some disabled people whom we cannot expect to work, but there are also disabled people currently not in work who could, with the right support and workplace adjustments, overcome the disadvantages that they face in the labour market, and we have heard about many of them today.

We should also remember, though, that access to employment for disabled people takes place in a wider economic context. For instance, I do not think that the closures of the Remploy factories really took account of the economic situation at the time, or the local economies in those areas where the factories were based. In most cases, there have been scant opportunities for those people since the factories closed.

Disabled people are far more likely to be in work in times and places where jobs are plentiful. It is always easier to find a job in an area of low unemployment

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than in an area where many people are chasing every vacancy. The barriers facing disabled people are sometimes related less to their disability than to prospective employers’ preconceptions about what they can and cannot do. We therefore need to acknowledge that although disabled people have certain legal protections in work, getting a job in the first place is often much more difficult, especially for those who disclose invisible or fluctuating conditions, like those alluded to by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), or for those whose health conditions have left them with a patchy work history. We need to be honest with ourselves in this place about the extent of the disadvantage affecting disabled people in the labour market.

It is very difficult in a short debate such as this to do justice to such a broad topic, but as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) reminded us, the Government had a manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap and now need to bring forward a credible strategy on how they intend to do so. At present, disabled people are disproportionately employed in the public and third sectors. Many are in organisations that have active equal opportunity policies in place and monitor the recruitment and retention of disabled staff. Unfortunately, parts of the private sector have not always kept pace with that, but one way for Government to make a difference, proposed by Disability Rights UK, is to ensure that businesses above a certain size monitor and publish data on the numbers of disabled people they employ. Many good employers do that already, but it would be a proportionate and effective way to improve access to work and would possibly help to tackle the direct and indirect discrimination that too many people who are disabled experience in the workplace.

The barriers to work for disabled people mean that the support that we offer through the social security system is all the more vital, but unfortunately the record of the last few years has been pretty abysmal in that regard, as we have heard, particularly in relation to the Work programme. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) pointed out, one third of disabled people in the UK live below the poverty line. That is about 3.7 million people. At a time of improvement in the labour market, the number of disabled people living in poverty actually increased last year. The shift from disability living allowance to personal independence payment has also meant that people with significant disabilities are losing eligibility for support. For many disabled people in low-paid jobs, such support enables them to stay in employment, so the clawback is counterproductive. Meanwhile, the Government’s plan to cut £30 a week from the support given to people in the work-related activity group—people who are not currently fit for work—is just vindictive.

This has been a timely debate, with substantial contributions on both sides. The Government are not doing enough to support disabled people’s access to employment, and I hope that Ministers will take on board the concerns raised today and bring forward the promised disability employment strategy as soon as possible.

I have a final request for the Minister. Will he reintroduce the “access to elected office” fund to enable more disabled people to enter political life? We have heard this afternoon that around one in five people in our society are disabled

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according to the definition in the Equality Act 2010, and it would be better if this place reflected that fact more accurately.

5.50 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on raising such an important issue, and on representing his constituent Margaret Foster so ably. The situation he described is, unfortunately, what is happening to disabled people up and down the country.

Since 2010, 3.7 million disabled people have been affected by £23.8 billion of cuts as a result of, for example, the Welfare Reform Act 2012. It does not stop there. Under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that is passing through the House at the moment, another 500,000 disabled people will be affected by changes to ESA WRAG support—another £640 million of cuts. That does not include the cut to the universal credit work allowance, or the £3.6 billion of cuts made to social care since 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) was absolutely right to mention that disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in poverty. The figure increased by 2%, or 300,000 last year; those measures will definitely impact on disabled people living in poverty.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned the cut to the work allowance in universal credit. Has she seen the research by Liverpool Economics that shows that disabled people in work could lose up to £2,000 a year, making them one of the hardest-hit groups?

Debbie Abrahams: I have seen that analysis. My hon. Friend makes a vital point. I know that that area is not the Minister’s responsibility, but we must try to get the Government to think again. That change will result in the same cuts as those that the Government reversed to tax credits; the process will just be slowed down slightly.

I want to get back to what happened with Remploy. The coalition Government closed 48 Remploy factories, and a total of 2,000 disabled people—including Margaret—were made redundant. Of those former workers, 691 were given the Government’s work-related activity support, 830 received jobseeker’s allowance, and we just do not know what happened to 470.

In addition to what has been said about Work Choice and the effectiveness of the Work programme, we must not forget Access to Work, which some people have mentioned. Of the 4 million disabled people in work, Access to Work is currently supporting only 36,800. If we are really serious about halving the disability employment gap, which is a noble target, that is totally inadequate. I know that the Government stated in the spending review that there will be a real-terms increase in spending on Access to Work, but what is the money? Nobody has said. Will it be a smaller chunk for more people? The Government need to be very clear on that.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has mentioned the specialist advice and support in Jobcentre Plus. There used to be only one adviser for 600 disabled people, but that has gone down further. I commend the Minister for what he is doing about the Disability

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Confident scheme. He is doing his very best on that, but across the country there are only 79 active members—79 employers—33 of which are disabled charities. We will not meet the target of reducing the 30% disability gap—it is 34% in my constituency—with such low take-up. To echo the language that has been used, it is absolutely vindictive to take money from disabled people who do not have the opportunities, support or resources to enable them to take up a job. It is quite perverse.

I am coming to the end of my time, but I would like to know from the Minister what is planned for Access to Work. Will he also undertake to investigate the position of the people who were made redundant when Remploy closed? Clearly, the situation is not good enough. Will he also look at the perverse position that we are in now, where we are making cuts to support for disabled people before we have work for disabled people to get into and support for employers?

5.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People (Justin Tomlinson): As your parliamentary neighbour, Mr Chope, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), who made a passionate speech on this incredibly important subject. I have already have some dealings with the hon. Gentleman in the course of his work on the all-party group on spinal cord injury. It was a real credit to him that he took time out of his busy schedule to come and engage on that.

I will cover the Remploy issue, and I would be happy to meet to discuss what more can be done in the specific case of Margaret and on the broader subject of disability employment. First, I want to answer some of the questions asked by various Members in what I thought was a constructive debate. As a Government, we are very much in listening mode. We are looking at ways in which we can make changes to improve the situation, and there are many ideas that we will look to take from today’s debate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for his kind words, and I would be happy to continue in this role. He demonstrated a huge knowledge of the proactive work that needs to be done. It has been a real pleasure to work with him on a number of different areas of my role, and he is a real credit to his constituency.

It was a pleasure to attend the all-party group on disability, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) chairs so ably. We crossed paths on several occasions that day, when we went to a number of different meetings. She mentioned the work of Changing Faces. I met that organisation, which is doing a huge amount in a very important area. I am a big supporter of its “What Success Looks Like” campaign, which is an important part of the wider work that we need to do.

I echo the comments on self-employment. I had my own business for 10 years, and the careers advice that I always give to sixth-formers was, “If you are good at what you do, do it yourself. If you are not very good at what you do, be paid to be not very good.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) is doing a tremendous amount of work in her constituency. I was excited to hear about the

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work of the Beneficial Foundation, and I would be interested to visit and see that at first hand. I think that there are some lessons that we can learn.

It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), who is easily one of the best speakers in Parliament. His suggestions about Jobcentre Plus were constructive. We are bringing forward a White Paper, which gives us an opportunity to look at how we can improve the situation. What he said about thinking outside the box was crucial. Some brilliant ideas have been put forward, and I encourage him to be very proactive, because there are some lessons that we need to learn.

It is also always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I do not think that I have responded to a single debate to which he has not contributed, and I am glad that he has not had another meeting that has clashed. It is good to exchange ideas, because if there are areas of best practice anywhere, we need to look at them. As I have said, the White Paper gives us a huge opportunity to change the support we offer, and I will discuss that further.

The personal passion of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) shone through. I am grateful for the huge amount of work that was done in the Disability Confident event. I was disappointed to hear some of the negatives but it is important to raise them. We have addressed some of them and I will talk about that a bit more later. I would appreciate an opportunity to discuss them further because it is an important part of the work we are doing.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I apologise for missing some parts of the debate but I was listening closely to the feedback of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on his Disability Confident event as I want to ensure that we have a Disability Confident event in Worcester. I ask the Minister to engage with the issue of the follow-up to the events to ensure that we make the most of the opportunity they represent.

Justin Tomlinson: That is perfect timing because later in my speech I will highlight our drop-in event for parliamentarians. We are also producing a pack, which I will discuss later, and I would be delighted if my hon. Friend engaged with this because I know that he has done a huge amount of work engaging with employers, particularly with apprentices and at jobs fairs. We definitely need to recruit him to the campaign.

A comment was made about the role of the media and role models. I am doing a huge amount of work on that because it makes a big difference. The hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) covered relatively similar points regarding the ESA work-related activity group. Let us not forget that only 1% of people in the ESA work-related activity group were coming off that benefit each month. Rightly, it was highlighted that people want to get into work. Clearly that system was not doing that right. We can discuss in another debate how it will be done.

We will be spending an extra £60 million providing support this year, rising to £100 million by 2020. We should remember that no existing claimants will lose

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out on the cash. The proportion of people in relative poverty who live in a family in which someone is disabled has fallen since 2010. Without opening up a debate on disability living allowance and the personal independence payment, let us not forget that under DLA, 16% of claimants were on the highest level of benefit whereas, under PIP, the figure is 22.5%.

I turn to the issue of Remploy before moving to the broader issues. In March 2012, the Government confirmed that it accepted the Sayce review’s recommendations to focus support on individuals through services such as Access to Work, and away from specific workplaces or facilities such as Remploy in order to significantly increase the number of people who could be supported to access the labour market—it is that point about being in the mainstream. I understand that that is not what Margaret wishes to hear but I will come to more specific points.

The background to the case is that the 54 Remploy factories operated at a loss of £49.5 million, amounting to about £22,500 a year to support each disabled person working in a Remploy factory. That is in contrast to the average Access to Work award to support a disabled person in mainstream employment at £3,100. I understand that it is a lot more complicated than that. That debate took place in 2011 and 2012, and there was clearly a disagreement on what should happen. Following that, all disabled Remploy staff affected by the exit of Remploy factories had access to tailored support from an £8 million people help and support package for up to 18 months to help with the transition.

The final statistics of 21 August 2015 confirmed that just over 1,500 former disabled employees had received support through personal caseworkers, 867 were in work and a total of 1,182 jobs had been found. I accept that the point is what has happened since then. I do not know whether I can find that information but I will look into it.

In broader terms, ultimately we want as many people as possible to have the opportunity go into work. The Prime Minister personally committed the Government to halving the disability employment gap, which was widely welcomed by all. In the past two years, there has been significant progress with 339,000 more people with disabilities going into work. A number of strands will help to make the aim a reality.

First, many Members have mentioned Access to Work. There is roughly a £100 million budget at the moment helping a near record 37,000 people. We have had four years of growth. Following the spending review, by the end of this Parliament we are looking to spend about £123 million and we would expect a further 25,000 people to be supported through that. We now have record numbers of people with learning disabilities, people with a mental health condition, and young people.

We have more specialist teams providing specific advice, including the visual impairments team, and other teams on hearing impairments, self-employment, large employers, and the hidden impairments specialists. Broader unique opportunities are also presented. We are looking at further ways to improve Access to Work, particularly raising awareness among small and medium-sized businesses, which would most benefit and could remove the most barriers. We are also looking into how we can simply provide more advice through that service. A number of speakers said that employers would be

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worried about whether they had the skillset to support somebody with a disability. Access to Work could be an opportunity to provide that.

Today we had our first Disability Confident taskforce. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) has rightly asked what more we can do to push that. We had a number of the great and the good from a huge wealth of backgrounds including recruitment agencies and groups that support people with disabilities to get into work, including the Federation of Small Businesses, Clear Company, the Business Disability Forum, the Shaw Trust and a number of others. There was a collective brilliance around that table. I told them that I am very much in listening mode and I want them to challenge us and to identify ways in which we can take advantage of the Chancellor increasing the funding.

The whole point is to make more businesses aware of the huge wealth of talent out there. That is being underpinned through our Disability Confident campaign, which is there to share best practice, bust myths and signpost businesses and potential employees to the help and support that exists. Underlying all this is ensuring that people understand that it is a positive benefit. We are not asking businesses to do something that is not

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right, but to take advantage, often through making small changes, having greater recognition or understanding that a huge network of support is available. We will push that, with a real emphasis on small and medium-sized businesses.

Mike Kane: The Minister is making a good case for Disability Confident. Does he agree that we need measurable outcomes for those events?

Justin Tomlinson: Absolutely. I am coming to that, and we will be having that further meeting.

More than 300 organisations are signed up but that is not enough, which is why we will be doing a lot more promotion this year. The digital sign is now up and we are keeping more records of that. We will go back and challenge, particularly those larger businesses, to find out what more they can do with their supply chains and what further questions can be asked. That point was raised as well.

6.7 pm

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).