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Volume 460: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2007

I wish to make a statement on the modernisation proposals announced by Remploy earlier today. Remploy was established after the second world war to support injured servicemen and women to progress into mainstream employment. Today, Remploy factories employ about 5,000 disabled people across a range of sectors, from office furniture to electronics. Despite profound shifts in our economy over the past 60 years, there has been relatively little change in the nature of Remploy factories. However, the combination of new technology and the most far-reaching programme of disability rights legislation in Europe is creating new opportunities for disabled people in mainstream employment.

In 2005, a National Audit Office report argued that

“most of the businesses—particularly those in more traditional manufacturing and factory settings—are not currently sustainable in economic terms and are unlikely to become so in the future.”

The NAO also found that Remploy Interwork, which places people primarily in outside employment, appears to offer a more cost-effective service and accounts for three-quarters of all progressions to unsupported employment. The report stated that

“there remains substantial advantage in expanding this area of provision further, both in terms of reduced costs and the number of individuals who can be helped.”

Following the publication of the NAO report, in March 2006 I commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers and Stephen Duckworth to conduct a strategic review of future business options for the company. The report set out a range of scenarios for the business, from no change to complete closure of the factory network. I explicitly ruled out both of those options. In responding to the report last July, I said that I was willing to invest more in Remploy, but on the basis of reform, to help more disabled people and to provide better value for the taxpayer.

The average subsidy for a Remploy factory worker is about £20,000 per year, which is substantially more than the subsidy available under my Department’s Workstep programme, and also far greater than the £5,300 average one-off cost of getting someone into a mainstream job through Remploy’s work placement arm. Last year, Remploy placed 5,200 people into mainstream employment, thereby outstripping for the first time the number employed in its factory network. Last July, I set out a five-year funding envelope for the company, maintaining baseline funding of £111 million per year to give it stability, and asked its board to bring forward a restructuring plan to modernise the business to support substantially larger numbers of disabled people into work. I also made it clear that any such proposals must fully and fairly protect Remploy’s disabled employees from compulsory redundancy.

After extensive consultation with the representatives of the work force, Remploy has today produced its proposals. There are five core components. First, and most importantly, the company aims to quadruple mainstream job entries to 20,000 a year over the next five years, helping more disabled people gain sustainable employment. Secondly, it is planning significantly to decrease management overheads by £49 million over the next five years. Thirdly, it proposes the closure of 32 of the existing 83 factories, with a further 11 factories to transfer employees to neighbouring sites. Fourthly, the company has again confirmed that there will be no compulsory redundancies for disabled employees. And fifthly, a comprehensive support package will help employees through the transition. That latter step will ensure that all disabled employees continue to enjoy their current terms and conditions, including their membership of Remploy’s final salary pension scheme, should they decide to take employment outside of Remploy. The company is now beginning a formal consultation with its trade unions and employees, as well as preparing a disability impact assessment as part of its disability equality duty obligations.

I understand the concerns that the proposals will raise for some of Remploy’s employees. It is important that employees, and the trade unions representing them, are now given the time and space to respond to the consultation. Support and guidance is being made available for all Remploy staff through the factory network today and throughout the consultation period. That will include the option of counselling and advice from an independent organisation. I recognise that many hon. Members in the House today will have Remploy factories in their constituencies. I want Members to be fully involved in the consultation process and I will make sure that that happens. I understand that the Remploy chairman has already briefed Members earlier today.

I expect to receive the company’s final proposals later this year. No decision on the future of the company will take place until then. Once final proposals have been submitted, I will consider whether we are able to offer the company additional funding to facilitate modernisation beyond the £555 million already pledged.

Reform of Remploy is about extending opportunity to disabled people. It is about the fundamental principle that disabled people should have the opportunity to work in mainstream employment, but that a sheltered environment should also be provided where that is the best option. As six of the biggest organisations representing disabled people made clear last week in a letter to The Guardian:

“The minute you assume someone cannot work in the outside world you will certainly ensure they don’t. Disabled people want to work in ordinary places doing ordinary jobs. It is a matter of human rights.”

Increasing employment opportunities for disabled people and ensuring Remploy’s duty of care to its staff are the two fundamental tests against which Ministers will ultimately assess Remploy’s proposals.

I thank the Secretary of State for an important statement on the closure of 43 factories employing some of the most vulnerable workers in the country. As he reminded us, Remploy was set up at the end of the second world war, primarily to provide meaningful and productive work for people who suffered tragic disabilities as a result of the war. It provided great service during the post-war period and continues to do so today.

Remploy also has a proud history of adjusting to and moving with the times. Initially set up as a factory network, Remploy has been able to adjust to the decline in UK manufacturing and expand into the service sector, setting up businesses where there was demand at the time. As the nature of the disabilities people face has changed, and the expectations of disabled people and the society around them have also changed—with more focus on creating opportunities for disabled people and a wider acceptance of disability and the contribution that disabled people can make across society—Remploy has once again moved with the times, expanding its operations to help individuals find work in businesses outside its own factories and workshops. As the Secretary of State said, it is now placing as many people each year in work outside the organisation as it employs itself.

In the face of the rising costs of maintaining the Remploy network and the increasing challenges of the global economy, coupled with the changing needs of disabled people, the time is now right for another evolution of Remploy. My party supports the principle of reform that the proposals that the Secretary of State spoke about embrace, and we support the goal of greater levels of inclusion of disabled people in mainstream employment. We shall take a close interest in the consultation process that now follows but, as the Secretary of State would expect, we have a number of specific concerns. They relate not to the objective but to the transitional process and to the impact on individuals, many of whom will have worked for Remploy all their adult lives.

The Secretary of State’s statement did not say so explicitly, but the one made earlier by Remploy makes it clear that the proposal will entail 2,270 disabled employees being transferred out of the company’s employment. How many of them are over 50, and thus within 15 years of normal retirement age? How many are people whose primary disability is a mental health problem or a learning disability, and what special provision is envisaged for the more challenging retraining requirements that that group is likely to have? What will be the total retraining and job placement budget for dealing with those 2,270 people? Does he have any plans to make special provision for proposed closures in areas with significantly above average unemployment, such as Leicester, where it might be expected that the challenge of retraining Remploy employees and placing them in mainstream employment will be greater?

We recognise the need for Remploy to shift its focus as the world about it changes. Work in a sheltered factory is no longer a financially viable option, nor is it the most socially desirable outcome for many disabled people entering the work force. However, moving on, retraining and facing a new and unfamiliar environment is a challenging prospect for anyone, and it will be especially so for some of the employees of Remploy. We fervently hope that the process will be successful, but what is the Secretary of State’s plan B if it proves impossible to place some existing Remploy employees in mainstream employment? Does he have one? Has Remploy had discussions with the voluntary and social enterprise sectors to examine the possibility of alternative work placements for the—hopefully—very small number who cannot be placed successfully in mainstream employment?

Work works, as the Secretary of State frequently reminds us, and over the years the 2,270 Remploy workers have benefited from the dignity of being engaged in productive employment. The worst possible outcome of the changes that we are discussing today would be for some of them to be left high and dry without work. I accept that they will still have their salaries and other support mechanisms, but it would be very unsatisfactory if they were left without work and the self-respect that it brings.

Finally, is today’s announcement the full agenda, or is it the first step in a longer-term programme? How secure are the jobs in the remaining 40 Remploy factories? Does the Secretary of State envisage that they will continue indefinitely as they are now, or is the outplacement of those employees also the ultimate objective?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in principle for what Remploy is trying to do. That will be very welcome to the company.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of specific questions. I shall try to answer most of them now, and I will correspond with him about the rest. I think that he asked me about the number of employees over 60—

In that case, I must have misheard the hon. Gentleman. However, I have the figures for the number of Remploy employees over 60, and can tell him that there are 650 in that category. I will get the figure for the numbers aged over 50.

It is true that many of those who will be caught up in the changes will be learning disabled. I think that the majority of disabled people now supported by Remploy are in that category. I have no doubt that the company’s experience in the field and willingness and ability to work with others mean that it will do all it can to help those people to find alternative work.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about factories in areas of high unemployment such as Leicester. The Remploy board has made it clear today that its final proposals—and I remind the House that there are no final proposals before Ministers yet—will have to take local labour market conditions fully into account. That was one of the factors the company took into account when drawing up the proposed sites that may be affected by the closure programme, but it will certainly reflect on the matter.

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of work. It is important that Members appreciate that no disabled person will lose the prospect of employment through these plans. As he said, about 2,300 disabled people will be affected by the proposals and the company has guaranteed that every person who wants to continue employment will be found alternative work, whether within the Remploy family, in sheltered employment environments or in mainstream employment. Again, I make it clear that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

The hon. Gentleman, like me, referred to the support package on offer from the company. The support package is unprecedented; it is not TUPE—and, indeed, goes significantly beyond TUPE, especially in relation to continued membership of the final salary pension scheme, which will be important if the changes are to be made in an appropriate and sensitive way, as they must be.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the remaining factories in the Remploy network. As yet, there are no final proposals before Ministers, but the view of the company and the board is that the plans, subject to the outcome of the consultation, offer the company the best prospect of securing sustainable, long-term employment for the Remploy factory network. It is true, as I am afraid I have to say clearly today, that there can be no 100 per cent. guarantee for the indefinite future—that is no longer the world in which we live—but I strongly believe that, subject to the outcome of consultation on the final proposals, the generally accepted view is that the right way forward will consist of those types of change. That is the best way to offer the prospect of secure long-term employment for the remaining employees of Remploy.

My constituents in the Remploy factory at Spennymoor will be disappointed by the Secretary of State’s announcement. He put great emphasis on the National Audit Office report, but is he aware of the comments of the Public Accounts Committee, which usually toughens up NAO reports? The PAC noted:

“A highly supportive environment is the only appropriate option for some people and Remploy has provided unique opportunities for thousands over many years. The current review of Remploy should safeguard this achievement.”

The closure of factories in Hartlepool, Stockton and Spennymoor will remove those possibilities in a significant area of the north-east.

I fully understand that my hon. Friend’s constituents will be disappointed by the announcement today. What we and the company are trying to do is to strike the right balance between making sure that the business has a sustainable, long-term future and providing a range of choices to disabled people so that they can find secure, meaningful employment. I believe strongly that part of the range of options that should be available to disabled people will include sheltered employment. We are not removing that option. Remploy has an established network of sheltered employment environments, which will continue to operate, and the company will continue to work with a range of local partners, including local authorities, to find alternative sheltered employment where that is appropriate. I repeat that Remploy staff who choose to move to those new working environments will continue to draw down their existing Remploy terms and conditions package, including membership of the final salary pension scheme. We are trying hard to be fair in the circumstances. We are not saying that there is no role for sheltered employment; we are saying that we have to find a different balance between mainstream and sheltered employment.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance notice of it.

In principle, promoting mainstream employment must be the right approach to deliver independent living, and Remploy is to be congratulated on the success of its programmes to get people into mainstream employment. Expanding such schemes is both necessary and appropriate and I particularly welcome the consultation that will take place.

Nevertheless, today’s statement will have a deeply unsettling effect on the Remploy work force, some of whom I met in Halifax yesterday. Can the Minister confirm that half of all Remploy factories will be affected in some way by the initial proposals announced today? Can he explain why there was such a long period of uncertainty before the announcement was made, which added to the stress on many of the employees waiting for the announcement?

The Government owe a duty of care to the individuals involved, and their interests must be at the forefront of our minds today. Over what period does the Secretary of State expect the closure programme to be phased in? How long will the affected individuals have to find alternative employment? Perhaps he could also say a little more about the assistance that will be offered to those people. Is he satisfied that the programme announced today and the plans for the workers from now on are consistent with Remploy’s disability equality duty?

Today’s announcement cannot be isolated from the Government’s wider policies for helping disabled people into work. If Remploy is to redirect its resources, the Government need to do the same. Is the Secretary of State willing to provide additional support for Remploy, if necessary, to meet its target of getting 20,000 additional disabled people into work every year through its mainstream employment programmes? In the same vein, has the Minister been able to find the additional resources needed to roll out the pathways to work programme appropriately, and has he been able to persuade the Treasury to accept the new funding mechanism, proposed by David Freud, which would allow additional resources to be invested in the area?

What steps are the Government taking to increase employer engagement in order to help disabled people into work, and what steps are they taking to tackle prejudice and promote the benefits of employing disabled people and those with mental health conditions? The Government have a responsibility to expand dramatically the efforts to help all disabled people into work. They need to do so to ensure that all disabled people, including Remploy employees, have the fair opportunities to work that they deserve and that they have every right to expect.

Again, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s general support. It is true that half the factory network will be affected by the proposals. He asked why it took so long for the proposals to come through, following the publication of the reports last summer. The company has been working on the schemes, and of course a new chairman was appointed at the beginning of the year. It was quite right and proper for Ian Russell to take time to cast his eyes over the plans to make sure that they are appropriate and take the company in the right direction.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the time scale for the programme. I remind him, and the House, that there are no final proposals yet. We will not know the time scale until we see the final proposals from the company and Ministers have made a decision. Clearly, the consultation period will last for the appropriate time—90 days. The company will then need to reflect on that and bring forward its final proposals, which will be done before the end of the year.

I accept that Remploy is bound by the disability equality duty. That is clearly a statutory obligation on the company and it will discharge that—it has no alternative. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Remploy has a clear and specific duty of care towards its employees and that it must discharge that duty. I will make sure—as I am sure will hon. Members—that that duty of care is properly discharged.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be additional support on top of the £555 million that we have committed to Remploy. I have made it clear that I am prepared to consider putting additional resources in on top of the more than £500 million currently available to Remploy, if that is necessary to support the transition programme.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Freud report. A response to that will be made later this year. Finally, in response to his point about pathways, my view is that pathways is being properly funded and that the Government are making significant additional resources available to help people who have a disability to find employment. That is right and proper.

Many of us will want to suspend judgment until we have had an opportunity to look at the proposals in more detail. I would just say to my right hon. Friend that when I spoke to workers at the plant this afternoon they said that they were devastated and gutted by the news that the factory in Aberdare was to close. Only last week—this underlines the sensitivity with which these matters are handled—they were given a report that said that all their targets had been met. As a result, they had expectations that their factory was going to remain open. It is a great disappointment to them that it is not. They also raised the question of outsourcing. If Remploy claims that some factories are unprofitable, why does it outsource some of its work to India and China? I know that my right hon. Friend has dealt with this matter by fully consulting Members of Parliament. Nevertheless, when such a decision is made, it is a considerable body blow to the areas concerned.

I fully accept the points that my right hon. Friend powerfully makes. If a factory is in danger of closing, clearly we can all understand the concern that employees will feel, especially in an organisation such as Remploy. However, we simply cannot ignore the fact that the world is changing. We expect Remploy to discharge a very simple and clear responsibility as the transition is managed. As I have said, it is my duty first and foremost to ensure that Remploy handles this in the appropriate way—and I have no doubt at all that it will do so. We must think ahead and consider how we can help more disabled people to get into mainstream employment than at present. The prospect of quadrupling the number of disabled people who get jobs in mainstream employment is a prize well worth reaching for. I repeat that we, and the company, will behave properly and fairly when dealing with the challenge. If the work force at Aberdare feel that they have been misled by the company in any way, I very much regret that.

Can I be assured that the board will consider wider strategic solutions to help it to achieve all its aims? For example, in Poole, Dorset, there is a real opportunity to manage the transition of the factory while setting up a centre of excellence for the training of people with disabilities, which would obviously serve the whole of Dorset, bearing in mind the distance from the Poole site to any other Remploy factory in this country.

Yes, I think that the consultation will be full and open. Members can put forward views and I am sure that the work force at Poole will put forward views about the future of their place of work. The company made it clear today that every serious proposal will be studied and examined carefully.

I understand the cause of the concerns that have been expressed, but I welcome the principles behind my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he agree that Remploy’s objectives must be to offer the widest choice of employment opportunities for disabled people, to ensure that it can secure the maximum number of jobs for disabled people, and that the largest possible number of disabled people should be employed in mainstream employment, when that is what they wish? Will he assure me that during the consultation process, everything will be done to ensure that the views of disabled people and their organisations are clearly sought and acted on?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. I can certainly give him the assurance that he seeks.

A number of my constituents were deeply anxious about the threats to the factory in Dundee, which I understand has been saved. That is welcome. The factory lies in the Dundee, West constituency, so I will leave the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern) to say more about it.

In general terms, I welcome what the Secretary of State said in his statement, especially regarding the fact that there will be no compulsory redundancies for employees with disabilities, and that they will keep their final salary pension scheme. What guarantees can he offer to the non-disabled employees, especially with regard to their final salary pension scheme? Will he guarantee that if the factories that might close are sold, any receipts will go back into the business, or will be used to help people with disabilities into mainstream or sheltered work, rather than being grabbed by his Department or the Treasury?

We have no plans to grab any money in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. This exercise is not designed to reduce spending; quite the opposite. As I said earlier, I am prepared to invest more in the business to give disabled people the prospects and choices to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) referred.

I welcome the general support of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) for the package that has been made available to disabled employees. Of course the accrued entitlements of Remploy’s able-bodied employees under the final salary pension scheme will be fully observed by the company. However, the same offer could not be made to able-bodied employees as has been made by the company to its disabled employees. The company has made the choice—the right one, I think—that the proper and effective way to discharge its responsibilities and duty of care is the one that it has outlined today. That is the right way forward.

I too welcome in principle the move, which has to be right, of those with disabilities into mainstream employment—but the Central Cutting unit at Birkenhead, which is to be merged, where I have constituents working, is devastated by the news today. Can my right hon. Friend confirm on the record once more what we were told in a briefing earlier by the chairman of the company: that all the existing work force will be guaranteed their terms and conditions, and access to the pension fund, and that level of support in any employment that they undertake in the future, for the whole of their employment life? “For life” was what the chair said to us when we met him earlier today. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that is indeed the case?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to emphasise two things. She referred to the Remploy factory in her constituency merging. That is the proposal; a final set of decisions has not yet been made by the company’s board, and that will not happen until later this year. There is therefore the opportunity for her constituents and herself to be involved in helping to shape the final proposals that the board bring forward to Ministers. I am very happy to make it absolutely clear again that what the chairman of Remploy, Ian Russell, said today is the company’s position—that there is an absolute guarantee along the lines that he indicated to my hon. Friend earlier in the day, and that that undertaking will be honoured.

The Secretary of State has used the words “sensitive” and “sensitivity” several times, and the company has been careful to try to get that message across. Will he continue that theme, bearing in mind that there are quite a number of these closures in the old pit areas, where unemployment is still a problem? There is one in my constituency, there is also one five miles away in Mansfield, and there was a closure a few years ago nearby. So will the Secretary of State look sensitively at that, as the operation has not been completed? And will he not keep referring to that £20,000 cost for each Remploy employee, because there are a lot of people in Britain that cost £20,000 to employ? In fact, there are some down in the sheltered accommodation at Buckingham palace who would all be put out to grass.

In relation to my hon. Friend’s most important point, I reassure him that the company has already looked at those issues very carefully, and it will have to take them into account in making its final proposals. There is one overwhelming obligation now; that is clear from what the chairman of Remploy said today. The company must honour the guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. If that cannot be done for the list of factories currently scheduled for closure, the company will have to come forward with alternative proposals. I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind if I do not get drawn on the last point that he made.

I think that we will all agree that what my right hon. Friend proposes is sensible in theory, but we will all take a close interest in how it works in practice. I was glad to hear him say repeatedly that he would take account of local economic conditions—although when we hear that factories in, for example, Aberdare are to close, we do wonder how far they have been taken into account.

Is not the danger that when we help people into mainstream employment, they will remain in it for as long as the subsidy to the employer continues, and as soon as that subsidy ceases they will not be in it any more? Does my right hon. Friend have any long-term research on how long people who have already been helped into jobs have remained in them?

I shall certainly make available all the research information that the Department currently has. The guarantee from the company is to support employment for the rest of a person’s working life. It is inevitable, I suspect, that there will be occasions when a period of mainstream employment may come to an end, but the company’s job and obligation there is to help the person find alternative work, and throughout that time that person will be employed by Remploy, on Remploy terms and conditions. I genuinely think that that is a very extensive offer of help and support.

I agree with my hon. Friend in one very important respect: I think we should all reserve our judgment until the final proposals have come through. I am willing and available, as is the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who is the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, to meet any hon. Member to discuss their concerns and how we can best take forward this sensitive matter, which is important to all of us.

I was at the Halifax factory yesterday morning, and I am disappointed and angry at the news today, especially for the dedicated and hard-working staff there. Will the Secretary of State outline to the House why the Halifax factory has merited the proposed closure? What will be done to find suitable alternative employment for the staff, particularly considering the area we are in, and the proposed closure of the two Remploy factories nearest to Halifax—those in Barnsley and Bradford?

Again, I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I want to make something clear to her. She has, I think, assumed—wrongly—that the Halifax factory is going to close, but whether that is so will be clear only when the final proposals have come through. If she and her constituents believe that there are strong arguments against the closure of the Halifax factory, I know that the board of Remploy will fully consider them.

May I stress to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the consultation must be genuine? I cannot imagine how the workers at my local factory must be feeling, having heard the recommendation that their workplace should close. My concern is that the recommendations are being made before Remploy has had the opportunity to prove that it can find places in mainstream workplaces for current Remploy employees. I think that that will be an extremely difficult task.

May I suggest that there is a way forward that has not been put forward by Remploy or been considered in enough detail? It is that Remploy factories could provide a training base—a stepping stone—for people with disabilities who are trying to go back into mainstream work. Although it is important that people have dignity in the workplace and should be supported in mainstream employment, there is undoubtedly an element of the Remploy work force that cannot be employed in any other setting. Getting rid of these unique workplaces, where people can have dignity and be safely employed, will be a retrograde step. We will not be able to recreate them. We need to consider innovative ways to use Remploy factories in a new form, to meet all the needs of the work force for whom we are trying to provide a service.

My hon. Friend’s last point has not been discounted by the company. I think it remains very much one of the options. I am sure that he and others will put that case to the Remploy board in the next three months or so, and I am prepared to act as interlocutor on his behalf if he feels that that would be helpful.

On my hon. Friend’s first question—about whether we should be confident of our ability to find alternative employment—it is worth reminding ourselves that Remploy currently has 1,500 vacancies on its books to help disabled people to get employment in mainstream employment situations. We are therefore entitled to be reasonably confident that we will be able to provide alternative employment. However, I accept absolutely—it is baked into the Remploy proposals—the need for sheltered employment in future. No one is proposing that disabled people should have no choice. The express purpose of the reforms is to give disabled people more choice.

My right hon. Friend will know that the trade unions have been calling for diversification and change in Remploy, because they could see what was coming. It seems to me that they have shown a lot more perspicacity than, historically, the management of Remploy have shown. If this is solely in the hands of Remploy, I have no great confidence that a plan will be brought forward in the consultation that will lead to security of employment in future. I think that a fund for change and modernisation is available. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to use that fund during the consultation period to explore the possibilities of establishing new employers with new products and new marketing schemes that could provide better long-term stable employment for those people, still secured under the terms and conditions that are broadly available at Remploy?

I did indicate in my statement that we were prepared to put additional resources into the business if that would help to sustain the factory network, or in fact the company, in future. As for my hon. Friend’s point about the board, there is a new chairman who has handled himself exceptionally well in the last few months, and who has begun to build good relationships with the work force and the trade unions. Notwithstanding the disappointment that many will feel, now that there is a plan, it is important that we take advantage of it to help to shape and mould the company, so that it can help to meet the priorities that he and I share. Those priorities are the need to provide choice, opportunities, and the dignity of proper, effective, meaningful employment for more disabled people. We will not be able to do that without reform. I do not believe that we can do all the things that he and I want to do if we simply carry on as we are. That would let down many disabled people in the long term, and it would not give disabled people and their families some of the things that he and I want for them.

May I first express my serious concern about the proposed closure of the Ashington factory in my constituency, which is at the heart of one of the areas of greatest unemployment in Northumberland? Indeed, the Remploy factory is the only factory in Northumberland. The work force were informed of the closure; they were told that the factory would close by the end of the year, and that is contrary to the spirit in which my right hon. Friend made his statement. Will he comment on that, and on the statement made today by Ian Russell, the chairman of Remploy, who said that no factory would close until suitable alternative employment was found for all those affected?

I cannot explain how it came about that my hon. Friend’s constituents were told what they were told. Clearly, it is flatly contradicted by what the chairman of Remploy said. I simply urge my hon. Friend’s constituents to listen to the chairman of the board, and not to what they have been told by others.

Seventy-seven people are employed at the Remploy factory in Stockport, which is based in Heaton Chapel in my constituency, and 74 of them are disabled. They will be offered opportunities for employment at the Oldham Remploy factory, but will my right hon. Friend explain how they will be offered support in accessing those job opportunities, as that is obviously crucial to them?

That will ultimately be a matter for the company to decide, assuming that the proposals are implemented as they are currently formulated. If that were to happen, clearly it would be incumbent on the company to find a way of making sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents were able to work at Oldham. If that means providing help with transport and other costs involved in the move, the company will do that.

Like the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), I am delighted to hear that the Dundee Remploy factory will remain open. However, I have some concerns about Dundee, and other places. Will the Secretary of State confirm that factories for which closure is not proposed will remain unaffected by the plan? He says that the terms of transfer will go beyond the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981; will he confirm that, at the very least, TUPE will apply, so that if, five years down the line, the Remploy factories that remain open offer a beneficial 50 per cent. wage increase, it will apply to all former Remploy employees, regardless of how long ago they left and where they are employed at the time?

Yes, I can confirm that the offer from the company is to maintain people’s existing Remploy terms and conditions, and it is under those terms and conditions, whatever they are, that people will be employed in future. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks; I am glad that a way forward has been found, and that the company does not propose to close Remploy in his constituency. Clearly, some of the factories that are to stay open will be affected by the closures, because employees will be transferred to them, but I can only repeat what I said earlier: we are talking about the company’s initial set of proposals, and we have to find a way to secure the long-term future of Remploy as a business. By that I mean its future as a provider of sheltered employment and as a provider of mainstream employment opportunities for disabled people. That is very much what the board wants, and what my hon. Friends and I want.