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Remploy Factory Closures

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2007

I welcome the chance to have this debate on a very important matter under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton. It is the first time that I have had such an opportunity and I am sure that it is the start of a long relationship.

This is our first good opportunity to catch up and have a discussion with the Minister since Remploy’s announcement and the Secretary of State’s statement on 22 May. I missed the statement because I was in Washington with the Treasury Committee, but a fair number of hon. Members participated in the proceedings. The seriousness of the statement and the announcement was demonstrated to everyone. A description of the announcement as devastating to the people involved would be universally accepted as accurate. On the day, the closures were shamefully applauded by a handful of mainly Government-financed organisations, but for the people affected by the decisions, the announcement was traumatic, although it represented the end of a long period of uncertainty and trauma for many of the people in the factories.

The announcement means that 43 factories will close. Some 32 of the closures are straightforward, whereas 11 involve mergers. Having read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, I have the suspicion that more closures are to come, because the figures demonstrated that a number of factories—the number was in double figures—would close before 2009. Unless the Minister is able to indicate otherwise, it sadly appears that the ground is being prepared for closing a further group of factories, give that the accountants’ figures demonstrate the case for that.

Some 2,500 people are affected by this situation and by redundancies, voluntary redundancies, early retirement, and forced—perhaps I should say agreed—employment moves, whereby people are moved out of the factories and into mainstream employment. I do not argue that that is being done with good financial support and pension arrangements in place, but it remains the case that the situation faced by a number of the people involved is not one that they would have chosen.

All this is happening to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Those with learning difficulties and mental health problems are among the most prominent of the casualties. People in the factories are often working for the first time in their lives. They are finding self-respect, self-confidence, friendship, dignity and focus in their lives, but they face uncertainty. I genuinely fear that people with the most complex cases will return to their former living in four walls, where they have no friends, no communication, nowhere to go, no one to speak to, no one to care, and no one to share experiences with.

I understand that those who move into mainstream employment are promised support. My next point is not a dig at the Minister, or the Department for Work and Pensions, but an empirical observation based on the support that was promised to youngsters in special schools. Such people are probably a younger version of the people whom I was just discussing. The minute the youngster moved out of a special school or a school was closed, the support generally disappeared. The speed with which that happened to youngsters in the mainstream was frightening and totally unacceptable. I believe that Ronald Reagan said that the worst words he ever heard were a Government official saying, “I have come to help you.” Therefore, when any Government promise support, one should always bank the cheque as quickly as possible, because it is often not long lasting.

Given all that, we are working on the basis that the unions and staff are taking steps to ratify industrial action. I hope that such action will not be necessary because I take it as read, with a qualification that I shall discuss later, that there will be dialogue on these matters. The Secretary of State has promised as much, and I am sure that the Minister will do so again now. Having said that, I fear that the consultation could be a section 90 consultation—I think that that is the term used. Such a situation occurs when a factory is been closed due to redundancy and consultation is confined to redundancy terms and the like, instead of being a real dialogue among the employees, the relevant Department and concerned Members to find out whether there is a different way forward. If the dialogue is about only how we place these individuals, or if it is about how to finesse the closure of 43 factories, I will find it unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will indicate that such a situation will not occur.

On the question of consultation, I recently visited Hillington, which is the site of the proposed closure in my constituency, and spoke to the workers. There were mixed feelings, because people were up for change, but some were concerned about their futures and the long-term future of Remploy. During the consultation process, will the Minister give thought to protecting those workers, who are providing work for the Ministry of Defence under article 19 of the relevant EU directive, so that they can get the same protection from foreign tenders that shipyards get when they provide MOD equipment?

I shall be genuinely straightforward with my hon. Friend by saying that while I understand the point about protection and support, I would prefer such things to be at the bottom of the agenda. I shall give some indication of how the process should go. I do not subscribe to the idea that these sheltered workshops are old-fashioned and should be done away with. I agree that they are 60 years old, that they operate in a certain way and that there should be changes, but I do not accept the Remploy board’s starting point that as the decision has been taken to close these factories, we should confine ourselves only to protecting the people in them.

We are fighting for not only the 2,500 individuals in these factories—they are the lucky ones because they are in the factories—but the hundreds of thousands of people who are in the community and desperately need such places. The people in the factories will not thank me for saying this, but if these places are closed, they will be the luckier of the two groups because they will have some protection and support and will be moved into a mainstream job. What will happen to the people in the community who want and desperately need a place? The starting point for all in the Chamber should be not the status quo, but the fact that these factories have a place, a function and a purpose, and that there is a desperate need for them.

I move on to my conspiracy theory. There is no secret about why the Remploy board is suggesting these drastic steps. While I say the Remploy board, I certainly mean Remploy senior management. If it is necessary to move people on, there is an argument for moving the management because a lot of the factories’ problems stem from its lack of dynamism, purpose and sympathy. The Remploy board seems to be backing that up. I think that such people have a gleam in their eye about a different lifestyle and a different and perhaps easier job. They want to move from running factories, where they must fight for work, run the factory and do all the rest—it must be murder on their salaries—to running a nice employment agency.

Remploy has set up an employment agency, Interwork. It argues that it costs only £3,000 to place somebody in work through the agency, while the average price of somebody working in a factory is £20,000. Remploy is also saying that it can employ more people through the agency than in factories. The fact that they are not the same people does not seem to cross anyone’s mind as long as there are boxes to tick and the numbers come through. The most desperate, needy and complex cases might disappear into the community to be ignored—they will have no voice—but the workers in the agency will have a nice life just ticking boxes.

Without being mischievous, I wonder—[Interruption.] The Minister shakes her head. That has been the story of this Minister nearly all our lives—she says no before I have even asked a question. It is worth questioning as part of the wider picture why on earth Remploy has set up an agency, given that that seems strange. Remploy is an agency within the Department for Work and Pensions. The Government are proud of Jobcentre Plus and we have put out press releases saying what a great job it does on the new deal for the disabled. We tell the disabled and anybody who cares to listen that if they just go into Jobcentre Plus, whatever their state of employment, they will be treated sensitively and appropriately and helped into employment, so why is Remploy setting itself up in the same Department? Something is not working. If Jobcentre Plus were working, we would not need Remploy’s agency, and if it were not for that agency, the board would not be so anxious to take money from the factories and to use it to expand Interwork agencies throughout the country.

I have two low-level questions. Why is Interwork—at least in Leeds—not proactive at the moment in Remploy factories to move employees into mainstream employment? The two bodies are in the same Department; they are the same agency. They are supposed to be helping those customers. One would think that the first place an Interwork agency called would be its local Remploy factory. It would have the closest relationship with the workers and know them all by name. It would know where they could work and where they wanted to work, and could go out to find them that work. I find it strange that Interwork seems to be a separate employment agency for the broader disabled population that is in competition with DWP’s Jobcentre Plus.

Remploy’s cover is that the cuts and redirected money are a response to the Government’s wish that there should be no blank cheque. That is a fair enough point. At the moment, £550 million goes into Remploy. The Government have said that Remploy must stay in that envelope for five years and it is struggling to comply. There must also be value for money. I mentioned that Remploy says that it costs £3,000 to put people into work through Interwork and £20,000 to put them in a factory. Certainly, when we deal with public money, we should always look for value for money. I accept that there will be a greater throughput of employees into mainstream employment, but the point is worth making again that I have seen the same thing operating with the new deal in my constituency. I wonder whether you, Mr. Caton, or my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) have also seen that.

When we introduced the new deal in 1997, it worked a treat. Unemployment halved in my constituency during the first four years, but it has stayed the same—or, if anything, increased slightly—for the past six. There is a straightforward explanation for that. The first four years of the new deal—this is not to be quoted to the Chancellor in any circumstances; I make the point in the privacy of the Chamber—got the easy ones. It addressed the people who had been in work yet Thatcher had thrown out of work. They had worked, they knew the discipline of work and they wanted to work. When the new deal came along, they were whisked off the unemployment register. That was wonderful, but once they were off—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) nodding in agreement—then came to the more difficult and complex cases.

I can only speak personally—perhaps my constituency is entirely different from other places—but there has been a total lack of success in getting such complex cases into work. I fear that if we allow such cases in the Remploy factories to disappear into the community, Interwork will still get its throughput and the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and say, “This was all right. Look how many more disabled people are in work.” However, this is about the layers of disabled people.

Some 80 per cent. of able-bodied people and 50 per cent. of disabled people are in employment, but among those with learning difficulties and mental health problems, the figure is 20 per cent. When drilling for employment oil, there is not much left after the 80 per cent., so the Government have come to the disabled, such as people with an arm off, a leg off, or asthma, as I see in one of the Government’s publications. Fine. That is wonderful work, but the complex cases are the real issue and the reason why I am participating in this debate. They are in the greatest majority now. They are in the community—we Members know them—and they are largely ignored, or put up with. They are sad people in the community who need help and focus in their lives. There will be no interest in those cases because they are not cases that one can tick a box for and get a reward. They are long, hard work. If we close the factories, they will disappear from view.

Is it not the hon. Gentleman’s experience that local jobcentres, reduced as they are in both number and scope, have increasing difficulty providing the support and guidance needed by the very group to whom he refers?

I totally agree. I recently met Ian Hunter, the regional manager of my jobcentre. I can tell the Minister that he is excellent, but she should leave him in Yorkshire. I have the names of five constituents whom I have encountered in one way or another and are all unemployed. Some are the wrong colour and so, despite having degrees, they are, incredibly, unemployed. Others have mild special needs or learning difficulties. I was at a loss to understand that, and thought that I should ask the manager to account for it. I am sending him the five names because I do not know why Jobcentre Plus cannot employ those people. There is clearly a problem. I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend might like to know that my most distinguished predecessor, George Tomlinson, set up Remploy in the first place, just after the war, and I should like him to be remembered today. We are in an era of fairly high employment. Is my hon. Friend as concerned as me that if the economy takes a downturn, those vulnerable people will be the first to suffer?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I noted that he mentioned his distinguished predecessor during an earlier debate on Remploy, but I am glad that he remembered him during this one, while his work is under attack.

I get a lot of abuse from our senior Members about this, but it is difficult for me as a Labour Member to accept that after 10 years of continuous employment growth, we have still not reached some people in the community. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), I have never found the Conservatives very interested in even thinking about reaching such people. If we do not help them, we will consign them to a lifetime of neglect and a sad existence without the rights and opportunities that we want for everyone.

Remploy might use the cover that it is doing what the Government want, but I hope that it has misread the signals and that there is the political will to find another way of moving towards the Government’s objectives. I cannot challenge those objectives. The Government cannot give blank cheques to anyone and the principle of value for money is fine, but I shall suggest how to get greater throughput with the present system. I hope that the Minister will tell the Remploy board that it has misread the signals and that it is not acting in a good way. This is not positive work, but butchery, and a redistribution of finances that will not help those with the greatest need.

Above all, I am not arguing for the status quo. I accept the Government’s objectives, but while the direction of travel is right, we need a different method of getting there. The unions are not arguing for the status quo, and the answer to anyone who suggests that they are is a resounding no.

I congratulate a fellow former Lawside academy pupil on securing this debate. I still discern the hint of Dundee accent somewhere.

My understanding is that one of the problems encountered by the trade unions when trying to get their argument heard was that they were at cross-purposes with the management. While the trade unions were rightly trying to ensure the future of the factories, the management was simply saying what would be left following the funding of the Interwork model. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is why the discussions between the unions and management were not more fruitful and why there was not the opportunity for them to be so?

When I was a young Labour party member growing up in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I had visions of perhaps being the Member of Parliament for that constituency, but I am glad that I moved because the quality of its Member is so great that I could never have matched it. I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

We do not want the status quo. There needs to be a change in the set-up—the operation is demanding change—but we want thoughtful, sensitive action, rather than the butchery suggested by Remploy.

On the financial argument, the trade unions and staff have worked earnestly over the past 18 months—many hon. Members have met them, seen their work and know of the time that they have put in—to agree plans to improve trading and output, and to cut costs. They even employed a firm of accountants to help them to draw up acceptable suggestions to help Remploy’s finances. Their reward was that their suggestions were ignored or scoffed at by senior management.

Why has that happened? The Minister has been genuinely supportive, open-minded and helpful. She gave Remploy a blank sheet of paper and told it to drop its plans and to return with other plans that she would ensure would be considered. However, that attitude did not percolate down to senior management. Perhaps that was because the unions were a little too blunt about the shortcomings of a management that seemed to accept the fall-off of manufacturing in the general economy as a cover for its inability to obtain work for various factories, or perhaps it was because the unions pointed to unnecessary spending by the management on the plant and at a personal level. Perhaps the unions were just too honest and blunt.

I have been in public life as a councillor—I was a council leader—and Member of Parliament for 30 years, but Remploy’s management has never approached me for help with procurement decisions. I wonder whether that is the experience of other hon. Members. Remploy has never asked me to lobby or speak to anyone. It would have been entirely reasonable for it to do so, but it has never approached me in 30 years, so I wonder how dynamic its management is and how interested it is in finding work for the people in its factories. Why are the unions being treated in such a shabby fashion when they are trying to be as constructive as possible about the agency’s financial problems?

The most important aspect of a refusal to accept the status quo is throughput, which must be discussed. At the moment, and for the past 60 years, a job with Remploy has been a job for life. Mild attempts might have been made to try to persuade an employee to consider a job in the mainstream economy, but as of now—I checked with my local factory today—the decision is left to the individual. In effect, that means that Remploy is seen as a destination. It is thought that once someone works there, no one is anxious for them to move on and that no one’s purpose in life is to see employees move out of the factory and into mainstream life. The decision is left to employees. If they wish to stay, they stay.

Modern thinking, which I accept, is that Remploy should be a gateway, rather than a destination or a stopping point. There is a place in modern society for a gateway, whether that is a sheltered workshop or a skill centre, that allows employees to build their confidence and self-esteem so that they believe that they can make a go of taking their place in society. Some of the people have never worked before in their lives and have had the most traumatic experiences. Their self-esteem is low and their self-confidence is non-existent. Their confidence should be built up, and they should then move on.

Modern thinking is that there should be a gateway establishment, whether in factories or appropriate skill centres—perhaps with a relationship with a further education college—to which people could go with the knowledge that their job was not permanent. They should be assessed and a time scale should be negotiated for how long they will stay there to acquire the necessary skills to build up their confidence. However, the people in the building and DWP partners would be responsible for guaranteeing to find those people a job before they left the establishment and for supporting them during the first few months in their new jobs. That would be a relevant change.

The trade unions have made some interesting suggestions about money, and even the Government have said that money is a secondary consideration. Is it fair to keep people in a workshop and an artificial situation? Should not we build up their confidence and set them free with suitable support? Remploy factories should not be a destination at which people stay. However, if people have gone through a bad time and, for the first time in their life, they have mates and a wage packet, feel that they are contributing and have self-respect, they would have to be very brave to risk all that by going to find a job. They know what failure is because they have been through that. It is asking a lot to expect people to do that, unless the aim is set out.

We must face up to the fact that some people will never be able to move and take the necessary steps to address that. However, Remploy should be a temporary gateway for the majority of people. Disabled people could come in and be out in three months. Other people with complex problems might take a year, but everyone should know that the objective would be for those people to move into a position in which they have the same rights as the rest of us.

The hon. Gentleman says that the factories should be a gateway. I do not think that anyone would argue with the point that enabling disabled people to move into the mainstream workplace is desirable. However, does he not accept that in some parts of the country, the opportunities for people to work in what must start as relatively sheltered employment are few and far between because the local business environment consists predominantly of small businesses, micro-businesses and the self-employed? People should not be cast as having failed if they thus stay in the Remploy factory for many years, as they do in my constituency.

No, I do not see that as failure. I said that the key aspect of being in such a factory, which I do not think that Remploy would like to accept, should be that it guarantees that it will find a person a job. I hate this business of failure and people failing. We fail, but they do not. Similar circumstances arise in Newcastle, Hartlepool and Dundee, so the situation is accepted. The situation is easier in Leeds, because there is full employment, but it is more difficult in the constituency of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). The difficulty depends on the local employment circumstances.

We must accept, as must Remploy and the trade unions, that if we say that the positions are permanent, we are being very weak. Saying that would be generous to the people in work, but what about the people in a desperate state in the community whose gateway to a better life is Remploy? If a person plonks themselves in a job, and by their own decision, rather than other circumstances, stays in it, they are blocking another person’s opportunity. If we have a real partnership and we work to get people fit in their own minds and able to take on a job, we all succeed, and somebody else is given an opportunity.

The Minister might have some fun with what I have said, but I do not mind. However, the butchery that the Remploy board and the accountants have brought to the table does not solve anything. Yes, it solves financial problems in the DWP, but that is just putting right financial figures. It does not help the desperately vulnerable people in the community and the factories who need our help.

I shall be brief, because I do not have much of a voice today, and many other people are waiting to speak.

I have said all along that I endorse the long-term principle, but I am becoming more and more concerned about the current process. After the announcement in Parliament, I visited the factory in my constituency on the following Thursday on my way home, and I was truly alarmed by what I heard. For example, I was told that people could not understand the long words that were used by the counsellor whom they had all been promised. There were probably no specialist counsellors for people who have learning disabilities and may lose their jobs, but the situation worried me.

When I read fully the Remploy briefing, I saw that it said that there were 41 disabled people in the factory. I challenged that figure, and Remploy now accepts that there are 43. I do not think that private industry closes factories without knowing how many people are in them. That applied to two people, which worries me greatly.

I asked how long people had been working at the factory: one of the 43 had been there for more than 40 years, and 10 had been there for 20 to 35 years. I am seriously worried about whether there are suitable places that my constituents can be moved to in our local area. Is a move desirable if somebody has been in that situation for 20 to 35 years? The briefing notes that I was sent suggested that the alternative would be an office in Southampton. That is not suitable for people in Poole. If anybody present has ever tried to travel around Dorset, they will know why it is not suitable—especially for disabled people. I have challenged that suggestion, and I have now received an answer.

Since July 2006, I have had a vision that on a very big site in Poole, one could develop a centre of excellence for training people with disabilities, which would serve the whole of Dorset. One could run down the manufacturing side gradually, but locate it there as part of the training process. I have been asking and asking for that, but the latest reply that I have received says that there will be a meeting with the local council at the end of June. I am worried that time is running out and nothing is being done.

There is probably an individual solution for every factory. I have a good idea for my local factory, but I am losing confidence in Remploy’s ability to deliver it. My plea today is for us to work together with that local factory, because it could be a wonderful facility for future generations in promoting creativity and working with local employers, which is what the issue is all about. My worry is that we will be talking about jobs pushing trolleys in supermarkets, because there are not that many jobs around, but a long-term approach to the issue, with a specialist training centre, would lead to plus-plusses. I am sure that the issue of increasing productivity could have been tackled over the past year, instead of letting things drift along.

I have a real commitment to that local factory and to maintaining as many jobs there as possible, which we could do positively. I do not want a huge housing site. We have very expensive housing in Poole.

It is a pleasure to participate and make a short contribution to this short and timely debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton.

I have been a Member of this place for 25 years now, and occasionally one feels that there is a danger of being drawn into the establishment and into a complacent world of public administration. However, I have only to attend a debate and listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) to be reminded why I joined the Labour party in the first place. It is absolutely typical of my hon. Friend that he takes up the cause of those who need his help most, and that he makes a powerful case for them.

The debate is not against Remploy, the Government or the Minister. We are in a consultation period, consulting on some very difficult issues. One week ago I had the pleasure and the honour of attending the conference of the GMB union, of which I am a member. Many Remploy workers are GMB members, too, and they had a delegation and elected delegates at the union’s annual conference. It is difficult to convey to such a parliamentary debate the sense of despair, anger and even betrayal that the work force felt. Very hard words were spoken at the conference, and I was struck by two points: first, the Remploy work force’s passion, commitment and strength of feeling; and secondly, the enormous amount of sympathy that they drew from the other trade unionists, from all walks of life, who were attending the conference. One could not miss the strength of feeling.

There is discrimination in the labour market. It is illegal, of course, but it still exists. One has only to look at the figures for how many able-bodied citizens are employed as a ratio of their total numbers, and then at the same figures for people who have a disability, to see that it is much harder for disabled people to make it in the mainstream labour market. I was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions for two years, and I saw the papers on Remploy, although I did not have direct ministerial responsibility for it, so I know that there is a real problem, and the Minister has my sympathies. It will not do just to hope that the problem will go away; it is absolutely right to face up to it. However, we must do so in the spirit in which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East set out his ideas.

There are two main elements to this issue—a view that I formed some time ago. The first is the continuing debate about the case for sheltered workshops vis-à-vis the case for supported employment with a mainstream employer. Alongside that, however, is the debate about costs, and it is a fact that supported employment in a workshop is substantially more expensive than supporting an employee in mainstream employment. My hon. Friend said that the cost is £20,000 as opposed to £3,000, and my figures suggest that it is £20,000 as opposed to £5,000, but the ratio—the Minister may correct me if I am wrong—is roughly four to one.

There is a third issue, which relates to Remploy as a business. Some pretty hard things have been said about Remploy’s management—not universally, but at some local sites. There are also concerns, not only from the trade union side, but among people who have looked at the organisation independently, about the central costs of the organisation as a whole.

My view is that there is a case for both sheltered provision and supported mainstream work; they can exist alongside each other, and we should not let the debate about costs undermine the case for workshop-based employment. The view to which I came, and to which I still hold, is that even if the costs are greater, we just have to accept that we will have to pay them. There are also other things that we can do, and this debate gives us an opportunity to put forward what I hope the Minister will see as constructive ideas.

The case for sheltered workshops rests on the fact not only that members of the work force develop a sense of solidarity and comradeship, but that there is a specific understanding of individual special needs. People also get a sense of security from going to a place where their needs are understood and a sense of self-worth from having a job that they can do and workmates who are sympathetic. Although one would like to think that people with special needs would find that in mainstream society, I am not convinced that that will always be so, even with support. Of course, there are enlightened employers, who go out of their way to provide workplace placements for people with special needs and who ensure that management structures are in place to support their employment, but such employers are the exception, not the rule. It is easy to say, “Ah, well, the labour market is tight nowadays, but we’ll find you employment with a mainstream employer,” but it is much harder to find such employment.

I therefore want to offer what I hope are some constructive suggestions to support the factory-based employment part of Remploy’s operation. A year ago today—on 13 June 2006—the Prime Minister addressed the GMB conference. He said:

“I can assure you that we will both listen to the trade union submission on this, we want to see Remploy profitable as well, and we will certainly see what we can do from the perspective of public procurement to give Remploy a sustainable future.”

He is on to a good idea with that final suggestion. It will be difficult, at least for the factory side of Remploy, to be profitable as a sheltered workshop, because it is difficult to find things for a sheltered workshop to do that are profitable in the marketplace. We must face up to that. My answer is to subsidise such an arrangement and direct work to it. We must do that as part of public procurement—the Ministry of Defence is an obvious example and does, indeed, already do that to some extent—and say that there is a social reason for doing so.

We, as politicians, should not feel ashamed in standing up before our fellow citizens and saying, “We have made this decision. It does not conform to strict competition rules, but it is not a huge market distortion. It is an exception, but it is one for a special purpose. These people need our help and support.” Who would begrudge disabled people that? I do not think that our fellow citizens would say, “No, we want competition red in tooth and claw. Let the disabled take care of themselves.” Our fellow citizens would not say that, and the Government should not say it either.

There is a case for using public procurement to support workshops, and I do not accept that competition rules or European Union rules prevent us from doing so. Other member states do such things; indeed, when I was a Minister, all the Ministers whom I met from other European countries thought that such things were acceptable. They would want to do them in their own countries, and I am certain that they would not object to our doing them in our country. One has to keep a sense of proportion, of course, but we would be all right as long as we did so.

One could look at the issue the other way around and ask whether a mainstream manufacturing process—in the packaging or processing industry, for example—was suitable to be carried out in a sheltered workshop. We could then ask the employer whether public assistance could be used to turn the factory into a place that provided sheltered and secure employment. That approach has not been taken so far, but I urge it on the Minister and I hope that she will be look at it.

There is also strong role for the trade unions in all this. At the GMB conference, I was struck by the fact that those who were worried about their job security and about what would happen to them looked to their trade union to help and support them, and that support really matters to people with special needs. In the discussions that the Minister will be having, I would like a way to be found to ensure that that collective trade union support filters through to industry placements, as well as to the people retained in workshops.

I gently draw the Minister’s attention to the ratio of money spent on placements to money offered for early retirement. I accept that some people will want to take early retirement, but that is not the answer. Younger people will be looking for workshop places, just as some older people will feel that their time to work has come to an end and that it is time to retire. However, I would not like us to just to buy such jobs out and say that mainstream employment, not workshop placements, is the answer for young people. People are not supported in mainstream employment; indeed, they end up falling out of it and becoming claimants again. As a result, the very problem with which workshops are supposed to deal is not dealt with, and people end up unemployed or on long-term sickness benefit. That is not the right way forward or a positive way forward.

That brings me back to my core point: the labour market is a hard place. Yes, it is tight, but those who are recruiting look for the person who they believe can do the best job for them. There is still a tendency, very unfairly, to discriminate against people with disabilities. As we try to offer constructive solutions in this debate to the problems that we acknowledge Remploy has, we should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East so powerfully reminded us, keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that the labour market is not a fair place. The people whom we are talking about are disadvantaged and they deserve our help.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) for being late for the debate, as I had a difficult journey.

More than 25 years ago, I was the TUC representative on a committee called CORAD—the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. It was the first committee that the Government established to look at discrimination against people with disabilities to see how we might move forward. Hon. Members may remember that we had a quota at that time, under which companies and Departments were required to employ a certain percentage of people with disabilities, but none of them—even Departments—did. The committee therefore looked again at the issue and said that we needed to get people with disabilities into work. To do that, we recommended that those responsible should support people with disabilities by identifying opportunities, providing training and supporting people in work, as well as resourcing employers to enable such things to happen. To assist in that, the committee recommended that disability discrimination legislation be introduced, and both those recommendations have now been implemented.

The third recommendation was that there should be continuing support by way of specialist provision. Remploy, founded by George Tomlinson, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), was a good example of that. Remploy’s role, along with other organisations, was to bring people into the working environment again, give them support and, if possible, allow that to be a transitional phase in moving towards employment, but if necessary, to give them an environment in which permanent employment would be provided. To be frank, I do not think that things have changed. I have heard about the economy booming; it has for some, but not for others. Employment has risen, but the report that has been published extensively in the press today shows that unemployment has risen too in some areas, and particularly in certain regions. Unemployment overall is not as low as many people think. The experiences of people with disabilities have, tragically, barely changed, despite the Government’s efforts over the past 10 years, for which I commend them. This is a hard nut to crack.

There are some tendencies in the economy that fly in the opposite direction, such as, I am afraid, outsourcing by Government. The example in my area is Ministry of Defence records, where there were 150 people, several of them with disabilities; it was then privatised and relocated off site. Not one person with a disability was redeployed elsewhere, despite all our promises. Another example is private equity operations, which we discussed in Parliament recently. We now have evidence that when private equity companies have taken over companies and shareholdings within them, there have been reduced employment opportunities. The GMB reports that in the case of the Automobile Association people with disabilities have been specifically targeted to get them off the books. The issues are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago, and in some ways more pertinent.

That is why I believe that before we do anything to reduce capacity in this field, we need to be convinced that the jobs are out there and the support mechanisms are in place, and that we are succeeding. I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East in recognising the reality. We shall always have to subsidise the people in question, to enable them to have a decent quality of life. It is not just a matter of employment. As my hon. Friend said, it is a question of pride and respect and being part of overall society. I can understand where the Government are coming from in considering how to modernise provision overall. In areas such as this hard decisions must often be made; that is true in any management change. However, it is necessary to take people along, and we have failed to do that. It is not for want of trying; I am not criticising anyone. Nevertheless, we have failed to take people with us, and we should recognise that. We almost need to start again and to involve people in a wider discussion, particularly at the micro-level—individual factories and communities. The issues seem to have been dealt with at a macro-level, where we know there has been a lack of confidence in the management’s track record for some time. It is a question simply not only of confidence, either, but of the relevant management teams’ objective record of success and failure.

I urge the Minister to stand back, have a breathing space and allow us the next six months to bring the unions back in and consult all the relevant organisations again, and see whether we can build up confidence in a shared way forward. I know that that is ambitious and it may not be realistic, but at the moment we cannot continue with horns locked, while people become disillusioned and feel that we are undermining provision rather than supporting it in the long term. I support other hon. Members in urging the Minister to be positive and accept that we need a new route to bring people back together again. A six-month timetable will enable us to return with real solutions to enable us to bring everyone with us as best we can. If that means that additional resources will be needed, this is one area of Government in which I would expect resources to be found.

I want to make just four brief points in this last of the Back-Bench contributions to the debate. First, our factory in Bolton went through a lean period when some pretty high class, high priced labels decided to source their quality clothes abroad. The Bolton factory was making some very good, high quality clothes, which were on sale in some very fashionable shops at the time. For a period of some months the factory was without that work. The textile industry was in a slump, so it was decided to completely change the focus, using mainly the same labour force. I have always praised the labour force for doing this. At one time it made clothing, but today it makes boards for electronics, using robotic machinery. It has completely re-equipped the factory and gone in another direction, into electrical production. It even makes printed circuit boards for the Ministry of Defence. That proves that people can be retrained into a more profitable operation.

Secondly, I concur with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) that if Jobcentre Plus and Remploy work much more closely together we can probably get more people with disabilities of all kinds into the work force, by using some Remploy factories—we could not, of course, use them all—as gateways or training centres before entry, to give confidence.

Thirdly, in Bolton we have a sheltered workshop run by the local authority, as well as the Remploy factory. Has the Minister had detailed discussions with similar local authorities that run sheltered accommodation for production, about the possibility of a coming together, involving local authorities as well as Remploy, perhaps with a small subsidy from some of the local authorities—yes, I dare to mention the word “subsidy”—to keep some of those operations alive? It is obviously greatly preferable to keep people in work than to have them out of work on benefits.

My fourth point is this: we have been through this process before. It will be interesting to hear what the Conservative spokesman says. I look forward to that, because it was not that many years before the Labour party came to power that the Conservatives threatened to close all Remploy workshops, without exception. I remember opposing one of their Ministers, Peter Thurnham, who joined the Liberal Democrats just before the Conservatives left power. He argued vociferously for the closure of the workshop in Bolton. At least we have kept it going another 10 years. Incidentally, it is not on the present list, but that is not to say I have no sympathy for those hon. Members in whose constituencies the 43 listed workshops are situated.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on securing this debate on such an important matter. In his passionate opening remarks he emphasised the point, which is worth restating, that half of all the Remploy factories will effectively be closed, taking into account the mergers, and 2,500 people will be affected by the closures. It is important to recognise the dramatic and damaging effect that that change can have on the individuals affected. We are debating a serious and important matter.

The hon. Gentleman also wondered aloud—I hope that the Minister will respond—whether what is happening was the end of the process that Remploy had in mind. We know that 43 closures are proposed now. Does the Minister foresee the investment in and support for the remaining factories that all hon. Members who have spoken today have described? I pay tribute to all those hon. Members for the way in which they have addressed the issue: the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). I also want to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), a number of whose constituents work at the factory in Ashington that is threatened with closure. I know that he takes a close interest in those matters.

It may be difficult in these circumstances, but there is a positive view to be considered. I would argue—and many have argued—that, on principle, promoting the idea of mainstream employment for disabled people must be the right approach. If the objective is to deliver an agenda about independent living, and to allow and enable disabled people to take on all the improved rights that have been campaigned for by many hon. Members who have been in the House much longer than I have, promoting mainstream employment must be the right direction to set off in. That was certainly the flavour of discussions among all parties during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2007, in which several hon. Members who are present today participated at different stages.

In that context, Remploy’s success in developing the Interwork programme should also be noted, given the importance of working towards mainstream employment for disabled people. Within its existing resources and with the existing factories remaining open, Remploy has been able to expand that programme, so that last year it placed more people in mainstream employment than currently work in those 83 factories. I shall return to the question of how the factories and the people who work in them are treated, but Remploy must be encouraged to move in the direction of expanding and developing the programmes that it already successfully offers. If Remploy can substantially increase the number of people whom it places in mainstream employment, the objective that all hon. Members have talked about in this debate—enabling more disabled people to find paid work for the reasons of fulfilment, confidence building and so on, which every other citizen sees it as their right to achieve through work—will be supported.

Remploy has said that it hopes through the changes to be able to place 20,000 disabled people into jobs by 2012. It is interesting to note, however, that three quarters of the people whom it placed last year were placed in jobs in the service sector, not the manufacturing sector. I liked very much the suggestion that the hon. Member for Leeds, East made that Remploy should be seen as a gateway or an intermediate step, and that people should perhaps go through Remploy for a few months in order to build up their skills and confidence, and make their way into mainstream employment. That is the sort of role that the Interwork programme should be playing, so perhaps the Minister could comment on whether it actually is. Developing Remploy’s facilities in that direction seems an obvious and sensible suggestion.

The closures will have a devastating effect on current employees. I do not think that anyone can doubt or debate that, and the hon. Gentleman made that point strongly. On the day before the announcement was made, I visited the Remploy factory in Halifax with the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Riordan), who has also been an assiduous campaigner on such matters. Many of the staff there felt that the discussion about Remploy’s future had been dragged out for an inordinately long period. People had been facing uncertainty about Remploy’s future for a year or even 18 months. There had been consultations and consultants’ reports, but the staff had very little sense of what their future was, and there was still a genuine debate about whether the factory would remain open or close.

That was an unfortunate part of the process, from which I hope lessons have been learned. The problem not only caused difficulties for the staff, but led to uncertainty among the factories’ customers, as has been said elsewhere. People who might have wanted to purchase goods from Remploy were uncertain as to whether the factory producing them would remain open. The Government owe a duty of care to the people who currently work in the Remploy factories, whose interests must be at the forefront of this debate.

We have been told that there will be no compulsory redundancies and that Remploy has guaranteed to find a job for each current employee on their current terms and conditions—

The Minister rightly corrects me. The chief executive of Remploy, Bob Warner, has promised that Remploy will support the move into new jobs and provide continued support for those people who find new jobs in the mainstream sector. However, there is still some uncertainty, so perhaps the Minister could say for how long that continued support for those people who are currently employed by Remploy will be maintained. I understand that they will retain their current contractual terms and conditions, but in addition, we should be clear that the support that they receive will continue long into the future.

Likewise, there needs to be clarity about pension rights and contributions. The point has been made that many of Remploy’s employees have worked in Remploy factories for a substantial period. Accrued pensions rights are therefore important, but continuing those rights also needs to be taken forward.

We are currently undergoing a consultation process, but some dubiety has been expressed in this debate about the nature of that consultation—about its breadth, the range of issues that can be taken into account and whether it is about the overall package or just specific local measures. I urge the Minister to encourage Remploy, through her good offices, to ensure that the ideas that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole set out—local solutions at a micro level, so that the facilities can be better used to support the longer-term objective of getting more disabled into work—are taken into account fully. It would be absurd if the process was based on a macro decision to close a certain number of factories, without considering how best to make use of the resources currently available, in order to continue to support disable people into work.

I have a few other remarks to make, but in view of the range of issues that have been raised and the Minister’s desire to respond to them, I shall finish now. I am sure, however, that there will be another opportunity to debate the issue in future.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on securing this incredibly important debate and on the passionate and eloquent way in which he put the case for the 2,270 disabled Remploy employees.

Listening to the varied but thoughtful tone of the contributions, I realised that there are two distinct issues that we should recognise. The first is the move towards inclusive employment, which is a significant change. Listening to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) talking about the battles that he fought under the previous Conservative Government also reminded me of the Andrew Marr series that is currently on television. I do not know whether hon. Members saw the episode last night, but it had a scene about the miners’ strike. That reminded me how much the country has changed, although I do not want to get into that debate, because I am somewhat outnumbered in the Chamber. Watching that programme also reminded me how much we have moved from being a manufacturing economy to being a service economy. That has good aspects and bad aspects, but for people with learning disabilities in particular, it can pose a problem, because jobs in manufacturing industries were often particularly well suited to people with learning disabilities.

I have visited a manufacturing business in Cardiff that is a social firm—an interesting new model that which should replace workshops. In a way, social firms are a modern version of the sheltered workshops that we used to have. The management at that business told me that people with learning disabilities had a competitive advantage over other employees when it came to certain types of tasks. The problem is that as we have moved away from being a manufacturing economy, a lot of those jobs have gone.

However, there is a consensus that the move towards inclusive employment is important. If disabled people are to move not only towards independent living, self-respect and dignity and out of poverty, which affects too many of them, but towards a sense of being part of mainstream society, then we should encourage a model in which disabled people are employed wherever possible in jobs where they sit alongside non-disabled people.

That is an important change, and I should like to do something that has not been done so far this afternoon: compliment Remploy on the way in which it has tried to adapt its business to take account of that change. Last year it placed 5,200 people in mainstream employment through the Interwork programme, which is a 25 per cent. increase on the year before. That is a lot of people who have been helped. Remploy has therefore been trying to adapt in a difficult competitive climate.

I, too, want to leave the Minister time to respond fully to the points that have been raised. The problem that the Government face is that there is a limited budget, which means that we shall at some stage have to consider whether the £5,000 that it costs to employ someone with a severe disability under the Workstep programme stacks up against the £20,000 that it costs to employ someone in a Remploy workshop. We have to be honest about that terribly difficult dilemma because the Shaw Trust, for example, says that it has 600 disabled people waiting to get on the Workstep programme and that it cannot get funding for them. The trust desperately wants to get those people into employment. If I can put it this way, there is an opportunity cost to not using the resources as wisely as possible.

That said, the other clear strand to this debate has been the genuine and heartfelt concern, particularly among hon. Members in whose constituencies Remploy factories are scheduled for closure, about the fate of the individuals who work in them. As the Secretary of State said in his statement on 22 May, the majority of those individuals have learning disabilities, and that group is the hardest to employ. The hon. Member for Leeds, East spoke of a 20 per cent. employment rate among those with learning disabilities and histories of mental illness, but according to a survey that Remploy did with Radar, the employment rate is even lower among those with learning disabilities only: it is 10 per cent. That group is the very hardest to employ.

A second factor has to be added to that: many such people are older employees. In his statement, the Secretary of State said that 650 of the 2,270 employees— 28 per cent. of the total—were over the age of 60. They may wish to take early retirement. However, we have not yet been able to find out how many of the employees are over 50, although I suspect that they make up about half the total. It will be particularly difficult to find another placement for them.

People are concerned that it may be very difficult for someone who has worked loyally in a role for much of their life—someone who has found the inclusion, involvement and friendship that the hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned—to find another job full stop, even with all the support provided by Remploy. We know that such people will be financially looked after because the terms and conditions will be preserved, but it would be a tragedy if those people, at that stage of their lives, ended up receiving the money but not all the other incredibly important benefits that come from being at work.

The Minister could help us with some specific matters. One is the concern about pension entitlements. I believe that the Remploy pension fund has a £48 million deficit. There are particular concerns about whether promises made about pensions will be secure, particularly given the current environment.

There is also concern about how the factories were chosen for closure. Remploy factories in the constituencies of a lot of prominent Cabinet Ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and the Minister, I think—have not been chosen for closure. The real concern is that Remploy has not published the business case on the future that it saw for each of the factories under consideration. That makes people worry that that is the first step to the wholesale closure of the entire Remploy network. I am prepared to accept the Minister’s assurances that she does not want that to happen. However, if we are to have confidence that that is not part of the plan, we need to see a good business case for the factories that are not threatened with closure to remain open.

I am grateful to the Minister and the management of Remploy for keeping me in the picture on this difficult issue in the past few months. I recognise the benefits of the financial package offered to the 2,270 disabled employees. However, money is not the only issue; a lot of other factors are very important in those people’s lives, and we are all seeking reassurance that those other factors will be adequately addressed in any restructuring.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton, in what has been a thoughtful and thought-provoking debate.

At the outset, I want to put some things up front and on the record. We still believe in supported factories and that there needs to be a subsidy for some employed disabled workers, whether within supported factories or in the mainstream. We still believe that Remploy has a future, and I ask hon. Members to remember that Remploy is more than the factory network. As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) said, Remploy is part of a wider family of provision. We are guaranteeing the budget for Remploy over the next five years— £555 million, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) said.

I thank my hon. Friend for generating this debate and for some of the comments he made during it. We need to recognise that the issue that we are discussing is difficult. Colleagues from all political parties have made contributions. Other Members in the Chamber have not participated in the debate but have Remploy factories in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), for example, is a Government Whip and so is not allowed to participate, but I welcome his presence.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East was deputy Chief Whip, people would never dare say “no” to him or his colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown). It was a case not of getting retaliation in first, but of not retaliating.

We Members here today have a lot in common on this issue; we agree about a lot. I certainly welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East on how he envisages Remploy’s future in terms of providing, not a destination, but a gateway for disabled people. I also welcome his comment about wanting more disabled people in work, because that is exactly what underpins the modernisation programme. Neither the Secretary of State nor I have embarked lightly on this process; we appreciate the sensitivities involved. However, we know that our underlying ambition is shared with Remploy and its trade unions. We want to get more disabled people into work—and more disabled people want to move into work.

We have to be clear that in its current configuration, Remploy is not going to rise to that challenge. That is why we brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers—not only, I say gently to my hon. Friend, as number crunchers. We also made sure that that consultancy included a senior employment adviser, who is disabled himself and who has extensive experience of disability employment issues. As part of the team, he was there to act as advocate in any disagreement on the disability-employment side. It was not just a case of number crunching.

I turn to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about where we should start again. We can go round that issue as often as we like, but there comes a point when we have to make a decision. What we are discussing has not been sprung on the trade unions or hon. Members in the past few weeks. We have been talking about the modernisation of Remploy since May last year, when I laid a statement before the Commons that clearly stated that the Secretary of State and I had ruled out the two extreme options in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which were to do nothing or to close the whole factory network. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) reminded us, that was once an option in the dim and distant past.

Within that framework, we asked the Remploy board to consult, discuss and negotiate with their trade unions over that period to consider how we can reach a position on which we can all agree. Those discussions have taken place, a great deal of work has been done and the business has been opened for the trade unions to scrutinise over that period. Nothing has been hidden; it is all up front. We put the PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the public domain so that everybody shared the information, and we ensured that PricewaterhouseCoopers engaged meaningfully with the trade unions. However, to be frank, there comes a point when we need to consider making a decision.

Of course, we do not underestimate the difficulties that will be caused for individual people. I take on board the comments made by various hon. Members to the effect that the change is enormous for disabled workers who have worked in a factory for a long time. That is why we have built in a protection package, including the guarantee on final salary pensions. I am sure that when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East was a trade union officer for the National Union of Public Employees and then for Unison, he would have been pleased if an employer had put that on the table as the first stage of the bargaining rather than having to have it pushed, shoved and dragged out of them.

We did all that, and we also ensured that Remploy engaged with the trade unions. I want to be clear about that engagement. In order to ensure that Remploy knew the parameters, we promised to maintain the baseline funding. The work with the trade union consortium deserves particular mention, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, who has extensive experience as a trade union officer, will recognise the quality of the engagement. A joint Remploy-trade union working group was established to consider the challenges that face the company and to discuss possible solutions.

The group has met on no fewer than 10 occasions since last July, with the business on the table. In order to enable the trade unions to have the support on the detailed financial and commercial information provided by the company and the advice that they thought was necessary, Remploy provided them with the services of the consultants Grant Thornton. Remploy paid for the consultants to ensure that that the unions had the same professional advice as the board. It has provided the trade unions with other financial support, including covering the costs of all the meetings on modernisation. Indeed, as we speak, 14 members of the consortium—16, in fact, but only 14 are employed by Remploy—are in Brussels to discuss the issues with MEPs, which was paid for by the Remploy company.

As a company, Remploy has been exemplary in the way in which it has managed the discussions with our trade union colleagues. I say our trade union colleagues because as a member of the GMB I recognise the sensitivity of the matter. When the new chairman, Ian Russell, was appointed, he held discussions with all the trade union general secretaries involved in the consortium. He also invited the consortium to present its own modernisation proposals to the February and April Remploy board meetings. The engagement has been widespread, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take that in the positive spirit in which it was—[Interruption.] I know that he is only trying to josh me, but he knows from his experience that there are few situations where engagement with the trade unions at all levels took place throughout a lengthy process.

I accept what the Minister is saying about the efforts that Government have made to urge management to support the unions in their discussions and so on. However, the process has failed and consensus has not been reached. It behoves the Government to go the extra mile and to intervene. They should bring all parties round the table and consider whether, in these last moments, we could reach some agreement on a way forward.

With the greatest of respect to my hon. Friend, the process has not failed. The trade unions and management will meet next week to discuss the proposals. I return to my earlier comment—there has been an extensive lead-in to the discussion of the proposals. At the moment, they are just proposals. Nothing has been confirmed.

I hope that I can give some comfort to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), as we have discussed the matter extensively elsewhere. There ought to be discussions about local solutions. The hon. Lady, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) highlighted opportunities to consider local situations where sheltered workshops and factories, local authority factories and sheltered workshops run by voluntary organisations could come together. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East mentioned that, too.

We have heard a great deal about the subsidy. We are in no way saying that there should not be a subsidy, and our Workstep programme is based on providing a subsidy to meet the difference in production between a disabled worker and a non-disabled worker. In Remploy, supporting someone in a sheltered or supported workshop involves a subsidy in excess of £20,000. In the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, Leeds city council provides sheltered factory support of £4,800 for individual disabled workers, who are similar to those who work in the Remploy factories and do the same kind of work in many instances. That pattern is replicated across the country. We want Remploy to draw its subsidy nearer to £4,800, but we are not asking it to draw it down that low and it does not propose to do so. Its aim is to have a subsidy of about £9,000 a year.

I know that public procurement causes great interest among Members, and Remploy recognises that some leverage is left in terms of public procurement. It has just appointed a new head of public procurement and has listened to the trade unions on that subject. The Department for Work and Pensions, Remploy trade unions and Remploy management have met regularly to consider how they can increase the amount of business from public procurement. Even under the current arrangements, I do not want anyone to think that there is no public procurement business in Remploy—indeed, £42 million of their sales are directly linked to the public sector, which is Remploy’s biggest customer.

A range of issues have been raised, which mainly relate to how we will get from where we are to where most of us want to be. That is where my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and I share an ambition. Thousands of disabled workers want to be in employment, and Remploy has a crucial role to play. However, there comes a point in our deliberations where we have to make tough choices. Those choices are not driven by the budget. They are putting people on the dole. We are not saying that we want do not want to support disabled people in Remploy. We want to do all those things, but we need to decide how to get from where we are now, with only 5,000 people employed in the Remploy factories, to the situation that the Remploy board says that it can achieve, which is to have 20,000 disabled people employed for the same amount of funding from DWP. That would be a laudable achievement. We are still at the proposal stage, and I am sure that hon. Members and my hon. Friends will continue to make the case about how to pull together on this difficult decision.

There have been changes in the way in which disabled people are perceived in the labour market. Those changes have not happened fast enough or well enough in some instances, but I want to see Remploy continue for the next 60 years to deliver for disabled people—