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Points of Order

Volume 541: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This has been an important day, and we have just had an excellent debate. It is therefore disappointing that the Department for Work and Pensions chose this occasion to release, after the Prime Minister sat down, an announcement stating that two thirds of Remploy factories in this country will now close. That is a matter of great concern to Members on both sides of the House. Have you, Sir, received any request for an oral statement on this subject, and if not how may we now bring Ministers to this House to account for that callous decision?

Order. May I just establish whether colleagues are seeking to come in on the same matter? I think Mr Bryant is.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking to do so, because you know that earlier this week I raised the matter of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), coming to the Remploy factory in my constituency. All the staff there, many of whom are very vulnerable members of society, have been deeply disturbed by the way in which she came into the office and left. They did not know whether there was going to be an announcement today; the written ministerial statement is simply called “Employment Support”. This has been sneaked out, it is unfair to treat disabled people in this country in that way, and the Minister is wandering around all the radio studios this afternoon. It is a disgrace. We should be treated better, and disabled people in this country should be treated better.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This afternoon, in the Welsh Assembly, Labour’s Minister, Leighton Andrews, who is not responsible for this policy, will be standing, will be making an oral statement and will be open to questions from democratically elected Members of that Assembly. Yet here, in this place, we have the disgrace of a Minister who sneaks out a written statement. I am unable to question that Minister on the 47 loyal staff in Bridgend. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is unable to question her about the 74 staff in Porth, who also serve my constituency, or about the nine other factories throughout Wales which are threatened.

That is a disgrace, and I genuinely seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, because on a day when we have just spent, quite rightly, some time on an Humble Address to Her Majesty, an institution as venerable as Remploy—with people as loyal as its workers—has not received the courtesy of being addressed within this place. I know that you are a guardian of this House. I hope that you can help us.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just a few weeks ago we had a Back-Bench business debate about Remploy. Dozens of my colleagues took part in it, and it is extremely discourteous of the Minister to fail to come to this House and explain to us exactly what is happening to the organisation. At my local Remploy factory in Aberdare, 42 people are going to lose their jobs, in a job market where there are no jobs. It is an utter disgrace to do that to disabled people at the moment, as it is for the Minister to offer a briefing in room W4 between 3 and 4 o’clock this afternoon, out of sight of all the people in this Chamber and away from the television cameras. It will not do, and I ask you to call the Minister to this House to explain what the policy is all about.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Those people are some of the most vulnerable workers in my constituency, and they were sacked by the Minister at 12.36 pm today through a written statement that was sent to the Library. Offering a briefing in private, when my constituents want to hear the justification for their losing their jobs, is not good enough, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), should be ashamed of herself. She should come here and, if she is making the right decision, make the arguments.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday I raised the future of Remploy with the Chancellor at Treasury Question Time. There was no inkling of any sudden announcement of a mass closure of 36 factories, with the Swansea factory closing down and 1,200 disabled people losing their jobs. Is it in order to make such a statement through the Library, without even a debate about the future of individual factories and their financial viability, given that we have lots of orders coming in, and without even an oral statement? At a time when we have spent so long, quite rightly, celebrating the diamond jubilee of our Queen, Remploy, along with the future job prospects of hundreds of disabled people, is subject to a clandestine, cloak and dagger assassination. It is an absolute disgrace.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very concerned to hear that the Remploy factory in Spennymoor is to be closed. Surely it is possible for the Minister to come to the House at 7 o’clock.

I am grateful to Members for their points of order, and I note what the hon. Lady has just said, and what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, about the possibility of something being offered to the House by way of a statement later in the day. I can offer no encouragement on that front. I simply make the following points. First, the House knows the importance I attach—the premium that I attach—to statements being made to the House, and to a proper judgment being made as to the merit of the case for scrutiny, there and then, of that statement; secondly, the Treasury Bench is heavily populated, and representatives of it will have heard the strength of feeling that has been expressed in the House this afternoon; and, finally, there are well established procedures for Members to raise the matter in the House tomorrow—procedures of which they will themselves be very well aware.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What can be done to clarify the Government’s position on the national planning policy framework? Last night’s “Newsnight” programme reported a very clear understanding that no significant changes would be made to the document, despite vociferous campaigns being run by the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the consultation process. If no changes are to be made, that will be a matter of great concern for many people, so have you been approached by the Government wanting to make a statement on the matter, and if not what can be done to allow the House to question Ministers on it?

I have not been so approached. The hon. Lady has at least started to provide a solution to the dilemma that she has identified, by airing her concerns in the House and by placing the matter on the record, and knowing her as I do I have a sense that her efforts will continue and accelerate in a variety of ways.