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Ms Harman: Edinburgh zoo is world-famous, and zoos are not only an important family day out, but important educational facilities. I know that my hon. Friend’s view is that it is typical of the Lib Dem council to be so out of touch with voters that it does not realise that.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): In this place, we are all honourable Members, and the Leader of the House, above all, is meant to epitomise that. For the purposes of the business of the House next week, will she tell us her definition of the word “honour”?

Ms Harman rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Michael Connarty.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen early-day motion 426, which I was asked to table by the European Scrutiny Committee, and which members of the Committee and I have signed? It asks for a specific debate on the European reform treaty before it is signed.

[ That this House notes the recommendations from the European Scrutiny Committee of the House for a debate on the EU Reform Treaty before it is ratified; and calls for that debate to be arranged by the Government to allow the House to focus specifically on the Treaty. ]

Our Prime Minister will sign the treaty on 19 December, but we have not had a debate in the House on a substantive motion relating to the reform treaty. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to realise that it is possible for the Government to lance the boil of the accusation that we are somehow signing the treaty in secret.

Ms Harman: I do not think that there is anything secret about what the Government are doing on the European reform treaty. There was a report after the summit that agreed the treaty. There will be many days—days aplenty—of debate on the Floor of the House when we debate the EU reform treaty Bill referred to in the Queen’s Speech. My hon. Friend will know that under the guidance of the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, a review was held of how the House will undertake European scrutiny, to ensure that the good work that he does with his Committee can be improved.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): During a recent statement on Northern Rock, the Chancellor published a consultation document called “Banking reform—protecting depositors”. The deadline for replies is 5 December, next week. However, as the Northern Rock problems have continued—not least because of the failure to disclose the letters from the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority—there is now concern that the tripartite arrangement between the FSA, the Bank and the Treasury may not be the best model for overseeing and regulating the banking industry in this country. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to make an early statement specifically on the tripartite arrangement between the Bank, the FSA and the Treasury, and will she ask him to put back the deadline
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for responses to the consultation, so that information in that statement can be fully considered and fed back in any replies?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman needs to come to the House a bit earlier if he wants to make that point, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer was just dealing with the issues that he mentions under topical questions. If the hon. Gentleman had caught the Speaker’s eye, no doubt he could have raised that point. The Chancellor has been very forthcoming, and will continue to be so.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): As chair of the all-party Scottish football group, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether we could have a debate on how genuine fans can access the people’s game. She may be aware that next year the European championship will not be shown in Scotland, but will be shown in England. Will she use her good offices and her influence with the appropriate Minister and Department to carry out an investigation into why the Scottish people are denied the opportunity to watch football, unless they have satellite television?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important issue that will be of concern to millions of people, and I will bring it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): In support of the remarks of the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the report produced by the Committee is unprecedented since 1972, because it is a unanimous expression of grave dissatisfaction with the way in which the Government have conducted themselves. With reference to the answer that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), I regret to say that she is wrong. Under the requirements of the House, including Standing Orders, if the European Scrutiny Committee keeps a document under reserve, there is an obligation on the Government to hold a debate before that document is signed. Therefore it is imperative, and it is an obligation on the Government, to hold that debate before the Prime Minister signs the treaty.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. I hope he will make his proposals about how we can reform and improve the way in which we carry out European scrutiny in the House. Everybody would agree that it is important that the public have confidence that the House is scrutinising European legislation properly. We do not think that that is the case at present, and in the next couple of months we will introduce proposals, which we will discuss with all parties, to reform and improve European scrutiny.

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: We do not have points of order at this stage. After the statement the hon. Gentleman can raise a point of order.

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Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House recall that the Foreign Secretary promised in July, both in the House and in writing, that there would be a debate on Zimbabwe in this Session before Christmas? Given that next weekend Mugabe is coming to a European Union-African Union conference—our Prime Minister should be congratulated on saying firmly that he will not be there—is this not an opportunity for us to debate why the European Union seems to be cancelling the sanction that refused Mugabe travel in order to allow him to attend the conference? Would that not be a wonderful subject for the topical debate next Thursday?

Ms Harman: I will take my hon. Friend’s proposal as the subject of a topical debate. She has a long-standing concern about the matter and has raised it many times. I know that it is of concern to all Members of the House.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Will the Leader of the House find time to debate the situation in Bangladesh, where not only have 3,000 people died, but with rising sea levels and climate change, up to 30 million people could be at risk in future? The debate would be appreciated by the House and by the Bangladeshi community. There was a 30-minute debate last night, for which no Department for International Development Minister was available. I should like to see the Secretary of State for International Development taking his place in that debate.

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman says, there was a debate in the House last night on the important subject of Bangladesh, and I know that many hon. Members attended and intervened. We will keep under review whether adequate time is being made available or whether information should be provided on Government action and the situation in Bangladesh.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Reverting to next Thursday’s business and the topical debate that she announced, the right hon. and learned Lady might have noticed a growing appetite among those on the Opposition Benches for a more transparent process for selection. She explained that if we are to change the process, we will have to vote so to do, but in the meantime would it not enhance confidence in the selection process if she published the list of topics from which she made her choice?

Ms Harman: I would like to knock on the head the idea that somehow we have come up with a proposal about how this should be dealt with, and the Opposition have an alternative agenda, which we are
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trying to suppress. That is not the case. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make proposals about how the debates should change, of course we will listen to them. These are early days for topical debates. We want to make sure that they go well.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): It is almost a year and a half since Farepak went into liquidation, and people are facing a second Christmas without a resolution. My understanding is that a report has been prepared by the Government. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that it will be published quickly, and that we will have a proper debate in the House about the recommendations in the report?

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Congratulate him on his award, Harriet.

Ms Harman: I am sure the whole House would wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) on his award. He makes a serious point about Farepak. He will know that it is being investigated under the Companies Act. We are very concerned that the situation should never occur again. He has done important work by continually raising the subject.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): How on earth can we, or the public, have confidence in debates in the House and in European scrutiny unless there is a full and appropriate debate in the House before the Prime Minister goes to sign the treaty? Never mind the proposals for much-needed improvements in European scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House deal with the point that it would be a breach of the existing arrangements for scrutiny unless we have a debate in the House before the Prime Minister takes that action?

Ms Harman: We have numerous debates on European issues and numerous opportunities to raise them. If the hon. Gentleman wants to propose that as a subject to be debated on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall, to add to all the hours that are available to discuss Europe, he is welcome to do so. As I have made clear to the House, and make clear again for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, we will reform the way in which the European Scrutiny Committee works.

Mr. Speaker: We must move on to the next business.

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman cannot raise a point of order until after the statement. He has been here a while, has he not?

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12.15 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Peter Hain): I wish to make a statement on the modernisation of Remploy. Since Remploy was founded in 1945, it has played a central role in the lives of thousands of disabled men and women by providing supported employment for those who need it and, increasingly, by placing others in mainstream employment.

Both as a local MP and as a Minister, I have for the past 17 years worked closely with and supported Remploy and, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Remploy workers will continue to have my full support. May I record the grateful thanks of the House for the diligence and commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People.

Of course, the world has developed dramatically since the end of the second world war, not least in how the aspirations and expectations of disabled people have changed, and changed for the better. The vast majority want jobs in mainstream employment, and that is the Government’s priority. That is why we extended the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That is why we have been transforming the support that we give to disabled people, moving away from a system that abandons people to the margins to one that helps them to realise their potential.

That is why we spent £66 million last year on the Workstep programme to support 17,000 disabled people. That is why we spent £62 million on access to work, to help 24,000 people. These programmes are already helping disabled people to take their place in an inclusive society. That is why we are introducing the employment and support allowance, which will replace incapacity benefit next autumn. That is why we are extending pathways to work across the country by April next year, offering tailored support to help people on incapacity benefit back into work. And that is why last year, Remploy’s employment services division placed 5,000 disabled people in mainstream employment, for the first time outstripping the number employed by the factory network.

We have helped more disabled people into jobs than ever before. For example, since 2001 the new deal for disabled people has helped over 150,000 into work. None the less, there remains a vital role for supported employment, providing a chance to work for thousands of disabled people who might not otherwise be immediately ready for mainstream work. That has been a central part of Remploy’s work since it was founded, but increasingly, Remploy has struggled to fulfil this role effectively.

Low-wage, low-skill competition from countries like China and the EU accession states has put Remploy factories under enormous pressure. In turn, Remploy has failed to move adequately into higher-value, higher-skill work. Losses have spiralled, and Remploy’s ability to support disabled people has been put at risk. Change is therefore essential for Remploy’s 83 factories across the country, and the 5,000 people whom they employ.

Following the National Audit Office’s report in 2005 and the independent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Dr. Stephen Duckworth of Disability Matters last
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summer, Ministers asked Remploy to develop a new five-year restructuring plan. This was to modernise the business, avoid compulsory redundancy for Remploy’s disabled workers, support substantially larger numbers of disabled people into mainstream work, and stay within a funding envelope of a £555 million taxpayer subsidy over five years, to ensure that escalating costs do not put at risk funding for other Department for Work and Pensions programmes for disabled people.

The reality is that without modernisation Remploy deficits would obliterate our other programmes to help disabled people into mainstream work. With no change, in five years’ time Remploy would require £171 million a year on current trends. That would be £60 million over the £111 million funding envelope, which represents nearly the entire current annual Workstep budget.

In May 2007, Remploy made a proposal, for consultation with the trade unions, to close or merge 43 of the 83 Remploy factories. When I took over as Secretary of State a month later, however, it was clear that national and local management had not exhausted procurement opportunities to maintain the maximum number of Remploy sites. There was also a huge gulf between Remploy management and the trade unions, and the likelihood of destructive confrontation.

In August I therefore asked Roger Poole, a former assistant general secretary of Unison, to act as the independent chairman of fresh negotiations, and I want to record my thanks for the way in which he managed to achieve real dialogue and progress. Although there was no agreement on factory closures, there was significant common ground for the first time. There was agreement on the £555 million funding subsidy, on the quadrupling to 20,000 the number of disabled people Remploy would help into mainstream work, on significant cuts in management jobs and costs, on more efficient working practices, and on the vital importance of generating more public sector contracts—and, in consequence, the need for fewer factory closures.

In September I reaffirmed Government policy on Remploy: that everyone should do their utmost to get a negotiated outcome; that there would be no factory closures without ministerial agreement; and that all public authorities should be encouraged to take advantage of European procurement rules allowing contracts to be reserved for supported businesses. I also reaffirmed, as I do again today, that there would be no compulsory redundancies for Remploy’s disabled workers and that they would retain the protection of Remploy’s terms and conditions, including—uniquely for workers facing plant closures or transfers—their salaries and final salary pensions. Both workers and management now need certainty to end the insecurity and worry for Remploy employees and their families and to allow Remploy management to begin the radical changes that we all recognise are needed.

The final proposals that I am announcing today represent the best package for Remploy’s disabled employees in those difficult circumstances. Copies of the modernisation plan are available in the Vote Office, and a letter with agreed proposals to the trade unions has been deposited in the Library. There will be 15 fewer factory closures, with 55 factories remaining open and 11 merging—down from 32 closures to 17.
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The sales target for public procurement will increase to £461 million over five years, up from £298 million since the company’s proposals in May. That is a huge and challenging 130 per cent. increase over the current rate of sales of £200 million. There will be a total cost saving of £59 million from around 25 per cent. fewer managers, changes in working practices and reductions in non-wage costs.

Last week I had productive discussions with the leaders of the GMB, Unite and Community, joined by Remploy chairman Ian Russell, and I pay tribute to Ian Russell for his energy and commitment to get the best for Remploy workers. As a result, we have reached further agreements to protect Remploy’s future and its workers. New skills in public procurement will be brought in to ensure that its marketing and sales effort is targeted appropriately. Appropriate employment advice will be available to all disabled employees whose factories are closing. Remploy will provide a travel-to-work package wherever necessary, where employees transfer as a result of mergers. Furthermore, Remploy has been contacted by third parties interested in keeping some form of production or training at six of the sites due for closure—Lydney, Glasgow Hillington, St. Helens, Treforest, Ystradgynlais and Brynamman. At four other sites—Mansfield, Pinxton, Plymouth and York—there is the possibility of staff transfers to nearby plants, most of which are local authority-supported.

I know there will be disappointment that we are unable to keep even more factories open, but the reality is that it is simply not viable. For those sites, including those mentioned above, this is my message: if management, trade unions, MPs and others come up with a credible option involving a takeover or transfer, we will, of course, co-operate, and Remploy will help to facilitate. However, time is very short. The new funding envelope starts in four months’ time—from 1 April 2008.

We have managed to keep open 55 sites only on the basis of very stretching procurement targets and a tough forward plan. It will be up to everyone with an interest in Remploy—Government, management, trade unions, local MPs and other political representatives— to pull together to ensure that those factories meet their ambitious targets, otherwise they, too, could be put at risk.

The proposals that I have presented today are both realistic about the challenges facing Remploy and ambitious for the future. The plan makes some difficult choices, and many hon. Members wish that the circumstances were different, but we are where we are. What is now vital is that everyone concentrates their efforts on making the new Remploy a success. There will be a top-to-bottom restructuring and reskilling of Remploy. The plan will deliver a new beginning for Remploy requiring a radically new approach across the entire operation, which must include better management and better union relations. Last week, I agreed with union leaders that the modernisation and procurement plan will be properly monitored to ensure that it remains on course, so that Remploy can look to the future with a degree of confidence not enjoyed for some years—the people that it was set up to serve deserve no less. I commend this statement to the House.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I start by thanking the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of the statement.

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