(d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the debate you kindly answered a question about a communication from the Russian ambassador. If you feel that it would be suitable to invite the ambassador to a reception, many of us would like to come and listen to what he has to say about the matter we have just discussed.
Mr Speaker: If the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put that proposition to the House, I think that it would be divisible and there would be a Division. I note what the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has said. As he knows, there is no secret about the communication from the ambassador to me or my reply.
On account of the notable succinctness of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) in winding up the debate, we are in a position to come to the statement at 6.59 pm, rather than the advertised time of 7 o’clock.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the reform of specialist disability employment support.
Today, the Government have published a Command Paper, setting out our plans for specialist disability employment support and summarising our responses to the Sayce review. Let me make one thing clear: these are difficult decisions, but the current system is not working for disabled people. Employment rates for disabled people remain almost 30% below those of non-disabled people. Exclusion from the labour market leads to exclusion from society at large, and I do not think that anybody in the House wants to see that happen.
That is why, back in 2010, we asked Liz Sayce to conduct a review of how we might make specialist employment support for disabled people work better. The review was detailed and comprehensive, and it took views from disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and many hon. Members in the House today. Today, the Government have published their response to that report, outlining how we intend to reform specialist disability support for the future. It includes putting £15 million more into Access to Work, a scheme that has been proven to be extremely successful in supporting disabled people into mainstream employment.
I have agreed that the funding for residential training colleges should be extended until the end of the academic year 2012-13, something that I know many hon. Members present will support as well. That will allow those colleges time to determine and to implement future change. They provide support into employment which is clearly valued, although costly, and we need to take further time to consider the options for the future.
We have also taken a difficult but important decision on the future of Remploy. The responses to the consultation on the Sayce review strongly endorsed the idea that money to support disabled people into employment should follow individuals, not institutions, and that Remploy factories should be set free from Government control. The responses also supported the view that Government-funded, segregated employment is not consistent with the objective of disability equality, which is at the heart of what this Government stand for.
We know that roughly 2,200 disabled people are supported by Remploy’s enterprise businesses, at a cost each year of about one fifth of the total budget for specialist disability employment programmes. Despite significant investment in those businesses, the cost of each employment place remains some £25,000 per year, compared with an average Access to Work award of just under £3,000.
The current system is not using the money that we have available most effectively, and in these difficult economic times we have to look at that very carefully. The current situation is not sustainable, and it is simply not working for the majority of the 7 million disabled people who live in all our constituencies throughout the country.
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will agree is the right approach. That is why I have decided to accept and implement the Sayce review recommendations on Remploy. That will be done in two stages. In stage 1, the Government will reduce their current subsidy to Remploy from the beginning of the new financial year, so that we cease funding factories that make significant losses year after year and restrict funding to those factories that might have a prospect of a viable future without a Government subsidy.
Remploy’s board was asked to consider the impact of the decision before it was made, and as a result of the decision to reduce current funding the board is proposing—subject to important consultation with staff and unions—to close by the end of this year the 36 factory sites that it considers unlikely to be able to achieve independent financial viability.
Remploy will shortly begin collective consultation with its trade unions and the management forums on the proposed closure of those factories, and on the potential compulsory redundancy of 1,518 disabled people at those sites and those associated with them. In stage 2, the Department for Work and Pensions will work with the Remploy board to identify whether these potentially viable Remploy businesses can be freed from Government control, including by employee-led commercial exit or open-market sales, and how this might be achieved.
I recognise that this announcement will be difficult news for the staff in Remploy factories and understand that they have will have concerns about the future. As part of collective consultation, the Remploy board will consider all proposals to avoid compulsory redundancy. Moreover, we are absolutely committed to supporting Remploy employees with an £8 million comprehensive personalised package of support for all those who are affected by these proposals. Any disabled member of staff who is made redundant will receive an individual offer of up to 18 months’ help with the transition from Government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream employment. This support will include access to a personal budget—on average, £2,500—to aid that transition. We will also be working with employers and the Employers’ Forum on Disability to look to offer targeted work opportunities for all displaced staff. We will establish a community support fund to provide grants to local disability organisations to support Remploy employees in making the transition from sheltered employment to mainstream employment.
This decision commands the support of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people themselves. It is also a decision that I would have thought the Opposition wanted to support, because back in 2007 the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) said of Remploy:
“the reality is that it is simply not viable.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 449.]
The Government’s commitment is to support many more thousands of disabled people into work, and the changes that I am announcing today will enable us to do exactly that. I believe that this strategy better fits the
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needs and aspirations of disabled people in the 21st century, and a more equal world where disabled people participate fully in the mainstream, not in Government-funded segregated jobs.
Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): I thank the Minister for her statement, but frankly it was a statement that she obviously did not want to give to this House in person. Let me give this advice to the Minister and to Government Members: even if the situation is difficult, it behoves a Minister to come to this House to explain it. [ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. These exchanges have already been too noisy. The House must calm down. We cannot have a situation in which people trade insults across the Chamber, shouting out “Where is this one or that one?” Let us just cool the temperature and have a decent exchange. The House knows that I will want to facilitate such an exchange.
Mrs McGuire: It is fair to say that Remploy is not an ordinary organisation; it is one that has been part of Government’s provision for disabled people since the second world war. We all recognise, in all parts of the House, that it has had to adapt to changing conditions over the years, but there is no point in the Minister trying to hide behind the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain). My right hon. Friend came to this House and answered questions in this House, and he made some of the difficult decisions that we hoped would set Remploy on the road to success. Recently, however, there has been only one debate in this House on the future of Remploy, and that was held, thanks to the courtesy of the Backbench Business Committee, in Westminster Hall on 15 December. Today, the Government have tried to abrogate their responsibility as the custodian of the Remploy legacy and as the ultimate employer of the 1,752 people who today found out by written statement, or in some cases from telephone calls from Members of Parliament, that they will no longer be in a job in three months’ time.
Nobody in this House disagrees with the Minister when she says that disabled people want to have a choice about where they work. Nobody argues that such opportunities have not opened up over the past few years for many disabled people. However, many of the opportunities have been offered by organisations such as Remploy that give disabled people a real job in the jobs market. It was clear even from the Sayce review that the best factories offer job satisfaction, a supportive and accessible environment, and a reasonable income for their employees.
I will not run away from the fact that my Government, and I as a Minister, had to wrestle with the issues relating to Remploy. We cannot rewrite history. However, our position on disabled people in 2007 was astonishingly different from what the Minister has put before us today. If she truly believes in co-production, why was there no co-production with the trade unions, the disabled people who work in Remploy and the Remploy board over the past few months? I have the greatest admiration for Liz Sayce and for some of the work that she has done, but to put forward a closure programme that will potentially put 1,700 on the dole on the basis of a report by an individual is not acceptable.
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We must recognise the legitimacy of the position of the mainstream of the disability movement, which is that it does not like supported factories or Remploy. However, that does not mean that it is wrong to support people in these factories. Perhaps the mainstream needs to recognise that Remploy offers a real job in a supported environment.
I will put some questions to the Minister before you call me to order, Mr Speaker. In opposition, the Conservative party supported the five-year modernisation plan, so why did the Minister embark on a review nearly two years before that timetable had been exhausted? Why are the Government pulling the funding from the next financial year, which leaves a period of only a few days? Was warning given to the Remploy board before the last couple of weeks that it would have to manage this speed of change and a massive redundancy programme over the next few weeks?
When the modernisation statement was made to the House in 2007, the now Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—[ Interruption. ] Please do not laugh if I pronounce “Ewell” wrong. I do not know how it is pronounced. He said at that time:
“Let me assure Remploy and its employees that the next Conservative Government will continue the process of identifying additional potential procurement opportunities for them and the public sector work force.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 451.]
What has the Minister done, now that the Conservative party is in office, to ensure that her ministerial colleagues fulfil that promise? What discussions has she had with the major procurement Departments, including the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence? Did she look at the procurement opportunities that her Department could have offered to Remploy? What discussions has she had with her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage local authorities to consider opening up opportunities for their local factories? What efforts has she made to encourage her colleagues to identify procurement opportunities under article 19?
Given the Minister’s intention to embark on this course of action, how did she involve the board of Remploy and the trade unions in the discussions about the issues identified in the Sayce report? I am not talking about their responses to the consultation, but about what real co-production she was involved in. What recognition did she give to the trade union analysis of the current operation of Remploy’s enterprises and the questions that it raised about the company’s business practices?
“minded to accept the recommendations of the Sayce review”.
By how much will the Minister reduce the subsidy to Remploy in the next financial year and the one after? She highlighted the fact that there may be options for the so-called stage 2 factories. What will those options be, and what criteria will she lay down for the transfer of any business and its associated assets to the open market?
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The Minister says that the support that she will give to disabled people who are made redundant will last for up to 18 months and potentially be a personalised budget of £2,500. How is that £2,500 expected to meet the needs of many of the people in Remploy?
Mr Speaker: Order. I say to the shadow Minister that I know these are extremely important matters, but I feel sure that she is bringing her questions to a close. In fact, I am certain that she is in her last sentence.
I finish by saying to the Minister that in each constituency where there are factories at which redundancies will be made, there are tens of people chasing every job. She made a point about the increase in Access to Work, but that scheme requires jobs. Tonight, 1,700 people do not know whether they will have one in three months’ time.
Maria Miller: I am very happy to have come to the House today to discuss our proposals. [Interruption.] Communication is very important on this matter, and many Members have had many conversations with me about Remploy over the past two years. I have already laid a written statement and met many of the MPs affected. Indeed, I have spoken to the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who is not in his place.
We take staff communications very seriously indeed on a matter such as this. It is not right for the right hon. Member for Stirling to call into question the way in which it has been managed, because my colleagues at Remploy have put great effort into ensuring that disabled people employed by Remploy are well aware of today’s process. Indeed, we have worked closely together throughout the consultation process. As I have said, there were 1,400 submissions, including from disabled people, Opposition Members and staff at Remploy factories.
Most important of all, this Government decided when we came to office to take forward the modernisation plan that Labour Members had put in place. In these very difficult economic times, we could have taken a different decision, but we chose not to. We chose to stick with that plan and see how things progressed. I am afraid that in year four of the modernisation plan, it is clear that the objectives that Labour set out were simply not going to come to fruition and were not realistic. I think some Opposition Members will know that.
The right hon. Lady asked a number of questions, some of which I believe I may have answered in my statement, but I want to ensure that I have covered every point she made. The Remploy board has been fully informed of all the procedures that we have gone through and all the decisions that have been made, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to his Opposition counterpart to ensure that he was well informed in advance of today. We ensured that the procurement commitments that Labour put in place were taken forward. In fact, we have been working with Remploy for the past two years to attempt to make the modernisation plan work, but we are where we are and these difficult decisions now needed to be taken.
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There has been a great deal of discussion by Opposition Members about the number of jobs that are available to disabled people. I should like to put it on record that the employment services arm of Remploy has done a magnificent job of helping disabled people into work. I believe that many hon. Members will agree with that. Indeed, last year, Remploy’s employment services arm supported 20,000 disabled people throughout the country into work, with 2,000 individuals with disabilities in Wales and another 2,000 in Scotland helped into work. Those jobs are available if individuals can get the support and training to access them.
The decisions are not easy, but we are continuing a policy that the previous Administration started. When we came into government, we confirmed that we would continue that plan. The truth is that the Opposition would have had to make those decisions themselves.
We enlisted the help of experts to try to ensure that our decisions were right. Liz Sayce, in her role in Radar, brings to the matter an expertise that many hon. Members will acknowledge. Today, we are taking forward her recommendations, and I am afraid that I cannot understand the tone or the nature of the right hon. Lady’s remarks.
Labour Members should remember that many factories were closed on their watch, and perhaps they did not make the right decisions then. They would have had to face the same choices. Today’s discussion is not about money because, as Opposition Members know, the money and support for specialist disability employment is protected under the Government—£320 million plus an extra £15 million to ensure that the changes that we are making today will result in more disabled people in work, with more money to support them to do that.
Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I welcome the extra £15 million that the Under-Secretary has announced today for helping disabled people. Does she agree that we are likely to secure better value for money for that extra funding, and we will be able to help more disabled people, if it goes to individuals rather than institutions?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right. In this day and age, we need to recognise that disabled people want to live independent lives. We are committed to that as a Government. To do that, we need to help more disabled people into work and we are more likely to achieve that if we can ensure that that money is used most effectively. The proposals that we are discussing will help an extra 8,000 disabled people into work.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): As the Under-Secretary knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has been very successful in getting public bodies locally to buy furniture from the Swansea Remploy factory. Now that that factory’s order books are full, will she look again at its potential to be cost effective and drop her plans to close it?
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Maria Miller: The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is important that factories have work to do. All too often in the past, factories have not had enough to do. Indeed, in the very recent past, half of Remploy employees in factories have had nothing to do. I do not find that acceptable, but if there are opportunities to avoid redundancies, we will work with hon. Members of all parties to do that.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I thank the Under-Secretary for her statement and the Opposition spokesperson for her response. The decision is difficult but I believe that it is right. The Under-Secretary knows my views—I have worked in this area for many years. I would like to get a couple of commitments in the House. Will every penny saved remain in the area to help many more thousands of disabled people into work? I do not want it to be a cost-cutting exercise. Secondly, if the Under-Secretary cannot do so this evening, will she bring to the House later some detail about the exact programme over the 18 months to ensure that people from Remploy move into employment?
Maria Miller: I can reassure my hon. Friend that every penny that is saved in the programme will be reinvested in supporting disabled people. Indeed, we will spend £15 million more as a result of the real, clear need to ensure that we have sufficient support in place. I can also reassure him that we already have the detailed programme of support for Remploy employees who are affected by today’s announcements. Several Opposition Members attended a meeting that I held earlier to ensure that people have the information to hand. I will continue to hold meetings with hon. Members to ensure that everybody is aware of the support that is in place.
Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Seventeen hundred people will lose their jobs as a result of this statement, including 1,500 disabled people. The Minister’s case rests on the argument that there are better ways to help disabled people into work than through Remploy. Will she therefore guarantee to come to the House six months after the closures have taken place and detail exactly how many of the 1,500 disabled people who will lose their jobs have gained alternative employment?
Maria Miller: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we know what happens to individuals who are affected by the measures announced today. Unfortunately, under the previous Administration, no such tracking was put in place. That was a mistake, and one that this Government will not be repeating. I hope that he is not advocating our retaining segregated employment, but I can absolutely undertake to him that we will monitor and keep track of these measures, because we want to ensure that as many people as possible can enter employment.
Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): I equally support the view that money should follow people and not institutions. As a past employer of excellent disabled people, I found that the support to help them to find us was variable to say the least. What can the Government do to improve that support to establish and build on those connections?
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Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that employers have a vital role to play. All hon. Members will know that there is a great deal more work to do to help employers to understand the very valuable contribution that disabled people bring to the workplace. I am working hard with many disabled people and disabled people’s organisations. Through our new disability strategy, we will ensure that we continue to work with employers to ensure that they see the advantages of employing disabled people, and through our additional support for Access to Work there will be tangible financial support.
Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): So the Minister’s big idea for getting people who are disabled back into work is to start by giving them the sack. There are three factors in Wales being hit hard: seven of the nine Remploy factories in Wales will close; 272 of the 752 employees are in Wales; and jobs are being lost in communities that already face mass worklessness, such as Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Abertillery. What consideration did the Minister give to human costs before making her announcement, or was her only thought the cold logic of the balance sheet?
Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to me earlier, because we are talking about supporting more disabled people into employment. As a result of the announcements we have made today, 8,000 more disabled people can seek the support that will make the difference between them being able to get into work and facing a lifetime on benefits. Disabled people in this country should not face a choice between a lifetime on benefits and a job in a segregated factory. They deserve to be able to work for employers such as BT, Royal Mail, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer, all of which are actively working with Remploy employment services to get people—not only in Wales, but throughout the country—into employment.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): We would all like to see more disabled in mainstream employment, but does the Minister accept that some people who work in Remploy factories will not be able to hold down a job in mainstream employment for the longer term? Given that so many people without a disability who are more than capable of working shy away from doing so, should we not do everything we can to support people who could sit at home on disability but who want to go out to work for their own dignity? No fair-minded person questions my hon. Friend’s commitment to improve the lot of people with disabilities, but will she ensure that none of those people from Remploy factories who wants to earn an honest day’s pay will be left behind by her changes?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend and I have spoken about this before. I do not think that we should sell disabled people short. Many disabled people working in Remploy employment factories have excellent skills. I want to ensure that they have the support and opportunity to have the sorts of jobs that I know most disabled people want in their lives. Independent living, not segregation or inequality, is at the heart of the Government’s approach.
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of disabled workers in areas of high unemployment. Some of them, in areas such as mine, previously made redundant by Remploy, still have not got jobs. It is time that this Government and their accomplices, these tinpot Liberals, understood that this is the most heartless thing that they have done since they came to power. It is time they went.
Maria Miller: I suppose that I should remind the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that he supported a Government who closed 28 factories. What is inexcusable is that his Government did absolutely nothing on tracking to establish how to put in place the right support for individuals affected by their decisions. The simple truth is that as a result of the Labour party’s approach, the factories have lost £225 million since 2008. That is money that we should have been using to support more disabled people into work, and that is at the heart of our proposals today.
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I commend Waitrose in my constituency for its structured programme of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I also commend my hon. Friend for taking this difficult decision to make the money go further. Will she say a little about the responses from the disability organisations about how to help more disabled people into mainstream employment?
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right: we have to make the money go further and, in these difficult economic times, ensure that the money is being used most effectively. Our consultation on the future of disability employment support received widespread—indeed, almost universal—support from disability organisations. Mind told us:
“We agree that Remploy should be radically reformed, with high quality support for everyone affected”.
“We appreciate that the Sayce review has caused some concern… However, we believe segregated employment for disabled people is unacceptable.”
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I hope that the Minister, as she faces me, feels a little embarrassed for completely misleading me earlier this week. I, in turn, misled people in my factory, and I hope that she apologises for that. I am afraid, once again, that this is the nasty party at work. It has never changed. It has not changed in the 28 years that I have been in the House. It is an absolute disgrace.
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Maria Miller: And I can say to you, Mr Speaker, that I would never want to mislead the right hon. Lady at all, here or in any other place. I would gently bring to her attention the fact that there are 37 disabled people employed in the Aberdare factory. The loss at that factory last year was £800,000, and that is against an estimated 13,600 disabled people in Cynon Valley who are of working age. Does she not believe that we should be doing more to support those individuals? The proposals in today’s statement will do just that.
Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): May I thank the Minister for her conversations with me in recent months, as she has come to this difficult but, I believe, correct decision today? Many people at the Alder Hills site in my constituency and their families will be worried tonight, but that worry will not be allayed by the invective in the two contributions that we have just heard from the Opposition. Will the Minister say what more we might do to seek the advice of disabled people, so that as they try to access mainstream employment, we can learn from their bad experiences in the past of trying to do that?
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, and I think he is right that many vulnerable groups and individuals who are listening to this debate will be taking close note of who is trying to offer the support that is needed, and we on the Government Benches want that to be constructive support. He will be aware that we are putting in place a budget of some £8 million, half of which will be used directly for personal support budgets for individuals, both in his constituency and elsewhere—some £2,500 a head. I want that to give every individual who is affected the proper support, so that we do not have a repeat, perhaps, of some of the problems of the past to which Opposition Members have referred.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Minister has repeatedly refused to give information to Members of Parliament about the viability of individual factories. She is now giving them at the Dispatch Box—she gave them to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). That is a very deficient approach. Today, Liz Sayce said:
“I think it is really important that those factories should be given a chance to show if they can be viable”.
The hon. Gentleman will be able to have sight of the report that we have put together, which looked at the whole network to see which factories we could put into a financially sustainable position. Again, however, I would gently remind him that the Wrexham factory in his constituency supports 41 disabled individuals,
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at a cost of £900,000 last year, against an estimated total of 7,400 disabled people in the Rhondda who are of working age. Does he not want to do more to support—
My apologies, Mr Speaker: in Wrexham—the Rhondda is in the south; Wrexham is in the north.
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): I have to say that once again I find myself in disagreement with my coalition colleagues on this matter. Can the Minister give an assurance that those companies that are not—[ Interruption. ] I have to apologise, Mr Speaker: that was a call from the Remploy factory. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be sufficient help to enable—[ Interruption. ]
Mr Hancock: May I seek an assurance from the Minister that those factories that are happily not up for closure at present will be given all sorts of assistance? I would also like her to give an indication, if she can this evening, of what help will be given to those Remploy operations to stay in business. Does she also accept that some people employed by Remploy—many in my constituency have been there for 10 or 15 years—will find it difficult to find other employment?
Maria Miller: I am very happy to give my hon. Friend an undertaking that we will want to work together with individuals in factories that are in wave 2 of the process, because we want to find ways for those organisations to succeed. However, he should be aware that we are indeed able to support disabled people into employment, through the employment services programme, so although he rightly says that it can be difficult for people to make that transition, it is not impossible. With the right support, people can move from segregated factories into mainstream employment.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The Minister referred to the £2,500 of transitional funding for the workers, and I note that that is an average figure. If it is to make up the difference between benefits and the wages that the workers would have earned, it will last about six months. If they are still unemployed after that time, will there be further transitional assistance? If not, some of those families will plummet into poverty.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Local authorities in the former Humberside region struggled with a similar problem to that of Remploy involving B-line. In 2007, the then Labour council in North Lincolnshire decided to close B-line down. Since then, there have been far too many people with disabilities presenting to MPs and councils in the area and requiring support. What can my hon. Friend say to those people who will be affected by today’s decision? Specifically, will she assure me and the House that social enterprises will be engaged to help the individuals affected, and that there will be a guarantee that every worker affected will get the maximum support, rather than just the average sum?
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Maria Miller: I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that the individuals who are affected by these announcements will receive unprecedented levels of support from the £8 million package. We want to ensure that each individual is given the kind of personalised package of support that they have not received in the past, to enable them to make the transition from segregated employment to mainstream employment. We want to do as much as we can to improve the opportunities for more disabled people to live independent lives.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): If the Minister has read the responses to the consultation, she will be aware that, following the last round of voluntary redundancies, a large number of people were still not in work 18 months later. Why does she think it is going to be different this time, when she is proposing compulsory redundancies at a time that she has acknowledged to be one of economic difficulty?
Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman might not have heard me say earlier that, in the last major round of redundancies, which took place under the Labour Government in 2008, no process was put in place to track the progress of individuals who were offered support. Indeed, we found that some 40% of the individuals involved took retirement or early retirement. I want to ensure that people have the right support, and that they can see that there is an opportunity to move forward. Now, more than ever, it is important that we get this right. The last Government ducked these decisions; they did not take the difficult decisions and they did nothing to ensure that disabled people could get the job opportunities that they needed.
Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): The Minister rightly recognises the success of residential training colleges such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People college in my constituency. Will she reassure me and other Members who have such colleges in their constituencies that departmental officials will make themselves fully available to the colleges as they explore alternative ways of working and being funded?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about the importance of the college in her constituency. The simple fact is that residential training colleges up and down the country provide important specialist support for disabled people to get into employment. I have already given a clear undertaking that we are going to provide funding for those residential training colleges through to the end of the 2012-13 academic year. Indeed, my officials are already meeting the heads of those colleges to ensure that we have a clear plan for retaining that expertise in the new funding environment.
Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab):
No one will be surprised to hear that the workers in my local factory were devastated by today’s news. They feel particularly angry because for the past two years, the
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management and the work force have been working together to try to develop a social enterprise that would include not only the Remploy workers but other voluntary organisations around the city. They have gone a long way down the road to achieving that, but there is now huge uncertainty. My reading of the literature that has been produced today is that the factories are to be closed, which means that—
Mr Doran: I would love to make a speech, but I am trying to avoid one. The future of the factory is crucial. There is a possibility of saving jobs in Aberdeen, so will the Minister confirm what will happen to the factories?
Maria Miller: We are going into a 90-day consultation on phase 1 factories. If individuals want to come forward because they feel that there are opportunities to reduce the level of redundancies, Remploy would obviously be pleased to look at them.
Maria Miller: I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we have had extensive conversations with the Employers Forum on Disabilities, which is going to work closely with us on the employment support package that we are putting together for the individuals affected, particularly making sure that, through its first shot scheme, disabled people can get those interviews and get in front of employers, which can be so important in securing jobs.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Nobody would deny that mainstream employment is important for people with disabilities, but some people who are employed in Remploy factories are there because they cannot secure mainstream employment. Will the Minister give the House a commitment today that at the end of the 18-month period, she will produce a report showing the individual destinations of people in employment and, if she proceeds with this closure programme, what percentage of them have jobs?
Maria Miller: Again, the right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that unlike the previous Government, we will track the destinations of the people affected today. I do not doubt his very real and important concern, but disabled people really have the capability of working in mainstream employment, and I think it is our responsibility to make sure that we give them the skills and support to be able to do that.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Given that many of these employees will enjoy a lot of camaraderie and community, as well as jobs, will my hon. Friend confirm that the mentoring and support offered will be beyond what is currently offered to them? Will she also confirm that local charities and local organisations will work closely with these employees so that they can be involved in the community?
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Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the community aspect of Remploy is important. It is something that all who are involved with Remploy understand. That is why I have allocated £1.5 million to a community budget to make sure that the broader benefits of Remploy are taken into account so that that support is there not just for employees, but for their families and the broader community, too.
Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): Is it not shameful that the workers in the Remploy factory in Wishaw did not even know that they were losing their jobs until I phoned the factory this afternoon? In Motherwell and Wishaw, there are 21 people going for every single job application, so what will happen to those Remploy people who do not get a job in the next 18 months?
Maria Miller: Communication is vital. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that this is part of a 12-month process. We have been in consultation, and 1,400 people contributed to it. It is well known that we have been in this process. Today, Remploy management took a great deal of time to make sure that that communication process continued. I challenge him to look at some of the facts and figures for his own region—to look, for example, at the number of disabled people who are getting into employment. That is something that we believe should be available for Remploy employees as well.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Everyone in the House will empathise with the people who are at risk of losing their jobs tonight; there is no question about that. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the support these people will receive will help a greater number of people to get into jobs and that the money will be used effectively? Does she share my surprise that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who just five hours ago expressed his concern that the Minister should be here tonight, is not here tonight?
Maria Miller: Obviously, it is important for Members to take part in this debate. I can reassure my hon. Friend that as a result of the proposals that we have announced today, some 8,000 more disabled people will be helped into employment. This is not just about the £320 million that the Government have already announced that they have protected to support this important group of people; it is about an extra £15 million on top of that, and I think that our actions speak very loudly.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I think that the 54 disabled people who are losing the jobs at Remploy in Chesterfield will see through the Minister’s warm words and rhetoric. The fact is that more disabled people than able-bodied people are unemployed generally: it is a desperately difficult jobs market out there anyway. The Minister has already dodged this question twice. Will she commit herself to coming back to the House in six months and telling us where those who have lost their jobs at Remploy have gone, so that we can establish whether her warm words mean anything to the 54 people in my constituency who are losing their jobs?
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that we will monitor the progress made by disabled people, and I am always happy to come to the House and talk about the progress that the Government are making.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): When the Ystradgynlais Remploy factory in my constituency was closed under the last Labour Government, a number of my constituents transferred to Baglan, which I think today’s written statement refers to as Neath. It is included in the stage 2 list as being potentially viable. Will the Minister ensure that the Remploy board is given all the encouragement and resources that are needed to ensure that that viability continues?
Maria Miller: We certainly want to help the Neath factory to realise what is clearly its potential. I hope that we can work with my hon. Friend as well, and that his support will ensure that the factory is the success that he feels that it can be in the future.
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Will the Minister tell us what criteria will be used to determine whether factories on the stage 2 list, such as the one in my constituency, will remain open, and against what time scale they will be judged? Will she come back to the House at the end of that time and tell us how many of them will remain open?
Maria Miller: The stage 2 factories are factories that we believe, on the basis of independent reports, have the opportunity and potential to be financially viable. What we need now is an opportunity to talk to people who may be interested in taking them over. We are committed to what is in recommended in Liz Sayce’s report, which is the freeing of these factories from Government control, and we need to ensure that we have the right support and plans to be able to do that.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that as a result of this tough and difficult decision it will be possible to help thousands more disabled people who do not currently live near a Remploy factory, such as those in my constituency?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend speaks for the 7 million disabled people of working age in this country who do not have the opportunity to work at Remploy. We must use the £320 million of protected money, and the extra £15 million that is going into Access to Work, to ensure that many more of those individuals who are unable to be employed at the moment have the opportunity to be employed, and to lead independent lives as a result.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am particularly disappointed by the timing of today’s announcement. It stretches credulity that at a time of rising unemployment and fierce competition for every single job, the Government are planning to take supported jobs away from people who are already very disadvantaged in the labour market. What net financial savings does the Minister expect to arise from this policy? Once the redundancy bill, the benefits bill and the personalised support have been delivered, will creating all this uncertainty actually save any money?
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Remploy factories, but I assure her that we are trying to ensure that the money is used more effectively, so more of her constituents can get the support they need. It simply cannot be right for us to continue to let the factories lose £68 million a year—and cumulatively more than £200 million over the modernisation plan period—when we could be using that money more effectively to support more disabled people into employment.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am concerned about the way this difficult decision will be reported. Will she make it clear that the decision has not been taken in order to cut public expenditure, and that instead more money will be going towards enabling disabled people to live and work independently, free of prejudice, with support, so they can do what they want to do in their lives?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I put the following simple fact to the House: as a result of what we are announcing today, 8,000 more disabled people throughout the country will have the opportunity to move into work, compared with 1,500 people who work in Remploy factories and who will be affected. In these difficult economic times, we have to take tough decisions, but this is a decision that is about much more than that; it is about the sort of country we are—a country that wants to have disabled people included at the heart of our communities instead of in segregated factories.
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I would agree with the Minister’s logic if we were in a period of full employment across the country or in regions such as the north-east of England, but the north-east is bearing 10% of the total cuts announced today. Sadly, I am convinced that very few, if any, of the people affected in my constituency and in the north-east in general will find other employment easily. What support will be given to the people of the north-east, so that they can get another job in the north-east?
Maria Miller: I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, but he needs to look at the facts. Some 20,000 disabled people were helped into employment last year, and that was achieved not in easy economic times, but in the difficult economic times we inherited from Labour. We made sure that 20,000 disabled people were able to get into employment. I can reassure him that throughout the country we are very effectively getting disabled people into employment, and that the £8 million we have put aside for employment support will help ensure that his constituents get the sort of support that I know he would want them to get.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): The acoustics in the Chamber are slightly awkward tonight, so I did not quite hear the Minister’s answer about how many Remploy factories were closed by the last Labour Government. I would therefore appreciate it if she would repeat it. We in the Public Accounts Committee found out today that 442,700 people started apprenticeships in the last year. Can she assure us that there is cross-departmental working to ensure that such opportunities are available to all people?
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Maria Miller: I am very happy to be able to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I apologise if Members did not catch the answer to which he refers: under the previous Administration, 68 factories closed—[Interruption.] I apologise; 28 factories closed under the previous Administration. [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. If the House were a little quieter, we would all be able to hear exactly what is being said. May I also ask the Minister to give briefer answers and, once again, ask Members to ask a single, brief question?
Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): My constituents who work at Remploy in Wishaw in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy) have been coming to me for the last year to express their fear that what has been announced this evening would happen. After having been sacked so unceremoniously today, without an earlier statement or even a phone call, I do not think they will agree with the Minister that they have been set free. If she has made this announcement from the goodness of her heart and to encourage more disabled people into mainstream employment, why is she not ensuring that each Remploy employee has a new job before she lays them off?
Maria Miller: There was a statement earlier and I just want to make sure that the hon. Lady is clear that what Remploy announced today is that it will be consulting on the future of the people who will be affected by the announcements. She used the word “sacked”, but that is not correct. I can absolutely assure her that the support that will be in place will be the support she would expect to be there for her constituents to make sure that every one of them has the support to enable them to get back into employment.
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Having anticipated this event I took the opportunity to discuss with the Remploy factory in Burnley the future of the site. Will the Minister confirm what will happen to the assets of that site? Will she be prepared to hand them over to the work force so that they can start up their own business? They tell me that without the present astronomical overhead costs from central control and Government interference, they will be very successful, but they need assurances that they can take it on as an individual business. Will they be able to take on the company’s assets?
Maria Miller: I assure my hon. Friend that I would very much like to work with him on that and look at the proposal he mentions. We have spoken at length about this and I am sure that, working with officials, we can make sure that the details are available to anyone who has a firm proposal to put forward.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to the Chamber this evening, but hon. Members will note that a Labour Minister in the Welsh Assembly saw fit to answer questions on this, with an oral statement, seven hours ago. In it he said:
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“I regret that repeated requests by Welsh ministers for a constructive dialogue on Remploy factories in Wales have not been taken up by the UK Government.”
Will the Minister accede to the immediate request of the Welsh Assembly Government for discussions about the Remploy assets so that they can work with unions, social enterprises and others to make sure that we have viable ongoing businesses in all those premises?
Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): The Leeds Remploy office placed 307 people in work last year—a record to be applauded. I also applaud these efforts to end workplace segregation. Will my hon. Friend focus on monitoring the personalised support schemes to ensure that more people are helped into work in future and are not left behind as has happened in the past?
Maria Miller: This is a protected budget and we will make sure that the costs involved will be covered within the budgets that are available and that as a result of the measures we are taking today more disabled people will be helped into employment over this spending review period. Any costs associated with the changes we have announced today will be included within existing plans.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Will my hon. Friend take every opportunity, particularly tonight and tomorrow, to stress in the media that the funding will go to the disabled individual rather than to the institution, so that the voices we hear on this are not just those of the unions?
Maria Miller: Many people listening to the debate will be somewhat surprised that in this day and age we still have this approach to supporting disabled people in this country. I know there is union involvement in the factories and perhaps that had some bearing on the problems that the previous Administration had in taking tough decisions on this issue. I assure my hon. Friend that we will take the right decisions for disabled people because we are listening to their aspirations for the future, not the unions.
Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier, the Minister indicated that stage 2 factories such as the one in Clydebank in my constituency can expect no more support than stage 1 factories in finding a way forward to a sustainable future. Will she reconsider that position and put a taskforce into each of the stage 2 factories at least?
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Maria Miller: The important point I made earlier to the hon. Lady about her factory is that we believe that the phase 2 factories have the opportunity to become viable and we shall be looking at ways to make that happen. I hope that, perhaps working with her, we can identify somebody who is able to take on that challenge at local level.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Today’s announcement is a crushing blow to the staff at Wythenshawe Remploy, who have battled against closure for four and a half years. They have made the factory more efficient and have boosted sales, yet their reward is that they are classed as a stage 1 factory, which means that it will close. Can I have an assurance from the Minister that if in the 90-day consultation period a credible proposal is made to keep that factory open—perhaps as a social enterprise—it will be given sympathetic consideration and adequate support?
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The heartless, callous decision announced today casts hundreds of hard-working disabled people on to the scrap heap, probably for a lifetime. The Minister continues to state that they will get jobs elsewhere, but in my constituency, 55.5 people are after every jobcentre vacancy. Can the Minister tell me where they will get employment?
Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman really should have been listening to what I was talking about. Under the Labour Administration, 28 factories were closed in very difficult circumstances. What we are doing differently is making sure that the proper support is put in place, which it probably was not in the case of factories closed under Labour. We want to make sure that disabled people who are affected by the plans today have that support, and I hope I can call on the hon. Gentleman’s support to make sure that his constituents are aware of it.
Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): In 2007, the Conservatives said they would do all they could to support Remploy when they were in government. Does the Minister agree that the shambolic and shameful way the statement has been made today epitomises the Government’s cavalier and out-of-touch attitude to vulnerable people, and represents a broken promise to the dozens of disabled people in Edinburgh who are losing their jobs tonight?
Maria Miller: I am sorry; the hon. Gentleman needs to listen to what I am saying here. What we have done as a Government is to follow the Labour modernisation plan. We have followed it for the last two years and continued to make sure that in these tough economic times £555 million continued to be available. What we are not doing is wasting money; we are making sure that the money we have is going further.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab):
I notice that the excellent Coventry plant is down for reconsideration. I also notice that the Minister certainly has not consulted me, or any of the other Coventry MPs. Can we have an undertaking that she will consult the Coventry MPs? More important, to help her with
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her reconsideration we are prepared to give her a tour of that very successful factory, which does work for Jaguar Land Rover and other automobile industries. Is the Minister planning to privatise that plant?
Maria Miller: I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I think I have visited the factory in Coventry. We had a consultation on the process, with many contributions from hon. Members, but obviously I shall be happy to meet Coventry Members at any point in time.
Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I have visited the Remploy plant in my constituency so often that I am practically on first-name terms with most of the work force. They are fantastic—a mix of able-bodied and disabled people—and I cannot help but fear that they would be offended by the continuous references to a segregated workplace. Thankfully, Dundee is not earmarked for closure, but what assurances can the Minister give the work force in Dundee that they have a future there?
Maria Miller: The assurance I can give the hon. Gentleman and the work force in Dundee is that whether their factory is phase 1 or phase 2, they will get the support they need, either to work in mainstream employment through our £8 million support fund, or to look for alternative viable ways of taking the factory forward outside Government control. The hon. Gentleman will share with me the desire to make sure that more of his disabled constituents can get work, which is why I hope he can support our plans today.
Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I must say I am amazed that I am standing here in the 21st century discussing state-subsidised segregated jobs. Can the Minister confirm that the Government spend more than £60 million a year and that the operating loss on the factories was £68.3 million last year? Disabled people in my Bracknell constituency would welcome funding from the Government to support them to get into profitable jobs in the future, because they do not have the opportunity to be employed in a state-subsidised factory.
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is right. The cumulative figure for the factory losses is well in excess of £200 million. That is important money, which could have been used more effectively to support more disabled people throughout the country into work.
Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Will the Minister apologise to the deaf employees at the Springburn Remploy factory in my constituency, who were denied the dignity of a signer to tell them this afternoon that their jobs were gone? Does the Minister accept that with just 45% of disabled people employed—some 30% less than the non-disabled population—with a flatlining economy, with 20 people in my constituency chasing every job that is available, the question is: where will the jobs come from?
I will look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about the Springburn factory. I would absolutely apologise to factory workers if there was not a signer available. I will look into that in detail. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the number of disabled
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people in his constituency who have been supported into mainstream employment through our employment services programmes and many others. We know that disabled people want to be able to live independent lives, and through the changes that we are talking about today we can support many, many more to do that.
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Croespenmaen in my constituency has worked hard to make its business a success. It has shown faith in Remploy. It is a pity that the Government could not show the same faith in it. Today’s announcement is nothing short of a kick in the teeth. Does the Minister believe that 90 days is long enough for these people to plan their future or try to save their factory?
Maria Miller: I know the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this. We are absolutely showing faith in disabled people in what we are doing today. The plans and proposals that we have put forward have the full endorsement and backing of many disabled people throughout the country, and the work that has been done by Liz Sayce is an important contribution to the way we can help improve the lives of disabled people in Britain today.
Sir Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): Bearing in mind the Minister’s statement in respect of residential training colleges, she is aware of Portland training college, whose patron is Her Majesty the Queen in this, the diamond jubilee year. Will the Minister accept an invitation to visit that college to meet directors, staff and, of course, students to talk about their future?
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Can the Minister tell the House when she envisages that the factories will start closing? I know that there will be a great deal of distress about this in north-east Wales. We do not see it as a state-subsidised industry. We see it as to do with disabled people in a very challenging economic situation.
Maria Miller: I understand the hon. Lady’s commitment to supporting disabled people in her constituency. There is a 90-day consultation period, so that will be completed and then we will talk to disabled employees about their futures. I hope we can continue to keep her up to date on that progress.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The Minister gave a shambolic reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), in much the same way as she addressed Remploy workers and the House. What are the redundancy costs calculated to be, and what is the impact on businesses which are customers or suppliers?
Maria Miller: It is very difficult to give facts and figures when we are in consultation. That will depend on the outcome of the consultation. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to be furnished with those figures when the consultation is complete.
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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Leaving aside the utterly shabby way in which the Minister tried to sneak out the announcement today—[Interruption.] Utterly shabby. Does she not realise that one of the reasons that there are Remploy factories in places such as the Rhondda and in Cynon Valley is that we already have some of the highest levels of unemployment and the highest levels of disability? Will she guarantee that not a single person in the Aberdare factory or in Porth will be forced into redundancy?
Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and hope that he received my letter, which clarified that I enjoyed my discussions with the Porth factory and very much understand his support for them. I gently remind him that the factory supports 74 disabled people. He needs to ensure that he is also thinking about the 12,400 disabled people in his constituency—[ Interruption. ] The Porth factory lost around £200,000 last year. We believe that we need to challenge ourselves on how we can use that money more effectively. Last year in Wales employment service—[ Interruption. ]
Maria Miller: I was simply going to point out that 2,000 disabled people got very good jobs in Wales last year. The hon. Gentleman really needs to focus on the fact that there are employment opportunities there, but we need to ensure that his constituents and those of other hon. Members have the skills and support to be able to take those jobs up.
Business without Debate
That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 27 February, be approved.—(Mr Vara.)
That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 27 February, be approved.—(Mr Vara.)
European Union Documents
7 Mar 2012 : Column 974
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 15243/11 and Addenda 1 to 4, relating to a draft regulation laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund covered by the Common Strategic Framework and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Regulation (EC) No. 1083/2006; and supports the Government’s aim to reduce the administrative burden on both Member States and the recipients of funds, and to target funds in order to maximise support for the Europe 2020 strategy for sustainable growth objectives.—(Mr Vara.)
Business of the House (12 March)
That at the sitting on Monday 12 March the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on:
(1) the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to Backbench Business Committee not later than one and a half hours after their commencement;
(2) the Motions in the name of Sir George Young relating to Committee on Standards and Committee of Privileges and Pay for Chairs of Select Committees not later than three hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion specified in paragraph (1);
(3) the Motions in the name of Mr Kevin Barron relating to Code of Conduct and All-Party Groups not later than four and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion specified in paragraph (1); and
(4) the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to Localism Act 2011, etc.: scrutiny of certain orders and draft orders not later than the moment of interruption;
and such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved.—(Mr Vara.)
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE (13 MARCH)
That at the sitting on Tuesday 13 March—
(1) paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motion in the name of Edward Miliband as if the day were an Opposition Day; and proceedings on the Motion may continue for three hours and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means shall be entered upon (whether before, at or after 7.00 pm), and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.—(Mr Vara.)
Post Office Services (Torphichen, West Lothian)
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
The village of Torphichen has one shop, and in that shop there was a sub-post office. Sadly, because of family circumstances, the previous owner closed the shop and returned the licence for the sub-post office to the Post Office. The Post Office has stuck a notice on the window of the shop but consulted absolutely no
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one. The shop has been bought—thank goodness—but unfortunately it appears that the Post Office is not prepared to put back the sub-post office that was previously part of the network.
The Petition of residents of Torphichen, West Lothian,
Declares that the Petitioners are concerned about the provision of Post Office services in Torphichen, following the closure of the Post Office when the previous sub-postmaster gave up the lease on the premises; declares that the Post Office had said that the closure would be temporary; that no consultation has been carried out on any proposal to close the Post Office permanently; and declares that the Petitioners believe that a reduced service is not justifiable or acceptable.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to ensure that the Torphichen Post Office is reopened.
And your Petitioners remain, etc.
Health and Social Care Bill
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): To the House of Commons, this petition of residents of the United Kingdom, collected in Marton, Coulby Newham, Guisborough, Saltburn and Redcar over a period of one week, amounts to more than 700 names.
The Petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that the Petitioners are opposed to the Health and Social Care Bill.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to withdraw the Health and Social Care Bill.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
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Historical Enquiries Team
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker for allowing me to highlight two cases in which the Historical Enquiries Team has been involved: specifically, the deaths of Kenneth Smyth and Hugh Lexie Cummings.
Policing and justice were devolved in April 2010. After that, on 3 November 2010, the Secretary of State felt able to stand up and not only take part in a debate about Bloody Sunday, but take on the burden of apologising, along with the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government. On Wednesday 30 November 2011, I asked the Secretary of State a question directly relating to the HET:
“The HET investigated the murder of my cousin, Kenneth Smyth, on 10 December 1971—those on the street knew who committed the murder—and Lexie Cummings was murdered on 15 June 1982. HET investigations into both cases concluded that no action should be taken. The concern is that the investigations might not have been thorough, so does the Secretary of State accept that confidence needs to be instilled in the Unionist community and that the HET therefore has considerable work to do?”
“I am grateful for that question. I do not entirely agree. The HET is impartial, and the latest polling commissioned on the reaction of the families is extraordinarily high: 90.5% said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the performance of the HET.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 919.]
Why is the Bloody Sunday case any different from the one under discussion? I could cynically suggest the difference by asking, has not enough money been spent on the investigations to warrant the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Surely the reason could not be that the families of those men, who faithfully served Queen and country in awful times, are not worth as much. Just because those men wore the uniform of the British Army, does that make them expendable or cannon fodder? I trust that that is not the case, but I shall be very disappointed if I find out that it is.
I thank each and every Member who has stayed behind to hear what the families of those men have asked me to say in this House, respecting and honouring them for the sacrifice that they made for the people of Northern Ireland and for the whole UK. The presence of every hon. Member has been noted and is appreciated.
Kenneth Smyth was my cousin. I remember him well. I looked up to him as an expert shot who introduced me to shooting at a young age, as a six or seven-year-old, and represented the B-Specials of the Ulster Defence Regiment in shooting at Bisley. I have a photograph of him being presented with a prize and a medal by Bill Craig, the Home Affairs Minister from way back in the old Northern Ireland Parliament.
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the birds arrived within a couple of days they were still okay to eat, but if they arrived a wee bit later they were not, I am afraid, quite as edible—but that is by the way.
I have Kenneth’s UDR beret, and my first son is named after him. I admired him when he took part in shooting competitions for the UDR, and perhaps as a young boy I wanted to be like him. I can well remember the day that his life was taken away.
“Kenneth Smyth loved hunting or anything to do with the outdoors and, as often as possible, spent his time in the fields and countryside around his native Castlederg in County Tyrone. He was the eldest of four children and described as very talented while at school and with a great ability at hand crafts especially anything to do with wood.”
“Being a lot younger than Kenneth, his sister Shelley does not remember much about his earlier years, but she does remember him as being very quiet natured and a person who enjoyed fun. In later years Kenneth went to stay at his grandparents house and kept his gundogs there so that he could go hunting more easily in the nearby countryside. Because of the constant terror campaigns being waged in Northern Ireland, security was always of paramount importance and, to supplement the regular police service, the Special Constabulary or B Men were formed. Kenneth was a member of this force and he carried out regular security duties around the frontiers of Northern Ireland and guarded specific installations against attack.
He was still a member when he decided that he would like to go to Canada and join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and went over there to follow his ambition. It was partially the police and partially the wide open spaces which attracted him, but he only stayed a month as his grandparents pleaded with him to come home as they missed him so much. Around the time he came home, the B Men had been disbanded and was to be replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment, so he decided to join up.”
“As with other members of the security forces, Kenneth was well aware of the risks and took precautions to ensure his safety as much as he possibly could. While he was at home, he placed his car in the garage and closed and locked the garage door. On the nights that he went out either socially or on business he left the garage door open so that he could drive inside in safety and not provide himself as a target by getting out of his car to open it.
One particular night he was out and, for some unknown reason, he closed the garage door and obviously someone who was watching”
“must have assumed he was at home. A group of masked and armed men attacked the house and forced their way inside. His grandfather”—
“was talking on the telephone and this was pulled from the wall by one of the raiders. They made their way straight to Kenneth’s bedroom, but, on seeing it empty, left the house again and ran off into the darkness. After this Kenneth received numerous death threats including one in a note form that was left on the windscreen of his vehicle when it was parked it in the nearby town of Strabane”
“He took the threats seriously enough to take proper precautions and, for months prior to his death, he slept in a different house every night so that he would not have a known routine.”
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“In September 1971, Kenneth got married and went to live back at his family home in Castlederg, where he and his new wife took over the top flat in a house. Friday 10 December 1971 was a day which seemed no different to any other, as the family carried on their normal routine. Kenneth had his own successful construction business and that morning, he had collected one of his workmen to take him to the job they were working on. They were travelling along Lisdoo Road near Clady, outside Strabane, when they had to stop because of a rope that had been tied across the road. Kenneth stopped the car”—
“to reverse away from it, but a number of gunmen began shooting at the vehicle. Kenneth’s passenger, Daniel McCormick, a Catholic, who was also an ex member of the UDR, was shot and killed” ,
“with Kenneth being seriously wounded. Kenneth managed to get out of the vehicle, but fell on to the ground. While he lay there, he was shot again at close range and died from the injury. Kenneth’s body was taken to his church”—
“and was given a fulltime guard until the funeral on the Sunday as there were fears that the body would be stolen. He was then buried with full military honours. He was the 5th UDR soldier to be murdered.”
The HET’s summary of intelligence said that there were no recorded threats, yet there were plenty that we were aware of: the gunmen calling at Kenneth’s home, the arson attack on his grandparents’ bungalow, and numerous letters and phone calls to him. The family therefore strongly disagrees with the HET. The HET has also said that one man who was questioned admitted to being there that day and to having shot at the Land Rover. He was tried in the Republic of Ireland, convicted of offences in relation to terrorism and sentenced to a term of imprisonment from 1974 to 1978, when he was released. He continued to live in the Republic until his death in 1995. The obvious question is this: why was he never prosecuted? Why was he never brought across the border to answer for his crimes? Why was he never extradited? The explanation that the HET provided—that it was possibly a matter of papers being lost or overlooked—is not a satisfactory conclusion or an answer for the family, who are still grieving.
The man named an accomplice who carried out the murder, and despite that man being arrested in London for terrorist offences, he was never charged for the murder of Kenneth Smyth. When asked why not, the HET said that the man denied it and the evidence was not good enough to take the case further. Does that provide closure for the family? No, it does not—far from it, especially when it is clear that most of the people in the area knew who had carried out the attack and were powerless to do anything. Has the HET investigation revealed any further evidence? No, it has not.
At this stage, I will say that I am very aware of the funding limitations of the HET and the fact that there is only so much that it can do. My problem is that the closure that it was designed to bring to families, along with the hope of prosecution, has not come close to being fulfilled in Kenneth’s case. Does the Minister feel that the fact that the HET was given a budget of some £38 million to investigate 3,268 incidents, whereas it cost the Bloody Sunday public inquiry £191 million to investigate the events surrounding the deaths of 13 men, reflects the differences between the two cases?
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Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that our profound sympathies are with him in the memory of Kenneth Smyth. There is a great deal of concern across the House about the time frame in which the HET—
Stephen Pound: I apologise profoundly, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a great deal of concern throughout the House about the time frame in which the HET conducts its inquiries. The Northern Ireland Assembly has requested that the Secretary of State hold multi-party talks on this subject. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that that seems to be a positive way forward, in accordance with the expressed formal wish of the Northern Ireland Assembly?
Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The talks are about the past. I am talking about specific incidents and cases involving the HET. I feel that these questions have to be answered. However, I accept his point.
If the HET had had the appropriate funding from central Government at the time of its investigations, when it was under the direct control of the Secretary of State, would the outcomes have been more extensive and brought satisfaction to the family?
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We appreciate the deep sensitivity of the issues of which he speaks. I speak as the one party leader who lobbied for and supported the creation of the HET. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), who was the Secretary of State at the time, can vouch for the fact that only one party lobbied for the HET and supported the Chief Constable of the time in so doing. Perhaps if more of us had recognised what was involved, we would have secured better resources and, more important, a stronger mandate for the HET. The limitations on the HET’s mandate are part of the problem, as this important case demonstrates.
Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with him wholeheartedly that if there had been better funding, the investigations might have come to more successful conclusions.
The second case I mentioned at the start of my speech is that of Hugh Cummings, known as Lexie. Twenty-nine years ago on 15 June 1982, one of life’s true gentlemen was killed when Lexie Cummings, aged 39, from Artigarvan outside Strabane in County Tyrone and a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, was shot by the IRA at close range in the back and the chest as he got into his car in the centre of Strabane, during his lunch break from the menswear shop where he had worked for 25 years:
“Lexie was well known and held in high regard by everyone in his community. The small village of Artigarvan came to a standstill for his funeral, where the Presbyterian minister told mourners:
‘In the face of tremendous provocation you have remained a totally loyal and law-abiding community. You have watched helplessly the very flower of manhood being systematically murdered. Your anger and frustration runs very, very deep. Yet there has been no retaliation and there will be no retaliation because your faith is built on the solid rock of the righteousness of God’”.
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The family refused to accept a letter of sympathy from the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Prior, which was delivered to them on the day of the funeral. They sent the letter back with the message that
“the hands of the security forces should be freed”.
“Nothing is being done, feelings are running very high on this issue. Innocent, defenceless people are being mown down and no action is being taken against the godfathers who are walking the streets. They are getting away with murder”.
When the HET investigated the death of Lexie Cummings, it found a different story. It found that a thorough investigation was carried out by the RUC at the time, which found cartridge discharge residue—gunpowder residue—on the suspect. It found fibres from the suspect’s trousers on the seat of the car, which was left abandoned at the scene of the crime. The two guns that were used were found by the Garda Siochana the next month and tests confirmed that that was the case.
It was an open-and-shut case, and yet questions must be answered. Why did William Gerard McMonagle not stand trial for the murder of Lexie Cummings? How was it that William Gerard McMonagle was allowed to travel across the border to safety and freedom, and to begin a new life, which has led to him being the mayor of Letterkenny today? Why was he never extradited, when it was known where he was? Why was there no co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the RUC to bring McMonagle to justice?
“suitable case to make a request to the authorities in the Republic of Ireland for the return of Mr McMonagle”.
“having reviewed the evidence and information now available and obtained the opinion of counsel, I have concluded that there is no longer a reasonable prospect of convicting William Gerard McMonagle of any criminal Offence. I therefore rescind the direction of 13 December 1982 and direct no prosecution of William Gerard McMonagle”.
What was the evidence, and why were the family not made aware of it? Can the Minister tell us what answer we should give the family about the criteria by which the decision was reached? The HET cannot provide the answer—who can? Can he? Why was McMonagle no longer classified as on the run even though the HET confirmed that he was never granted an amnesty?
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Minister of State may reply by saying that some of the very important points that my hon. Friend is making are about devolved matters. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that we have difficulty in explaining to our constituents why, on the one hand, these matters are all devolved and there is a limited sum of money to investigate hundreds of killings, yet on the other hand the Minister and his colleagues stand in this House and announce expensive and long inquiries, albeit not open-ended judicial inquiries, into other cases?
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There are too many questions that the HET cannot answer, due to its scope and resources, but to which the family of Lexie Cummings deserve an answer. They turn on the news and see the mayor of Letterkenny, Gerry McMonagle, who ran from justice in Northern Ireland after having been proven to have been at the scene with gunpowder residue on him, embracing his freedom and his position in life. The family visit the grave of a true gentleman, Lexie Cummings, with questions in their minds and grief in their hearts. Who can answer their questions and give them closure? Questions must be answered, because the family cannot forget that Lexie Cummings was a good man and worthy of justice. They know that for a reason unknown to them, someone has seen fit to give an unrepentant republican murderer the opportunity to parade around, with no fear of justice, in his mayoral robes. That is cruelty in the extreme, and I am here today to ask for parity in the help provided to that family and others so that they can have closure, as my right hon. Friend clearly said.
Those who had committed crimes during the troubles were asked to come forward before the Good Friday agreement. Those who did not admit their crimes but remained at large cannot be given the same amnesty, nor do they deserve their freedom. All the men and women who were murdered in the troubles by paramilitaries—in uniform or out of uniform—demand our respect, which I know we give them. I feel that the Northern Ireland Office is not giving their families the right support, and I know that a great deal of Unionists feel that, in the Government’s eyes, their pain is a second-class pain. The lack of Government representation tells me that that view may be justified, as we in the Unionist community feel. The washing of hands did not make Pontius Pilate clean, and it will not make others of that ilk clean in this case.
There is a social media page on Facebook called “Castlederg Forgotten Friends”. Part of the reason for its being set up was that Castlederg, which is one and a half miles from the border, had 26 unsolved murders—26 families with unanswered questions. For two of those families, I have made their case and their point tonight. They need help. The site clearly lists those who were murdered, and under each post it says, “Lest we forget”. Let that be the cry from this House tonight, and I hope from the Minister. We will remember them, and we will support their families and help them grieve their loss in whatever way we can.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate and thank the other Members who have participated in it.
There has been no washing of hands, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. However, as hon. Members know, following the devolution of policing and justice in April 2010, matters relating to the Historical Enquiries Team are the responsibility of the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, particularly the Minister of Justice, to whom I spoke yesterday. You will therefore understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I
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am unable to comment in detail on HET operational matters, which are for the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Let us remind ourselves of the history of the HET. It was set up in September 2005 to investigate some 3,259 unsolved deaths relating to the troubles from 1968 to the Belfast agreement in 1998. I would like to put on record the Government’s strong support for the HET and its work with the families of those killed.
The HET provides a valuable role in bringing resolution to and addressing any concerns that may remain for the families of victims of the troubles. That is supported by the findings of a recent survey, which showed that 90% of family members—across all community groups—indicated that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the HET. That is an extraordinarily high figure, and the HET is to be commended for achieving such high satisfaction rates.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned funding. Let me comment briefly on the current situation. The HET is midway through its seventh year of work, and it is worth noting that its spend to date is around £34 million. Let us compare that with the combined total cost of £300 million for recent inquiries. Bloody Sunday—I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the Saville inquiry was set up under the previous Government—cost £192 million; the Hamill inquiry cost £32 million; the Nelson inquiry cost £46 million; and the Wright inquiry cost £30 million. The good value for money that the HET provides is clear, as opposed to open-ended and costly inquiries, of which, as the Secretary of State has made clear time and again, there will be no more.
To date, I understand that the HET has already investigated, or is in the process of investigating, 2,423 deaths, which are dealt with in a chronological order. Of those, the HET can currently say that 1,375 were caused by republicans; 724 were caused by loyalists; 265 were caused by security forces; and 59 were caused by “unknown”. I understand that the HET has also referred 26 cases to the PSNI for further investigation.
All those cases are the subject of ongoing live investigations, and it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment further. However, I note the valuable role that the PSNI and the HET play in helping bereaved families find justice.
We remain strong supporters of the HET. Both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have on many occasions highlighted their support for the work of the HET.
Not every investigation will result in closure for the family and friends. I am aware of how strongly the hon. Gentleman understandably feels about the brutal murder of his cousin, Kenneth Smyth, in December 1971, and Lexie Cummings in June 1982. Both were members of the UDR, which suffered so badly during the troubles.
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That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 16175/11 and Addenda 1 to 4, relating to a Draft Regulation on the safety of offshore oil and gas prospection, exploration and production activities: supports the Government’s view that the UK has a proven, robust offshore environmental and safety regime; and further supports the Government’s intention to negotiate a legal instrument which ensures that high standards of health and safety and high levels of protection for the environment are maintained across Europe in respect of oil and gas operations, and that any new proposals do not negatively impact upon the present UK regime.
The House divided:
Ayes 308, Noes 183.
Alexander, rh Danny
Amess, Mr David
Bacon, Mr Richard
Baron, Mr John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr Brian
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Bone, Mr Peter
Bottomley, Sir Peter
Brady, Mr Graham
Brake, rh Tom
Brazier, Mr Julian
Browne, Mr Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Cable, rh Vince
Campbell, Mr Gregory
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Clark, rh Greg
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Davey, Mr Edward
Davies, David T. C.
de Bois, Nick
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dodds, rh Mr Nigel
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Dunne, Mr Philip
Ellwood, Mr Tobias
Evennett, Mr David
Field, rh Mr Frank
Foster, rh Mr Don
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Gale, Sir Roger
Garnier, Mr Edward
Gauke, Mr David
Gibb, Mr Nick
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Grant, Mrs Helen
Gray, Mr James
Greening, rh Justine
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
Hammond, rh Mr Philip
Hancock, Mr Mike
Harper, Mr Mark
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan
Heath, Mr David
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Hughes, rh Simon
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Jackson, Mr Stewart
Jones, Mr David
Jones, Mr Marcus
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Lee, Dr Phillip
Leech, Mr John
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn
MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan
MacShane, rh Mr Denis
Main, Mrs Anne
Maude, rh Mr Francis
McCrea, Dr William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moore, rh Michael
Mundell, rh David
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Nuttall, Mr David
O'Brien, Mr Stephen
Offord, Mr Matthew
Osborne, rh Mr George
Paterson, rh Mr Owen
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Redwood, rh Mr John
Reid, Mr Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Russell, Sir Bob
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Scott, Mr Lee
Shapps, rh Grant
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Simpson, Mr Keith
Smith, Miss Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, rh Nicholas
Spencer, Mr Mark
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stuart, Mr Graham
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Swire, rh Mr Hugo
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Timpson, Mr Edward
Turner, Mr Andrew
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Vaizey, Mr Edward
Vara, Mr Shailesh
Walker, Mr Charles
Walker, Mr Robin
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Weir, Mr Mike
Whiteford, Dr Eilidh
Whittingdale, Mr John
Willetts, rh Mr David
Williams, Mr Mark
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Young, rh Sir George
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
Anderson, Mr David
Bailey, Mr Adrian
Bain, Mr William
Balls, rh Ed
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benn, rh Hilary
Betts, Mr Clive
Blears, rh Hazel
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben
Brown, Mr Russell
Campbell, Mr Alan
Campbell, Mr Ronnie
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Clarke, rh Mr Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Crausby, Mr David
Cunningham, Mr Jim
David, Mr Wayne
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Donohoe, Mr Brian H.
Doran, Mr Frank
Eagle, Ms Angela
Flint, rh Caroline
Francis, Dr Hywel
Godsiff, Mr Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr Tom
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Howarth, rh Mr George
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Johnson, rh Alan
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Khan, rh Sadiq
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Love, Mr Andrew
Marsden, Mr Gordon
McCann, Mr Michael
McDonnell, Dr Alasdair
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
Meale, Sir Alan
Morris, Grahame M.
Murphy, rh Paul
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Riordan, Mrs Linda
Ritchie, Ms Margaret
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Roy, Mr Frank
Ruddock, rh Dame Joan
Sharma, Mr Virendra
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Spellar, rh Mr John
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Timms, rh Stephen
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Watts, Mr Dave
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr Shaun
Question accordingly agreed to.
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