HC Deb 17 February 1955 vol 537 cc546-50
28 and 29. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Minister of Labour (1) to make a statement about future policy in relation to the Remploy Scheme;

(2) the estimated number of new entrants to Remploy factory employment in the current financial year, and the number he expects will be admitted in the financial year 1955–56.

Mr. Watkinson

The policy in relation to Remploy is that it should be given time to consolidate its trading position, and reduce the loss per head, before embarking on further expansion. In the current financial year, 812 severely disabled workers were taken on. For next financial year I fear that the number taken on will have to be smaller if the company is to have the chance to consolidate its position and to provide a sound basis for future expansion within reasonable limits of expenditure.

Mr. Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House that in this time of much-vaunted Tory prosperity we cannot afford to maintain as many disabled men in employment under the Remploy Scheme next year as we have in employment at present? Would he tell us why this quite obviously new change of policy in refusing to take new entrants has not been announced to the House before, in view of the great interest which the House has taken in this matter ever since the pioneering work of the late Mr. George Tomlinson?

Mr. Watkinson

I quite agree that the whole House takes great interest in the very human problems with which Remploy is concerned. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this matter and thus affording me an opportunity to give some information to the House. The job of Remploy is to employ as many severely disabled persons as it possibly can. Last year, in the course of this laudable ambition, it seriously outran its expenditure. I want to make it plain that there is no question of cutting down the amount of money spent on Remploy. All that is happening at the moment is that the normal wastage of about 600 to 700 a year is allowed to go on, to run down the numbers slightly so that Remploy can get into a reasonable financial balance.

Hon. Members


Mr. Isaacs

Is this not a retrograde step? Are we boggling at the cost of giving some humane treatment to these men, when at the time the Act was passed during the war it was understood that it was going to cost money but that it was obviously a gain to the welfare of the men, in making them self-reliant, and a satisfaction to their families? Is the argument now that we cannot afford to do this?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman at all, but perhaps I can give two other facts. The first is that the policy which I have now enunciated was not taken by this Administration. It was quite rightly taken in 1949 by the right hon. Gentleman himself. The second point is that the present loss per head per week on every severely disabled man employed is nearly £8, or £400 a year. What we, or rather Remploy, hoped was that the increased activity which Remploy has undertaken would bring that loss down. If the loss were brought down, more men could be employed. Unfortunately, the loss has not come down, and that is why this quite temporary adjustment is to take place until we get into a fair balance again.

Mr. Bevan

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every contribution that a Remploy person makes towards production is a net contribution to the resources of the State, and that if the disabled worker is idle, doing nothing at all, we lose the benefit of that contribution? Is he not also aware that every Minister of Labour has always had to resist the Treasury in this respect, and that we regret very much that the present Minister has not resisted Treasury pressure more successfully?

Mr. Watkinson

I know that the right hon. Gentleman took great interest in Remploy, as did his predecessors, and as his successors have done. There is no question of reducing the amount spent on Remploy. In fact, next year it will be larger than it is this year, but there must be an attempt, for the sake of the men themselves, to try to get this thing on a reasonable balance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] A loss of £8 per man per week is a very large loss and is one which the Board itself hoped to be able to reduce last year.

Mr. J. T. Price

As it must be perfectly obvious to any businessman, let alone to a politician, that nobody can hope to run Remploy on strictly commercial lines, could not a great deal more be done to have the production of Remploy absorbed by Government and civil departments?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a very good suggestion. I can add—and Remploy has authorised me to say this—that Remploy has itself asked the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury to see if it can help it.

30. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Labour the number of persons declared redundant in Remploy factories since 1st January.

Mr. Watkinson

No severely disabled production workers have been declared redundant by the Board of Remploy Limited, but as a result of steps taken to reduce overheads 226 administrative and staff workers not engaged on production have been declared redundant: 11 of these are severely disabled and have been offered employment on production.

Mr. Willey

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that, as a result of these redundancies, there will be considerable subsequent redundancies among disabled workers, and that this declaration of a change of policy will decrease the numbers by probably as many as 750 during the coming year? Would the hon. Gentleman not look at the other side of the organisation of Remploy, and pay attention to the Report of the Select Committee, and also in particular to the sales side of the company? Will the hon. Gentleman accept this as a social service to provide the largest possible amount of employment for disabled people?

Mr. Watkinson

Later, I am answering a Question on sales, but perhaps I might tell the hon. Gentleman that in the year March, 1953, to April, 1954, Remploy took on an extra 270 fit men, so it is not actually discharging all the extra men it took on last year.

Mr. H. Wilson

Why does not the hon. Gentleman "come clean" to the House and admit that he was not willing to state, until pressed in the House this afternoon, that the policy of the Government is to employ about 750 fewer disabled workers next year as compared with this year? If he wants some help in cutting down administrative overheads he should consult the union most concerned, and it will tell him how to do it.

Mr. Watkinson

I do not know which union that would be. I do not think it would be A.S.S.E.T. if that is the union the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but we should be delighted to have any help from anyone who can give it.

32. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Labour by how many the number of disabled persons employed at Remploy factories will be reduced during 1955.

34. Mr. Malcolm MacPherson

asked the Minister of Labour, how many key workers are being dismissed by Remploy Limited; and for what reason.

Mr. Watkinson

While I understand that Remploy Limited expects to employ an average of about 6,000 severely disabled workers during 1955 in its factories and as home workers as compared with the present number of about 6,380, this will be achieved by the non-replacement of wastage and not by the discharge of disabled workers.

Mr. Willey

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the estimate I have received is between 700 and 900, but in any case, whether it is 400 or 700, will he or his right hon. and learned Friend, in view of the interest that has been shown in this subject, undertake to review and reconsider it?

Mr. Watkinson

Certainly. I met the board of Remploy only last week to discuss this matter, and we shall keep it most closely under review.

35. Sir F. Messer

asked the Minister of Labour how many disabled persons who have received training are on the waiting list for admission to Remploy factories; how many vacancies there are at present for such persons; and the usual waiting period.

Mr. Watkinson

Severely disabled persons are not given training as a preliminary to admission to Remploy factories. Vacancies at a factory are filled as they arise from among the severely disabled registered at employment exchanges in the district concerned, and no waiting lists are compiled.

Sir F. Messer

If there are any vacancies will it not be a fact that those vacancies will represent an increase in overheads and, therefore, more costly production?

36. Sir F. Messer

asked the Minister of Labour the proportion of able-bodied workers, exclusive of instructors and fore man, to disabled people employed at Remploy factories; and how far disabled people are occupying the positions of instructors or foremen.

Mr. Watkinson

I cannot separate the figures for foremen and instructors but only those for all the supervisory, maintenance, and auxiliary staff. Of these, 260, or 16 per cent., are disabled. All workers not in these classes are severely disabled.

37. Sir F. Messer

asked the Minister of Labour whether the demand for Remploy products is increasing or decreasing; and if he will give the reason for the change.

Mr. Watkinson

I understand that Remploy sales are likely to be at a higher rate in this financial year than in earlier years. It is difficult to forecast whether the level of future demand will keep pace with the increased costs of expanding production.

Mr. Bing

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, for example, paper box and cardboard manufacture is carried on by Remploy at a profit? Why is it not possible to develop this side of the work, and continue to employ large numbers of ex-Service men who are anxious to obtain employment with Remploy?

Mr. Watkinson

The difficulty really is that unfortunately the more men Remploy employs and the more business it does, the greater the loss that is made.

Back to