Presiding Officer, thank you for affording me the opportunity to speak in the debate.
It was Gandhi who said:
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
I would not like to be the entity calibrating the measure of the UK in the past few months. In this chamber alone, we have debated welfare reforms that will have devastating effects for disabled and vulnerable people, and talked about payday loans and their effect on the poorest in our community. There was an £83 cut in pensioners’ benefits in the budget. Today, we are debating the devastating news that Remploy factories, which were designed to help and support our society’s most vulnerable members, are due to close.
Edward Heath once said:
“We are the trade union for pensioners and children, the trade union for the disabled and the sick ... the trade union for the nation as a whole.”
Although, politically, I take exception to being included in Edward Heath’s “We”, I agree that elected politicians should be representatives and protectors of and campaigners for the most vulnerable. That should be our greatest concern.
The Remploy factory in Wishaw was opened in 2003 by the First Minister at the time, who is now Lord McConnell. At the time, he said:
“People with disabilities deserve the same opportunities in life as others in society and Remploy factories allow them to put their talents to good use, while increasing their sense of self-worth and allowing them to become more confident and develop new skills.”
He welcomed Remploy to Wishaw and said that he looked
“forward to seeing their continued expansion.”
I shared that hope and ambition, but I am afraid that, when it came to delivering, the Labour Party was sorely lacking. Within five short years, the UK Labour Government and the Minister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire, would be standing in full support behind the Remploy restructuring plans, which have led us to where we are today. I say to my Labour colleagues that, if the Labour Party in government had stood in defence of workers at that time and stopped the proposals dead, we would not be where we are today and the Remploy factory in Wishaw would not be closing after only nine years’ operation.