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Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I have had no difficulty whatsoever listening to the hon. Member for Worsley (Ms Keeley). She paid a very graceful tribute to her predecessor, and she will be a worthy voice for the people of Lancashire. She spoke with knowledge and a great deal of sincerity about the various issues facing her constituency, and I hope that we hear a good deal more from her very soon.

We have also heard the very competent and confident maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who described the real threat of over-development in her constituency. Over-development is also a threat in my constituency and many others. She also spoke warmly about all sorts of different issues facing Mid-Bedfordshire, including education and family matters. We are very lucky to have these two new Members to help us with our debates, and I suspect that some of us older Members will need to look to our laurels if we are to speak as well as they do.

I should like to add one final tribute. We are lucky to have in the Chamber the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), a man of huge authority and distinction. He has given great service to the country, not least to Northern Ireland, and the points that he made were very valuable.

I should like to speak briefly about pensions, the most important issue facing this country at the moment. We need not only to encourage people to set aside money for
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their old age, but to ensure that our older people live in dignity and with the kind of worthwhile lifestyle that is now under threat. We all know the background: our pensions are in crisis. People are living longer and saving less: this represents a demographic time bomb, and I am afraid that the Government's £500 million-a-year raid on pension funds did not help. There have also been uncertainties in the stock market, and I have to say that the mis-selling of pensions in the 1990s did not help either. The Conservative Government did their utmost to sort that out, however, and I think that we were successful. I do not believe that the Government's heavy reliance on means-testing is the answer. The pension credit route down which the Government are going will make matters worse, as Adair Turner said at the weekend.

We need to encourage older people to stay in the work force, and to enable them to get back into it if they lose their job. Adair Turner said at the weekend that graduates might well have to work until they are 70. On Monday, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that they would not. We need some kind of policy on this, and I hope that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will work on that. Why does pensions policy always need to be sorted out? Why has it not already been sorted out? Working longer must be part of the answer to the pensions crisis that we face.

In 2002, there were 20 million people over the age of 50. By 2031, there are likely to be 27 million such people. There will therefore be more people on pensions and fewer people in the work force to support them. The worry is also that those people in the work force could lose their jobs—we have recently had the crises at Rover, Marconi and Colgate. People who lose their job when they are in their 40s and 50s are usually not prepared for it; it comes as a dreadful shock to them. They also find it harder to re-enter the work force, and they know that there is a real possibility that they will be discriminated against by employers. Ninety per cent. of older people believe that they will face discrimination in the work force, and in 2002, a MORI poll showed that ageism was the most common form of discrimination that we face.

Angela Eagle : May I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is an enthusiastic supporter of the European directive that will outlaw age discrimination in the UK work force by 2006, and that he will assist us in bringing it into being rather than regarding it as a piece of European regulation that needs to be abolished?

Mr. Arbuthnot: Yes.

The Government have done a number of different things to try to help older people. For example, they have introduced the new deal 50-plus and spent about £800 million on trying to help older people to get work. The Public Accounts Committee recently produced a report entitled "Welfare to work: tackling the barriers to the employment of older people", in which the Committee says that the new deal 50-plus has not been subject to "proper evaluation".

We have also seen from the evidence given to the Committee that, although the Government initially encouraged the Age Positive campaign, they have issued
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only 150,000 leaflets to support it. The permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions said that 150,000 leaflets had been sent out over five years. When asked how many employers there were in this country, however, he said that he was not quite sure, but he thought that there were several million. It was not surprising, therefore, that one of the members of the Committee said:

More than 1 million people over the age of 50 are looking for work at the moment. I would have thought that one of the things that they could be doing was helping to distribute leaflets to employers to show how damaging age discrimination is.

As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) has pointed out, a directive is likely to make age discrimination illegal next year. However, legislation is not the only factor that will encourage older people to get back into work. Another thing that needs to change is the attitude of employers and employees. We need vigorous support for the removal of ageism, and a serious public awareness campaign that will bring about a complete change of attitude towards older workers in every sector, every industry and every aspect of life.

Of course there are advantages in having a youthful work force. However, there are also huge advantages in the values that experience and wisdom can bring to a work force. These include improved staff retention, higher staff morale, fewer short-term absences, higher productivity, and a wider range of skills and experience. It is not true that older people are resistant to technology or to change, as most people think. It is essential to change the stereotypes that deprive us of the value that older people can bring to the work force.

Research shows that older and younger workers respond to training and are equally capable of development. We need to be able to identify any skills that are lacking, and to provide training to suit the older student. We also need to make older workers who are unemployed aware that they can work, and that interesting work is open to them, whether full-time, part-time or self-employed work. We need to ensure that the support given to them by the state is effective, and not just public money poorly spent. We must not limit that support to those claiming state benefits. Many people, particularly in that age group, believe that it is wrong to depend on the state, yet they often need the state's help to return to work.

The Public Accounts Committee has made some valuable specific recommendations, all of which I hope the Government will take fully on board. It recommends proper skills assessments, advisers of a similar age, continuity of advisers, and real practical help.

The key is giving older people self-confidence—confidence that they can work, and that their skills and experience will be welcomed. All too often, older people find it harder and harder even to admit that they are unemployed, because it deprives them of the respect to which they feel entitled. They are right to feel entitled to it, because they have a great deal to offer us all.

2.40 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Let me begin by congratulating my fellow "maidens" who are present today on breaking their duck. I also thank the staff of
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the House, who have helped every one of us new starters with a large degree of patience and professionalism. They really have helped us all to get somewhere near up to speed during the past few weeks.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, John McWilliam—a man who gave 26 years of sterling service to the House, and a man for whom those who really knew him in this place had nothing but the utmost respect. John acted as Deputy Speaker, particularly in Westminster Hall. He may not have been one of Parliament's flamboyant types, but he was one of those people whom every successful organisation needs: a man who got things done quietly, efficiently and positively. I can only add my name to the long list of those whom John has helped, here in Westminster and back home in the glorious part of the world that is the Blaydon constituency.

Most people recognise Blaydon when they are told "Yes, that is where the races were held", and some even know the date, 9 June 1862, from the first verse of the Geordie national anthem. But my constituency consists of much more than Blaydon town. Few people realise that the constituency stretches for many miles, through some of Britain's most beautiful countryside. It encompasses towns and villages with a rich history and diversity all their own. That diversity has enabled it to develop into the place where red kites have been reintroduced into the wild, right next to the biggest shopping centre in Europe, while at the entrance to the constituency is the symbol of the renaissance of the north-east, the angel of the north.

Our part of the world was the cradle of the industrial revolution. We dug the coal, we built the railways, we made the steel. We developed communities that had great self-belief. We had our own welfare state before Beveridge was all out of short pants. We built houses, sports clubs and libraries. We encouraged people to take up musical instruments, and we learnt to care for one another when no one else would. Above all, we became what we are today: an area whose roots are embedded in the world of hard work—from chemicals to coal mining, from farming to forestry, from building earth movers to building ships.

Like many other parts of the country, we are privileged to have thousands of public sector workers living and working in Blaydon. Contrary to the view of far too many in the House, these people are not bowler-hatted bureaucrats counting beans or shuffling papers; they are the glue that holds our society together. They are the people who tidy up when things go wrong in our lives—when our parents cannot take care of themselves, when our child goes off the way, when we are ill, when our house is on fire, when our whole life is in danger of falling around us—and who do all the thousands of other things that public servants do day in, day out, 365 nights and days of the year.

I am massively proud that I, like my comrade and hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat), had the great honour to represent well over 1 million of those people as president of Unison, "the" public-sector union. I am proud of the many positive things that my union, working in conjunction with my Government, helped to make real for working people in this country. I shall mention just two.

The first is the national minimum wage. Despite howls of protest around the House, my party introduced it, albeit nearly two decades after my union began the
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campaign. Never again will we see job advertisements for security guards at £1.75 an hour—and don't forget to bring your own dog!

The other part of my work in Unison that makes me most proud is the role that we played in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Unison was one of the first cross-community bodies to make a public declaration in favour of the Good Friday agreement, and many of my Irish colleagues in Unison took real risks for peace. Many of us talk willy-nilly about life-and-death issues, but we should never forget that, for far too long, that is exactly what many of our people in Northern Ireland faced. If there is one thing on which we can all agree in the House, surely it is that we must all work towards a real lasting peace, based on respect for each other's beliefs and enshrined in real democracy.

As I said earlier, the people of Blaydon are no strangers to hard work and, sadly, hard times. The devastation caused by the ideological attacks on our communities in the 1980s left ingrained in my people a strong belief in one thing: they never want to see the return of a Conservative Government. As a coal miner who lost his job, his trade, his community and part of his culture, I could not agree more. Never again should unemployment be used as a tool of public policy. Never again should a Government be allowed to destroy an industry and a key part of our nation's natural resources just to prove a political point. And never again should we allow our communities to be run down, ignored or forgotten.

The truth is that we are all in this together. In a global economy, we cannot afford to be anything other    than united. That is why the people of the Blaydon constituency particularly welcome my party's commitment to bring full employment to the north-east. It is by no means an easy objective, but it is one that I intend to chase up constantly with those on the Government Front Bench. I am greedy. I do not just want jobs for people in the north; I want the best jobs for people in the north. I want good jobs, I want high-skill, high-quality, secure jobs, and I want jobs based on good employment rights. That is why I will encourage the Government to implement in full—as promised in the manifesto—the so-called Warwick agreement, which addresses some of the massive shortcomings affecting people at work that have developed over the past 25 years.

The people of Blaydon deserve to work in safe, healthy workplaces. They deserve to be paid a decent, legally binding wage. They deserve to take well-earned holiday breaks, again guaranteed by law. They deserve the right to be represented by skilled trade union officials. They deserve to be able to take time off to help bind their families together in every possible way. They deserve, and I will demand, that the Government intervene to protect their jobs whenever and wherever necessary.

I am immensely proud and honoured to be the representative of the people of Blaydon and its surrounding communities. I want to end by referring to one of those communities, the former mining village of Chopwell—a village whose pride in its socialist roots is personified in a miners' banner featuring Keir Hardie, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. Written on the banner are these words:

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To me, that task is to ensure that the House delivers a world in which people are able to live in dignity, security and peace. The burden is one that we should all relish, and the lesson that we have learnt is that the best way in which to do that is to reject the failed policies of the 1980s and 1990s and support a programme based on democratic socialism—which, in their wisdom, the people of Blaydon have chosen to do yet again.

I thank you and the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my speech today. I look forward to many future opportunities to play my part in the House on behalf of the great people throughout the Blaydon constituency.

2.48 pm

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