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Miss McIntosh: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: There was never a threat that the threshold process--[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not intend to give way. That is entirely at his discretion.

Mr. Forth: Disgraceful.

Madam Deputy Speaker: So is the behaviour in the Chamber.

Mr. Willis: There was never a threat, despite the protestations of the Minister in a Standing Committee, that the entire process would have to be started again. That was never in question. What was at stake was not the threshold criteria per se--

Miss McIntosh: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: The real debate was whether there had been proper consultation on the new arrangements that the Secretary of State was bringing in.

Miss McIntosh: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: The key issue goes to the heart of the debate, and it is the principle--[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I ask hon. Members to come to order.

Mr. Willis: The key issue that is at the heart of performance-related pay, the NUT's court judgment and the motion is that even a benign Secretary of State must be subject to the law as it stands. If we surrender that principle and accept that a Secretary of State is beyond the law and can impose on teachers any conditions that he may wish, we are absolutely lost. That was the principle at the heart of the court's decision.

Following the decision, the Secretary of State and Department for Education and Employment officials have consulted the professional associations. Positive dialogue has taken place between the Department for Education and Employment and teachers' unions--

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It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker, being of the opinion that, owing to the lateness of the hour at which consideration of the motion was entered upon, the time for debate had not been adequate, interrupted the Business, and the debate stood adjourned till tomorrow, pursuant to Standing Order No. 17(2)(Delegated legislation (negative procedure)).


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Question agreed to.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 37, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 46, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 48, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'-- [Mr. Betts.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

16 Jan 2001 : Column 317

16 Jan 2001 : Column 319

Better Government for Older People

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Betts.]

11.31 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the important subject of the programme that the Government have set up better to organise government for older people. I am pleased to begin by acknowledging the Government's success and vision in conceiving the series of pilot programmes, which have been in place since 1998. They were held in 28 different areas throughout the United Kingdom. The published evaluation, which was produced in June 2000, clearly demonstrated that they had all made great inroads in and contributions to creative thinking about the way in which central Government, local government, other agencies and non-governmental organisations could take forward policy making and participation by older people in future. I commend the Government on their valuable initiative. We look forward to the outcome that they will announce later this month, after considering the report, which is entitled "All our Futures".

Warwick university did some useful academic work in evaluating the pilot programmes. The unique set of new partnerships that have been set up during the pilot projects is striking. They involve central Government and local government, and also the voluntary sector and some academics. The strategy that emerges from the evaluation of the 28 pilot projects clearly shows that public service improvements can be achieved by involving older people--people who are over 50--more directly by taking more careful note of their views and recognising the value of their contribution more clearly than in the past.

It is instructive to note that the pilot projects did not consider only some of the more traditional aspects that concern those in the elderly category, such as health care, housing, money matters and benefits. They also actively considered better policies on, for example, lifelong learning, transport, leisure and volunteering. I was pleased by the Chancellor's important statement last week about the Government's recognition of the role that volunteers can play in future. I entirely endorse that.

More than 300 organisations were involved in the two-year pilot scheme, and much innovative thinking has gone into their work. Many traditional, watertight Chinese walls and departmental boundaries have constructively been breached. The results show the obvious benefits that accrue from a strategic, United Kingdom-wide approach to the problem. However, as I represent a Scottish constituency, I understand that issues of devolution may be involved for the Scottish Executive and for Wales and Northern Ireland.

As I said, the inter-ministerial group on older people is expected to be able to respond by the end of the month. I am sure that its main recommendations will concern problems such as the need to root out and confront age discrimination, to engage better with older people generally, to improve policy and decision making, to address the requirements of the age groups that we are considering in a sensitive way, and to take an holistic view of the whole area of policy making.

Obviously I do not expect the Minister to make any announcements tonight that would upstage or breach the Government's official response, but I hope he will

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consider two or three points that I shall put to him. I intend to make a passing reference to the pilot programme conducted in the town of Hawick--the biggest community in my constituency--and in parts of rural central Berwickshire.

However excellent the pilot schemes have been locally, I think that if the programme is to succeed generally it will require continuing active central Government support. I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm that much tonight.

I congratulate the programme director, Martin Shreeve, on excellent Cabinet Office support for the pilots conducted in the borders and elsewhere. That level of commitment, and the role played by central Government, must be sustained and enhanced if the programme is to be rolled out successfully throughout the United Kingdom in the near future.

I suppose that Opposition Members are always saying this to the Government, and Ministers are always saying that things are very difficult because they never have enough money to do everything, but a resource element will be involved in central Government's continuing commitment to the programme. I do not think that it need involve huge amounts of public expenditure, but I do think that a commitment of resources for the continuing future, in the middle to longer term, is essential to a successful national roll-out. The scheme cannot realise its full potential if it is left to local initiatives, however good.

The scheme needs not only money but a coherent organisational framework, a set-up at national level to which people can relate. It is essential to establish a central partnership agency staffed by specialists, ideally located in the Cabinet Office. All that is vital to the guaranteeing of a continued positive direction, essential co-ordination, the ability to share best practice--which, I think, is one of the features of the 28 pilots that we have observed so far--and the continued promotion of an interdepartmental approach to some of the questions raised by the pilots themselves.

Ideally, 50 per cent. of any of the infrastructure to be established should be staffed by people who are 50 or older.

If resources are my first priority, my second is this: the Government cannot safely rely on independent external organisations, or indeed local government--although local government has an important role to play--to establish the infrastructure that is needed to ensure the national implementation of the project.

As for the third item on my wish list--I do not think that this will be difficult for the Minister--I want central Government to accept fully the responsibility of challenging the out-of-date concepts and stereotypes relating to older people. They have gone a long way towards doing that, but they have much further to go. Older people as a class are no longer poverty-stricken, ailing and dependent, although some obviously are, and their problems need to be addressed urgently as part of the programme. Public perception is important. Policy making, however, has focused too much on ideas such as infirmity and dependency. Such a caricature of older people is no longer relevant.

I hope that the Government will use all their power and determination to promote a much more positive message that encourages more people over 50 to become involved in lifelong learning and--for the benefit of the

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community--to take employment advice and use the skills and experience that they acquired in their earlier working lives.

In the borders, we have learned quite a lot more about the difficulties that people have in gaining access to transport that suits their daily needs, in a manner and at the time that suits them. The pilot project in my own constituency was a valuable way of examining some of those problems in far more detail.

It is true that people are enjoying active lives, retiring much earlier and living longer. A salutary fact to remember is that it will not be long before more than half the population will be 50 or older. I think that the Minister himself might be approaching that very serious stage in life. Sadly, for me, that day has already passed. Therefore, perhaps we both have a personal interest in ensuring that such projects are properly employed.

In all the work on pilot projects that has been done, the three elements that I have identified stand out. I hope that the proceedings of the inter-ministerial group and anticipated Government announcements result in their being included in the Government's plan.

I cannot conclude such a debate without paying tribute to those who were responsible for conducting the borders pilot. We in south-east Scotland do not get the opportunity as often as we would like to contribute and participate in some of the Government's initiatives, and it is a great tribute to Scottish Borders council that it not only applied, but vigorously and robustly argued and lobbied to be included in the pilot. The council is a bit sore that it cost it £5,000 in fees to contribute to the pilot, but, in retrospect, it believes that the money was well spent and it has gained incalculably in improved policy.

The local programme director, Fiona White, worked unstintingly and well beyond her contracted hours to generate great local enthusiasm, which has paid handsome dividends. Many councillors--especially Jim Scott, in Hawick--attended all the SEARCH conferences, each of which was a very genuine and useful dialogue between the professional staff and older people, helping to tease out some of the issues.

I pay tribute especially to the volunteers in the 50-plus age group themselves who contributed more than 5,000 hours over two years. They made a signal contribution to the success of the pilot--which received a very high mark from Warwick university's evaluation of it. Even if nothing else happens, the pilot has achieved many positive outcomes that will benefit us locally.

Elders councils are a very important concept that I hope the Government will consider further. The councils enable older people to work with professional staff and voluntary organisations in contributing in an integrated manner to decision making. That proved to be extremely valuable. There is a model in the evaluation of the Borders pilot project to which I draw the Minister's attention.

Direct and active participation can lead to less long-term dependency because it engages people's interest and gets them more actively involved, physically and mentally.

The pilot project has been extremely successful. The bad news, perhaps, is that it has stimulated a level of expectancy and almost excitement among the people who participated in it. My constituents were genuinely excited and engaged in the process. I hope that, in the fullness of

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time, the Government will be able to fulfil that expectancy and promote a national roll-out of the programme that will satisfy those aspirations. A lot has been achieved, but more can be done in the longer term with a little help from central Government.

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