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New Deal (North Yorkshire)

13. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): if he will make a statement on the impact on employment levels of the new deal in North Yorkshire. [224421]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): The new deals have had a positive impact on employment levels in North Yorkshire, with more than 11,000 people helped into work, including more than 1,400 people in my hon. Friend's constituency. The evidence shows that a combination of economic stability and the help provided through Jobcentre Plus and the new deal has played a key role in delivering the labour market success story that we see today.

Mr. Grogan: In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, will my hon. Friend commend the comments of North Yorkshire Tory Councillor Carl Les, who recently said this about the council's latest new deal scheme:

What advice can my hon. Friend give to Councillor Les to ensure that that win-win scheme continues long, long into the future?

Maria Eagle: I am amazed to find myself agreeing with a Conservative—and my advice to that Conservative councillor is that he should join the Labour party. It is excellent that people see the real strength and importance of the new deals and the difference that the new deals can make to areas such as North Yorkshire at a local level, and it is a pity that that Conservative party does not see that too.

Public Sector Pensions

14. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What discussions he has had with trade unions on public sector pensions. [224422]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan   Johnson): Last Thursday, I chaired a summit with representatives from relevant public sector unions and Brendan Barber of the TUC on public sector pensions. The meeting was productive: both sides recognised the   effect that demographic changes are having on the sustainability of pension schemes, and are committed to
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finding an agreed long-term solution that is both fair and sustainable. A proper process of discussion and negotiation will take place through the continuation of scheme-specific negotiations, which will be overseen by special sessions of the public services forum.

Tony Lloyd: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his role in making sure that the Government and the other partners in public sector pensions, which are far too important for decisions to be made on the hoof, returned to meaningful discussions. Meaningful and proper negotiations are surely the right way forward, if we are to modernise public sector pensions in the light of the challenges, which my right hon. Friend has outlined, posed by an increasing elderly population. It is important that we develop a consensus between the work force and the Government, who act sometimes as an employer and sometimes as a regulator. After the election, will my right hon. Friend invite those of his opposite numbers who are still around to join that search for a consensus? This matter should be taken way beyond party politics.

Alan Johnson: I agree with my hon. Friend on the need for consensus. We seek consensus in that area and in all areas of pensions, as we pointed out in our document, "The Principles for Reform: The National Pensions Debate". It is fair to point out that although the trade unions and their members had a legitimate claim that the negotiation was not a proper negotiation—the Government were saying that some areas were not open to negotiation, which was wrong—we have now made it clear that all areas are open to negotiation. We should make it clear that we will continue with the defined benefit scheme and index-linked pensions, and that no existing staff will be affected until 2013 at the earliest. Those parameters and that reassurance must form part of the political consensus that my hon. Friend rightly seeks.

Full Employment

15. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): if he will make a statement on his Department's progress towards achieving full employment. [224423]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): We have made good progress: by ending boom and bust economics, making work pay and promoting active labour market policies, we have achieved the highest employment rate of the seven major industrialised countries and one of the   highest employment rates in our history. We are determined to move forward towards our ambition of employment opportunities for all. Our five-year strategy sets out our long-term aspiration of an 80 per cent. employment rate, which would smash all employment records and give us the highest employment rate of any major country.

Mr. Bailey: I thank the Minister for her reply. My constituency historically had high unemployment, but since 1997 that has dropped by 41 per cent. and about 860 people have got jobs through the new deal. Recently, I was approached by a local civil servant who was concerned about speculation that there might be
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cuts in the Jobcentre Plus programme and the impact they might have on future Government employment policies. Can my hon. Friend give me her reassurance that under this Government, those cuts will not take place?
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Maria Eagle: Under this Government we are extending the help we give people to ensure that unemployment comes down further. The only parties committed to cutting the new deal and privatising Jobcentre Plus are the Opposition parties.

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Right Hon. Lord Callaghan KG

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Jim Callaghan died during the Easter recess just a day before his 93rd birthday. Many present and former Members, and from all sides, have already paid warm tribute to someone who was a Member of this House for 42 years and the only Member of Parliament ever to hold the four great offices of state. But those tributes, from political allies and foes alike, do not simply focus on his remarkable career. They talk, rightly, as much about his personal qualities—about his decency, honesty and integrity, his friendship and loyalty.

Many of the tributes also touched on Jim Callaghan's devotion to his family and in particular to Audrey, his wife, who died just 11 days before him. He had nursed her through a long illness. His marriage to her was a thing extraordinary and humbling to witness: a genuine, deep and abiding love that never wavered, never dulled through good times and bad, but burned true and full even as they grew old and frail. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our sympathy to Michael, Margaret and Julia and the wider family on the loss of both their mother and their father.

In Jim Callaghan's case, one could not separate his achievements as a politician from his qualities as a man. Many times over the past 10 years, I had reason to seek his counsel. Each time, he gave it with a rigorous approach to the problem in hand, objective advice as to how to resolve it and an utterly unswerving commitment to the country and to the political party he served.

Jim Callaghan's life almost spans the history of the entire Labour party. It was the Labour party's values of social justice, solidarity and opportunity for all that brought him into the party and he worked tirelessly throughout the whole of his life to put them into action.

Jim Callaghan was brought up by his widowed mother and had known hard times as a child. Indeed, he used to recall the difference the pension provided by the first Labour Government had made to their family's life. He left school at 16 to become a clerk in the Inland Revenue—perhaps the only one in history to climb the ladder so far that he became First Lord of the Treasury. But perhaps because he always regretted not having had the chance to go to university, he was passionate throughout the entirety of his political career about spreading the benefits of education as widely as possible. In 1976, his Ruskin college speech on education was the   first by a Prime Minister to recognise the central importance of education to Britain's future and the need to educate well not a few but all the country's children. I hope that that lives on in this Government's commitment to education today.

Jim Callaghan was also one of the generation who fought in the war and came back determined to build a better, fairer and different Britain, one at peace with our neighbours. He was a real patriot, but thanks to his experiences of the war, never confused patriotism with narrow nationalism. Britain was, of course, still at war when he was adopted and then elected as Member of Parliament for South Cardiff. He continued to serve that constituency and the city with great pride and affection for 42 years and took its name for his title when he went to the other place.
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When Jim Callaghan began his career in Parliament, it was not long before his talents were recognised by the   great reforming 1945 Labour Government of Clement Attlee. Two years after he was first elected, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Transport. I   confess that, until recently, I was not aware of the fact that, in his first ministerial post, he was responsible for introducing both zebra crossings and cat's-eyes on trunk roads. Those are lasting achievements of which most junior Ministers in any Government, of whatever persuasion, would be envious. He was also proud to have been a member of a Government who, among their many achievements, created the national health service.

When Labour lost power, Jim proved himself an effective performer in opposition. He had a rapid rise through the ranks, being elected to the shadow Cabinet and then to Labour's ruling national executive. His calmness under pressure, his easy manner and his ability to think quickly meant that he was a good performer not just in the House, but on the new medium of television. His long period as shadow Colonial Secretary strengthened his commitment to the Commonwealth and to the developing world and he forged many friendships there that have stood the test of time. I know that he would have been delighted at this Government's work on debt relief and with the Commission for Africa.

From 1964 onwards, when Labour was returned to power, Jim went on to hold the four great offices of state over the years to come. He served in each with distinction, but in each he was also severely tested. As Chancellor, he inherited an economy badly out of kilter with an overvalued pound and record balance of trade deficits. When he was forced eventually to devalue, he insisted on resigning from the Treasury.

As Home Secretary, Jim inherited the deepening crisis in Northern Ireland and it fell to him to send in the Army to help protect the Catholic minority. He handled the worsening situation with great calm and confidence, which only increased his standing in the party and, indeed, the country. It was also on his watch as Home Secretary that Parliament abolished for good capital punishment for murder—an example of his determination to build a more decent and a more civilised society.

As Foreign Secretary from 1974 to 1976, Jim fought and, indeed, won a referendum on Britain's membership of the Common Market. Though by no means a natural enthusiast, he was convinced by the evidence that it was in Britain's strong national interest to be at the heart of Europe.

All those trials and tests were preparation for when Harold Wilson stood down as party leader and Prime Minister in 1976 and Jim was elected his successor. He threw himself into the job with characteristic courage and commitment and, indeed, he needed all his personal qualities to hold together both the party and a parliamentary pact with the Liberals—a tribute to anyone's patience.

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