Yes, Sir. I refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday. The qualifying age for men will be reduced to 63 in November 1981 and to 62 in February next year.
We welcome the Government's measures, announced yesterday, including the changes in the job release scheme to enable elderly workers to retire and to make their jobs available for unemployed young people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this sort of proposal is a more effective long-term solution to unemployment than the shorter-term palliatives of schemes such as the job opportunities programme? Will he give us some idea when we may see a lowering of the general male retirement age to bring it into line with that for women and that in other countries?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. However, I can see no likelihood in the near future of the retirement age for men being lowered to bring it into line with that for women. Experience in a number of countries is to equate the retirement age for both men and women at 65 or, perhaps, as in the United States, to consider putting up the retirement age to 68. We should be in terrible trouble if we were to think that a smaller number of workers could pay for far more elderly and retired workers than hitherto.
Long-term arrangements may be desirable, but is it not necessary that our short—term measures should be more wholehearted and decisive than they appear? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the arrangements announced yesterday will have a significant effect in South Yorkshire, where there are 81,000 people unemployed and only 77 vacancies in careers offices?
Yes, I am satisfied that the measures announced yesterday will have an effect, but we still face extremely serious prospects. The more we can do to help young people to obtain work and those reaching retirement age to retire early, the better it will be for those who must work.