WANSBECK MP Ian Lavery has been forced to resign as a Parliamentary aide to Labour’s deputy leader after fighting to protect prison staff pensions.
The Labour MP stood down as Harriet Harman’s Parliamentary private secretary after he refused to withdraw an amendment seeking to prevent prison staff and psychiatric workers from having their retirement age forced up.
Coalition ministers are pushing through a Bill, unopposed by the Labour party, seeking to raise the retirement age for public sector workers to 68, with exemptions for emergency service workers such as police and firefighters. Mr Lavery said that prison workers such as those at HMP Northumberland should be handed the same exemption as the police, especially considering their stressful work brings them into contact with the same dangerous individuals.
The former NUM leader told the House of Commons that he was tabling an amendment to prevent a return to the situation in the 1980s when studies showed prison staff died on average 18 months after retirement.
He made the move despite being told by opposition chief whip Rosie Winterton that such a move would make his position untenable.
“If I could do it again I would,” Mr Lavery told The Journal.
“In the North East life expectancy is in some cases 10 years lower than in other parts of the country.
“It is right we stand up for those who, when this Bill goes ahead, might never make it to 68 to get their pension, and the Tories clearly want that age to rise to 70.”
In a statement released following his resignation, Mr Lavery said: “Political life is about being prepared to make your own political choices but I also understand the need for discipline within the Labour party.
“I tabled a series of amendments to the Public Sector Pensions Bill, which I was asked to withdraw because they were not in line with the front bench position. I was not prepared to withdraw them and I stand by that.
“I have therefore decided to resign my position as PPS to Harriet Harman.
“I’ve done this reluctantly and with great regret.”
His principled decision was last night praised by North East union leaders.
Northern TUC secretary Kevin Rowan summed up the mood when he said: “The Government is driving through changes to public sector pensions which will have a major impact on the quality of working life, health and wellbeing of a wide range of workers that just doesn’t seem to have featured in their thinking.
“Ian’s approach to this reflects his deep and long understanding of and background in representing workers from a very physically demanding occupation, and his determination to stay true to those principles is one of his best attributes as Member of Parliament for Wansbeck.”
Following Mr Lavery’s forced resignation, Ms Harman said: “I thank Ian for all his invaluable help, support and friendship as my PPS – particularly during my time as acting leader.
“He will continue to play an important role in the parliamentary Labour party and in the wider Labour movement.”