Many elderly people contribute huge amounts to our society. I don't want to minimise the substantial obstacles that many older people face to achieve a better quality of life. Far too many live in poverty and isolation, in poor housing, and in neighbourhoods where they feel excluded and unsafe. They need support to improve their health and well being and to feel that they are valued for who they are and what they contribute.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to St James's Palace and to the third King's Fund President's Lecture. The last President's Lecture was held during the 50th anniversary of the health service, when we heard a number of speakers talking about the considerable pressures and challenges for the service. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that this year's lecture is given in the midst of a huge exercise to form a new National Plan for the NHS. Indeed, I understand that those responsible for developing this new Plan are working on the final recommendations at this very moment. We very much look forward to its publication next month.

Last year was the International Year of Older People. Many events and initiatives took place, some of which we will hear about this evening. One of the major projects was the national Debate of the Age, coordinated by Age Concern. A large number of the conclusions and recommendations from the Debate of the Age were about the health and well being of older people. So it seems particularly appropriate that this year's King's Fund President's Lecture should address the health of older people. The subject for this evening is "Adding Life to Years", which succinctly captures the aspiration that we all share, I suspect, for a healthy old age. I am delighted that we have two speakers who are eminently qualified to talk about the health and well-being of older people: Baroness (Sally) Greengross of Notting Hill, Director-General of Age Concern England; and Baroness (Barbara) Castle of Blackburn, one of our most senior and distinguished politicians.

Before I invite our two speakers to address us, perhaps I might say a few words about the theme of this evening, which does I think, demand all our attention. "Adding Life to Years" I take to be shorthand for the aspiration that the quality of people's lives should not diminish, as they become older. It captures the determination to break away from the common belief that as we grow older, our health and well being must inevitably become poorer.

There is no doubt that many families worry a great deal about the costs of caring for an older relative and are anxious about the quality of care their loved one will receive. It is worth remembering that some six million people are today caring for older relatives. Many carers are themselves older and have needs of their own. Organisations like Age Concern, Help the Aged and the King's Fund, have done a great deal to highlight the needs of people as they become older, and they have brought about all sorts of changes in attitudes and practice.

However, I sometimes wonder whether our concentration on the needs of older people has led us to be blind to the benefits and opportunities that growing older bring. A minority of frail older people do have very significant health care needs. But the great majority is able to enjoy active and productive lives and make no greater use of health services than younger people. Yet to judge from the media, one might be forgiven for thinking that all older people are financially, physically and socially dependent on others.

This attitude towards older people contrasts with the three things that older people want to retainĀ - their ability to live independently; their dignity; and the freedom to make their own choices. Indeed, if we are going to take these wishes seriously, we may even need to forge, from Age Concern and Help the Aged, of both of which I am Patron, a single organisation with a new name that promotes the positive aspects of growing older.

Many elderly people contribute huge amounts to our society. I don't want to minimise the substantial obstacles that many older people face to achieve a better quality of life. Far too many live in poverty and isolation, in poor housing, and in neighbourhoods where they feel excluded and unsafe. They need support to improve their health and well being and to feel that they are valued for who they are and what they contribute.

The latest study from the Office for National Statistics, published last week, concluded that although we are living longer, we are not necessarily enjoying better health in older age. Yet the present national public health plan, "Saving LivesĀ - Our Healthier Nation", gives only one target to improve the health of people over the age of 75, which is to reduce accidents. At the age of 75, it is worth remembering that many people today will have the potential for 15 years of active, full lives.

Talking of active, full lives brings me back to where I started and reminds me that I am here to introduce our two speakers, who will be well known to all of you. Sally Greengross steps down later this year from the leadership of Age Concern England, after 13 years as its Director General. A change of role, rather than retirement, would I am sure be the correct way to describe this move. Awarded a life peerage in the New Year's Honours list, I think we can expect the issues she has pursued so ably at Age Concern, to be vigorously pursued in the House of Lords. This is where our second speaker, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, has already spent several hours today before joining us here. Now in her 90th year, Barbara Castle is one of this country's most experienced politicians, whose political career began in 1937 when she was elected to St Pancras Borough Council. From 1974 to 1976 she was Secretary of State for Social Services, and she led the British Labour Party in the European Parliament from 1979 to 1985. She entered the House of Lords as a Life Peer in 1990, where she has been a leading advocate for older people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sally Greengross and Barbara Castle will now address us, after which Rabbi Julia Neuberger, the chief executive of the King's Fund, will chair a question and answer session, where you have the opportunity to raise any points you wish on this evening's subject.