HC Deb 26 March 1969 vol 780 cc1640-2

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent employers from refusing employment to persons on the sole ground that they are aged 45 years or over. Last year, when a similar Bill was brought before the House, it received a sympathetic response to its proposals, but unfortunately the Government Department concerned and what are described as the "usual channels" failed to take note of that. In a rapidly changing world, when mergers, take-overs and modern technologies increasingly make it necessary for people to prepare themselves for two or three changes in the main direction of their job or career, a Bill of this kind becomes an essential part of legislation.

Few if any young people now entering employment will be able to regard their first job as sufficient to last them throughout their working lives. Between 1st January, 1967, and the end of September, 1968, a total of 435,000 redundancy payments were made, and the main percentage was in the higher age group covering those over 40. People over 45 have much more difficulty in finding another job in the circumstances, and I think that most if not all of us know that reasons for refusal of jobs rarely have anything to do with fitness for the job but have very much to do with the question of age.

We have had numerous letters on this subject since raising the matter in the past, and I want to quote the heartcry of one sufferer, who wrote: Ours is a sick society and the discarding of able men merely because they are 50 is a distressing symptom of this sickness. A lifetime colleague of mine in the trade union and co-operative movement, Mr. Cyril Hamnett, once said that many people die when they are 25 but we do not bury them until they are 70. If we want to look for examples of lively veterans here, we need look no further than at my right hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), to see what can be done in the more mature age groups.

The National Advisory Committee on the Employment of Older Men and Women, which was set up in the mid-1950s, declared that the older worker should be given a fair chance on his own merits when competing for available jobs, and that the test for engagement should be capacity and not age. The National Joint Advisory Committee as recently as 1966 advised a strengthening of the employment services and the training facilities available, and obviously, from that background, the next step in Government action is the question of legislation.

As we know, Government Departments themselves are not entirely exempt from discrimination. It would be impossible, within the time allowed for this Motion, to give the details, but I am certain that hon. Members are familiar with them. The various redundancy measures—in particular the legislation dealing with coal mining redundancies—make this a problem of even greater importance than hitherto. Under the Coal Mining Redundancy Act payments are made for three years after retirement from the age of 55, but a considerable number of men, despite the fact that the payments are reasonably generous, will find themselves by the age of 58 seeking jobs without an adequate income of almost any description.

This again makes the point that we are raising here a long-term problem. We ourselves complain, and employers are continually complaining to us, about the brain drain, but what can one expect from young people of about 30 years of age in firms which adopt the attitude of age discrimination? When those younger people see older colleagues turned out or applicants for jobs aged 45 or 50 being turned down, who can blame them if they say, "I had better get out of here before it happens to me". This is the type of climate we are operating in, and it is a climate which needs legislation of this kind.

We hear even in development districts and many areas of under-employment talk about shortage of labour in many industries, of how the effect on families and the cry of, "to old at 45" prevents many people from changing their jobs or training for other jobs which would make them beneficial to the community and the country as a whole as well as being beneficial to the individual himself.

After my last attempt at bringing in a Bill of this nature, some well-intentioned colleagues and others not so helpful said that such legislation would not help, that it could not be implemented and was not something that ought to be placed on the Statute Book. I want to give the example of the United States in this respect. On 23rd January, 1967, President Johnson, in a message to Congress on Older Americans, said: In our nation there are thousands of people who possess skills which the country badly needs. Hundreds of thousands not yet old, not yet voluntarily retired, find themselves jobless because of arbitrary age discrimination. When President Johnson was speaking, some 23 American States had already enacted laws to prohibit discriminatory practice, but, as he said, the problem was of national concern and magnitude. He made recommendations for the implementation of legislation somewhat similar to what we propose. By 6th November, 1967, legislation had been passed by the American Senate to give every American the opportunity and right to be equally considered for employment and promotion, but without preference being given to the older worker.

The Bill would cover workers between 45 and 65, although the Americans went five years lower and decided on the age of 40 as the starting age. It would bar employers and employment agencies from indicating in their advertisements for jobs a preference based on age. The Bill is urgent, necessary and long overdue, and I am sure that it will commend itself to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Milne, Mr. James Hamilton, Mr. Adam Hunter, Sir Myer Galpern, Mr. William Molloy, Mr. Archie Manuel, Mr. Eric Ogden, Mr. Roy Roebuck, Mr. E. Rowlands, Mr. David Watkins, and Mr. David Winnick.