HC Deb 09 February 1996 vol 271 cc556-624

Order for Second Reading read.

9.35 am
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

It gives me great pleasure to move the Second Reading of the Bill. First, I thank Age Concern—particularly its parliamentary officer—which was extremely helpful when I was preparing the measure.

I want to make age discrimination as unacceptable in jobs as race, gender and disability discrimination. My Bill deals with only one aspect of age discrimination—upper age limits in job advertisements.

I entirely accept that age discrimination would not disappear simply as a result of this measure. Employers who are determined to discriminate over age will continue to be able to do so. Nevertheless, although the Bill is limited and modest, I believe that it will undermine the type of blatant discrimination that continues to exist. It will follow developments that have taken place in some other countries, and will, moreover, show legislative disapproval for the first time ever of age discrimination, as previous Acts of Parliament have done with race, gender and, since 1995, disability.

Everyone, including everyone present in the Chamber, knows of the acute difficulties that confront many people in middle age who, having been made redundant, find that, time and again, however well qualified they are, the door is firmly closed because they have reached their mid-40s, let alone committed the crime of being over 50. It is almost unbelievable, but true, that, in some cases, discrimination begins even in the late 30s.

The Select Committee on Employment, in a report published a little while ago, was left in no doubt of the difficulties that confront middle-aged people. The Select Committee found that such discrimination over age was widely practised by people who are themselves in that age group. That is not true, I suppose, in the main, about the other types of discrimination that I mentioned. To that extent, it is interesting to note that people who say, in effect, that, if one reaches one's 40s, let alone one's 50s, one is not really able to do the job are often themselves in that age group and would not dream of saying that they are unable to undertake their senior responsibilities because of their age.

Indeed, as we know, and as the Select Committee mentioned, Cabinet Ministers and permanent secretaries in the Civil Service rarely reach those positions before their late 40s.

That is certainly true in general of the business and commercial sectors. When I returned to the House after some years absence, I was approaching 46. Whatever Conservative opponents may have said about my politics—they may have expressed displeasure at my return—one thing was certain: no one suggested that I was too old for the job. That is not done in politics, any more than it is done in relation to senior positions in the commercial and business sectors.

The references to age in job advertisements vary. The favourite age range when an upper limit is mentioned tends to be between 27 and 38. Advertisements, certainly those in serious newspapers and job supplements that regularly appear, often state that the ideal candidate should have various qualifications and fall within the age range that I mentioned. I find that unacceptable.

Let us suppose that, instead of mentioning an age range, an advertisement stated—if the law permitted it—that the ideal candidate should be white or should be non-Jewish or should be a man, when there was clearly no reason why a woman should not do the job. An outcry would rightly occur, and I would be among those protesting.

We know that discrimination on the grounds of race and gender has become unacceptable as well as unlawful, but at present it seems perfectly in order to state an age range and consider it acceptable that anyone over that age will not be considered, even where there is not the slightest reason to believe that someone over the age of 40 could not do the job. The time has come for us, as a House, to give protection to our fellow citizens who consider themselves qualified to do a job and do not believe that age should be a barrier.

Everyone should be considered on their merits. It is surely wrong to say that people cannot even be considered and their curriculum vitae will not even be looked at because they are over a certain age. Surely we should not continue into the next century with an increasing number of people in their 40s and 50s being discriminated against in that way.

A survey carried out by Labour Research—I am sure that Conservative Members know that that organisation is not connected with the Labour party—found that more than 40 per cent. of job advertisements of all sorts in the national, regional and local press and other media outlets, excluded applicants in their 40s. A survey that has since been taken of national papers, including The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, found that the number of discriminatory advertisements of the sort mentioned in the Bill amounted to between 14 and 17 per cent.—a minority, but still far too many. As I have said, if the law permitted the advertisements to mention not age disqualification but other forms of discrimination, we know what the reaction would be.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has done any research. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's decision to introduce the Bill has had a dramatic effect on the figures. Yesterday, I counted the number of advertisements in The Daily Telegraph, which is probably the most popular national newspaper in terms of job advertising, and found that 18 out of 554—3.2 per cent.—mentioned an age. Half those advertisements stated that they preferred a certain age range rather than stipulating an upper age limit.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and the fact that The Daily Telegraph carries fewer such advertisements is welcome. I am bound to welcome that, as I am against such discrimination in the first place. But other recent surveys show that, if one considers the papers together, and does not single out just one, the figure is between 14 and 17 per cent., as I have just said. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at other papers, not just The Daily Telegraph.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned research carried out by Labour Research. Will he acknowledge the research that was carried out in January 1995, to which I think the hon. Gentleman referred in his article in The House Magazine, which showed that, of the 5,368 job advertisements, only 217–4 per cent.—specifically excluded the over-40s? Some 96 per cent. of those advertisements had no age limit.

Mr. Winnick

I shall be interested to see how the Minister will respond to what I have to say. I doubt whether Conservative Members will deny the seriousness of the situation and the fact that age discrimination continues. I shall quote the hon. Lady's predecessor, and I think that the Minister is indicating that she recognises the seriousness of the situation—she is nodding in agreement. Consideration of the serious papers with job supplements shows that the percentage of discriminatory advertisements is along the lines that I have suggested.

The seriousness of the position was made clear by the then Minister when she replied to an Adjournment debate on 23 May last year. In that debate, the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who is now at the Home Office—I do not think that anyone would describe her as wet or liberal—said that about 40 per cent. of employers openly admitted to practising some form of age discrimination. She went on to say that that figure included only the employers who openly admitted to such discrimination.

I am sure that the present Minister will not disassociate herself from what her predecessor said only last year, on 23 May. That figure illustrates the degree of age discrimination that continues in this country. Nearly 30 per cent. of those aged between 45 and 59 have been unemployed for more than one year. Some 18 per cent. of unemployed claimants in that age group have been out of work for more than four years. Those are high figures, and the position would have been different some years ago.

I wish to mention another factor. In doing so, I hope that I shall not antagonise the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who I think has come to support my measure—the last thing I want to do is antagonise Conservative Members who have come to offer their support.

It is disappointing that appointments within the European Union reveal acute age discrimination. The European Union has suggested that it opposes age discrimination and would like steps to be taken against it, if not legislative action. But age restrictions are regularly placed on vacancies in most grades in the European Union—35 is the age limit in the open competition for jobs. As I look around the Chamber, I see few people present who would be able to apply for such jobs.

In order to qualify for one job—an assistant administrator based in London—the applicant must have been born after 1 July 1963. The same is true of a number of jobs in the European Union, which brings me back to my earlier point: those who discriminate often fall within the age group being discriminated against. The present President of the Commission was 57 when he took office in 1995, one of his predecessors was 52, and his immediate predecessor was 60 when he took office in 1985. The present Commissioners are aged 60, 60, 52, 52 and 55. They do not seem to believe that, because they are above a certain age, they cannot hold the most senior and leading positions within the European Union.

It is an odd state of affairs when, on the one hand, someone who has turned 35 is considered to be over the hill and apparently unable to do the job mentally, physically or for some other reason, while, on the other hand, it is perfectly all right for the most senior positions to be held by those aged 60 or over. That is a contradiction and a form of hypocrisy—which, in fairness to the European Union, is not confined to that institution, as I have said.

I know—not because of any private conversations that we have had, but because of a parliamentary reply that I have received—that the Minister will argue against the measure today. Like her predecessor, she will say that the Government oppose age discrimination, and I do not question that fact. I question a great deal of what the Government say, but I do not dispute the fact that the Government oppose age discrimination.

The argument between the supporters of my measure and the Government is not based on the fact that one group supports age discrimination and the other does not: it is a question of how we will address that problem. I anticipate that the Minister will say that voluntary persuasion is required. She will say that we do not want more regulations and more legislation: the Government want to persuade employers that they are wrong to discriminate on the basis of age.

I do not believe that that approach will work. If I did, I would not have introduced the measure. The competitive nature of the media is such that newspapers and magazines will be most reluctant to refuse to publish such employment advertisements if they believe that their rivals will pick up the lost trade.

I can understand the explanation that advertising directors at some of the leading newspapers and magazines will give for their decisions. They will say that, although it is rather unfortunate and they do not agree with such discrimination, their rivals will pick up the lost trade if they take a unilateral decision to drop the advertisements. They are in a very competitive business, and I can understand that point of view—however much I disagree with it.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

I agree that an awful lot of work must be done to persuade employers not to indulge in age discrimination. Given the hon. Gentleman's position, I wonder why his Bill has such a narrow focus. It refers to only one small aspect of a much wider problem. I have some difficulty coming to terms with the Bill's extremely narrow focus.

Mr. Winnick

It is rather strange for me to be accused by Conservative Members of not going far enough in my political actions. Perhaps it is the first time in my political life that the Conservatives have not accused me of being too extreme. I do not know whether that will improve my political image or lead to deselection—fortunately, I have already been reselected.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point very seriously. When I won fourth place in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I had already decided what I intended to do. I knew that, if I tried to introduce more comprehensive legislation, the Government would automatically say no. Ministers would refer to the cost of bringing discrimination issues before tribunals, and an open season would be declared on my Bill.

Therefore, I decided to concentrate on one aspect: advertisements. I have already acknowledged that it is a limited and modest step. However, as a Back Bencher, one must often limit oneself to a very modest legislative first step.

I assure the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he will believe me—that my measure has met with general approval around the country. Some people have adopted the hon. Gentleman's attitude, which I understand perfectly. Others have taken a different attitude: they have realised that it will cost hardly any public money to deal only with advertisements, and they believe that the Government should support this reasonable and necessary measure. I do not believe that I am wrong in dealing with the problem in that way.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Temperamentally, I support the hon. Gentleman's Bill, and perhaps all hon. Members should declare an interest in its passage. However, can the hon. Gentleman inform the House whether we would be leading or trailing comparable countries by introducing a legislative requirement of that kind?

Mr. Winnick

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He has anticipated my remarks, and I shall come to that question in a moment.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that one magazine has taken unilateral action. People Management magazine has not carried any age discriminatory advertisements since the beginning of this year. I welcome that fact, and I congratulate the magazine. However, it cannot be said that voluntary action has worked, because that Is the only example. If my Bill does not become law as a result of the Government's action, I doubt whether, next year or the year after, any hon. Member will be able to say, "People Management took the first step in 1996, and look what has happened since." Although it is good news in that instance, I do not believe that voluntary action will work across the board.

People Management magazine did not base its decision on the percentage of age discriminatory advertisements that it carried—which may have been only 3 or 5 per cent—it decided that it was a matter of principle: it is wrong to discriminate. People should be considered according to their merits. I wish that other publications would take similar action, but I doubt it.

The Confederation of British Industry will no doubt be referred to in the debate. However, I have a letter from the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents some 85,000 small firms. It states that the federation does not oppose my Bill, and it does not believe that the action that I am proposing would impose any burdens on small businesses. It goes on to say that the legislation may provide a watershed in changing attitudes. I am pleased about that response, as it shows that the commercial and business sector is not as hostile as some might think.

Turning to the point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), Ministers are eager to play down the effect of anti-age discriminatory legislation in other countries—particularly the United States. The standard response—which was given in the Adjournment debate last year—is that such legislation has not worked elsewhere, so why should it work here? The discrimination that we are debating today is outlawed in the United States. However, Ministers continue to state that such legislation has not done much good—I am not sure that the present American Administration, or previous ones, would take the same attitude.

In its booklet entitled "An International Overview", the Employment Service concedes that there is some evidence that the potential exists for legislation, such as that in the United States, to have a positive effect. It states that the legislation is causing employers"— obviously, those in the United States— to reconsider job evaluation and descriptions in order to use objective criteria—rather than arbitrary age criteria". Although Ministers and the Government are determined not to follow the United States example, the Employment Service has conceded that point. Many in the United States agree that the legislation has not worked wonders—middle-aged people continue to be discriminated against—but that discrimination is much less widespread than it would be otherwise. Moreover, those in their 40s or early 50s are not the first to be made redundant. That is a positive step, and I believe that we should follow suit.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Has not the precedent been set by introducing sex and race discrimination legislation in the House? That legislation has not eliminated sex and race discrimination, but it is symbolic of where we stand on the issue.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend's point is most important, and I was just about to deal with it. I entered the House at the same time as he did, and I was there in the mid-1960s when we were considering extending the legislation. The Labour Government had at first passed a mild Act on race discrimination. But before that, when the Conservative Government were in office, they argued time and time again against any form of legislation to deal with racial discrimination.

When Fenner Brockway, before my time, tabled repeated ten-minute Bills, the Government's response was, "Yes, race discrimination is wrong and unacceptable, and causes pain and injury to those involved. It should not be part of a civilised society—but legislation is not the answer." They asked, "Why should people go for jobs where they are not wanted?" But look what has happened since then.

Let those who are against legislation think what things were like in the 1960s, when employers in my then constituency said to me, "We have no prejudice ourselves, Mr. Winnick, but our customers do, when they come into our banks, insurance offices and so on." But now, if we went to any bank, insurance office or building society, the idea that someone in the queue might say, "Oh no, I refuse to be served by that person because she is of Asian origin; she is black," would have us sending for the men in the white coats. See how attitudes have changed.

Could anyone, no matter how much he or she opposes legislation, say with hand on heart that, even with all the difficulties that remain, we would have made the same progress on race without legislation? Would voluntary action have worked? We know the answer, do we not?

The same applies to gender. Fortunately, women now have more opportunities in the work force. There is a changing pattern in the work force—

Mr. Ian Bruce

I see that the hon. Gentleman is coming close to the end of his speech, so will he tell us how he sees the Bill as being defined? Will words such as "junior" and "senior" be outlawed? How does he see the technicalities? We all heard recently that someone who advertised for a "paper boy" was pulled up under sex discrimination legislation even though he already employed girls and boys in exactly the same way. It is important to understand how the hon. Gentleman would treat the words "junior" and "senior". I shall certainly touch on that aspect in my speech.

Mr. Winnick

To some extent that is a Committee point, but it is an important one. If the hon. Gentleman reads clause 2, he will see that the Bill does not apply to any advertisement for employment where there are physical, medical or other similar grounds on the basis of which it would be reasonable for any person to conclude that the job in question could not adequately be performed by persons who had passed an age limit". If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be constructive—I am sure he does—and if he says that he agrees with the Bill in principle but perhaps it needs tightening up, he will know that that is what the Committee stage is for. If I am fortunate enough to secure a Second Reading for my Bill, I am sure that we can have many interesting and constructive arguments about how to change clause 2 and add to it.

However, even as it stands, clause 2 shows that, as with race and gender, I accept entirely that, for certain jobs, such as those in the armed forces and the police, no one will suggest that we start recruiting people in their early 50s. Common sense dictates otherwise. I do not want to create bureaucratic difficulties where they are not necessary. I want to undermine age discrimination, but obviously I work on the basis that for certain jobs, with age as with race and gender, legislation should provide exemptions.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I hesitate to interrupt the flow of my hon. Friend's powerful and moving speech, but as he already been interrupted, and as he referred to Fenner Brockway, I cannot resist. I was there at the time, and Fenner Brockway was widely dismissed—not only on the Conservative side of the House. That reinforces my hon. Friend's point and shows how such actions can influence attitudes, perhaps not tomorrow, but certainly the day after tomorrow.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all have the highest respect for Fenner Brockway. If I may be party political for a moment, I pay tribute to him as a lifelong socialist, dedicated to the cause of working people at home and abroad. So appalled was he by the fact that anyone could be discriminated against on the ground of race, and especially that it should happen to so many people, that he took action that may, for all I know, have undermined his position in his constituency and led to his defeat in 1964. Fortunately—although I am normally no upholder of the House of Lords—he continued to play an active role in public life. Long may he be remembered.

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, especially as he has allowed so many interventions in his important speech. He has the sympathy and support of many Conservative Members. But why has he not been much more positive in his proposed legislation? He could require advertisements to declare that experience would be valued, which would affect people with experience—older people, perhaps. Why has he not taken that on? Why does he not challenge the people who practise blatant discrimination in advertisements by saying that, if they want to exclude older people, they must declare the reason? No one would admit to blatant discrimination, so that would form an effective ban, and would be positive.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman may have a point, but how one would write it into legislation is another matter. All that I would say to him and to the Minister is, just give me a Second Reading, and I shall be responsive to constructive ideas in Committee. I shall be more responsive than any Minister in any Government could hope to be.

However, I suspect that there are already one or two Members—certainly not the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), and probably not anyone who has already intervened in my speech—preparing to oppose the closure and to go in for all that business organised by the Whips. In saying that, I do not mean be offensive about the Government Whip who is here at the moment, the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). Indeed, he initiated the Adjournment debate.

All I say is, give me a Second Reading and everyone will see what a responsive and constructive attitude I shall take to all those suggestions.

Mr. Ian Bruce


Mr. Winnick

I shall give way for the last time, and then I must conclude.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is being very tolerant. He answered a question very well, but it was not the question that I asked. I suspect that he will not get a Committee stage for his Bill, so it is important to discuss such matters on the Floor of the House. What I was saying, in a constructive manner, was: what about the words "junior" and "senior"? Will the legislation affect only people who specify an actual age in their advertisement, or will people have to start becoming very politically correct in their language? Such measures are often damned in the detail.

Mr. Winnick

I do not want to be too politically correct, but the most blatant form of discrimination is that exercised by the upper age limit. Let us deal with that. If the hon. Gentleman is one of those who will try to ensure that the Bill receives a Second Reading today, and if he comes into the Lobby with me if there is a vote on the closure, as I suspect there will be, I hope that he will be a member of the Committee arising from his participation. Then we shall see if we can reach agreement.

I have two more points to make before I finish. The first is about the changing pattern of the work force. My Front-Bench colleagues will touch on the fact that the number of people in their 40s and 50s is increasing; that fact should not be overlooked. There are more now than there were 10 years ago, and the numbers will continue to rise into the next century.

I can cite two examples that I have come across in the past week. Someone in my constituency, who is on the opposite side to me politically, said that he had been made redundant after 26 years. He is an accountant, and he said that, when he lost his job very recently, he knew what the problems would be. He knew that, however qualified he was—obviously he is highly qualified after so many years' experience in his firm—he would have difficulty simply because of his age.

The other example arose yesterday, when I was doing a television interview at Millbank. When it had finished, the cameraman said that he was interested in what I had said, because he had been made redundant from another company at the age of 52. He now does freelance work, but he would like another permanent job. Time and time again, because he was over 50 when he was made redundant, he has found out the difficulties, to his cost.

In the interview I had mentioned the effects on pensions, and he took up that point, because the problems are only too real when those who have been made redundant and are out of work for years on end reach retirement age. What sort of pension can they expect?

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)


Mr. Winnick

I said that I had given way for the last time, but as the hon. Gentleman is bound to oppose my Bill, let us hear his point of view.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman has made some powerful comments about age discrimination, but he has not addressed the weak spot of his argument. If an employer is determined to discriminate against age, how will mere regulation of advertisements stop him? Is the measure warranted, given the small number of advertisements to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) referred? Is it philosophically right to regulate good practice? Does not such regulation lead to more unemployment, as in Spain and France?

Mr. Winnick

I said at the beginning that, if my Bill becomes law, that will not itself stop age discrimination—but that is not a criticism of the measure. If my Bill were enacted and age discrimination continued regardless, that is a strong argument for more comprehensive legislation. Whether the hon. Gentleman would support it is another matter. He certainly will not be supporting my Bill, because we know his political views.

I am a realist, so I know that, if the Government are absolutely determined to destroy a private Member's Bill, they have the means—if not on Second Reading then on Report, when hon. Members can speak endlessly, and the measure runs out of parliamentary time.

Whatever the outcome today, we have begun a debate on a main form of discrimination. Race, gender or disability discrimination is protected against in law. We are left with the fourth main form of discrimination, which penalises and punishes many people who have reached their 40s and 50s, and who have no protection in law. The time will come, I hope not too far into the future, when the House will acknowledge its responsibilities to those people, and will pass the necessary legislation to give some protection to those who have as much right to work as we do.

10.11 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made an eloquent and interesting speech. If one were to take 100 different political issues, most people would bet against the hon. Gentleman and myself being on the same side on more than a handful. However, the hon. Gentleman has always been a hard man on terrorism, so consequently I have always had a soft spot for him. Many of us could make a speech on either side of today's argument, but I will speak in support of the hon. Member, not least because I have a soft spot for him.

I am temperamentally unsympathetic to the politically correct. I take the view of the Scottish judge that the phrase "a change for the better" is a contradiction in terms. Just as constituents say that they disapprove of Members of Parliament in general but like their own Member of Parliament, or disapprove of the ways of education but approve of the school that their children attend, in this instance I have some limited experience, so I am able to discount the politically correct.

For better or worse, I was the first headhunter in the United Kingdom. I was not the architect of headhunting, because it had been practised in other countries before—just as I was not the architect of the national lottery. One could staff a pretty good practice with the people who claim to have been the architect of the national lottery, but I can claim to have been the master mason in both cases.

Headhunting started in this country 35 years ago, and the industry now has a volume of £100 million. That is a much slower rate of growth than the national lottery, but we started the headhunting industry with £2,000 of equity capital and a £2,000 loan. On the strength of that acorn, the oak has grown to a reasonable size. That experience is not strictly relevant, because headhunting primarily involves approaching individuals direct rather than recruitment advertising.

When we started that business, assignments would almost certainly be handled by the client company's chief executive. Over the past 35 years, the centre of gravity has gradually shifted to the personnel department, which would now let many such contracts. I can understand the attraction for a personnel department—here I touch on advertisements—of a Procrustean sieve to specify an age limit and to discount and discard applicants who fall outside it. I am not suggesting that the Institute of Personnel Management would be a foe of the Bill, but I acknowledge that the present practice affords employers a certain convenience.

I spent some of my time in a headhunting firm in the United States. My recollection of that era is that one could not even put one's date of birth on a curriculum vitae, because that was potentially agist. That was a narrow point, because one could always work out from the arithmetic the person's likely date of birth—just as one can use the arithmetic of a CV to demonstrate fraud when someone claims that they have done more than they have.

We live in an era in which the relationship between employer and employees has visibly shifted. There was a time when an individual could join a clearing bank, for example, in the belief that, if he kept his nose clean, he would have a job until retirement. As the climate and competitive nature of banking has changed, that unspoken contract has changed, too.

It is a disagreeable experience for people who joined a bank in their early 20s to discover in their 40s or 50s that they are being made redundant, when their own sense of the contract was that they would remain employed until retirement. The hon. Gentleman's Bill responds to the climate of the time, and the uncertainties that have been bestowed on employment practices.

The circumstances are as the hon. Gentleman, described. It is worth dwelling on the perception of people who are made redundant in terms of the particular characteristic that he is seeking to outlaw. I once had some ambitions to join the Army, but my knee was damaged in national service, and I spent a long time recovering. I have no difficulty understanding the debilitating effect of that which Tennyson described: To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! The experience is made worse if the individual feels that society is conspiring against him through advertising of the kind that the hon. Gentleman described.

There is a practical and positive point to be made about the hon. Gentleman's measure, which exists at national and micro-economic local level. A colleague in my former firm took the view that one should listen to the client, write it all down, then decide for oneself what the client needed, and locate the individual who would fulfil one's personal specifications. One needs a strong personality and a remarkable success record to sustain that way of working, because one would clearly not be delivering the kind of individual for whom the client had asked. However, my colleague demonstrated on a number of occasions how successful his approach could be.

As each of us grows older and passes the years at which Keats, Mozart and Raphael died—all under the age of 40—we must wince at the scale of their achievements in comparison with our own up to that age. On the other side the balance sheet, we know that Sophocles, Titian and Thomas Hobbes all lived to the age of 100, and the scale of their achievements was spread over a much longer canvas.

When Madam Gorbachev visited Chequers for the first time, she went into the library and said what a great privilege it was to be in the country of Hobbes and Locke. Those of us who heard that story thought how extraordinarily well informed she was on the affairs of the Surrey county cricket club. However, I think that she was in fact thinking of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke rather than of Tony Lock and Jack Hobbs.

Having said that, Jack Hobbs can be adduced in support of my argument. Those of us who are cricketers and are coming towards the end of our playing careers take constant encouragement from the fact that, of the 197 first-class centuries that Hobbs made—the largest number ever made in the history of the game—99 were made before the age of 40 and 98 were made after.

I said that I was uneasy about the politically correct, and I can see the slippery slope down which we might find ourselves going.

Mr. Leigh

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the main purport of Locke's philosophy was that virtue must grow within the individual, and that it cannot be imposed on him from outside by the state or by another person?

Mr. Brooke

I give my hon. Friend an exceptionally good mark for the quality of his intervention. However, we could be moving down a slippery slope in terms of this type of legislation.

On the rare occasions when I ran advertisements myself, I always included the sentence, "A sense of humour would help". I once sat on an Air Canada plane next to a man who was writing letters, and his letterhead bore the title "professional humorist." I was tempted to engage him in conversation to discover whether his conversation was different from that of other men. I can see that, if there is such a thing as the society of anti-humorists, the phrase, "A sense of humour would help," might well be banned from advertisements as well.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North has made a persuasive case for his Bill. As an olive branch to personnel departments, I shall say that, if anyone were ever to produce a private Member's Bill to standardise the preparation of curriculum vitae in this country so that one could read all of them against a common last instead of having them go all over the place as they currently do, it would be a considerable contribution to national productivity, and I would support that Bill. In the short term, in the interim and in the meantime, I shall support the hon. Gentleman's private Member's Bill.

10.22 am
Mr. Tam (Dalyell Linlithgow)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you called on me to speak, you might have said, "Follow that vignette of a speech made by the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)". Let us note that it was a strongly supportive speech, for all its charm and erudition. The right hon. Member used the expression "Procrustean sieve". I do not pretend to be any authority on Procrustean sieves, but I must tell the Whips, if they have Procrustean sieves: for heaven's sake, let the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) trickle through it, and nip in the bud any objections at 2.30 pm today or whenever these things happen. This Bill will not cost money, and it is a step in the right direction.

There is another consideration. If private Members' Bills that have come high up the ballot are rejected almost as a matter of course, it brings this form of parliamentary procedure into some disrepute. People who come high up the ballot and produce Bills that are of good will and limited—as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North sensibly and eloquently said—should be given the benefit of any doubt. It would be a great pity—I shall put it no higher—if this Bill did not see the light of a Committee stage.

I should like to voice the concerns of Age Concern Scotland in this sphere. Age Concern Scotland is a very serious and sensible organisation, which has said that one job in every 10 advertisements in local and national newspapers is likely to bar older people. It believes that that discrimination should be outlawed, and has asked Scottish Members of Parliament to help.

Because many of my colleagues would have liked to be here but have prior commitments, I am authorised to speak on their behalf. I should say that I have spoken to them about it, and that I am not speaking only on my own behalf in this matter. We support, strongly and out of conviction, the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North.

Age Concern Scotland has written in a letter to me: The Government estimates that 40 per cent. of employers discriminate on grounds of age. A Gallup survey carried out on behalf of Brook Street employment consultancy found that 70 per cent. of workers aged over 50 believed they have been turned down for a job because they were too old, even though they had the right skills… Older people in employment are faced with early retirement and voluntary redundancy to get them out of the work place. Age discrimination makes it extremely difficult for them to get back into work. Nearly 50 per cent. of men over 60 are now"— in the Scottish context— unemployed. They may face years on a low income, using up any savings that they may have put aside for their retirement, and unable to build up adequate pension entitlement. This also wastes valuable skills and experience which otherwise could be contributing to the country's economy. In our constituency work, time and again, we see people's sad and often pathetic reaction to the belief that they no longer have functions for their skills. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) knows very well—much more than I ever shall—about the shipbuilding industry. There are people, not only on Clydeside but in other yards, who have built up considerable skills. This Bill could certainly help them.

Legislation outlawing age bars in job advertisements would provide a positive sign that discrimination is unacceptable. It would encourage employers to rethink their policies, and accept that, irrespective of age, every person should have the right to be considered for work in relation to their needs, capabilities and wishes. Business can easily adjust to job advertisements that exclude age limits, in the same way in which they have adjusted to job advertisements that do not discriminate on the grounds of race or sex.

This will cost little or nothing to implement. A Financial Times editorial of 11 November 1995 noted: little harm and some good may result from banning job advertisements which include age ceilings. If that is the considered view of the Financial Times, surely the Whips can give my hon. Friend the benefit of the doubt.

The Government's overall policy is to continue to oppose any legislative proposals, favouring instead voluntary codes of practice that seek to change attitudes. This Bill is more likely to achieve a change of attitudes. There is a need for this Bill, which the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South has eloquently described. Again I ask the Whips: call off those hounds and do not object.

Age Concern Scotland continues: The Carnegie Third Age Programme has promoted a voluntary initiative with many of Britain's biggest companies to prevent age discrimination. In co-operation with the CBI, major employers such as Tesco, Nationwide Building Society, John Laing, WH Smith and other large and/or public companies have committed themselves to address age discrimination. A total of 93 of Britain's largest employers—90 per cent. of those who replied to a Carnegie questionnaire—committed themselves to not using age limits in advertising. But Age Concern still believes that as well as the carrot of a voluntary code, a legislative stick is also needed to ensure that attitudes amongst all employers change. A Bill outlawing age limits in job adverts would start to challenge attitudes towards the recruitment of older people, and allow employers the benefits of keeping older workers in employment. I shall not make a long speech, but I should like to end with a passionately felt thought. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North were both personal, so perhaps I may be forgiven for being so.

My director of studies when I was a student, the then young Noel Annan, decided, because of staff shortages, to send four of us to be supervised by the late Sir Frank Adcock, professor of Greek, who was nearer 80 than 70 at the time. Despite that, his mind was still as acute as it had been when he was the editor of the "Cambridge Ancient History"—and when, in the view of his contemporaries, he was arguably the best decrypter at Bletchley during the war. He thoroughly enjoyed this job: he was worth a guinea a minute.

I asked Sir Frank later why he had taken so much trouble with us. He answered, "What else have I got to do at my age? Teaching gives me a function; it adds value to going on living." I suspect that many others would echo that. Perhaps I was privileged to have such a distinguished supervisor. It is noteworthy that people in their late teens—in my case, because of national service, my early 20s—often take more easily to someone of their grandfather or grandmother's age than to those who are younger. That is why these people should be used.

When I was elected to this House in 1962, Her Majesty the Queen sent 200 telegrams of congratulation to those who had reached their 100th birthday. The other day, the Queen's private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes, told me that 3,000 such telegrams were sent out in 1994. Clearly there has been a major change in work and life expectancy.

There is a widespread feeling that people can and should be used far beyond the time when their chronological age might dictate otherwise. In any case, I am not a great believer in chronological age. I know some Members of Parliament who are scarcely over 30 but whose real age appears to be nearer 70. [Interruption.] We are not going to indulge in names today—that would be dangerous. There are others near the chronological age of 70 whose general liveliness makes them seem less than half that age

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Like my father.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend's father is nearer 80 than 70, but anyone who talks to Hugh McCartney will realise that he is as subversive, irreverent and lively as he ever was.

Mr. McCartney

He is making a comeback.

Mr. Dalyell

Many people make comebacks, but it is important to keep them fully in use as well.

Professor Knops, who teaches mathematics in Heriot-Watt university at Edinburgh, runs a project concerned with special tutorial facilities for those who find difficulties in this increasingly esoteric and complex subject. The same is done for chemical engineering students. Older people, in short, can build up the confidence of students. Although it might be argued that that is not directly related to advertising, I am concerned to change the atmosphere.

Last night I was invited to a meeting that included seven fellows of Peterhouse in Cambridge. Knowing that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North intended to present his Bill today, I discussed it, and discovered that there was overwhelming support for it. Indeed, there is strong support for the Bill at every level in teaching.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is pointing to his watch, telling me to shut up. Obedience, of course, is my great quality, but I would plead with him and other Conservative Members to get hold of their Whips and keep them silent at 2.30 pm.

10.37 am
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

I certainly hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) did not think I was being discourteous. If he did, I apologise—it was just the usual Friday morning problem of everyone wanting to speak.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in the debate, because I must ask for the indulgence of the House. I have to go to another appointment later, so I will not be here for the end of the debate. In return for that indulgence, it is my duty to be brief. My other appointment will find me opening some new operating theatres at the Royal National orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore. Hospital units are being opened by this Government and the agencies responsible. That is good news, and it is a perfectly respectable reason for asking the House to forgive me for not being here later.

It is a great pleasure to support this Bill and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I agree with the three speeches we have heard so far. My right hon. Friend the Member for the two cities referred to the daunting and discouraging definition by the Scottish judge. That put me in mind of the remarkable utterance by Elliott, who was first headmaster and then provost of Eton. In about 1938, he poured cold water on the entire institution and on all young people, by saying that he distrusted enthusiasm of any kind. Such an all-embracing assertion would certainly be very off-putting nowadays.

One of the features of modern society is the much greater enthusiasm for people doing things irrespective of their age—that includes very elderly people. That is why I am delighted to sponsor this Bill, and I thank the hon. Member for Walsall, North for inviting me to do so. The Bill has three or four Conservative supporters, which shows that it has all-party support.

We live in an age when old people have just as powerful rights as younger people. That represents a significant change of attitudes. Since we are indulging this morning in definitional assertions, I am reminded of the classic definition of true optimism. It concerns the 97-year-old man who, on getting married for the fifth time, deliberately chose to buy a house near a school. I am proud to be one of the enthusiastic supporters of a local university of the third age. It is a large organisation in Harrow, I am pleased to say. I shall shortly be addressing the students on the virtues of European monetary union. I hope that they survive my outburst. It is remarkable to see people of extreme age, which is how they would have been described in the old days—it is no longer a valid description—learning things that they did not have the opportunity to study earlier in life. These people are well into their 70s, 80s and sometimes 90s.

Not in my local U3A but at one in west London, the students of which I addressed some time ago, I came across a 94-year-old lady learning Spanish. When I said, "What a marvellous language. I am glad that you are learning it. I speak it as well," she said, "I am learning Spanish flamenco as well as part of the course." That is the age in which we live. That is important in the context of employment and that is why I wholeheartedly support the Bill. I applaud the way in which it has been drafted, which I consider to be realistic and modest. So much so that it must tempt all fair-minded observers to say that it should be considered in Committee.

I agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian—

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Dykes

I was thinking of the West Lothian question.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow was right to say that it would be sad if my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government Whips were to decide not to allow the Bill to be committed to a Standing Committee and, as a result, block it, if the House did not succeed in bypassing their will. It would be a good idea for the Bill to be considered in detail in Committee. By that process we could iron out some of the difficulties, including those of terminology.

Having tested the Bill against quite a few experts on drafting, however, I am not sure that it contains that many textual weaknesses. The clauses have been drafted carefully. The promoter took a great deal of care in taking advice on drafting. There are some reflections of other discrimination legislation, and that should be reassuring.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I hope that the promoter, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), will consider whether the title might be changed to Employment Deregulation. If the Bill is enacted, those who might want to apply for a job will not feel disqualified. That would be fully in line with the Government's deregulation policy.

Mr. Dykes

I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend. He has made an interesting observation. The sponsors might indicate whether they would agree to such a change.

Once again, I wish to express my wholehearted and enthusiastic support. I agree with what has been said by the previous three speakers. That being so, I do not wish to go into detail. I shall conclude by referring to Age Concern. We must thank it for the initiative that it has taken in supporting the Bill and for the letters that it has sent to Members through its able parliamentary officer. I hope that it will not be tedious for the House if I quote a paragraph of the letter that Age Concern sent me in mid-January. Before doing so, I pay tribute to the extremely active, lively and dynamic Age Concern group in Harrow, which does a fabulous amount of work for local people.

The second paragraph reads: Age Concern supports the bill because we believe it would provide a positive sign to older people that age discrimination is unacceptable and encourages employers, both large and small, to rethink their employment policies so that every person has the right to be considered for work in relation to their needs, capabilities and wishes, irrespective of age. That is a powerful sentiment and I am pleased to support it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said, there is nothing more discouraging than realising that one is being blocked for a reason that is arbitrary, artificial, discriminatory and unfair. Nothing is more irritating, by the way—this happens in companies large and small—for the aged chief executive or chairman to be dismissing people at early forced retirement age for all sorts of so-called reasons, such as rationalisation and modernisation internally, when he has no intention of stepping down, even though he might be well over 75.

Against that background, I renew my plea to the Minister. I know the Government's intentions. At least I think that I guess them correctly. I believe that they intend to block the Bill. That would be a mistake. I think that parliamentarians of all parties wish Governments of all hues to be much more open minded towards sensible private Members' Bills in future. I know that more parliamentary time is being made available to consider them. I acknowledge that that is a step forward. There are occasions when the Government can and should say, "Yes, we shall let the Bill go to a Committee, where it can be examined." I am sure that the promoter would say, "Let the Government's administrators, officials and technicians take over the Bill and draft it properly." That happened a few years ago when the Government moved in, having originally opposed my Bill on heavy lorries, and said, "We shall draft it correctly and let it go through."

This is an excellent Bill. I congratulate the promoter on introducing it. I hope that it is given a Second Reading. I am sorry that I will not be present to see what happens. I hope that the Government will give the Bill a fair wind.

10.45 am
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I shall begin by making some declarations of interest that I think are important. I have been—technically I still am—the owner of an employment agency. My work within employment agencies has continued for about 20 years. On many occasions, I have acted as an advertising agency for recruitment. I have recently been asked by the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services to be its parliamentary adviser. In the past few weeks, as I have been trying to get up to date with current legislation, I have been able to get my thoughts together so as to be ready for this speech, even though I did not realise that I would make it until about 24 hours ago.

There is strength in the idea of Members being advisers to organisations. It ensures that Members keep in touch with organisations with particular interests. So often while we are advising an organisation, we are learning and finding out what is happening. In advising, Members are helped to focus on what is taking place. People do a great disservice to the House when they attempt to misrepresent what happens. Opposition Members are sponsored by trade unions, which helps them to focus on what those unions or interests want to know about Parliament.

Mr. Ian McCartney

I am becoming confused. Is the hon. Gentleman declaring an unpaid or paid interest?

Mr. Bruce

A paid interest. I am happy to make that clear.

I shall talk briefly about my qualifications to participate in the debate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

How old is the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Bruce

I am 48 years of age. I was going to mention that a little later in terms of the age of those whom I employ. I am, however, 48.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman must have had a hard life.

Mr. Bruce

Indeed. The facelift did not really work.

I began my working life as an apprentice. I worked in engineering and then work study. I was a factory manager for a period before starting my own employment agency. That agency ran in Yorkshire for 12 years. I do not claim to be the first headhunter or to have established the first employment agency, but I believe that in Yorkshire my agency was the first to have an equal opportunities approach to those whom I employed. It had a proactive approach in getting those who had disadvantages in securing employment into employment in Yorkshire.

I am completely opposed to the Bill. The Whips do not often see me in the Chamber on a Friday because I consider that it is the day when I should be in my constituency. However, I was so incensed by the Bill—it will reverse what has already been done—that I decided that it would be right to come in and make a speech. People should understand that the Bill, if enacted, would take us in the direction that we want to avoid. The knowledge that I gained during those years has been extremely important in forming my reasons why I believe that age discrimination is wrong.

I wish to put on record why it is totally wrong for companies to discriminate against older people. I do not say this from a moral standpoint, as we politicians often get ourselves in a complete muddle if we say simply that it is morally wrong to decide not to take on people who are older. It is so much more persuasive to tell companies that it is not in their interests to discriminate against people who are over a particular age. Let me demonstrate that I am not someone who says one thing and does another. When I first came to the House, I employed my first secretary, who, I think, was 52. I apologise to her for mentioning her age, because ladies do not like people to mention their age—

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)


Mr. Bruce

I suspect that I am being sexist and agist, but it has been my experience that ladies do not like people to mention their age, so I apologise in case I upset my secretary. She was probably the oldest person who applied to be my secretary in Weymouth, and she had the longest experience. She was absolutely super at what she did. Anybody who ever came into contact with her would say what a wonderful job she was doing. I had to struggle like mad to stop her retiring early, but, unfortunately, at the age of 60, she retired, just a few months ago. Just to demonstrate that she still has it in her, she is back working for me today, because my other secretary, who is also over 50 and who took over the role—again, she is doing a super job—is injured from trying to get to work through the snow.

I am absolutely convinced that the older worker is someone who will provide the services that an employer wants. That is self-evident when one looks round the House. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned the chronological age against the age that people accept. It is so wrong for people to focus on a chronological age when thinking about taking someone on.

Why am I so against the Bill? We heard a good speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who spoke about the way in which employment agents are often proactive in listening to what the client says and then providing what the client needs. If anybody does an analysis of what is advertised, what is on spec for somebody, versus what is taken on, they will see that they are often diametrically opposed. The attitude that an employment agent must have is to listen to what the client says and then determine what is for real and who will fit the bill. The fundamental point is whether one mentions age. If we legislate and say to employers, "You will not be allowed to advertise a particular age range," we are almost saying to them, "You had better not mention to anybody, even if it is in your mind or on a piece of paper back at the company, that you want to discriminate."

The great advantage of knowing when a company is discriminating, particularly if one is an employment agent or a headhunter, is that one can say to oneself, "I know that this person is saying something that is illogical, not sensible and not good policy for the company, because I am not convinced that the job needs a particular age limitation on it." We all know that there are 70-year-olds who can run the marathon and that there are 20-year-olds who cannot. If one knows that a company is discriminating, one can start to ask oneself how to get the message across to the client to demonstrate that the person can do the job, that he or she has the experience that is asked for and is not too worried about age. That is extremely important. People say that life begins at 40, but most people do not want to have to wait that long for their lives to begin. The Bill is wrong for many reasons. We should look at what is really happening.

I received the briefing from the Library, as did other colleagues, and it is quite good. It demonstrated that, in recent years, the number of people including age limitations in their advertisements is going down. I am afraid that I am one of those who never really believes the people who do the research, so I did some myself. Without any real selection or deciding which newspapers to look at, I got hold of yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph. In terms of national newspapers, it is renowned for carrying the most job advertisements. In my employment agency, I specialised in sales recruitment. That is one of the areas in which The Daily Telegraph specialises. Indeed, my experience is that it is one of the areas where advertisements from companies that specify the ages of sales reps as between 25 and 35 are most prevalent. I was surprised at how many of the 554 advertisers in yesterday's edition mentioned an age range-18. About half the advertisers said "preferred age range" and the other half simply implied that there was an upper age limit.

Mr. Winnick

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not like to rely on briefs, but we can usually rely on the Library to provide information that is pretty impartial. Page 7 of the Library's brief says that a survey carried out among the Institute of Employment Consultants found that, between December 1994 and January 1995, 60 per cent. of current vacancies contained an age-related restriction, and the Employment Service conducted surveys and found that some 28 per cent. of all vacancies carried age restrictions, so the situation is much more serious than shown in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he makes my point, not his own. What he just quoted was the age discrimination that is contained in the requirements that are given to employment agencies and to the Department for Education and Employment, not what is contained in advertisements, which is what his Bill is about: prohibiting the use of upper age limits in advertisements for vacancies, so that people will know that they are being discriminated against. That is so important, and I shall deal with that a little later in my speech.

I did not stop with The Daily Telegraph, because that would demonstrate that I was simply being insufficient in my studies of what is happening in advertising. I asked my good lady wife to get out the Dorset Evening Echo, our local newspaper, which is distributed six nights a week. She took the most recent week as being the most relevant to the case. The hon. Gentleman might have cured the problem simply by getting the point across to people that it is foolish for them to say publicly that they are thinking of discriminating against people on age ranges.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Bruce

I shall make this point and then I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

In the Dorset Evening Echo, there were 195 advertisements. Three of the jobs advertised had an upper age range. There were more advertisements with a lower age range—taxi companies and so on—and advertisements that said "mature" than those that tried to include an upper age range.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time. In a survey on 21 and 27 January this year, the Financial Times found that some 16 per cent. of advertisements mentioned an age restriction. In The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. the figure was 15.2 per cent., and in The Times and The Sunday Times it was 14.6 per cent. Yesterday's paper may have been an exception. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously questioning the figures established recently by Age Research? They are far higher than those given by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bruce

Are those figures for 1996 or 1995?

Mr. Winnick

They are for 1996.

Mr. Bruce

I have been quoting from material that I had immediately to hand—yesterday's The Daily Telegraph and last week's Dorset Evening Echo. I also have a copy of Computer Weekly. I do not know whether Computer Weekly has adopted a policy of not specifying age requirements, but it is interesting to note that, among the hundreds of advertisements that it contains, there is not a single advertisement—

Mr. Donald Anderson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to raise a matter that deserves grave and urgent consideration.

As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, last night the Government's rail privatisation programme—once described as the poll tax on wheels—suffered yet another humiliating descent into shambles as a result of a decision by Mr. Roger Salmon, the franchising director. He ruled that the awarding of a franchise to the company running the London-Tilbury-Southend line should be disallowed. We fear that the Government are so blindly and dogmatically determined to press on with rail privatization—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order?

Mr. Anderson

Given the Government's track record, they are likely to press on with their programme without the House being able to make its views felt on, for example, the likely exclusion of British Rail.

Let me remind hon. Members that, when the House dealt with the matter on Monday, the Secretary of State gave a pledge, which can be found in column 19 of Hansard. He said that, if any changes took place, a further statement would be made. Given the seriousness of the issue and the shambolic nature of the Government's programme, surely the Secretary of State should be present to make a statement to the House.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am aware of the commitment that was given, but I have not heard any Minister express the intention of making a statement this morning.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will know, when we kicked off at 9.30 am I requested that a Minister come to the House to answer a serious charge. It appears that the House was misled on Monday. The Secretary of State gave the impression that there was no chance of the franchise collapsing; now that it has, I think that Ministers have a duty to be present. They are treating the House with contempt—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Skinner

And I would suggest—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have got the message.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Chair has no power to force Ministers to come and make statements.

Mr. Skinner

In your heart of hearts, you know that it is right.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is for the Minister concerned to decide.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that you have no powers to force Ministers to come and make statements if they are too ashamed to come to the Chamber, but you have a duty to look after the rights of Back Benchers. Surely, once a Minister has made a pledge to the House—as a Minister did on Monday: he said that he would come back and make a statement—you at least have a duty to find out whether the Minister will make his statement at 2.30 this afternoon, or will sulk over the weekend and then come to the House on Monday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time, and he is a wise politician. He knows that there are other ways in which he can deal with the matter.

I shall take no more points of order on this issue. I have dealt with it. I have said that I know that commitments were given—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Order. I have heard nothing to suggest that a Minister intends to make a statement. The Chair can go no further.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I will take points of order on any other subject, but not on this one.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that it is a different point of order.

Mr. Prentice

It is indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I speak as a member of the Select Committee dealing with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill. I read in today's press that another inquiry is being launched into the activities of Union Railways, which apparently involved irregular processes. Surely that is another reason why Ministers should come to the House and explain the position.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for the Chair. No doubt Ministers will have noted what has been said.

Mr. Skinner

Where are these Ministers?

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a different point of order?

Mr. Dalyell

It is a point of procedure rather than a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You chose your words very carefully. You will confirm that a precedent has been set: Ministers often come to the House to make statements at 2.30 in the afternoon.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have not heard that any Minister intends to come to the House at 2.30.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that this week the usual Wednesday morning debates were replaced by debates on two Select Committee reports. One report, produced in April 1993, has never been debated in the House—a distinguished report by a Committee chaired by the late Robert Adley, in which he christened rail privatisation "the poll tax on wheels", and forecast that it would be—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman make the same points in his speech the other day, and I do not need to hear them again.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am somewhat surprised to see that Labour Members have suddenly appeared in force to try to talk out this interesting Bill. I hope that I have not lost track of my speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Start again."] I could start again, but I shall not yield to the blandishments of my hon. Friends.

I was talking about a survey that I had carried out, and referred to Computer Weekly. Computing is supposed to be a young man's job, but I was pleased to note that the industry seems to have stopped specifying age requirements. It is possible, however, to adopt the wrong approach in deciding what should or should not be included in advertisements. Almost one third of an advertisement by Luton borough council is devoted to telling people what a wonderful organisation the council is because it takes employees from ethnic minorities. It refers to the Race Relations Act 1976, which enabled the council to discriminate in favour of such people, and also gives a guarantee that disabled people will be interviewed.

I do not criticise Luton for having such excellent policies. The problem is, however, that if we start making regulations about what advertisements should and should not contain, organisations that are funded by ratepayers' money will pay a high price. Such advertisements do not come cheap. It is possible that people in Luton are having to pay 30 per cent. more for an advertisement that attempts to be politically correct.

Mr. Booth

Surely the Bill's promoter is making an entirely different point. He merely suggests the deletion of one item. The advertisement placed by Luton borough council involved the inclusion of an item.

Mr. Bruce

I take my hon. Friend's point, and it is correct in that I was trying to demonstrate to the House that there is no requirement in current legislation for people to put so much information in an advertisement, but there is a requirement, especially among public bodies, constantly to be aware of whether they are discriminating. That is one of the problems and why the Government are against regulation for the sake of regulation. People spend all their time worrying about whether they are breaking this rule or that regulation.

Many Conservative Members and, indeed, some Opposition Members have started businesses and they have suddenly come upon all the regulations that they must learn about. If we investigate who has been prosecuted under equal opportunities legislation or race legislation, we find that, generally, it is people who were ignorant of the requirements. The people who want to discriminate are not ignorant: they know how to get around the legislation. So often, legislation simply drives discrimination underground and that is a real problem.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned the percentages that surveys had found of companies that tried to discriminate.

Mr. Ian McCartney

Given the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the principle of age discrimination, do his companies, as a matter of course, refuse to accept employment opportunities if the clients have an age discrimination policy?

Mr. Bruce

I shall cover that point in a moment. I do not currently run an employment agency. I am technically an employment agency and I had a licence until the Government deregulated, but I do not actually recruit people. I would not refuse to accept a vacancy, just as nobody else in the employment agency industry or the Government's jobcentres is refusing to accept jobs with an age requirement.

Mr. McCartney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Bruce

Perhaps I may answer the hon. Gentleman in my own way. I am trying to make the point that if I tell individual employers that I will not try to find out whether they are discriminating, I can do nothing to persuade them not to discriminate.

Mr. McCartney

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is between engagements with his company. If, as he has said, he is so strongly in favour of a voluntary system, why does he refuse the opportunity voluntarily to do something about the situation? Does not that prove that a voluntary system would not work?

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is completely misrepresenting what I said. In my own company, someone under 50 could say that all the employees whom Mr. Bruce has taken on in his private capacity have been over 50, in the past few years since I became a Member of Parliament. I am not one of those people, as I told the House earlier, who says one thing and does another. The team around the Leader of the Opposition are all young, sprightly people. The Leader of the Opposition clearly has his spokesman say one thing and he does another. I would be impressed if I saw a member of the Leader of the Opposition's team with grey hairs, but we know that that is not the case. It is good to see the hon. Gentleman at 42, as he admitted—

Mr. McCartney


Mr. Bruce

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman holding his position at 44.

I am not saying that it is wrong for companies to have a policy of age discrimination. The Bill would put them on notice that if they put that information in the public domain, that could be seen as an advertisement. If a company writes to an employment agency giving an age limit, in libel terms, it is publishing that fact. We think that we are talking today about advertisements, but the Bill does not say that. The Bill may drive underground what is happening in reality. We must tackle what is happening in reality, not by legislation. We should not tell people that they are not allowed to decide age limits, but we should persuade them. We should tell employers what is good about employing older people.

Mr. Tony Banks

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman is using precisely the same arguments that were advanced against legislation to outlaw racism and sex discrimination. He probably used the same arguments then. Surely he is not saying that we should not have legislation to ban racism and sexism in employment.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in believing that there has been any advantage from the legislation on sex discrimination.

Mr. Banks

indicated dissent.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman laughs, but the evidence is available. The Conservatives introduced legislation to prevent discrimination against women and to bring their wages into line with men's wages. The statistics are clear: until we passed that legislation, the gap between women's and men's wages was shrinking; after we passed the legislation, the gap started to widen. That is in the statistics and shows that the effect of the legislation was negative, not positive.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities and of different races, which the House sought to address in legislation, went far beyond employment and the labour market? That is the essential point to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) did not allude.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) tried to suggest that what happens in reality is related to what we do in the House. I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire, and most people know that there are many people in Yorkshire who would be described as being from the ethnic minorities. The House will not be surprised to know that no employers ever indicated to my employment agency that they discriminated against coloured people. They knew that legislation existed under which they could be prosecuted if they made that declaration. Yet a private employment agency very quickly understands that if it sends people to a certain company, and no brown faces get taken on, only white faces, there is a real problem. My agency was so proactive that it tackled those problems in sensible ways—by persuasion and approaching other directors if one manager in a company was discriminating. We ensured that we were making positive change in those companies. That was all done not because of the legislation but because it was sensible for companies to take that attitude.

Capitalism has always been colour blind. Opposition Members constantly say that it is terrible that international companies take jobs overseas and employ people outside the United Kingdom. They do not recognise that if there is a labour pool around a factory, the directors will ensure that they are getting the best from that community.

Mr. Tony Banks

How can the hon. Gentleman say that capitalism has always been colour blind, when slavery used to underpin capitalism?

Mr. Bruce

I hope that my comments will not be taken the wrong way, but clearly capitalism was at least employing and utilising those people. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. He is saying that capitalists got the cheapest possible labour, which was slave labour. I do not say that slavery was correct: I am saying that capitalism had been trying to find the cheapest possible labour and determining its availability. If the hon. Gentleman has ever employed people, he will know that.

When I took the first West Indian lady into my office, I did so because of her abilities. However, I needed to ensure that the attitudes of people within my office were non-racial and I had to persuade people that employing that lady was right. The history of the labour movement shows that organised trade unions have been used time and again to stop coloured people getting into the workplace. Examples of employers attempting to employ people from local communities and finding resistance from trade unions, shop stewards and in the workplace itself because people wanted to discriminate against those coming into the workplace are legion.

The blinkers should come off. People in organisations must understand that it is in their best interests to ensure that people with talent are employed. It is not that problems have not occurred. The whole marketplace has been working towards solving them, and to my mind legislation has not helped.

I shall now return to the subject of the Bill. You have been very tolerant during interventions on other matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill seeks to make it lawful for employers not to tell people that a discriminatory policy operates in their organisations. I should like to see a system whereby every time an advertisement that made unreasonable age claims was spotted, someone would get hold of people on the telephone and say, "What is this all about? Why are you doing this?" Private employment agencies, the jobcentres and others already do that.

It is interesting to ask why employment agencies should put age criteria on their job specifications. The regulations relating to the Employment Agencies Act 1973 were introduced by, I think, a Labour Government. The Act was passed by a Conservative Government because a Conservative colleague foolishly thought that it would be a good idea to regulate employment agencies as it was thought that that would make some difference to the way in which people carried on their businesses. I do not think that it has ever had that effect.

One of the requirements under the regulations was an inspection by the Department of Employment to ensure that the details of the job, such as age and salary criteria and other matters, had been taken down properly.

Mr. Ian McCartney

As there seems to be a historical perspective to the matter, may I remind the hon. Gentleman that under the last Labour Government the majority of over-50s were employed? There has been a fundamental change and the deterioration continues. That is the real difference in terms of the time gap. Those over 50 have been driven out of the labour market whereas under Labour they were encouraged to stay in it.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about unemployment. The percentage of those who are unemployed in the 50 to 60 age group is lower than the national average, although only by a small amount. That is not to suggest that people do not encounter problems in getting work. While older people may tell people in a jobcentre, "I cannot get a job because I am too old," young graduates tell me, "I cannot get a job because I am too young and I have no experience." Of course people find it difficult to get back into work when unemployment is much too high.

When an employer is faced with a pile of 200 application forms and wants to interview X number of people, he may say, "I will take out the forms of all those who are over 50 and throw them in a heap." I am not suggesting that employers should do that. The Bill suggests that people should put advertisements in the newspapers and get people over the ages of 40 or 50 to send in application forms. Nobody will write to people who have been rejected saying, "Sorry, you are too old and we will not take you on." Such people will be told, "Sorry, you were not suitably qualified for this vacancy." That is the standard letter so people will not know that they are being discriminated against on the ground of age.

Mr. Booth

In the context of the intervention by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), does my hon. Friend agree that the labour force survey has shown that the largest increase over the past two years is in the employment of those over the age of 50?

Mr. Bruce

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for having read the briefing better than I did. I did not see that important fact. Even in recent times, people have been thinking more and more about this issue.

Perhaps I may concentrate on positive happenings within the employment agencies industry. The Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services has been very proactive, as has been the Institute of Employment Consultants, in getting the message through to employment agencies that a great pool of talent and experience is being wasted by not considering people who are over a particular age.

My point, which I hope I made strongly against the Bill, is that if an employer does not say, "I intend to discriminate against everybody over the age of 35, 40 or 50," there will be no conversation between the employment agent who has a file full of people with experience but without the right age profile and that employer. If such a conversation could take place, the agent would say to that employer, "Hang on a minute, you are looking for a lively, able person who has no drawbacks. I have many women returners-to-work and people who have been made redundant through no fault of their own. They have a wealth of experience."

In the past, the attitude has been that if someone is over 50, he is considering only retirement and not thinking about doing a good job of work and using his experience.

That attitude is bonkers. The Bill is trying to sweep the matter under the carpet and stop people knowing what is happening.

Institutional age barriers are another issue. The Bill may say that it is all right for the armed forces and others to continue to put out information about whether people can join at a particular age. We in politics need to challenge the view that people can train for a career only between the ages of 16 and 19. We should say, "That is an old attitude." Why should we recruit young police officers? The police force has changed dramatically. I went to my son's passing-out parade in the police. As he has a university degree, I thought that he would be one of the oldest recruits in his intake, but that was not the case: he was one of the youngest. Many of the recruits were older, because the force has found that the recruitment of mature people is the right way to go.

There was a row created by the Opposition and others when we suggested that social workers should be recruited from the general population—from among people who did not necessarily have degrees or higher education. Such people could provide the experience that proves so important. In social services, the experience that people have is much more important than an academic qualification. I do not say that, having got someone with experience, an employer does not need to give that person training. Some of that training, by the very nature of things, will be academic training, but why should anyone assume that we can say that training and new careers are available only for young people? We must challenge that. It is extremely important.

Some countries have decided to have age discrimination legislation on their statute books and legislation on human rights. A compulsory retirement age is one of the technical aspects with which we could find ourselves getting into problems. Again, whether they are right or wrong, in this country people seem to accept that there should be an age at which an employer can say to an employee, "You have got to 60—or 65 or 70—and you are now forced to give up your job and to go into retirement." There has been a big row about women being forced to retire at 60 when their male colleagues can work on to 65. Again, the legislation has been changed. When considering age discrimination legislation, we must be careful that we do not inadvertently create a position that ends up as being undesirable in terms of political correctness.

Many women have suddenly found that the additional benefit that they would gained from their private pension scheme, where they were able to receive a generous pension at 60 although their male colleagues had to wait until 65, has been taken away from them because, in such a scheme, they have been forced to have equality between the sexes. That has disadvantaged women. All hon. Members believe firmly, and have evidence to suggest, that women are unfairly treated in almost every other aspect of employment.

There is a moral imperative here, and this is not the moral imperative that the hon. Member for Walsall, North believes exists. I believe firmly that, if an employer is taking someone on, he has the moral right to make up his mind whom he will employ. Even if I believe he is wrong in taking someone and excluding a raft of people over a particular age, and I argue my case as strongly as possible and demand information to do that, I still believe that he or she has the right to decide whom to employ and why.

Mr. Winnick

I am surprised at that because, presumably, the hon. Gentleman is arguing for the repeal of legislation on not only sex equality but race. Surely he is making the strongest possible point that, if an employer does not want to employ someone because he or she happens to be black or of Asian origin, that person should not be employed and the employer has a right not to do so. Is that really what the hon. Gentleman is saying? In that case, he presumably opposes the legislation that has been passed over a number of years and will try to get it removed from the statute book.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is extremely difficult to put any genie back in the bottle. If it is in their mind to do so, employers discriminate against women and coloured people. When one understands that they are discriminating, one has a chance of changing their mind by persuasion. The problem that we have with all these things is that we all know that a higher proportion of people in ethnic minorities are unemployed, and that women do not move as quickly through an organisation and receive equal pay, even though they move much more quickly off the unemployment register than men. Therefore, to a certain extent, it is easier for women to find work, but it is not easier for them to get the promotions that we feel they deserve.

I have argued consistently all along that I have never discriminated in that way. My record stands on its own. To suggest that I believe that legislation on racial, sexual or age matters harms people's employment prospects is wrong. The Bill will again put the problem further underground and make it more difficult to do what is happening in the employment sector. Organisations such as FRES and the Institute of Employment Consultants are taking positive action, getting employment agencies to get through. The message that gets home to employment agencies is not that this is a great moral imperative; it is that if they analyse who is on their books and who is difficult to place, but who has good qualifications—people come to employment agencies to get people with the right qualifications—a surplus of people who should be in jobs are having difficulty getting them. Therefore it is in the market and commercial interests of that employment agency to persuade people. That is what drives this thing forward.

I still believe that the employer has a right to choose whom to take on and that anything that artificially imposes on that person a duty to do something different is wrong. Yes, he will say in front of the cameras, "I have no discrimination policy," but, by looking just at the people whom he employs, we will all know that he is discriminating.

There are different feelings among employers. Often a manager in his early 30s might instantly ask, "If I take people on who are 40 or 50 and who have been in this business longer than me, will they really take me as their leader and manager?" Those real fears need to be worked through. Again, people will sometimes say, "We have an office full of teenagers in their early 20s. There is an atmosphere in the office that is different from that of an office with people aged 50 or 60." Those things come forward. They can be overcome. Employers should overcome them and they should ensure that those problems are resolved.

The case of employees wasting their time in applying for jobs is extremely important. However, I have never got a job for which an age limit was advertised that was not outside my age. Every time I applied for a job with a minimum age, I applied early and found that I was able to gain that job. It is important that we do not send out the message from the House that, because an employer has advertised an age range in a particular job, the applicant who is outside that age range should not develop a strategy to demonstrate to the employer that he has the experience and requirements to do the job. If people do not know that they have a hidden barrier that has been removed from the advertisement, that will be difficult for them to cope with.

One of the pieces of evidence in the briefing material that is extremely important to understand is that, for a long time, France has had legislation outlawing putting age ranges in advertisements, but in a recent survey 30 per cent. of employers put illegal age requirements in the advertisements. That is especially important to note. The number of people who are getting back into work in the older age range in the United Kingdom is good compared with the number in France. We are doing a great deal better.

Mr. Tony Banks

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a direct question? Does he intend to carry on talking until we run out of time on the Bill, or will he give other hon. Members a chance to make a few points? If he is going to continue talking, at least we will know that and I can go outside and have a cup of tea because, apart from anything else, he is boring me rigid.

Mr. Bruce

I urge the hon. Gentleman not to take such foolish action, as I am looking forward to hearing his speech. I do not intend to speak until 2.30 pm. I am grateful to him for intervening because it has given me a chance to have a sip of water, which will keep my voice going and help me to complete my speech properly rather than gabble through it.

The evidence from France shows overwhelmingly that putting more regulations in place does not result in any improvement for older people. In the United States, where it is illegal to include age preferences in advertisements, the employment prospects for older people are not as good as they should be.

We must concentrate on the real issues rather than push the problem underground and try to hide it. We must concentrate on how we can improve the position for older people. Some five years ago, it eventually clicked with the Government that it was wrong to set an upper age limit when recruiting civil servants. There used to be a belief that civil servants should come straight from university and stay for the rest of their working lives. That left no opportunity for older people to join the civil service. That has been knocked on the head and I congratulate the Conservative Government on taking such a positive step.

Of course, not everyone has been convinced of the case. A number of hon. Members have referred to Age Concern. My colleague Bryan Cassidy, the Member of the European Parliament who looks after Norfolk, has been extremely active in trying to persuade the European Parliament and Commission to drop their agist policy—which is being inflicted in our name, under the European banner.

It is extraordinary that for almost every job—driver, clerk or secretary—the European Parliament and Commission impose an age limit of 35. That is bonkers. For a few jobs—for example, interpreters—they will employ people up to the age of 40. Those really flexible institutions even allow people up to the age of 45 to apply for one or two other jobs. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Walsall, North did not mention Europe's agist policy. Had he done so, he might have gained some support from Conservative Euro-sceptics because if his Bill had become law we might have been able to prosecute the European Parliament and Commission.

We need to change Europe's policy, not hide it. We should not make it illegal for the European Parliament and Commission to discriminate against British subjects who want to work for them. We must work to change the policy. Many hon. Members say that the social chapter will make only a few minor changes—

Mrs. Gillan

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his attention to detail. Has he seen some of the recent advertisements in the Commission's Official Journal? They state, for example, that interpreters must have been born after 24 March 1959; that typists must be over 20 and under 36 years of age; and that administrative assistants must have been born after 26 June 1959. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that that would rule out both him and me from applying for those jobs?

Mr. Bruce

I would be ruled out anyway because I do not speak another language well enough to qualify for a job with the European institutions. Agism within the European Parliament and the Commission is an absolute scandal and the Bill would allow them to hide that scandal from the public.

Mr. Winnick

I made the point about the European Parliament and Commission discriminating on the ground of age and drew a comparison between that policy and the age of the Commissioners. As the hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 40 minutes, I must ask him whether he intends to give both my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and his hon. Friends an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to continue speaking until at least 12 o'clock. Is that really fair? Why will not he allow the debate to continue as it started and give other people the opportunity to make their point? We all know how difficult it is for everyone to have the opportunity to speak on a Friday.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman is playing into the hands of the Government Whips by intervening in my speech. In fact, I have only about 20 minutes allocated for each subject. I assure the hon. Gentleman that plenty of time will be left for others to speak. Interventions make me lose track of what I am saying, which is likely to increase, not decrease, the length of my speech. I have no particular time in mind. I had only 24 hours to prepare my speech, so I am obviously limited in what I can say.

I want to return to the point about the European Parliament and Commission—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I am repeating myself; I had not intended to do so. Some hon. Members might wonder whether there is a hidden agenda behind the social chapter. The European Parliament and Commission impose regulation upon regulation on employers. Perhaps they are trying to ensure that employers in Britain cannot provide any jobs, regardless of age. Perhaps they want the jobs to go to our competitors.

Hon. Members should read a European Parliament session document dated 1 December 1995, published by the Committee on Social Affairs and Employment. I am sure that the rules of the House would allow me to quote extensively from that 56-page document, but I do not want to delay the debate. However, I must quote paragraph 9 on page 37, which I am sure will interest hon. Members because it shows the European Parliament's attitude to imposing more and more regulations and costs on employers. It points out that a labour market which functions satisfactorily has a balanced age structure and makes efficient use of the specific knowledge, skills and experience of each age group;". That is good—I agree with the report up to that point. However, it then continues: warns of the risk of certain age groups—especially older people—being faced with structural obstacles or age discrimination in the labour market as a result of its flexibilisation and demographic trends; emphasises the European Union's responsibility with respect to equal opportunities policy". It appeared to me, reading through the document, that the European Parliament seeks, not only to make it illegal to discriminate against older people but to take financial measures, using taxpayers' money, to ensure that older people are taken on in certain jobs. That sounds fine, but if one taxes companies and individuals and does so to try to transfer the money to the older generation in that way, one destroys jobs, opportunities and the ability of people of all ages to be able to get on and do things.

Mrs. Gillan

For the benefit of those people in the House who are not aware of it, would my hon. Friend remind us who has the majority in the European Parliament?

Mr. Bruce

I think I am right in saying that it is the socialist group, which is the largest group. Indeed, if one read the documentation, one would suppose that it would be impossible for the European Parliament—because, after all, the European Parliament's budget is under the control of the European parliamentarians, who actually have the full—

Mr. Ian McCartney

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a genuine, serious point of order regarding a decision of the House some months ago about paid consultants speaking in the House and being able to influence debates and decisions.

It is on record that at the beginning of his speech the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), on my intervention, admitted to the House that he was the paid consultant of two organisations that he has used extensively during this filibuster contribution. I want to get some indication whether he is now breaking the spirit of a decision of the House in respect of the Nolan recommendations, by deliberately flouting the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the House that paid consultants should not use that consultancy to frustrate the passage of legislation or unduly influence the possibility of that legislation being passed. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of breaching that in his conduct so far this morning.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have seen no evidence of any filibuster so far this morning. Although the hon. Gentleman's contribution has been lengthy, it has been quite in order. As for declaring interests, all hon. Members know the rules of the House and it is up to them whether they carry them out. I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to do so.

Mr. McCartney

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that it is not in the purview of the Chair to deal with that matter in the sense of ordering an hon. Gentleman to reconsider his position but, given that the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges is setting about considering the code of conduct, may I give notice, in view of that matter and the way in which the hon. Gentleman continues to proceed, that this is one debate that I shall ask the Committee to consider carefully in respect of the code of conduct?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for the hon. Gentleman. I repeat, all hon. Members know what the rules are—the old ones and the new ones—and it is a matter for them to work within them.

Mr. Bruce

I am appalled at the hon. Gentleman. I am reaching the end of my speech. I have only a few remarks to make. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the spurious Opposition points of order to you earlier have interrupted my speech. When people consider the time for which I am supposed to have spoken, I hope that they will take off all the filibustering, all the interventions and all the time wasting. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to attack me personally when I am the only hon. Gentleman who has declared a financial interest in the debate, as I said in my first words. It is wrong to suggest that, for any reason, I am trying to filibuster on behalf of a specific organisation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It would be most helpful now if we got on with the debate.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that I should have finished about five minutes ago if I had been allowed to make progress.

I complete my remarks by saying that the legislation that the Labour party and the Liberal party wish to introduce now is a small wedge to try to force the problem underground, by telling people that they are not allowed in any way to tell people that they discriminate on age grounds. As we have noted time and time again, we do not help the problem by legislating in that way.

Finally, I place it on record that everything that I have done in my work when I was employed by other people and when I ran my own employment agency, and my policies as an employer as a Member of Parliament, have demonstrated time and time again that I have been proactive in improving the lot of people who have been discriminated against in employment.

I advise a group that ensures that private employment agencies are making a commitment to take disabled people into work, and they are making that commitment. That is something that I do; it is declared, but I am not paid to do it. I am extremely keen to ensure that the House does not pass the Bill today or on any other day, because I believe that it would be a backward move and would force the problem underground instead of ensuring that employers do things properly.

11.53 am
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I was beginning to wonder how old I was when the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) started his speech. I was writing my notes for the debate while he was speaking, and I shall pick up on some of his points later. One point, however, comes immediately to mind: he said that he believed that employers have a right to choose. One would agree with that within broad limits, but there are times when one cannot allow total freedom of choice. If we were to accept the hon. Gentleman at face value, employers could be racist and sexist in their employment practices.

It is no good the hon. Gentleman telling us about his good intentions, which we all accept. Unfortunately, we do not need to legislate for those who follow good practices. We would not be having our debate today if all employers pursued the best employment practices; we need legislation to deal with those who simply refuse to do so. It is no good saying that employers are entitled to be racist and sexist, as only their work areas are involved—

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks

I shall finish my point.

Employers who are racist and sexist create social implications that have knock-on effects throughout the whole of society. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's long statement about employers having the right to choose. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but it is a bit much if he has just thought of something else to say, having spoken for 40 minutes or so.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman makes my point, not his own. By allowing people to hide away the discrimination that we all know occurs, we allow them to continue and do not draw out the discrimination so that the community can impose the necessary conditions on those people.

Mr. Banks

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would allow me to develop my point. I intend to address precisely that issue, but I cannot cover all the points he raised in the first two minutes of my speech.

I do not believe that the legislation would hide discrimination. The Bill, if it becomes an Act, would not necessarily end age discrimination—I do not believe it would. But if one cannot do everything, that is no reason to do nothing. This modest Bill will at least start us on the process, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is not noted for his particularly moderate views; he is not the sort of person that my right hon.

Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, would automatically look to as an example of new Labour. If my hon. Friend had pursued the issue with vigour, red in tooth and claw, I suspect that hon. Members, including the hon. Member for South Dorset, would have leapt up and denounced him as an extremist, and asked why he had not tried a more modest approach. In the opinion of the hon. Member for South Dorset, my hon. Friend could not have won whatever he did.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being lucky in the ballot for private Members' Bills. He is extraordinarily lucky, as he has won places in the ballot in the past. When I mentioned that to him, he told me that he does not compete in the national lottery, but perhaps he should, given the luck needed to come so high in the private Members' ballot. He should at least try out his luck on the national lottery.

While I am talking about lotteries, and while the Minister with responsibility for work permits is at the Dispatch box, I cannot resist the opportunity to make the following plea. West Ham's application for an extension of the work permit of Ilie Dumitrescu, the Romanian player whom it is trying to transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, has been something of a lottery. Perhaps I had better pursue the subject elsewhere, but those of us in West Ham are disappointed by the decision of the Department for Education and Employment. One has to choose one's moment to raise such issues—I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, understand that.

My hon. Friend's proposal is reasonable. The Bill will not, of itself, end age discrimination—my hon. Friend made that clear—but it will not exclude at the point of application those people in their 40s and 50s who are seeking employment. I find it very distressing—I am sure that all hon. Members have had the same experience—when people attend advice sessions and say, "I am writing application after application. I am qualified for the job, but I am too old. I am in my late 40s or 50s, and no one wants to employ me because of my age."

Mrs. Gillan

I have great sympathy for constituents who come to surgeries and tell stories of that nature. My constituents have raised the same point. I am sure that all hon. Members have sympathy for those people. Earlier in his speech, the hon. Gentleman said that nothing has been done about age discrimination, and that the Bill is a start. Would he care to comment on the three publications: "Age Works", "Getting On" and "Too Old, Who Says?"? Perhaps it may assist him to know that those publications are readily available, so he should pass them to his constituents when they come to him with their tales of woe.

Mr. Banks

I give my constituents as much assistance as I can. That advice is welcome, and no doubt it helps to solve the age discrimination problems of some, and possibly of many. However, it is very depressing to learn how many people still find it impossible to get jobs because of age discrimination. The Minister cannot tell me that the problem does not exist, because we all know it does. Whenever we see a problem, we must try to deal with it. The legislation is not the only way, and it may not be the best way, of dealing with age discrimination, but at least it is an attempt. I do not think that it is helpful to dismiss the proposal out of hand.

What is the aim of the legislation? Sometimes legislation is coercive, but sometimes it can be persuasive. The legislation may persuade employers to look more carefully at their employment practices. If they cannot exclude people over a certain age in their advertisements, they might be encouraged to interview all applicants, and they might be very pleasantly surprised to find what talents and abilities are available.

Mr. Spring

Surely the crucial point is that, where anti-age discrimination legislation is on the statute book in other countries, the participation rates in the older age groups do not bear out the hon. Gentleman's point. The participation rate is substantially higher among people in the 50 to 60 age group in the United Kingdom than in many countries where anti-age discrimination legislation is on the statute book. In reality, that form of legislation appears to have had no effect. I acknowledge that there are other reasons for that.

Mr. Banks

I do not intend to conceal arguments that might run against my own, because on days such as this we should be able to discuss matters objectively, and, as we all profess to be of good will, find a way of dealing with an identified problem.

I have examined the Department's survey of 22 countries with anti-age discrimination laws, including the United States, where it found that there was little evidence that legislation against agism is successful. I accept that fact. The Carnegie Third Age programme—it does much work in that area, and I have drawn upon it for information for my notes—supports that finding. The Bill does not represent anti-age discrimination in a harsh and formulated way. It is a way of being very gentle: it is providing a form of mild encouragement to employers rather than introducing a draconian set of new laws.

Mr. Spring


Mr. Banks

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman again, but I do not intend to talk out my hon. Friend's Bill unwittingly by giving way. I shall give way for the purposes of debate, although I had not intended to speak for more than 10 minutes.

Mr. Spring

I do not wish to overwork the point but, essentially, the hon. Gentleman has admitted that anti-age discrimination legislation on the statute book would have no practical effect. That is borne out by evidence gathered from abroad.

Therefore, the Government's voluntary efforts to change the culture through the publications and through applying pressure to jobcentres and employment agencies are the right approach. People complain about too much legislation and too many rules and regulations. The Bill is simply adding to that, without having a direct and positive effect.

Mr. Banks

I never said that the Bill would have no practical effect. No one can give a 100 per cent. guarantee that any piece of legislation will work 100 per cent. That would be absurd. One hopes more or less to meet the objectives that the Act is there to achieve. If 100 per cent. success were the criterion, we would never pass any legislation.

The proposal must be used and judged as it stands, on its own. All the Bill does is make one particular proposal about age discrimination in job advertisements. That provision is welcome, and it has been fostered and long advocated by Age Concern, an organisation specifically geared to looking after the over-50s and to working for their economic and social benefit.

The Carnegie Third Age programme said specifically that legislation to "outlaw agism" as such did not work, and I accept that point, but if organisations such as Carnegie Third Age and Age Concern say that this proposal will be to some advantage, and advocate the measure, I am prepared to take it and see how it works.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) talked about voluntarism. I always prefer voluntarism to legal forms of remedy, because clearly we do not want to go round putting more and more laws on the statute book. We already have far too many. But we do not pass laws simply because we are on a big job creation scheme of our own here in the House of Commons. We do it because, in so many areas of activity in our lives, both economic and social, voluntarism, good behaviour and best practice simply do not exist. Our duty is to encourage.

Legislation is there to encourage as much as to punish, and the Bill is encouraging rather than punishing legislation. That being so, it is gentle, it is not extreme in any way, and it is supported by organisations such as Age Concern. We should give it a fair wind today and see how it goes. I am not going very well myself, in that I am not making much progress in what I wanted to say, but I hope that what I have said in answer to interventions has been helpful.

What distresses me most about age discrimination in employment is the appalling waste of older workers' talent and experience that it represents. I was recently on a fact-finding trip—[Interruption.]—it was a genuine fact-finding trip on that occasion. I was in the company of Lord King—[Interruption.]—and a very good travelling companion he is. One would always get good treatment on British Airways when travelling with its president. I somehow felt that that would probably happen, and it did.

Lord King and I share a passion for many things, one of which is manufacturing. I wanted to see Boeing, and we went to Seattle. It was wonderful to see people producing those enormous aircraft, and to see a company that puts its whole reputation and financial structure on the line every time it brings out a new product. To use an American expression, it was awesome.

What I found interesting, and what is relevant to the Bill, was the fact that a B52 was being reconstructed. Boeing was using apprentices to learn crafts and skills that had gone out of use because there is no more demand for handmade pieces of equipment. Retired Boeing workers were coming in and working with the apprentices on the B52. The older workers were getting some expenses, but they were not being paid wages, and they could put their talents and experience at the disposal of the young guys starting out in the job of manufacturing for Boeing.

That struck me as a heartening scheme. Those guys said, "I don't want to sit at home and read books or watch television all day. I want to be able to carry on giving young workers the benefit of my experience and skills."

That is what we must do. Age discrimination can stop that happening. I acknowledge that there are some such schemes in this country. but more should be encouraged.

Mrs. Gillan

I intervene to support the hon. Gentleman's line. As he is so enthusiastic about British Airways, does he know about B and Q? That company originally started employing older workers as an experiment, but it proved such a success that it has become a selling point. People such as the hon. Gentleman and me, who go into DIY stores not really knowing what they want, can rely on an older person for his or her expert advice. The employment of older people is spreading across the country, and is welcome. I intervened merely to support the hon. Gentleman with an example of a company with which I have not travelled abroad.

Mr. Banks

The Minister should not make the assumption that I cannot B and Q it. My hands are callused from years of work in the field. I am a horny-handed son of toil who knows something about do-it-yourself. Otherwise, the hon. Lady is absolutely right. People out shopping are much encouraged to see an older assistant, on whose experience they can draw.

Mrs. Gillan

My point was that the employment of older people has been achieved without legislation.

Mr. Banks

But that one case does not answer all the discrimination that is found in advertisements and work practices. The fact that the Minister and I are conjoined in a particular example does not mean that legislation should not be used as a form of encouragement for employers who do not, for one reason or another, follow the good practices of B and Q, Boeing or British Airways. If those other firms are required to adopt good practices, they might realise what they have been missing for so long.

About 52 Members of Parliament have announced their intention not to stand at the next general election. It is always best to go quietly, before one is pushed, so they are probably right. All those hon. Members are in their mid-40s and older. The youngest is a Minister aged about 44. I suspect that they have already got jobs lined up, or will be able to secure alternative employment. Such opportunities are not available to most people in their 40s and 50s.

Mr. Mark Robinson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to stay on after the next general election?

Mr. Robinson

I certainly plan to be here after the next election. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House will not be standing again. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten me about the Labour party's selection procedures. Does it practise agism, or are candidates of all ages welcome to appear before selection committees?

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman might intend to stay in Parliament, but we will wait to see whether that intention is shared by the electorate in his constituency. I recognise the hon. Gentleman as one of the conspicuous retreads in the House. There is nothing wrong with a retread, except that, when one gets up speed, they tend to fall to pieces.

Age discrimination legislation is not needed in the Labour party, because there is no question of it setting an age limit in its recruitment advertising. As to inviting applications for parliamentary selection, age does not come into it. The Labour party, like a number of good employers, follows best practice.

There is another problem to do with selection. One reason why the Labour party, in its wisdom, decided to go for all-women shortlists was to ensure that what was said was then followed up in practice. It will not surprise hon. Members to hear that what political parties say publicly is not always followed right through when it comes to implementation. There is nothing exceptional about that. We thought that we would deal with the problem directly. Unfortunately, someone challenged us in law—but when we see discrimination, we must try to work against it.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The hon. Gentleman has succeeded in making a stunning point about introducing legislation that has an effect opposite to the one intended. The Labour party tried to bring more women into the House, but has been prevented from so doing by legislation. Should we not therefore be careful—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not debating women; we are debating a Bill about age discrimination. Can we now get back to it?

Mr. Banks

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is an interesting point about any legislation. We can never be certain that what we pass here will work. Sometimes the legislation, once tested, turns out faulty. The good intentions behind the Labour party's all-women shortlists fell foul of the law, but that means only that the law needs to be improved, not that we need to scrap it.

We can surely all agree that discrimination on the ground of sex is wrong, and that discrimination on the ground of age is also wrong. If we do not get it right first time, we have to start again. We are not infallible here, and we do not always get it right first time. We all learned an interesting lesson from what happened to the Labour party recently.

The hon. Member for South Dorset says that he does not discriminate in respect of female secretaries. I accept that, but I suspect that many employers certainly discriminate in terms of age when hiring secretaries. Indeed, I suspect that some hon. Members discriminate in terms of age when employing research assistants and secretaries. There is plenty of evidence all around us of such activities.

There is age discrimination in the media, particularly when it comes to presenters of programmes. How many female presenters of television programmes who are over 50 can hon. Members name? There is probably one—there usually is—but I suspect that that will be about it. Most of them conform to a formula which we all know but which I do not intend to repeat in this House.

The same does not apply to men, however. There are plenty of male news presenters over the age of 50. Hon. Members will remember old Reggie Bosanquet.

ITN carried on employing him until he was practically falling to bits. I remember his preposterous wig—even the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) would not deign to wear such a wig. No television company would ever have employed a woman who ended up looking as rough as dear old Reggie.

The hon. Member for South Dorset also said that we do not need legislation to end age discrimination. He might have used the same arguments about racism, sexism and people with disabilities. He said that the market would do the job. I do not accept that. I would like to accept it; I am not someone who wants to pass legislation for the pure joy of it. We could be doing other things if everyone followed best practice.

The hon. Gentleman said that equality of wages had not been achieved. On the other hand, women now constitute more than 50 per cent of the work force—although it is not entirely certain how much legislation has had to do with that. I wonder how much monitoring of the legislation the Department is doing to find out to what extent it—the legislation—is responsible for that statistic.

I know, however, that the Government abolished wages councils. I know also that 80 per cent. of workers covered by the councils were women. Anyone who is complaining about low wages for women should have well in mind the Tory party's deliberate decision to scrap wages councils.

Was the hon. Member for South Dorset saying that we would improve race relations by scrapping the legislation that relates to them? Would we improve the situation for people with disabilities if we scrapped the legislation that was designed to assist them? I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman was adopting that approach. If he was, however, he could not be more incorrect. That would be impossible.

The hon. Gentleman said, I believe, that we cannot put the genie back into the bottle. I would not use the word "genie". We are certainly not talking about an evil genie. Legislation was found to be necessary, and it is still necessary. If it has not worked, it is wrong to assert that it should not be on the statute book. Instead, it should be enhanced or improved. I am sure that we would agree that discrimination on the ground of sex or race is anathema, and must not be acceptable to any civilised person.

Age discrimination is a waste of human resources. In 12 years' time, for the first time ever, Britain's over-50 population will be larger than the 15 to 44 age group. That is a statistic that we would do well to bear in mind. It is depressing to find that between a quarter and a third of all advertised jobs stipulate age limits. I have mentioned already how often people come into my office to tell me how depressing it is to try to obtain a job in these circumstances.

A recent survey showed that six out of every 10 employers sought under-35s to fill vacancies. Indeed, on reading advertisements, 35 seems to be the upper age limit. We are talking of people in their late 40s and into their 50s, but in many respects 35 seems to be the upper age limit.

I have acknowledged that legislation against agism would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. The Carnegie Third Age programme would go along with that. That programme, however, has done an incredible amount of good work. It has sought to nurture and promote good practices in the employment of older workers. It has sought also to end age bars in legislation. That is one of its proposals. It makes age part of its equal opportunity agenda, and provides guidance to employees on the transition from work to retirement in advance so that they might have time to explore options. We need to encourage employers to adopt those practices.

Perhaps we should change entirely the way in which we organise work. It is clear that technology now is not creating new jobs. Whenever there is a technological advance in manufacturing industry, commerce or banking, for example, it tends to mean that fewer jobs are available. Technology nowadays is about fewer people working. We are seeing labour-saving developments, not labour-encouraging ones.

We need more retraining, so that people can be retrained throughout a working life. Employees should be able to take advantage of technological changes. We need to consider a shorter working day, week or year. Perhaps we need longer holidays and earlier retirement. These issues will have to be considered, because technology is moving forward at a great pace.

The idea that we can have full employment, in terms of everyone who wants a job being able to have one, might be moving away from us. It might still be a social and economic objective, but technology may be moving it away from us. Accordingly, we must consider how we organise our working practices.

This modest Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, who is anything but modest, should be given a Second Reading. It should receive detailed consideration in Committee. We could introduce improvements and enhancements. We should not prevent it from moving on to the next stage of consideration. I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill, and I hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

12.24 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Before I move on to the substance of what I have to say, and I say this sincerely, I congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who made a persuasive argument and raised an important issue of principle that we need to examine—age discrimination in society. Every hon. Member would agree that it is wholly undesirable. It seems to me that, in oriental societies, which, perhaps, are more successful than our own, the old are valued much more substantially than they are in western industrial societies. It is rather sad that, during the past 50 or 60 years, such an emphasis has been placed on young people to the exclusion of old people in so many characterisations of what is seen to be good and acceptable.

The essential issue at stake is simply whether legislation will be helpful and whether it will it work. I shall examine that in the next few minutes, but first I make a general point. It is crucial to provide employment opportunities for all people as far as that is possible. The Government have a role in that. Therefore, in order to provide the right economic environment so that everybody of any age group can find employment in future, it is crucial to have low taxation, low inflation and a steadily growing economy. Such a macro-economic environment is right for old and young, irrespective of their age.

Almost uniquely in western Europe, we have seen the success of policies to reduce unemployment, which has fallen by about 750,000 in the past two or three years, and opportunities for people in the 50 to 60 age group have been created. In other parts of Europe, unemployment has risen: it is more than 3 million in France and more than 4 million in Germany. In this country, it is heading down towards 8 per cent. In my constituency, happily, it is only 4.3 per cent.

However desirable legislation may be in principle and in theory, the macro-economic background is the crucial determinant of employment opportunities for any age group. That is at the heart of what we need to look at. So often, what appears desirable on the face of it turns out not to be so. Let us look, for example, at minimum wage legislation, which may seem to address a certain problem. The fact is that by the time one has added differentials to a minimum wage, the net result—as we see all over Europe—is massively higher unemployment than in countries such as the United Kingdom where such legislation does not exist. We also know that employment on-costs, which would flow from the social chapter, would drive jobs away from Europe, greatly to the detriment of everybody who wishes to work in our countries. In the United Kingdom, non-wage labour costs account for 15 per cent. of labour costs. They account for 29 per cent. in France, 24 per cent. in Germany and 21 per cent. in Spain. Crucially, those elements drive jobs away, for whatever age group.

I have run a business and always made it a point of principle to value the experience of individuals—who are, perhaps, more mature in years—for what they have to offer. The maturity and wisdom that comes from having worked for a long time is an irreplaceable phenomenon, and those people are often more stable and rooted than younger people. It makes enormous sense, therefore, to hire people who are more mature, who are older, and I sought to do so when I was an employer. That is a sensible decision.

We should also consider the demographic aspect. By the year 2000, 1.3 million fewer people under the age of 25 will be entering the labour market. In 1993, there were 1 million fewer 16 to 19-year-olds than there were in 1983, a fall of 28 per cent. By the year 2000, 46 per cent. of workers will be in the 35 to 54 age group, compared with only 40 per cent. in 1988, and 40 per cent. of the work force will be aged 45 or over. Although economic activity among women between the ages of 55 and 59 has risen, it has declined among men. During the next few years, fewer and fewer young people will enter the work force, and employers will be forced to hire more mature workers. Because of the demographic shift, that is already beginning to happen.

I agree with those who have said that we should not adopt a negative attitude to the problem of age discrimination, which is wrong in both principle and practice. People who have worked for a long time become stereotyped, and are considered dispensable; it is felt that they cannot add to the corporate effort as a younger person can. As a major employer, the Government have a role to play, and—as my hon. Friend the Minister has said—they are setting an example by means of best practice. Their efforts to persuade people to change their attitudes voluntarily, rather than as a result of legislation, are now beginning to bear fruit.

More people are employed in the United Kingdom than in any other major European Union country. When we compare our labour market with those of other industrialised countries, we can feel confident because our employment policies are more successful than those of many of our competitors.

The Government have clearly stated that they are opposed to age discrimination, and I believe that all hon. Members agree in principle, but there is no denying that some employers are foolish enough to practise such discrimination. As I have said, my own experience tells me that that is unwise.

In an Adjournment debate, the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), said that there was no evidence that anti-agism legislation worked in 20-odd countries where it operated, particularly in France and the United States. In fact, there is no point in putting legislation on the statute book if it is not going to work, just because establishing the principle makes one feel better.

Mr. Forman

Is it not possible that the position of elderly people in France and the United States might have been worse without such legislation?

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I do not think that it holds water. Participation rates are better in the United Kingdom than in countries where those laws exist.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has talked about the various publications that the Government have issued to convince employers that discrimination in the workplace against older people is undesirable, foolish and not in the commercial interest of companies. A campaign called "Getting On" was launched by the Department for Employment in 1994, and 32,000 copies of the publication have been distributed. The idea is to encourage debate among employers and make them face up to the fact that there is good sense in employing older workers. I believe there is some evidence that that is working.

The "Too Old, Who Says?" campaign has been designed to encourage employees. The essential message is not to give up, think about the future, be positive and get retrained. The facilities and opportunities for retraining are certainly there. That campaign was launched about a year ago and some 13,000 copies of the leaflet have been distributed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member, but I must point out to hon. Members that even on Friday it is not permissible to do their mail or to read newspapers behind the Benches. This is a debating Chamber.

Mr. Spring

The Government are setting a valid example and I am sure that the hon. Member for Walsall, North accepts that. The Government have scrapped age limits for central civil service recruitment, and jobcentres are now positively discouraged from allowing notices of employment possibilities to be displayed if they contain age limits. I have seen and checked that in my constituency. A whole series of seminars, sponsored by the Government, is taking place in different parts of the country to highlight the problem. Again, that is wholly desirable.

The fruits of the campaign are demonstrated by the fact that important employers and companies, which we admire as great commercial success stories, such as Marks and Spencer plc, Bovis Ltd., Midland Bank plc, the TSB Group plc and others, are following that route. We are trying to change attitudes voluntarily and that is now happening in practice. I hope that my hon. Friends who take a different view will accept that substantial progress is being made, not only by the Government but, increasingly, by the private sector.

In January, a few weeks ago, the "Age Works" booklet was launched to be used specifically by recruitment agencies and employment businesses. It emphasises the importance of attracting older people into the work force.

I have read the report of a study that was done in 1993 by Mr. Jim Conway. That report mentioned the damage that the stop-go economic policies that have been followed since the war had done to the older worker. Mr. Conway produced evidence to suggest that the stop-go cycle has a more damaging effect on older population groups. However, what the Government have been trying to do since the general election is to reverse completely the whole stop-go mentality and create a stable environment of low inflation and steady economic growth, which is much more conducive to an orderly and growing employment market.

Mr. Ian McCartney

On a point of clarification, which election does the hon. Gentleman mean-1979, 1983, 1987 or 1992—after which those policies were introduced?

Mr. Spring

I am the first person to admit that, since the war, we have had a policy of stop-go. That happened—I wish it had not—under both Conservative and Labour Governments. However, since 1992, the Government have clearly been absolutely committed to a macro-economic framework that throws those stop-go policies, which have been so damaging to our long-term performance, out of the window. Compared with other industrialised countries, we are doing very well on inflation, employment creation, exports and all the other elements that were lacking in the past, and that surely proves our commitment not to return to the inflationary cycle. If the hon. Gentleman is objective, he will accept that. Our policies have not been without difficulty, but they are certainly paying off and in the next general election the hon. Gentleman will recognise their true value.

A number of elements are coming together. I have spoken about demography. That and a better economic environment and the realisation among many employers of the value of older workers are all coming together to the benefit of employment opportunities for older people, without the need to reach for legislation. That climate will continue to improve and the culture and attitudes to which I alluded are being strengthened all the time.

Surveys among business groupings and managers have sought to discover how the matter should be treated. I think that in one survey 80 per cent. said that there should be an active attempt to tackle discrimination against older people. However, those people were certainly not clear about whether that should be done by legislation or voluntarily. I am a vice-chairman of the Small Business Bureau and yesterday I had an opportunity to discuss the matter with a number of small business men and business women who are bureau members. The overwhelming view was that although legislation was desirable in principle, the voluntary approach sponsored by Government and led by many of our larger corporations and success stories in the commercial field was having a clear and specific impact. Despite the contrary views of some other organisations, the Confederation of British Industry certainly takes the view that legislation would be an additional constraint on entrepreneurial activity. I certainly support that view.

The Opposition say that the Bill would be a first step and that it would send out a signal. We must address that but, in practice, even if the upper age limit were removed from advertisements, there would still be a multitude of ways by which an employer who wished to discriminate would be able to glean information about a potential candidate. Therefore, in practice the measure might not be workable.

There are other areas, such as training and promotion, which are key parts of the employer-employee relationship, which the Bill does not begin to address. The legislation would be difficult to monitor, and in practice it could probably be got round. It would have no practical effect at a time when the public feel that we legislate excessively in any case.

At the heart of the issue is whether anti-discrimination legislation works. That is the crucial question, because there is no point in passing a Bill that sounds good and perhaps makes us feel good as we all agree on its principle if, in practice, it will have no desirable effect.

It is worth looking at the participation rate of those between the ages of 55 and 64 in countries where there is such legislation. In the United States, it is 66.4 per cent. for males and 46.3 per cent. for females; in Canada, it is 62 per cent. and 36.4 per cent.; in France, it is 44 per cent. and 30.2 per cent.; in Australia, it is 61.4 per cent. and 24.8 per cent.; in New Zealand, it is 56.7 per cent. and 32.7 per cent.; and in Spain, it is 60.6 per cent. and 20.3 per cent. The only reason why I produce those statistics is to compare them with the United Kingdom's. Without any legislation, the participation rate in the UK for males is 65.7 per cent. and for females 39 per cent., substantially higher than in many of the countries where there is legislation. Surely that must be the crucial determinant of what happens in practice.

Aspects of the labour market in the United States of America, which has been alluded to, are different from Europe. America is less regulated and much more competitive in many ways, and it has been hugely more successful than the European Union countries in creating jobs in the private sector.

Hon. Members all agree that we can applaud the principle that has been aired and the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Walsall, North, but there is clear evidence that, in practice, the Bill would not be workable and that the voluntary efforts that are being sponsored by the Government are proving increasingly successful. On that basis, therefore, we should continue those efforts. As more people have the good sense to employ older and more mature people, the argument will be won on that basis and not via the statute book.

12.46 pm
Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), who made a thoughtful and interesting speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on his good fortune in having been successful in the ballot and on bringing this issue again before the House. In the past 12 years, no fewer than six Bills, I believe, have dealt with agism and tried to move that issue up the political agenda.

If our discussions continue in Committee, that will cause me no problems because this topic needs to be properly aired and discussed. If we are to go down the legislative route, we need to ensure that that legislation is the right sort of legislation. That is why, in my intervention during the hon. Gentleman's speech, I tried gently to probe to find out why the Bill's focus was so narrow. In responding, I think that he was delighted that a Conservative might be urging him to go further, although that was necessarily the point of my intervention.

Too often, hon. Members are tempted to pass laws that raise a flag for a particular issue but do not bring about any real or desired effect. In the consideration of the Bill, we are trying to prevent employers from putting an upper age limit in their advertisements. At the same time, clause 2 may enable employers to drive a coach and horses through the Bill—that is probably not the best analogy; with the discussion we have had of the European Commission's practices, perhaps I should say, it may enable them to drive a channel tunnel through it. We will obviously consider that matter in Committee.

The way in which the European Commission advertises—a practice that is copied by other international organisations—is not good and should be stopped. The arbitrary imposition of age limits—35, 45, 55, and so on—causes a great deal of resentment. Who is to say that the applicant of 36 is not as good as the applicant of 35? Such arbitrariness is not helpful and sensible employers do not adopt such a practice in their advertisements.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest. He has referred to sensible employers not imposing age limits, but will he also deal with the other side of the argument and question whether we, as legislators, should brand employers as sensible or otherwise? Is it not the absolute right of an employer to decide in what categories he wants to look to find a suitable employee? Surely no outside body should determine whether he is sensible or otherwise in doing so.

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, with which I had intended to deal later but instead will do so now. As I have said, this is the sixth time in 12 years that such a Bill has come before the House. Does that very fact not send out the message that we should be trying to resolve the issue differently? I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would be prepared to encourage employers, through their professional associations, to draw up a proper code of practice for recruitment. After all, age is not a determinant of ability.

Young people have come to this House, performed effectively and entered the Cabinet quickly. Our more elderly brethren have been equally successful at the top of their profession. Of course, the Japanese and the Chinese make a virtue out of age and experience. In the 1960s and 1970s, Britain, however, was dismissive of anyone who reached pensionable age. We said that we did not need those people any more and that they should retire. In fact, companies soon found that they needed that experience and before long those people were back in post as consultants.

In many ways, the west has become too dogmatic in its approach to recruitment and to people with experience. The House needs to deal with that problem and encourage better practice. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that I was a retread. At least that shows that in the Conservative party someone in his mid-40s can re-enter the House—as, indeed, did the hon. Member for Walsall, North. I am pleased that in that respect there is some affinity across the House. We are setting a good example to employers.

Many hon. Members have referred to the European Commission's agism policy. The Bill would force the Commission to change the way in which it advertises in this country, but not in France, Belgium or other European countries. The problem is that an applicant from Britain would have his expectations falsely raised—having had his interview, the matter would be decided in Brussels and he would not be chosen.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman makes a good argument. Would that not be a good case for ensuring that that requirement is written into the social charter?

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman is as ingenious as ever, but he takes us away from the scope of the Bill because the argument that I just made is not covered by the Bill. Yes, there would be a penalty—I believe, of £2,500—for infringing the law by setting an upper age limit in an advertisement, but the Bill says nothing about the nuance that one can put into an advertisement. One might say, "Only the young upwardly mobile will be considered," and I believe that the Bill would create much legislative nonsense. I should be happy to discuss that issue in Committee.

Mrs. Gillan

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is nonsense that a law in France prevents the use of age limits in advertisements yet the European Commission flouts the law of that country?

Mr. Robinson

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is the difficulty in which we find ourselves.

As the hon. Member for Walsall, North asked, what are we trying to do in introducing the legislation? We are trying to put up a flag to signal that employers should not discriminate against people who are in their second career, the third wave or whatever term one prefers. In the immortal words of the songwriter Tom Lehrer, however, the Bill would be Full of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing". I wonder whether, as legislators, we are in the business of trying to do that.

Mr. Forman

It was Shakespeare.

Mr. Robinson

I was thinking of Tom Lehrer, but I am reminded that I am quoting from Shakespeare. [Interruption.] So are we.

It is important that we have had the debate. I take the opportunity of paying tribute to Age Concern in Somerset, with which I have had dealings although it has not especially lobbied me about the Bill. It is important that we move the issue of agism up the political agenda, but we must be careful not to do so by framing laws that become meaningless in their implementation and interpretation. I hope that the result of the debate will be that industry and small business associations will try to establish among themselves good practice that they can continue to operate in their recruitment policies. That is the key.

What are employers seeking? Are they seeking someone of a specific age or are they seeking someone who will perform the job well? The answer should always be the latter. It is bad recruitment practice to impose in an advertisement the arbitrary rule that no one aged over 35 or over 45 will be employed, and I prefer to think that only a small minority of employers adopt that type of practice in their advertisements. As I said earlier, there is no evidence that a 36-year-old is worse than a 35-year-old. A deplorable artificial element is introduced into recruitment. It would be welcome if my hon. Friend the Minister would, after the debate, give further thought to ways in which we can improve recruitment practice.

I suspect that when my hon. Friend the Minister makes her contribution to the debate, she will say that to pursue this policy is to embark on a regulatory route that is restrictive and unnecessary. There is strength in that argument, but we all recognise—indeed, she has recognised—that there is a problem and we need to find a means of resolving it. I am certain that voluntary organisations such as Age Concern can also help by making a fresh input into our attempts to solve such problems.

I do not wish to see the Bill stopped dead in its tracks as it provokes important discussion. If the hon. Member for Walsall, North has the good fortune to secure the Bill's Second Reading—I suspect that he will not—and he thinks of me, I shall be happy to play my part in the Standing Committee.

1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

I should declare an interest in the debate: I am living proof of the motto that life begins at 40. I was at the end of my 39th year when I was elected to the House and I should be delighted if my remarks this morning encouraged other men and women to think about starting a career in the House at about that age.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on his success in the ballot. I am grateful to him for his explanation of the concerns that have led him to introduce the Bill. I have been most interested in what he has had to say today, and I have also appreciated the great thought and effort that has gone into the measure. He did not discover the subject overnight when he won the ballot, but he has thought about it long and hard. He feels passionately about the subject, and I share his concern. I would not want a single Member of the House or a wider audience to believe otherwise.

The Government also fully share the hon. Gentleman's objectives: the elimination of age discrimination in employment. We undoubtedly have a common interest in highlighting the problem. I am particularly grateful that, through the introduction of his Bill and today's debate, the hon. Gentleman has helped the Government and me to lift the subject's profile.

I hope that I shall have some success in persuading the hon. Gentleman as to why the Bill is not acceptable to the Government, and why it is unlikely that we shall be able to agree on an amendment that will make it acceptable, particularly at this time. I was sad that, during his lengthy remarks, the hon. Gentleman did not once mention the Campaign for Older Workers, or the research that I announced last year and that I have reinforced again today.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) supported the Bill and advanced a powerful argument, not least because of his great experience as the founder of the headhunter movement—a movement of which I can do nothing but approve. I have been headhunted only once in my life; it was a pleasurable experience, and I thank my right hon. Friend for starting that trend in the recruitment trade.

My right hon. Friend said that, when it comes to CVs, a sense of humour would help. I think that a sense of humour helps people of all ages. I am reminded of Jeanne Calment, the French woman who has achieved the grand age of 120. When asked if she expected to reach her next milestone of 125, she shrugged and said: Why be a pessimist? I've waited 120 years to be famous, and I intend to take advantage of that for as long as possible". She thinks that she is very lucky, because God might have forgotten her, and she says that at least he does not seem to be in a great hurry to meet her. She is a woman after my own heart: it is rumoured that she gave up smoking at the age of 118.

I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend's plea for the standardisation of CVs. Any hon. Member present in the Chamber who has been interviewed or has interviewed potential employees will share his deep frustration at CVs that are sometimes extremely poorly prepared. They often achieve the very reverse of what they intend, simply because they obscure an otherwise extremely talented person. I have often read a CV and, upon meeting the job applicant, I have thought to myself, "My goodness, that piece of paper does not do justice to this applicant's talents." I have a great deal of sympathy with my right hon. Friend's point.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made some very telling points. I listened closely to his remarks, not only because he speaks with such authority due to his long service in the House, but because he has obviously canvassed the views of his colleagues in Scotland. He said that he was speaking on their behalf, and on behalf of Age Concern Scotland.

I was concerned about the fact that the hon. Gentleman said that the measure would not cost any money. The hon. Gentleman may need to rethink that point, as I think that it would have implications for industrial tribunals and for public expenditure. It is estimated that compliance costs across the board could run well into millions of pounds. That will obviously depend on the size of the business or organisation concerned, but reorganisation will certainly have to occur.

If cases end up before the courts and the tribunals, that will have implications for the public purse—not least in terms of the legal aid budget. Although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments, perhaps upon reflection he may admit that there is a cost attached to the legislation—although I agree that it may be difficult to pin down the exact figure.

Mr. Ian McCartney

The Minister may like to consider one small piece of evidence: since W. H. Smith agreed to adopt a completely non-agist policy in recruitment, training and retention, the company has saved £800,000.

Mrs. Gillan

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. You have taken a line out of one of my presentations to the Older Workers Roadshow. I presume that you have read the text of my speech, and I congratulate you. Part of my argument is that it makes good business and economic sense not to discriminate against older worker applicants. However, I am talking about the compliance costs associated with the legislation should a company or an individual take a case to the courts or the tribunals. I am making a different point.

Mr. McCartney

It is not a different point. As the Minister said, the point of principle is that it is good business not to discriminate against older workers, as W. H. Smith has proved. As to her point about compliance costs, when someone complies with the law—the Conservatives are the party of law and order—there is no cost; but if someone decides not to comply with the law, that is their personal choice. I suggest to you that, when people see the benefits that have accrued to W. H. Smith, the overwhelming majority will be more than willing to comply with any legislation in that field.

Mrs. Gillan


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Could we remember to refer to each other as hon. Members, Ministers or whatever term is appropriate, rather than using the second person pronoun?

Mrs. Gillan

I hope that I have not broken the rules of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise, if it was me, but it may have been the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

For clarification, I can tell the Minister that both parties were at fault.

Mr. McCartney

I apologise.

Mrs. Gillan

I apologise unreservedly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Dalyell

May I be clear about what the Minister was saying? Will any costs be incurred other than by those who have offended against the law? Surely any costs would be incurred by those who have broken the law. I do not see what other costs there could be.

Mrs. Gillan

Let me develop my theme, but I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman's question. The costs to which I refer are, in particular, those associated with the change in recruitment practices within organisations. They may or may not have jobs on offer that meet some of the exclusions that the hon. Member for Walsall, North envisages. So should the Bill become law, there would be initial costs for people who had not yet transgressed. I promise that I shall revisit that point later.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow said something that struck home with me, when he painted a powerful picture of the relationship between grandparents and younger people. I must declare an interest, in case the hon. Member for Makerfield jumps up again—I am a step-grandmother.

Mr. McCartney

I can trump that, because I believe that I am the youngest grandfather in the House, with five grandsons so far and another one on the way.

Mrs. Gillan

Obviously the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman and I are working as a double act, because I hoped that he would take up that opening. May I be one of the last to congratulate him? That is a powerful record, and we have something in common.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised the theme of grandparents seriously, so I shall return to it seriously. I have had the good fortune to visit the far east, and I was struck by the aspect of its culture whereby, when people of working age have children, the grandparents invariably stop work to take care of them, which allows the parents, who are at their most economically productive, to continue to bring their income into the family. That idea has stayed with me as an example of good practice.

I like the extended family. My grandmother lived with us all my life, and until the day she died I had the good fortune of having that older person there to give me counsel and to take care of me. From a parent's point of view, there is no better person to look after one's most precious asset, one's child, than one's own parent. I think that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that point, because it is worth emphasising.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said in a brief speech that he entirely supported the Bill. As he is a sponsor of the Bill, that was absolutely right. Age Concern does terrific work, and, like the hon. Member for Walsall, North, my hon. Friend is briefed by that organisation. I do not want any of my remarks to be taken as casting aspersions on the work of that august body.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) came in for some stick, which made me rather sad, because he was the first person to speak in favour—or rather, against the Bill and in favour of the line that I am taking. My hon. Friend has had experience of recruitment, and the hon. Member for Makerfield must acknowledge that there is nothing more powerful than someone speaking from experience.

I was extremely grateful for the in-depth contribution of the hon. Member for Linlithgow, and the House is a wiser place for it. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) agreed that the Bill would not have much effect, yet went on to support it. At least the hon. Member for Walsall, North is behind his Bill body and soul. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was behind it in a half-hearted fashion.

Mr. Tony Banks

I was not being half-hearted but realistic, in respect of agism. I said that the Bill, if enacted, would not end agism, but that the mere fact that one cannot do everything with a piece of legislation does not mean that one should do nothing.

Mrs. Gillan

When I challenged the hon. Gentleman on the information that he gives constituents who visit his surgery, and asked him about "Too Old, Who Says?", "Age Works" and "Getting On", he appeared not to know about those publications.

Mr. Banks

There may be many reasons for the Minister caring to visit my constituency—we will not go into all of them. If she comes to the reception area in my office, she will find Government publications waiting for people to read, and those titles are also on display.

Mrs. Gillan

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has put the record straight. I hope that he has read those publications himself.

Mr. Banks

That is another matter.

Mrs. Gillan

It is another matter. I advise the hon. Gentleman to read those documents chapter and verse, from cover to cover—not least because they prove that the Government are doing something. However, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West appears to be growing old gracefully.

Mr. Banks

How sweet. Perhaps the Minister and I can grow old gracefully together.

Mrs. Gillan

I think that you, >Mr. Deputy Speaker, would advise me to refuse that offer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) contributed some pertinent points. He has made his apologies, because he had to leave to attend surgery matters in his constituency.

My hon. Friend mentioned oriental society. In the course of visiting Japan, I saw the older person at work in a commercial setting. I will refer to the person as the sleeper. In negotiations, a senior man is invariably present—albeit I would appreciate seeing the occasional senior woman. That individual neither comments nor contributes in any other way to the meeting, but he is extremely important.

Even if he appears to sleep during the negotiations, behind the scenes, when the decision is being made to proceed with the contract or to continue the business in hand, the sleeper will turn out to be a senior representative of the company who knows the business inside out. He brings the benefit of his advice and years to bear on the company's business. That is an excellent practice, and more businesses could benefit from the advice of senior people. My hon. Friend did not believe that we need to reach for legislation, which he thought would be difficult to monitor and excessive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) has also sent his apologies. He has some distance to travel, to attend to surgery matters in his constituency, but he was keen to make a contribution to this important debate. My hon. Friend was not unhappy to see the Bill further discussed in Committee, and he certainly gave us some good ideas for encouraging the establishment of a code of practice. All hon. Members' contributions have greatly added to the debate.

I should now like to express my own thoughts. The hon. Member for Walsall, North knows that this legislation is not complete. He wrote about his Bill in The House Magazine and called for the end of discrimination on the ground of age, and said: It is, of course, true that banning job ads that refer to age will not in itself end such discriminatory conduct. He is kind to acknowledge my support of his good intentions; however, he says "legislate", and I say "persuade and educate". That is the hair's-breadth difference between us; we want to achieve the same ends.

I know that age discrimination is practised by some employers and agree that it is unjust, makes no economic sense and must be eliminated. However, this Bill will not eliminate age discrimination because it can be practised at every stage of the recruitment and employment process.

Age discrimination can be present in advertisements, but it can also be manifested at many other levels. Hon. Members should think about that, because, if we rule out age discrimination in advertisements, it can be practised at the selection for interview, at the selection for the job, and it can certainly be practised when it comes to career development and promotion. I do not think that one hon. Member would disagree that discrimination can occur at all those stages.

The Government are totally opposed to all forms of age discrimination, but there is a real prospect that simply banning upper age limits in advertisements will shift the issue further down the recruitment chain.

Let us examine exactly what banning upper age limits would mean. This private Member's Bill would make it unlawful to state an actual or preferred upper age limit for a job, along the lines of: "Secretary wanted; must be between 40 and 50 years of age". That type of advertisement would be banned—I can see that the hon. Member for Walsall, North is nodding in agreement. However, it would not be unlawful to advertise a job in terms such as: "Secretary wanted; must be aged 40 or over". I can see that the hon. Gentleman is thinking about that prospect.

Where does that leave all the prospective secretaries who are under 40 years of age? This Bill could, in itself, be discriminatory.

Mr. Winnick

I gave consideration to those issues, and anticipated the points which the Minister made. One must deal with the situation as it is. Age discrimination, as the Minister knows—because of what she said, she can only agree—is against people who are over a certain age. The discrimination, in the main, does not apply to people who are under a certain age. The Minister should address herself to that very important distinction.

Mrs. Gillan

The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely powerful point. I would perhaps be persuaded to see things from his point of view had the Labour party not issued a press release yesterday which provides its definition of older workers. The press release defined older workers as people aged between 25 and 49". The hon. Gentleman has been shot in the foot by members of his own Front Bench and his own party policy, which has been published in a party press release.

The private Member's Bill of the hon. Member for Walsall, North would allow one to advertise: "Secretary wanted; must be aged 40 and over". That makes this legislation, in itself, discriminatory.

Mr. Ian McCartney

The hon. Lady is being disingenuous in the extreme. The tables used—for 25 to 49-year-olds and for workers over 50—are those that the Government use when they compile the figures. If that is wrong, they can take the responsibility for it. Both tables show a substantial rise in long-term unemployment among these age groups. It is also clear that people of these ages, once they become unemployed, spend much longer than any other age group in the labour market finding work again. That is the truth about yesterday's figures.

Mrs. Gillan

I was quoting a press release entitled "News from Labour". The words used are certainly not those of the Government. The press release refers to older workers…defined as people aged between 25 and 49". So the hon. Member for Makerfield labels 25 to 49-year-olds as older workers. He may be interested to know that unemployment has fallen since 1992 by more than 250,000 in this age group, and that long-term unemployment for the same group is down by more than 50,000.

Mr. McCartney


Mrs. Gillan

No, I want to make progress. I have already taken 25 minutes.

This Bill could result, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North seemed to acknowledge in The House Magazine, in fewer jobs being advertised, and more jobs being filled by informal and word-of-mouth recruitment. Employers must be left with the ability to identify the best person for the job, and must not feel restricted by legislation.

Let us imagine that the legislation is on the statute book. If an employer wished to comply with it, how would he know whether an advertisement was subject to exemption? Would he be required to wait for the courts to decide, or would he need to take legal advice? Employers would have to pay for that advice, directly or indirectly, and for a small business with several sites around the country, it could be costly.

Lawyers are often accused of making lots of money, but they must be licking their lips trying to work out what the Bill could mean for them. If an employer were taken to court because he wanted an assistant professional at a golf club of between 30 and 40, the judge might then rule that that was unlawful. The employer would be fined, and would then readvertise the job for someone over 30.

A 50-year-old might then apply for the job—but not get it, because the employer considers him too old. The employer then decides to go to court to establish that his vacancy is an exemption to the Act. This time the judge decides that there are grounds for exempting the vacancy, so the employer readvertises for a professional golfer who must be under 40. Thus the Bill will be an additional cost burden for employers, and in cases like this one, it will be an insanity.

Who would police the Bill? There is no provision in it for any sort of administrative framework. How would an employer know whether his advertisement was exempt? How would a recruitment agency know? Do we really believe that clogging up the courts to decide individual cases is a workable approach or an effective way of eliminating age discrimination? I genuinely think not.

In my opinion, this Bill would do nothing to change employers' attitudes to age discrimination in employment. It could, however, discourage them from advertising vacancies openly, and it could push discrimination further down the recruitment chain, where it would be more difficult to flush out of the system.

I cannot stress too strongly that the Government share the concerns of the hon. Member for Walsall, North. That is why we have taken positive action to tackle age discrimination through the Campaign for Older Workers. The campaign, and its success to date, owes much to the work of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe). She did a great deal to raise the profile of this issue, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning her.

We drew attention to the need for employers to tap into the full range of skills and talents of all age groups, including older workers. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will remember my hon. Friend's efforts to find the oldest worker in Britain—efforts that proved that age need not be a barrier to employment. For example, does the hon. Gentleman remember the success achieved by Audrey Walter, who at the age of 75 achieved a city and guilds bronze medal for her work on the national vocational qualification assessors' course on direct care?

Before I came into this place, I was the head of a department in a professional firm. I took into employment in my department somebody who was called Stan, who I am pleased to say is still there. I shall not reveal his age, which is very young, but he was the most senior person in my department by several decades. He provided a tremendous service to the company and to the department. He was reliable to a fault. He still continues to do a first-class, excellent job. Someone may have said at some stage that he might be a little too senior still to be working, but that was not true. At least I know that I practise what I preach.

What are the Government doing? What progress is being made? The Campaign for Older Workers is targeted at all the key players in the labour market and at all aspects of recruitment and employment. We consider it vital to persuade employers that age discrimination at work has no place in a prosperous economy. To compete successfully, employers must be ready to take full advantage of the skills, reliability, experience and commitment that older people offer. The differences between individuals are far greater and far more job relevant than the differences between age groups. It is in employers' own interests to treat people on their merits regardless of age.

"Getting On" is a booklet that was published by the Department. It offers practical advice to our first target group, to employers. Since publication in 1993, copies have been sent to well over 145,000 organisations. The booklet, with its gold-coloured cover, provides practical advice on what can be done and sets out the real benefits to be derived in bottom-line business terms in doing so.

"Getting On" urges employers to develop their work forces to be successful in a competitive world market, and suggests that they take five basic steps to ensure that people are selected, developed, promoted and retained on the basis of merit. The five basic steps are: first, drop age bars in advertisements; secondly, select on ability; thirdly, welcome older applicants; fourthly, introduce flexible working; fifthly, invest in workers.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Walsall, North will agree that the booklet is well worth reading, and that it should be read by every employer. Copies are available from the Department. They are available readily and at no cost. I urge people to apply for copies of "Getting On" and of "Too Old, Who Says?" and "Age Works".

Another effective way of getting the message to employers is by inviting them to attend roadshows, which have been held throughout the country. So far, we have held events in Leeds, Glasgow, Birmingham and Cardiff. About 200 people have attended each presentation. Each event has provided employers with a platform from which to exchange views, especially on good practice. The roadshows give them the opportunity to take the message forward to even more employers.

I launched the roadshows personally in Birmingham and Cardiff because I feel so strongly about the issues that they have taken up. I took it upon myself to talk directly to employers—as I have said, about 200 at each venue. The people I met believed the argument, and saw the business sense as well as the economic sense of not ruling out old people in job recruitment. Every one of them, however, whom I spoke to individually, asked me not to legislate—in other words, not to put yet another burden on their businesses.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Minister remember what I said about the letter that I received from the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents many thousands of firms? It stated that it was not opposed to the measure and believed that it could do some good. I accept that some employers are against the Bill, but it is clear that others are not. That point should be taken on board.

Mrs. Gillan

The Federation of Small Businesses is an organisation for which I have the greatest respect, but perhaps it might want to revisit the argument in the light of some of my remarks on the potential costs and burdens of compliance on businesses. It is a difficult issue to cost, but costs are associated with the proposed legislation and they will fall on businesses. The audiences of business men and women that I have addressed have seen the potential costs and burdens, and feel that it is much more effective if they are persuaded by my arguments so that they no longer discriminate than if we placed another measure on them.

We think it vital that we persuade older workers that age should not be a negative factor. My Department's booklet, which has the challenging title, "Too Old, Who Says?", provides employees and jobseekers with advice about what they can do to overcome perhaps even their own prejudices about age being a barrier to employment. It is packed with advice to help older workers to survive and thrive in the fast-changing modern labour market.

It gives practical help and advice on where to look for information—jobcentres, the media, agencies, networking, training and enterprise councils and employers—and what to do to plan and improve their chances, whether they are in work and want to build skills, expecting to leave work or unemployed.

In advising people how to get back to work, the booklet urges older workers to take stock of where they want to go with their lives, and to concentrate on what they have to offer with regard to their skills and experience, personal qualities, potential, capacity to be retrained and commitment.

All the roadshows had a speaker on the platform who was an older worker. In that way, the audience was brought face to face with the reality of age discrimination and how it can be overcome, and the potential of older workers to contribute to their companies and our economic well-being. The House will be interested in the speeches of David Leverett and Peter Griffin who accompanied me, as well as the employers who made speeches about the benefits of having older people in their work force.

Recruitment agencies also have a key role to play, and that is why the latest publication from the Department, "Age Works", is directed towards the recruitment and employment service industry. The feedback that I have already had about this booklet—it was published only last month—has expressed overwhelming support for the voluntary approach advocated in it. One organisation begged me not to be led down this lunatic path of legislation". Alec Reed, founder and executive chairman of Reed Personnel Services, welcoming the booklet, said: Employers should look for talent not toupees when they are selecting staff. Age limits are blunt tools only appropriate to dinosaur recruiters. An even blunter tool is legislation.

Hon. Members will say that there is little evidence that the voluntary approach is achieving any success. I am familiar with the cases that hon. Members related about the discrimination experienced by some of their constituents. Such cases also appear in my postbag, and I have great sympathy with individuals with this problem who visit the surgery of their Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, it is clear that the trend is for more and more companies to review their policies and practices.

Of key relevance to the debate is the fact that the number of age-barred advertisements is in decline. Many surveys that are undertaken by the reputable—and some by the not so reputable—paint the blackest of pictures of some sectors of industry. One of those sectors is the one in which I used to work—marketing.

It was my privilege to be invited to speak at a meeting of the Worshipful Company of Marketors. It is often said to me that marketing is one of the main culprits in discriminating on the ground of age when recruiting, that marketing people should all be young, up-and-coming and thrusting, and that there is no room for anybody else with more and wider experience. I did my own quick survey to find out how true that was that week.

Of the 349 job vacancies that appeared in that week's editions of marketing magazines, only 22 displayed an age range or limit, and 14 of those 22 were contained in two recruitment agency advertisements. There were therefore even fewer offenders—but those offenders should follow the example of their fellow advertisers, and dispense with references to age.

In 1991, an independent survey found that 27 per cent. of advertisements in national newspapers carried an age bar. A similar survey this year found that the figure had fallen to 11 per cent. The media have a role to play. Why do they not do the same as People Management, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall, North? Since 1 January, it has refused to publish advertisements containing age barriers.

If members of the media are listening to the debate, let me ask them to follow the example of People Management. Why should we have to consider legislation to deal with the problem when it is in the hands of the media to kill it in one fell swoop? The hon. Member for Walsall, North and I both hope that the media are listening, because we have a shared aim.

People Management did not take its action lightly. It could lose £300,000-worth of advertisements if the advertisers went elsehere, but it decided that it was worth having the courage of its convictions, and it is to be praised for that decision.

I am speaking at some length because I feel strongly about the subject—

Mr. Ian McCartney

It is a filibuster.

Mrs. Gillan

I have been accused, from a sedentary position, of filibustering.

Mr. McCartney

It is a filibuster.

Mrs. Gillan

I have moved swiftly; I have kept the debate going, and I have not repeated myself. If the hon. Gentleman wants to trivialise the debate, he can do so outside. I take the matter very seriously.

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister said that she would return to the question of costs. The fault may be mine, but I have heard no reference to the Bill's cost to public funds.

Mrs. Gillan

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has not followed my argument. I referred to the potential costs. If an applicant who felt that he had been discriminated against required legal aid, that would fall on the public purse.

Mr. Dalyell


Mrs. Gillan

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way again, because I want to talk about my research. I will write to him giving a compliance cost assessment if that would be helpful.

Last October, I commissioned a comprehensive national survey to be carried out by an independent organisation to find out what action employers were taking to overcome age discrimination in the workplace. It will involve the contacting of all employers who have been employed in the regional presentations, together with a random sample of other employers. The research should help us to learn more about what needs to be done to continue to combat age discrimination.

Research also provides an instructive perspective on the Bill. My Department commissioned research on 20 countries; there was no evidence that anti-agism legislation had any effect on employers' attitudes or practices. Elsewhere, as we have heard, discriminatory practices take place despite legislation.

For example, in France—which has had legislation since 1986 under article 1311–4 of the Code du Travail—the law is not only not enforced, but largely ignored. In 1994, the European industrial relations review found that 30 per cent. of job advertisements in Le Monde specified maximum ages or age limits. That is useless and that is not the point of gratuitous legislation.

I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North will also note my remarks on the European Commission. The European Commission purports to have the interests of older workers at heart, but the European Parliament, which is dominated by members of the hon. Member's political persuasion, still advertises jobs with age limits. Physician, heal thyself. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association took the age limits out of its job advertisement almost immediately after I wrote to it. The hon. Member for Walsall, North should take his argument to Brussels.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North and I both agree that age discrimination is wrong, but we do not agree about the way in which we should stop it. He says legislate, I say educate. What is important is that people outside the Chamber hear the message. The hon. Member has given me great heart by using his valuable slot in the private Member's Bill ballot, at position No. 4, to highlight the problem. I hope that all the newspapers write about our debate and I hope that employers continue to take the lead that is being given by me, the Department for Education and Employment and the Government to outlaw age discrimination in recruitment.

At a time when our economic policies are delivering sustainable growth, low inflation and rising prosperity, not a single business would thank me for introducing an additional burden—

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister is clearly not giving way.

Mrs. Gillan

I have been more than generous in the amount of times that I have given way during my speech. I have been accused of filibustering and I am just about to say my final sentence. I repeat, my aim is the same. The hon. Member for Walsall, North will continue to press for legislation, but I will continue to carry out my programme of education.

1.46 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

On behalf of the Opposition, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and colleagues on both sides of the House on bringing the Bill before the House. It is interesting to note that this private Member's Bill has all-party support from right hon. and hon. Members. It has support outside the House, from a range of organisations that have been committed for many years to eradicating agism in the labour market. More tellingly, many employers in key sectors of the economy support the Bill. The organisations that represent small businesses support the Bill. The managers who are responsible for managing industry every day support the Bill. The only organisations that seem to oppose it are those associated with the Government.

If the private Member's Bill procedure is to mean anything for the rights of Back Benchers, the Bill should be entitled, as a matter of course, to proceed to Committee, so that the Committee could consider amendments and suggestions for change appropriately. The Minister, in her long peroration, at no time made any rebuttal of the Bill of any intellectual quality. She did not back up her allegation about resource implications. When she was pressed on resource implications, she said that she could not calculate them. When she was pressed to give detailed information about previous legislation not working, she gave us no historical analysis.

Mrs. Gillan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney

I shall give way in a second.

Today and over the past week there has been a whispering campaign by Conservative Whips about denying hon. Members the opportunity to discuss the Bill in Committee. That is a serious miscalculation by the Government, because a generation of people are suffering job insecurity. People who are fearful of losing their jobs and those who have lost them expect the House properly to consider, at least in the first instance, the removal of blatant discrimination.

Secondly, those people expect economic policies that will present job opportunities for a growing number of people who, at the age of 40 to 45, are being asked to face the prospect of uneconomic activity between that age and the age of official retirement. The House will not do that significant group of citizens any credit by killing the Bill. What does the Minister have to fear from the Bill?

Mrs. Gillan

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of not including all sorts of matters in my speech. I assure him that if I had spoken for longer, I could have included those matters. I point him to an article in The Independent, which states: The Institute of Directors warned that the measure would have little impact and urged MPs to vote against it. David Mackintosh of Mackintosh Enterprises said: Please do not be led down this lunatic path of legislation". P. Andrews, director of Work Mates, the building trade appointment and recruitment agency, said: We would not recommend legislation that outlawed the keeping out of candidate age records. People support my line and I have delivered a thoughtful argument on the subject.

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Lady used the most inappropriate word, "lunatic". Apparently it is a lunatic proposal, but she has also said that the proposal is of no consequence. Where is the consistency in that? The proposal is no more than an attempt to gain minimum equitable consideration for interview for a job. It is an economic issue and not just a matter of the right not to be discriminated against in the labour market. It is a business and a social and economic imperative to challenge the twin evils of structural long-term unemployment among people aged 40 and above while not adding to the burden the discriminatory practices that deny substantial numbers of people access to the labour market.

I shall try to show the breadth of the problems that face us. The Minister said that unemployment among the age groups that we are discussing is receding. But in the period 1990–95, unemployment has increased by 63 per cent. among those over the age of 50, and 50 per cent. of unemployed people aged 50 and over are unemployed for a year or more. A quarter of that age group is unemployed for four years or more. Communities in which people have a minimum living are already devastated and economic activity continues to drag. As it drags, those communities are at the edge of the nation's activities.

The increase in unemployment during the period 1990–95 among people who were just below 50 was also quite staggering. In some regions, it has risen by more than 400 per cent. and on average over the country as a whole by 100 per cent. For the Minister to dismiss that deterioration in access to the labour market is breathtaking incompetence in both economic and social terms.

The Bill must be seen in context. It will not overnight eradicate agism in the labour market or create overwhelming new job opportunities. It is a genuine attempt to start rolling back the concept that when a person reaches the age of 40 or above and becomes unemployed for whatever reason, his ability to enter the labour market is severely and increasingly curtailed. It is curtailed in terms of not only the labour market, but his ability to get into training.

Mrs. Gillan

If the hon. Gentleman considers that those people's opportunities are curtailed, perhaps he will explain what effect the minimum wage and the social chapter would have on those people's chances.

Mr. McCartney

The national minimum wage will be implemented by an incoming Labour Government. Its rate will be set by Government, employers, trade unions and the Low Pay Unit. The minimum wage will not cost jobs. It will create economic productivity and jobs. I await the general election. The hon. Lady will put her case and we shall put ours. There is overwhelming support in the nation for the minimum wage. Unlike us, the hon. Lady supports a low-pay, no-pay strategy—the fat cats and all of rest of it. As a result, millions of workers receive low pay and poverty wages and are in no-hope jobs, with no opportunity for training or advancement. That is the Government's deregulation strategy.

If we are serious about doing something in the long term about agism in the labour market, we need to introduce legislation that assists both management and employees in key sectors of the economy. We need a labour market where training and investment in retraining play a significant part. We need to change the nature of promotion in companies. We need flexible working to allow older workers, many of whom have caring responsibilities, which the Minister mentioned, to get back to work or to retain their jobs. We need to introduce proposals on relocation and maximising the potential of all working people, whatever their age. That includes their ability to change career.

Agism in the labour market prevents much of that from taking place. Why do the Government fail to recognise the growing support for, and the trend in industry and in the community towards, a legislative framework that would provide minimum standards and offer opportunity for a change in the management culture? That would lead to fundamental changes in the labour market, and would allow older workers either to remain in work or to return to the labour market, because discriminatory factors would have ended. It would allow them to be interviewed and treated on merit.

As the global economy changes, no nation, never mind this nation, can, under any circumstances, be prepared in either the short or the long term to lock out so much talent and ignore the need to develop an industrial strategy for the next millennium. What other nation would take a deliberate decision to lock out of its labour market tens of thousands of experienced workers?

For young people, one of the biggest problems in the labour market involves on-costs on training. As the Government reduce their training budget and access to training, both in absolute terms of money invested and in terms of some of the discriminatory practices allowed by training and enterprise councils against older workers, companies, if they want to invest in training young people, must increasingly do in-work training. That training can be better achieved with a mix of work force that includes older, experienced and skilled workers. That mix of an experienced work force with a new up-and-coming one gives the best chance, not just for this country in the long term, but for companies to prosper and expand.

Mrs. Gillan

If we are so concerned to lock out the older worker, will the hon. Gentleman explain why, in April 1994, the Government's main adult training programme, training for work, was extended to people between the ages of 18 and 63?

Mr. McCartney

As I did not get an answer to a question that I asked some weeks ago on that issue, will the Minister explain why the TEC operating agreement between her Department and the TECs, which, technically, relates to people aged 18 to 63, says on page 52: an eligible person aged 18–24 who has been Continuously Unemployed for two years or more prior to entry."? Such people will be given priority in recruitment. That means that they get priority over workers of an older generation. The Government say one thing in their publicity and campaigning, but, in the day-to-day working of their financial agreement with the TECs, they will continue to discriminate against older workers. As a consequence, in the areas with the highest unemployment among older people—those very areas where investment and retraining is needed—companies are discriminating against older people.

Mrs. Gillan


Mr. McCartney

I am not giving way. The hon. Lady took almost 50 minutes for her speech. I am trying to complete mine within 20 minutes. I want to be as positive as possible in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North.

The evidence of discrimination is overwhelming. Even the Minister's Department recognises that more than 40 per cent. of employers engage in some form of age discrimination. Officials from her Department recently suggested that when employers pressurise jobcentres, they turn a blind eye to advertisements with agist elements. The truth is that the Government oppose even this small measure to help older workers—

Mrs. Gillan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. McCartney

I shall not give way—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Lady has her instructions

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Give way. The hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend the Minister a question. Let her answer.

Mr. McCartney

I am not giving way to the Minister. She took 50 minutes for her speech.

The Labour party's position is quite clear. This Conservative Government may not accept my hon. Friend's Bill, but an incoming Labour Government will introduce comprehensive legislation to make age discrimination in employment illegal. We shall consult on the legislation. We want to ensure that not only will workers have a remedy in law against discrimination, but the appropriate legal framework will be put in place to enable employers to change their workplace practices, with co-operation between management and workplace representatives. Whether those workplace representatives are or are not in a trade union will not be relevant.

Our legislation will be a proactive approach to skilful management. We want to change the techniques to ensure investment in human capital, the development of training, the widening of employment opportunities within a company, changes in recruitment policy, improvements in performance and better older worker retention. We will respond to the demographic changes in society. We will promote diversity within the age mix of company work forces. We will work with new and old employers to improve the organisational culture of management, to bring about more flexible working practices. We will ensure that training meets the needs of older workers so that they have greater employment opportunities.

Behind our policy is one simple premise. In the two decades of Conservative government, there have been two recessions. There are now 3 million fewer jobs in manufacturing than there were when the Government took office. There are 1 million fewer jobs in the economy than there were when the Prime Minister came to power. Since 1990, 11 million people in England alone have had to seek unemployment benefit on at least one occasion. Since the last general election, 8.5 million people in Britain have had to seek unemployment benefit on at least one occasion. Over the next two years, people will face a one-in-three chance of becoming unemployed in the insecure labour market created by this Conservative Government's policies.

At the same time as there is such high job insecurity, there is merger mania—with thousands of highly skilled, highly paid and profitable workers being put on the dole to meet the short-term costs of acquisition. The Government allow low pay and job insecurity to drive their economic policies. They back people such as Cedric Brown—[Interruption.] This week the Government defended his retirement package, while allowing British Gas, as a matter of course, to sack workers who reach the age of 50. Those practices are unacceptable, and an incoming Labour Government will give priority to ending them by introducing anti-discrimination legislation.

Following our extensive consultation in the past year with organisations and industry, industry will work effectively with an incoming Labour Government to introduce legislation that will be comprehensive in content and a useful tool for management. Alongside our employment policies of increasing job opportunities in the economy, the legislation will start to end the evil of mass unemployment and, in that context, start to obtain justice for the tens and hundreds of thousands of older workers who have been deliberately placed on the scrap heap by the Government's economic policies.

I ask hon. Members to support the Bill.

2.4 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I welcome the Bill for three reasons. First, it responds to the experience of my constituents. Secondly, it complements the Government's campaign to highlight the unfairness of age discrimination, about which we have just heard. Thirdly, it does not go as far as Labour's commitments, which have just been confirmed, to outlaw age discrimination, which would be a great mistake.

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as many hon. Members know from their holidays and from conferences there in which they have taken part, my constituency of Bournemouth is a very attractive place and is one of Britain's most popular places in which to retire.

Many people who retire early tend to seek a second or further career, not only for something to do but to continue to apply their skills and experiences—and, of course, the extra money is useful. All that is natural and to be encouraged. The same applies to those who do not want to retire, and it should never be forgotten by older people that the Conservative Government enabled them to continue in work after reaching the age of retirement by abolishing the earnings rule.

In addition, some people have been made redundant long before their planned retirement and need, and seek, employment. There are also women who have been housewives and mothers for most of their working lives who want to return to the workplace. All those trends will continue.

It is men and women in situations such as those from whom many hon. Members have received complaints about prejudice against older applicants by potential employers. That prejudice at the first stage of recruitment is the major obstacle in returning to the job market.

I applaud the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for pursuing the Bill at his second attempt, in response to the anxieties expressed by our constituents. It will encourage the potential employer to think twice before committing himself to a younger applicant.

There is no doubt of the value to an employer seeking to fill vacancies of employing middle-aged and older people. Several hon. Members mentioned the advantages of employing more mature staff as part of a mixed-age work force. The content of their remarks equates with my experience of having helped to run a family business.

Older workers are more appreciative of their job. They may be slower than their younger colleagues, but they are much more meticulous in satisfying their job description, not least to protect their job, so they are more reliable and committed. An employer is more likely to employ a 60-year-old whom he took on at the age of 50 than to employ a 30-year-old whom he took on at the age of 20.

Older workers are less prone to absenteeism as a result of sickness or a wide variety of reasons that tempt younger staff to come in late or not at all. Older workers also prove to be less financially demanding of on employer, although that, of course, is no justification in itself for taking them on. Their financial needs and ambitions are less than those of younger people and many enjoy other sources of income—perhaps a pension or investments.

Above all, older workers bring talents that have been discovered, skills that have been developed and experiences that have been acquired from previous employment, to the advantage of a new employer, without the need for costly training. All that must transmit into a better service, increased customer satisfaction and confidence, a more competent work force, lower staff turnover and larger profits.

The essential aspect of the Bill is that no employer will appreciate those talents, skills and experiences that could be available to him unless he sees them on an application form and a CV. He can then make a choice. It is a choice that he can make immediately if the applicant's ability is unattractive—at least the employer will be able to make an informed choice, which is what the Bill provides for.

All those measures complement the Government's Campaign for Older Workers, to which my hon. Friend the Minister has referred. I found the Department's booklets of great interest and very encouraging, as I am sure they are to many of my constituents. It is particularly encouraging that an increasing number of well-known high street stores—such as those mentioned in the booklets and the debate—and the police are reporting the distinct advantages and benefits of an older work force. If that is already a trend that can only be encouraged by the Bill, it will give great hope to the older unemployed, which I welcome.

I hope that other leading stores and businesses will follow the trend. It can be encouraged by employer organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry working in co-operation, perhaps uniquely, with the Trades Union Congress. It can also be encouraged by local chambers of trade and charity organisations. Local authorities, in particular, should be encouraged to appreciate the advantages to the community of employing older women who have just finished their role as housewives and mothers—and not just as lollipop ladies outside schools.

Most of the established small businesses have long been aware of the advantages of employing older workers.

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend may like to know about the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services, which has helped my Department. It requires all its members to observe a code of good recruitment practice. It tries to find out why an employer is including an age bar in advertisements and it uses its powers of persuasion and reasoning to convince the employer that a person's age will not guarantee ability. The Nationwide building society has dropped age bars from its advertisements and has made great inroads into its thinking and attitudes towards older workers.

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend is right to mention the codes that are being recommended and the work practices that are being implemented—if they were working effectively, there would be no need for the Bill.

I would not welcome the plans of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats—the Liberal Democrats are not here this afternoon—to put age discrimination on the same footing as racial and sexual discrimination. That policy would not work, but would prove counter-productive to those whom it purported to help. Legislation to outlaw discrimination on the ground of age would be far more difficult to implement than the laws that already exist to discourage prejudice on grounds of race and sex, because performance and skills are so interlinked with age.

Such a policy would encourage employers and applicants to take firms to court for anything that looked like age discrimination. Firms would be at risk if they sent mainly younger workers on training courses. The policy would provide a field day for the legal profession, soak up legal aid and encourage firms to avoid such legislation and regulation. It would not solve the problem of age discrimination, as evidenced in other countries such as the United States of America, where such legislation exists.

The way forward lies with the Government's campaign of persuasion and education, together with the Bill. It will provide a positive sign to older people that age discrimination is unacceptable. It will encourage employers, particularly large ones, to rethink their employment policies so that every person has a right to be considered for work in relation to his skills, capabilities and experience, irrespective of age. For those reasons, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.

Mr. Winnick

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 63, Noes 1.

Division No. 48] [2.15 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Eagle, Ms Angela
Ainger, Nick Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Alexander, Richard Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Flynn, Paul
Austin-Walker, John Forman, Nigel
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gerrard, Neil
Barnes, Harry Godman, Dr Norman A
Bayley, Hugh Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bennett, Andrew F Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Benton, Joe Hodge, Margaret
Booth, Hartley Hoyle, Doug
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Janner, Greville
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Khabra, Piara S
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Livingstone, Ken
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) McCartney, Ian
Canavan, Dennis McKelvey, William
Carrington, Matthew McMaster, Gordon
Cohen, Harry Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Corbyn, Jeremy Milburn, Alan
Cousins, Jim Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Cox, Tom O'Hara, Edward
Dalyell, Tam Pike, Peter L
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Dewar, Donald Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Dixon, Don Rendel, David
Dowd, Jim Sedgemore, Brian
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wicks, Malcolm
Skinner, Dennis Winnick, David
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wise,Audrey
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Tellers for the Ayes:
Stewart, Allan Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and
Touhig, Don Mr. John McWilliam.
Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Alan Duncan and
Mr. Michael Stern.

Whereupon MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 36 (Majority for closure or for proposal of Question).

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

2.24 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) made an extraordinary statement this afternoon, when he seemed to imply that simply because a private Member's Bill was high on the list, it should be entitled to a Second Reading. If and when there is a Labour Government—which is an unlikely prospect, with the polls today showing that the Conservatives are creeping up and poised for victory in the light of the gross hypocrisy vouchsafed the nation by the Labour party in recent weeks—they would never allow a Conservative Member to introduce a private Member's Bill and grant it a Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman's statement was absurd. It is a pity that he was too frit to give way to me, so that I could question him on that point.

The arguments supporting my hon. Friend the Minister make it absolutely clear that the Bill would result in more legislation, which would not create jobs for people over 50 but would destroy jobs for everybody. The Government have a proud record of job creation, and it is the best in Europe. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Hon. Members only have to examine the employment statistics, which show that this country has more people in work and fewer people out of work than any other major nation in Europe. The Bill would lead to more regulation of the labour market, which would destroy jobs for everybody.

The Bill is also philosophically wrong, because people should not be forced to do what is right. All right hon. and hon. Members are united in believing that it is wrong to discriminate against people because of their age. We all accept that people over the age of 40 or 45 have much to offer, in terms of experience and dedication. The House is not united on the premise that that objective must be achieved by over-regulation of the labour market.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) failed to prove that his Bill, which a number of hon. Members said was flawed, would be effective. The evidence that prompted the proposed legislation is contradictory.

Mr. Stern

My hon. Friend is right to say that the House is united against age discrimination, but one principle that has not entered into the debate contradicts the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I refer to the principle that an employer should be free to hire whomsoever he chooses.

Mr. Leigh

Of course that is right. There may be good reasons for an employer including certain attributes in an advertisement. It would be absurd to lay down what should or should not be included in recruitment advertising.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman argues, together with other Conservative Members, that legislation that has remained on the statute book for 30 years—certainly that on race and gender—was wrong. In many cases, employers would not have chosen to employ people who were not white. The Race Relations Act 1965 has worked very well.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman has made that point several times, but it is not proven. Age discrimination is different. One cannot change one's race—but one's age, by its very nature, changes as one gets older. It is ridiculous to put age on a level playing field with race.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North said that his Bill would not lead to over-regulation. Last year, I attended debate on the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill, which we were told would not lead to over-regulation. I have now heard a rumour that that measure, which received its Second Reading on a wet Friday morning with half a dozen people in the Chamber, would lead to 1,000 new regulations being imposed on that industry. The hon. Member for Walsall, North said that his Bill would not result in extra compliance costs. What of all the legal bills to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred?

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that that Bill was carried after the shock that the House felt at the needless deaths of four children in a tragedy at sea? The House was quite right to consider it necessary to pass such a Bill, and I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman has seen fit not to mention the tragedy in this context.

Mr. Leigh

I did not want to waste the time of the House, or to be out of order, by dealing at length with that Bill. Today's Bill, we are told, will not lead to over-regulation. But it will, and it will destroy jobs.

Under this successful Conservative Government, in the United Kingdom non-wage labour costs are 15 per cent., in France they are 29 per cent., in Germany 24 per cent. and in Spain 25 per cent. That shows the cost to jobs and the creation of wealth imposed by extra regulations. The figures mean that UK unemployment—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 19 April.