HC Deb 12 July 2000 vol 353 cc873-7 3.43 pm
Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the establishment of an Age Equality Commission to advise the Government on discrimination issues in relation to older people. In moving this ten-minute Bill on such an historic day as today, Madam Speaker, it would be remiss of me not to say that I hope that the age discrimination faced by many in Britain today will not affect you in your long and happy retirement.

Since arriving in the House in May 1997, my weekly constituency surgeries have introduced me to the experiences of hundreds of constituents who feel that they have met the barriers of age in their daily lives. It is my judgment from those interviews that age discrimination is a persistent and disturbing problem which faces far too many in our community.

Like many of our finest seaside communities, my constituency has a higher than average proportion of older citizens. I am grateful for recent research undertaken at the university of Sheffield by Professor Paul Whiteley, who ranked Scarborough and Whitby 37th out of all English and Welsh constituencies in terms of population over the age of 40.

With one in four of my local community of formal pensionable age, compared to a national average of around two out of 11, and seven out of 10 adults in Scarborough and Whitby aged over 40, it is perhaps not surprising that many of my constituents bring their concerns about ageism to my offices in Whitby and Scarborough.

The important work undertaken by Professor Whiteley was commissioned by Age Concern England and published on 4 July this year. It amplifies the demographic patterns that will frame policy-making decisions in the House, and serves as a useful statistical benchmark for the anecdotal evidence presented to many right hon. and hon. Members, including myself, by thousands of ordinary British people who imagined that they had every right to expect a fair deal as they got older. I also commend the excellent work co-ordinated by Age Concern and its partners throughout last year, which is appropriately entitled "The Debate of the Age."

The experiences of people in Scarborough and Whitby have given me the opportunity to work alongside local members of ARPO50—the Association of Retired Persons over Fifty. Through that dialogue, which rapidly developed a national dimension, the principles behind my proposed legislation became focused on the need for urgent action. My Bill therefore seeks to encourage and support the Government in their fight against age discrimination.

Every hon. Member has first-hand experience or anecdotal evidence of discrimination in the workplace, but the evidence presented to me is more wide-ranging and covers almost every aspect of modern life, such as access to financial services, the national health service, educational opportunity, the voluntary sector, and even everyday occurrences such as attempting to hire a motor car.

A well-known bank has a policy of not lending to people over the age of 65. The reason is the unspoken fear of having to fight the estate if the person dies before the loan is repaid. A certain well-known bank has an age restriction of 65 for telephone banking. The justification is that people over 65 have a problem remembering their PIN number, which is essential for all telephone banking procedures. I could cite many other examples from the financial sector.

A national survey on age discrimination in 1998 found that almost 8 million people had experienced discrimination in employment, and 33 per cent. of over-50s say that they have experienced age discrimination. Studies suggest that the age at which discrimination is experienced is falling. Age discrimination is perceived to start at 42, according to a survey conducted in 1998.

Back in 1975, 95 per cent. of men aged 55 to 65 were in employment. The proportion is now closer to 60 per cent. It is estimated that only one in three people over 40 will be working by the end of this year. A man made redundant in his 50s is 50 per cent. more likely than a working man to die within five years of stopping work.

Age Concern's on-going health campaign has gathered evidence from 2,000 people and their families which shows that, across the board, older people experience discrimination in the NHS. A survey earlier this year found that one in 20 people over 65 feel that they have been refused treatment in the NHS. Almost 2 million—one in 10—say that they have received different treatment since their 50th birthday. I could give much more anecdotal information, but in proposing the Bill, I want to go beyond the anecdotal and the objective by offering a more analytical approach to inform the Government and policy makers of the problems that face every community in the land.

Last weekend, I attended a community fair in Whitby where I was surprised by further first-hand experience of age discrimination. The local scouting group displayed its excellent range of youth activities, but was attempting to recruit a new adult leader. The current leader thanked me for the action that I intended to take today and for raising the issue. When he turns 65 in a few months time, he will be forced to retire from the scouting movement. He is fit, motivated and enthusiastic about working with the younger generation. Seeing him forced out of his voluntary position in a respected, people-focused organisation has left me wondering why that organisation is practising such discrimination, which I am sure the House would wish to reject.

I want the commission to deal with such issues as it attempts to influence policy makers and voluntary organisations. Discrimination in any form disfigures and blights our society. With an increasing number of people approaching the formal age of retirement, it is essential that the size of the problem should be measured so that appropriate community-inspired solutions can be introduced to limit its effects.

My proposal has received wide support across the House. That mirrors feeling across the nation. I hope that my proposal finds favour with the House as it exemplifies what this place should be all about—offering solutions to problems rather than simply presiding over them.

3.52 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), and I pay tribute to him for his passion and eloquence. His command of the statistics showed how thoroughly he had researched the matter.

That said, I must disagree with him. I do not favour commissions of the sort that he wants to create. They would divide our people into competing interest groups, often antithetical to one another. Logically extended, his proposal would leave us with commissions for fat people or for any number of other groups. It is fundamental that the House should act as guardian of the interests and rights of our people. It is for us to advise the Government and hold them to account. We should not set up commissions to take on our role.

The bare-faced cheek of the hon. Gentleman's proposal astounds me. The Government's record on age is breathtakingly at odds with his views. Our nation has, through its institutions, acquired a dignity of age over many centuries, but the Prime Minister has characterised the land as a young country. What sort of message was that supposed to convey? The Government's own supporters have eloquently pointed to their failure in these matters. I draw to the House's attention the words of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in the address and reply debate that opened this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman said: As this is confession time, I admit that I went away shortly after the election… I came back to find that I am indeed part of an excluded generation—the rising-60s. To paraphrase Wordsworth in "The Prelude": "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive—but to be old was something of a disadvantage." That is the situation in which I find myself.—[Official Report, 16 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 304–05.] The hon. Member for Great Grimsby spoke eloquently for that generation of Labour Members who were beyond the opportunities afforded by those on the Treasury Bench. However, those on the Treasury Bench throughout this Parliament have not acquired the dignity and wisdom of age; they are entirely bereft of it. If the hon. Gentleman's Bill, and the case for it, were to have any credibility, the Government should set an example themselves. Perhaps Labour Members have become so desperate about there being any Government action on the issue that they have had to resort to the motion. The House should deny them the opportunity.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 7.

Division No. 264] [3.56 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Allan, Richard Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Berry, Roger
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Best, Harold
Ashton, Joe Blizzard, Bob
Atherton, Ms Candy Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Atkins, Charlotte Brake, Tom
Baker, Norman Brand, Dr Peter
Ballard, Jackie Breed, Colin
Barnes, Harry Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Barron, Kevin Burnett, John
Beard, Nigel Burstow, Paul
Begg, Miss Anne Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Llwyd, Elfyn
Cann, Jamie Love, Andrew
Casale, Roger McFall, John
Caton, Martin McIsaac, Shona
Cawsey, Ian McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Chisholm, Malcolm MacShane, Denis
Clapham, Michael Mahon, Mrs Alice
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Mallaber, Judy
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Clwyd, Ann Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Coaker, Vernon Martlew, Eric
Coleman, Iain Meale, Alan
Connarty, Michael Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Corbett, Robin Moran, Ms Margaret
Cotter, Brian Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Crausby, David Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Mudie, George
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Dalyell, Tam Naysmith, Dr Doug
Darvill, Keith Norris, Dan
Davey, Edward (Kingston) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Olner, Bill
Davidson, Ian Öpik, Lembit
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Dawson, Hilton Perham, Ms Linda
Dismore, Andrew Pickthall, Colin
Dobbin, Jim Pike, Peter L
Donohoe, Brian H Plaskitt, James
Doran, Frank Pond, Chris
Drew, David Pound, Stephen
Edwards, Huw Powell, Sir Raymond
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Fabricant, Michael Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Prosser, Gwyn
Flynn, Paul Purchase, Ken
Foster, Don (Bath) Quinn, Lawrie
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Rapson, Syd
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Fyfe, Maria Rendel, David
Galloway, George Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Ruane, Chris
Gibson, Dr Ian Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Golding, Mrs Llin Salmond, Alex
Gorrie, Donald Salter, Martin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Sanders, Adrian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Sarwar, Mohammad
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Sawford, Phil
Gunnell, John Sedgemore, Brian
Hancock, Mike Shaw, Jonathan
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hepburn, Stephen Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Hood, Jimmy Skinner, Dennis
Hope, Phil Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hurst, Alan Squire, Ms Rachel
Illsley, Eric Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Jenkins, Brian Steinberg, Gerry
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Stevenson, George
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Khabra, Piara S Tonge, Dr Jenny
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Trickett, Jon
Kumar, Dr Ashok Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Winnick, David
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Tynan, Bill Woolas, Phil
Vis, Dr Rudi Wray, James
Ward, Ms Claire Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Watts, David Wyatt, Derek
Webb, Steve
Welsh, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
White, Brian Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Mr. John McDonnell.
Blunt, Crispin Nicholls, Patrick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Robertson, Laurence
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Gray, James Tellers for the Noes:
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mr. Eric Forth and
Maclean, Rt Hon David Mr. Desmond Swayne.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lawrie Quinn, Mr. Jim Murphy, Mr. Michael Fabricant, Lorna Fitzsimons, Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, Mr. John Grogan, Mr. Douglas Alexander, Mr. Richard Allan, Mr. Stephen Twigg, Ms Claire Ward and Mr. Andrew Reed.