HL Deb 14 February 1991 vol 526 cc216-7

3.24 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they are taking to ensure that jobcentre staff receive training about age discrimination and the problems of older workers.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, jobcentre staff have been given instructions and guidance on challenging age limits on vacancies notified by employers. Jobclub leaders are also aware of the particular problems faced by older people and have been given appropriate guidance.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, is he aware that last year a survey of older workers in the age group with which we are concerned revealed that 80 per cent. of those who had attended interviews but had been refused jobs, even though they had the necessary skills, were of the opinion that this was due to the age factor? If that is the case, will the Government be prepared to consider introducing appropriate legislation, as has been done in other countries?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government's view is that employers must make full use of the talents of older workers, especially as the number of young people declines. We believe that all employers should treat all applicants on merit and abandon the use of arbitrary age limits in recruitment. Older people can often bring valuable qualities of skill, experience and reliability to a job and employers must be prepared to be flexible in their own interests as well as those of the people who apply for the jobs.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that most people over the age of 50—that is the age group about which we are talking, not the over-seventies—would prefer to make a contribution to society rather than being classed, as it appeared from yesterday's debate, as being a drain on younger people in the working population? That opportunity must be made available to them because they have the necessary skills and talent.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. In fact, there are more than 4.5 million people in employment aged 50 or over. That figure represents 20 per cent. of the working population.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recall that the survey mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick pointed out, among other things, that two-thirds of employers are still doing nothing about the projected shortage of skills and labour? Is there not, therefore, a need for legislation to prevent some of the discrimination which still exists in regard to older workers?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government do not believe that legislation is the right way to tackle age discrimination. In certain circumstances, the age of an applicant can have a bearing on his or her suitability for a job. In our view, the employer is in the best position to make a judgment of that nature. Legislation that attempted to take account of that would be difficult to devise and even more difficult to enforce.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are numerous cases on record which show that when jobs are advertised in the press and various other places the age requirement is often stated in the advertisement? Do the Government have an opinion on that practice? Is not that going too far and should not such activity be outlawed?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have with me a copy or the instructions which have been circulated to jobcentres. It would not be appropriate for jobcentres to refuse to accept advertisements for vacancies which stipulate age limits as they are not illegal. However, our instructions state that, even if an employer insists on specifying an age restriction in an advertisement for a vacancy, it should not prevent staff from approaching him on behalf of clients whom they consider to be suitable for the vacancy but who do not fall within the specified age range.

Bareness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are two simple pieces of legislation that he can use as specimens—the sex discrimination and race discrimination legislation?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government do not believe that age discrimination is on a par with race and sex discrimination from which a person can suffer unfairly at any stage in life.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in the House we accept the principle of the older the better?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Hear, hear!

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble friend is right. There are many wise heads on old shoulders.