HL Deb 15 December 1993 vol 550 cc1403-37

6.10 p.m.

Lord Stallard rose to call attention to the final report of the Carnegie Inquiry into the Third Age; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I first put down the Motion for debate last April almost immediately following the final report of the Carnegie Inquiry. I do not complain about the delay between April and now. In fact, I do not believe that that delay has diminished in any way the importance or relevance of the report. I hope that our short debate will demonstrate that fact.

It is a pure but fortunate coincidence that the debate takes place today; it happens to be the finale of the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between the Generations. I hope that the outcome of our debate, and the proposals contained in the Carnegie Report, may be considered by the European Commission for Social Affairs when it contemplates the next steps following the European Year.

I have been asked, "What is the third age?" It is difficult to define it precisely. We are defining it as the age between 50 and 74 years, before the fourth age. The fourth age is usually termed as the age of almost total dependency. We consider the years between the ages of 50 and 74 to be roughly the third age.

The Carnegie Inquiry was prompted by one of the great social achievements of the 20th century. For the first time in history most people are emerging from full-time work, from bringing up a family, or both, with 20 or 30 years of active life ahead of them. Gone are the days when it was assumed that one would retire, have a couple of years' rest, put one's feet up, and would then either become mentally impaired or would be dead. It is different now. One can rest for perhaps two years but one cannot say that one will rest for 20 to 30 years. One has to do something else for those 20 or 30 years. That is the aspect that the report covers. That is what we are discussing.

It is the view of the report that either new opportunities must be created or major problems will arise now, and even more so in the future, depending on whether attitudes change and new strategies are implemented by the Government, employers, trade unions, local authorities, voluntary bodies and others.

The inquiry took three years to complete. Nine research reports were published, covering employment, income, learning, leisure, homes and travel, caring, volunteering, citizenship and health. In April this year a 157-page final report summarising the key findings of the research studies and the inquiry's main conclusions and recommendations was published. Nowhere in the world has such a comprehensive report been undertaken. It has produced detailed information which will be useful for many years to come.

The report considers the issues with regard to the individual, economy and society. The report relates to opening up choices and removing barriers. It is not prescriptive in telling people what they should do. There are already many wonderful opportunities in the third age for active, healthy and relatively well-off people. There is, however, colossal disadvantage among poor and poorly-educated people. The inquiry has highlighted the problems of that disadvantage.

The report expresses concern that the spread of income has widened considerably in recent years. It points out that the average income of the bottom fifth of pensioners is now 17 per cent. of the average income of the top fifth. Nearly 60 per cent. of pensioners have a private income of less than £20 per week. Many remain dependent on the state pension for the majority of their income, and yet the value of the state pension is decreasing.

The final report listed 70 proposals for action. I cannot deal with all 70 proposals in this short debate. However, they include the creation of a permanent independent body to monitor the third age issues at national level and the need for a focal point for third age issues to be established within government. The idea of an interdepartmental ministerial committee which could take a strategic long-term view across all areas of policy has long been supported by the All-Party Group for Pensioners in the House of Commons, Age Concern, England, and the House of Lords All-Party Group on Ageing, of which I have the privilege to be chairman. An interdepartmental committee would be able to make a comprehensive survey of all the aspects and implications of an ageing society. It would also be ideally placed to assess the impact of new policies and to ensure that they remain appropriate as the population ages.

In a debate in your Lordships' House in 1991 about: the need for such a committee, there was general agreement about the need for a proper and full assessment of the implications of current demographic trends. The Government recognise that our ageing population presents us with both challenges and opportunities. Yet they remain reluctant to set up a full cross-departmental inquiry. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister has any comments about the proposal.

Political debate on the implications of our ageing society has focused primarily on the demographic time bomb, the "economic burden", and the prospects of meeting the costs of a changing demographic structure. The effective policies to meet the challenge of an ageing population must be based on a clear understanding of the implications for society and the economy as a whole. The pattern of demographic change must be looked on as an opportunity, not simply as a cost-cutting exercise. Surely the longer people in their third age can maintain their independence and postpone the "fourth age"—the age of increasing dependency—and the more they can become net contributors to society, the better it will be for them and for everyone else.

The report recognises that factor. With a steadily ageing population and longer life expectancy, it is increasingly difficult for society to provide adequate levels of pensions, education, health and care services for the young, and the frail old, at acceptable levels of tax and contributions. That is a recognised fact. It makes no sense therefore for people in their third age to add to those problems by becoming dependants, rather than contributors, simply because of age.

A few up-to-date statistics might help to put the matter into perspective. In 1991, 50–74 year-olds represented 24 per cent. of the total population. By 2021 their numbers will have increased to 30 per cent., almost a third of the population. The number of people over present pension age amounted to 11 million in 1991. By 2031 that figure will be 16 million. The number of children and pensioners per 100 people of working age in 1990 was 63. By 2031 it is estimated that the figure will be 77. That is 77 children and pensioners per 100 people of working age. That is an issue which has to be considered now, not when we are almost in that situation.

The current state pension as a percentage of male earnings is 16 per cent. If price indexation is maintained and employers' and employees' national insurance contributions remain at the present level of 19 per cent., pensions as a percentage of earnings will become 8.5 per cent. in 2030. That is about half the current level. Retaining the present 16 per cent. relationship between pensions and earnings would require national insurance contributions to rise from 19 per cent. to 26 per cent. by 2030. Those are the kinds of problem which we ought to be considering in depth and in detail now. Thus, we need a complete re-think of policies and attitudes, planning for 20 years ahead when the baby boomers of a few years ago retire and enabling third-agers to undertake real work in good quality jobs, which may often be on a part-time or self-employed basis.

In that context, one of the key concerns of the inquiry and an issue which has been of continuing interest to the House of Lords All-Party Group on Ageing is the problem of age discrimination which older people face. We all remember the valiant efforts of our late colleague, Lady Norah Phillips, in the context of age discrimination. The Carnegie Inquiry recommends a comprehensive attack by the Government, employers, trade unions, local authorities and others, and by the media, on age discrimination and other barriers to older people working; a firm statement from Her Majesty's Government, with a code of practice and action by the Government as an employer, to encourage voluntary means, as far as possible, to monitor progress and to be prepared to legislate if necessary if the voluntary approach does not succeed.

Another key recommendation of the inquiry calls on the Government and others to regard education and training not as an initial, vocational process for a short period of time, as we seem to accept now, but as a life-long, continuing process for all, providing greater access and opportunities for learning so that people of all ages can maintain their skills, fulfil their potential and enjoy their later years. That calls for additional resources, but not at the expense of younger age groups. The report also goes into that in some detail. There is a need for cheap and accessible courses, and the inquiry was concerned about the decrease in local authority adult education provision.

The report also highlighted the position of carers. One-fifth of third-agers had caring responsibilities and half of all carers were in their third age. Although sex distribution among older carers was fairly even, women tended to be at the heavy end of the caring process. Many carers are losing pension rights or using their savings to exist. Their needs had to be given priority, according to the report. Older volunteers could also play an important lay role in caring. Employers could play a bigger part than they do now by helping employees with caring responsibilities. For myself, I should like to see a more detailed debate on issues involving caring and carers early in the new year. I shall do what I can to stimulate that debate. Meanwhile, I should again welcome comments from the Minister on what proposals the Government may have at the moment to improve carers' benefits and recognition of their worth and needs, as outlined by the inquiry, even in advance of the implementation of all their recommendations.

I have dealt with just a few of the issues and sketched them out, but, before closing my remarks, I ought to commend the Carnegie United Kingdom trustees for their vision, not only in establishing the inquiry but also in establishing a further set of arrangements for following up with a programme aimed at implementing its recommendations. It is a tremendous task and I think that the inquiry has produced a wonderful report.

I hope that the House will welcome the report and support the inquiry's clear call for action by the Government, by employers, local authorities and individuals of all ages, accepting, in the words on page 103 of the Carnegie Report, that the third age is not a short rest before dependency or death. It is an important and lengthening stage of the life cycle which nearly all will experience".

With thought and preparation, it can, in my view, be made vastly more rewarding. That would fit in quite neatly with the events that have taken place during the European Year and what we hope will come from it.

A third age programme will be set up to implement the recommendations and proposals contained in the report and I look forward to the provision of new reports upon the implementation. I beg to move for Papers.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for the way in which he has introduced this important and challenging debate. In introducing the Motion, he rightly spoke to the report as a whole and showed clearly how widely the Carnegie Inquiry ranged over the subject of the third age. For my part, I propose to concentrate on those aspects of the problem or opportunity, as Age Concern would have it, of which I have some experience: namely, the chapters concerning employment and training.

The report highlights the fact that the third age is a new phenomenon and that for the 14 million people now aged between 50 and 74 in the United Kingdom, introduction to it means a switch from full-time work to a period of rest and inactivity that is sudden and compulsory. In a memorable phrase to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has already referred, the report says: Resting for two years may be fun, but how many people really want to rest for 20 years?". We are told, moreover, that the new third age will become more, not less, important and that in our ageing society either younger workers must support an increasing proportion of inactive older people or people must continue to work for longer.

The advisory committee which prepared the report considered it essential that the substantial and growing proportion of the active independent adult population should contribute to society through paid work or in other ways. It did not think that there was an inherent conflict between this and greater individual freedom and choice because it believed that most people found life more satisfying if they were involved with others and able to contribute as well as to take.

The committee recognised, however, that a whole range of attitudes and policies and sheer lack of information stand in the way. For me, perhaps the most telling paragraph of the report was paragraph 2.3 which states: We need to establish that the third age is not about retirement from activity into a long holiday, is not just about consumption, is not an apprenticeship for a fourth age of dependency, is not the prerogative of the well to do, is not a transient phenomenon or a far-fetched invention. It is here now for large numbers of people, including many who are severely disadvantaged and the numbers will grow. Our society needs to develop a norm of continuing and changing activities, some paid and some not, for everyone for so long as health lasts. This is the central issue of our Inquiry". I turn now to more specific employment issues. The committee acknowledged that it was entirely understandable that in times of high unemployment, as at present, younger and prime age workers were often given priority for jobs. For my part, I would go further and say that in general in such times, if any age group has to miss out, it should not be school-leavers and people bringing up children. It can, therefore, only be those for whom that period is past. I therefore sympathise with the way in which enlightened employers, with the support of trade unions, continue to use occupational pension schemes to offer attractive terms for early retirement, thereby avoiding or limiting costs to their firms.

On the other hand, having once had direct experience of problems associated with early retirement in a large company, I have had occasion to observe the miserable waste of talent that that produces. The question then arises as to what more can be done now, through training and in other ways, to ensure that use continues to be made of that potential.

The report points out that employers do not normally have specific policies about older workers. That view is supported by research sponsored by, among others, Metra, a consortium of local authorities with a common interest in recruitment and retention. The research showed that only 27 per cent. of the local authorities surveyed had undertaken a review of their personnel policies to check for age discrimination. The attitude of line managers in job selection was found to be crucial. I can well understand that. Yet 44 per cent. of respondents felt that the attitude of line managers recruiting older workers was an obstacle.

The Carnegie Report tells us that what employers do have are stereotypes which have a great influence on how they recruit, train and promote. In general, older workers are perceived to be less productive, to have fewer relevant skills and to be less trainable, so that training them to provide the relevant skills has a low rate of return. Yet evidence from the health study referred to in Chapter 3 of the report shows that: third agers are able to learn well and work productively provided they are not pressured, learn on the job rather than by memorising instructions, so far as possible build on previous experience, and are not given tasks involving a lot of physical strength or quick reaction times. Another misconception identified by the Institute of Management Studies is that older workers are likely to leave quickly. In fact, numerous findings show that, once recruited, they are likely to stay longer with an employer than are younger people.

Against that background, the inquiry has recommended remedial action by central government, employers and trade unions. Specifically, it says that government should end discrimination against older people in the provision of employment training; increase resources to achieve that without reducing training for other age groups; and ensure that training and enterprise councils—and in Scotland, local enterprise companies—set targets for training those over 50 and monitor their implementation. In addition, government should work with TECs and LECs to support the development of much more and better training for older workers by employers, including of course all employing authorities for which government are responsible. I gladly endorse those recommendations, and I ask the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, when he replies to say how far the Government are also prepared to do so. In particular I should be grateful if he would confirm my understanding that unemployed older workers are in future to be offered the opportunities to retrain up to the age of 63 on Training for Work, the scheme for the long-term unemployed, the current age limit being 59.

That brings me to the question of the recruitment of older workers. Nearly five years have passed since Lady Phillips, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, rightly paid tribute, secured the agreement of this House to a Bill which sought among other things to make it unlawful to specify an upper age limit in job advertisements or to refuse a job to someone on grounds of age alone. Speaking in the Second Reading debate on that Bill, I supported its underlying concept but said that, if there were to be statutory sanctions against age discrimination, there would be, as in the case of the United States, the need to consider exceptions to the general rule—for example, on grounds of public safety, or where a firm could demonstrate that an effect of having no age limit would be to distort the age distribution of its employees.

Although on that occasion the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said that the Government did not believe that people should be written off on grounds of age, they had grave reservations about legislating in that field. Since then, there has of course been no such legislation. But as the Carnegie Report made plain, the more imminent prospect of demographic change means that both government and employers now need urgently to look ahead 20 years, to when what has been called the baby boom generation will approach retirement. The population of working age will then fall; the retired population will rise; and the transfer of resources from workers to retired people will increase the tax and contributions burden on those at work. In the words of the report, The best single contribution to reducing the burden is to enable and encourage third agers to work within a job creating economy. The potential economic benefits to both older and younger people, to employers and to the national economy are enormous". In its conclusions concerning employment, the report notes how the content and organisation of work are gradually being transformed by information technology; a smaller core workforce; growth in casual part-time and self-employment; and a growing service sector. Those trends favour the kind of work which third agers often want, but such work requires personal and technical skills which they lack. The report states that opportunities for people in the third age are largely determined by their second age training and experience. It is therefore essential that steps should be taken now to ensure that the baby boom generation benefits from lifelong training and re-skilling.

More specifically, in its proposals for action, the committee recommends that employers should follow the key suggestions in a code of practice produced by the Institute of Personnel Management in 1991. Foremost among those is that the use of age related criteria should be challenged in every aspect of decision-making. Further, in adapting their policies to realise the potential of older workers, employers should use and extend the innovatory policies already developed successfully by some firms, for example in retailing, nursing and teaching. Perhaps I may say here that as a result of my own industrial experience I am a great believer in the efficacy of building on best practice in that way.

As regards action which government might take, the inquiry considered that on grounds of the national economy, equity and social cohesion—and also because labour market forces alone seem unlikely to change present damaging practices—the Government should take the initiative centrally to reduce unfair age discrimination and to promote the employment of older people.

I rather admired the pragmatic way in which the eminent members of the advisory committee, representative of many interests, set out how that might be done. One option, they said, would be for the Government to adopt a policy of eliminating age discrimination, except where it was specifically justified, backed by a code of practice published by government after debate in Parliament; follow that policy and code as an employer; and exhort others to do the same. The effect of that approach would be monitored by government and the results would be promulgated. I have some sympathy with that approach. Indeed, it is one that I have more than once suggested to the Government in relation to the subject of employee involvement. I did so most recently when the noble Lord, Lord Reay, asked his Unstarred Question a few weeks ago on employee share ownership. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, afterwards wrote to give me the Government's Answer. It was courteous but dusty. However, since such a course is the minimum action that the advisory committee suggested the Government should take, I hope that in his reply the noble Viscount will say whether the Government favour it in this case.

At the other extreme, the report states that the Government could intervene forcefully against discrimination, either through public sector programmes or by legislation. The intermediate option favoured by the inquiry would be to start with a voluntary approach and monitor progress, but make it clear that legislation would be introduced if a voluntary approach did not work. The Government could make that policy more effective by creating or supporting a monitoring agency to assess progress and advise on future action. If legislation were ultimately to be decided upon, initially that might be limited to the fields of recruitment, training and promotion.

I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, when he replies, will give at least a general indication of the Government's view on the inquiry's recommendations as to the action which the Government might take on these matters.

6.40 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for introducing this debate. It is an interesting and highly relevant topic for the nation. It is one that will require much debate and discussion probably over the next 20 years. This is not an issue for which one can pass a law and find that it will go away. That is why I feel that it is appropriate that we should be discussing this third age issue at the present time. It will be a continuing debate which will go on for some time to come.

I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, down the employment trail and try to avoid repeating his conclusions. He said nothing very much with which I disagreed. I see a great problem in the number of conflicting tensions in the employment of people in the third age; those are people aged 50 and above, some of whom are present in your Lordships' Chamber. By no means all Members fall into that category.

First, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said, there is the conflict caused by higher unemployment which encourages early retirement. That conflicts with the proposal of being able to work longer. That is one area of tension.

Secondly, today there are high costs of employment which were not there 20 years ago. Broadly speaking, that means that it is cheaper to employ people to work longer hours each day than to employ people to work a shorter day. It is cheaper for an employer to have two people working 12 hours a day than it would be to have three people working eight hours a day—to take figures of simple arithmetic. That causes tension by encouraging people to take opportunities for working longer.

Thirdly, there is tension between the frequent rigid programme of employment against the need for much more flexible employment. One of the points that comes over to me from the report is the need for flexible employment arrangements. Many of our employment arrangements are very rigid. That again causes tension.

The fourth area that I should like to highlight, and again it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is the fact that nowadays we press for early retirement to produce increased leisure. That places an added burden on the pension system.

So it seems to me that there are many conflicting tensions at which we need to look carefully. I believe that there is an ongoing need and there are no simple solutions to those problems of tension.

The report has the backing of a very experienced committee with members from both sides of your Lordships' House. When I saw the membership, I knew that it was composed of people with an enormous amount of expertise behind them. I am not surprised that they have produced this enormous tome for our digestion. In itself, it is an amalgam of reports, which is why the whole problem can appear to be so complex. But we need to think laterally and change our mind frame. We are moving into an era that is very different from the past.

Perhaps I may also touch on the matter of carers. I have not checked the figure but I believe that there are about 6 million carers in this country. The report highlights the fact that 20 per cent. of all third agers—all those between the ages of 50 and 74—are carers. That means that one in five of that age group, which covers a 25-year span, are carers. The carers form a very big group of people. I believe that they need special attention. In debates in this House we often refer to the problem of carers, who work very hard. Much has been said about them in recent legislation. We need to come back to them again. They are an important factor in the third age debate.

The report advocates early retirement from full-time core employment, so that people would then move into other categories of work. That is important. It needs much more investigation. There is a lot of experience available—I have not been able to find mention of it in the report—from sports people and military people, who all have this problem now. They leave their full-time core employment early. The military are always being made redundant, sometimes in their 30s or 40s and at the latest when they are in their 50s. Sports people cannot continue to run a 100-yard race for very long. There are already many people who must be retrained and who move into different spheres of occupation. I am not sure whether the report has drawn on the wealth of experience that must be there.

There are four points that I should like to make on the positive side of this issue. The first concerns flexibility. I believe that we need to explore many different avenues in the re-employment issue. We need to look at methods of self-employment and part-time employment that fit. It would mean fitting in a lot of different people and many different solutions are needed. Again, we cannot look rigidly at this matter. It must be examined laterally to see what a wealth of opportunities are available for people to move into different categories of work.

I agree with much of what is said in the report about moving into smaller units of self-employment so that people can work at the pace at which they want to work. I reckon that I now work at a slower pace than 30 years ago and I am sure that that is true of one or two other noble Lords as well. We need to be able to adjust.

My second point is also highlighted in the report. It concerns the matter of new training and re-skilling., which is a word that I have not come across before. The word "re-skilling" comes from the report. It is not a word that I have used before but I have learnt it now. Gradually, in the fast-changing world in which we live, many people's skills with which they have been working for 30 or 40 years are becoming obsolete. That exacerbates the need for retraining. A lot of the work that people have been doing for a long time is unsuitable for those in the older age group. I can think of many types of such work which depend on muscle and so on. We need to retrain people to work in new spheres. I am a solicitor and my firm has a continuing education programme. I have to take part in it just as much as people who are half my age. I believe that a continuing education programme is needed by the country in all spheres of life. Some companies are much better at it than others.

The third point that I would highlight from the report is that the age of 50 should be: a trigger for the process of review and re-planning That is a valid point. We must not get into a rut. Your Lordships are all young and active. I am sure that nobody in your Lordships' House is in danger of getting into a rut in the work they do and the life they lead. I believe that when we reach the age of 50, it should be a trigger to examine what we shall be doing for the next 20 years. The report makes a valid point on that. It should be a time for counselling, training and looking at how we are going to spend the next 20 or so years. It is not too early to think of change in whatever we are doing.

Fourthly, companies need to realise the potential of older workers. There are things that people with 30 years' experience can do which a lot of people half their age cannot do. Employers need to think through how to use people with a lot of experience but perhaps less energy to the best advantage of the company as well as of the individual. It needs lateral thinking. We must not let people just burn out and then throw them on the dung heap. That is an inhuman and immoral way of treating people. We need to show respect to our employees, to ourselves and to other people. The report highlights the need for that.

In conclusion, this is not the time for the Government to introduce quick legislation. We need more discussion and more encouragement of employers to think laterally about how to do the things which I have highlighted and which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, highlighted on the employment issue. We need more thinking and more discussion. I hope that the Government will encourage that. I commend the report.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, the report we are discussing is indeed a thorough and sophisticated investigation which raises a number of important and quite difficult questions. It has been very relevant to the work of the all-party group on ageing, of which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is the indefatigable chairman. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for his Motion and for his illuminating introduction to the debate.

The noble Lords who have already spoken have discussed various aspects of this wide-ranging report. For my part, I should like to concentrate on just one issue—the issue of income and in particular pensions—although I do so with considerable diffidence when I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, is to speak later in the debate and will have every opportunity of correcting the mistakes which I shall no doubt make. It sounds not a very exciting subject, but it is very important.

As the report points out, there is a great and growing disparity between those in this age group who are at the top of the income scale and those who are at the bottom. For pensioners, the average income of the bottom one-fifth is now only about 17 per cent. of the average income of the top one-fifth. That top one-fifth forms a comparatively prosperous section of our society, whom incidentally advertisers, for some reason, choose to ignore. But most pensioners have a pretty low income; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, pointed out, many of them remain mainly dependent on the state pension. Unfortunately for them, the decision taken in the early 1980s to switch the indexation of the pension from average earnings to the retail prices index has resulted in a steady reduction in its value, and it looks as though it will gradually fade away to comparative insignificance.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, quoted some figures which bear repetition. The pension has already shrunk to some 16 per cent. of average male earnings; and the report calculates that by the year 2030 it is likely to be down to about 8.5 per cent. Very formidable problems arising from those statistics lie ahead for the Government.

There is also the problem of pensioners' savings. We hear a great deal about the need to cut interest rates for the benefit of industry, mortgage payers and so on. We do not hear quite so much about the dramatic decline in income which those cuts mean to millions of elderly people. They may have put their life savings in a building society, or the post office, or a bank, only to see the interest payments which were planned to supplement their pension being reduced to a point where they are hardly visible to the naked eye. The Chief Secretary for his part never lets pass an opportunity to warn us against assuming that the state will support people in their old age. But for those in the age group we are discussing, self-help is not all that easy if one is having to care for an invalid spouse or if one cannot get a paid job because society deems that you are too old. But the story gets even worse.

Perhaps I may mention at this stage that I was the first chairman of the Occupational Pensions Board, now marked down for oblivion. If I learnt anything, it was that pensions are a very complicated subject which not everyone understands; that expert impartial advice is essential but hard to get; and that if one makes a mistake, one usually finds it out only when it is too late.

In the late 1980s this Government did two things. First, they encouraged people to contract out of the state earnings related pension scheme—SERPS for short—by offering rebates on contributions. Indeed, they are still at it. Only the other day they came out with new proposals for age-related rebates. Whether every one of the millions who contracted out took expert advice that the change would be for the better must be open to some slight doubt. The second thing that the Government did was to give full backing and incentives to personal pensions, with benefits governed by future investment returns, and to open the door for people to take out these personal pensions in place of those provided for in their occupational schemes. At a time of vigorous economic growth, booming markets and favourable terms for annuities, the private sector rushed to take advantage of these opportunities presented to them by the Government, and it rather looks as though expert salesmen turned from selling kitchenware and double glazing to selling pensions, handicapped only by ignorance of what they were selling. So-called independent financial advisers flourished, but most unfortunately they too depended on their commissions, and they made no money by telling someone that his best course was to do absolutely nothing and not to dream of leaving his company's scheme.

We are now beginning to find out the consequences. It turns out from an accountant's investigation that, out of half a million workers who opted out of occupational schemes and transferred to private schemes, around 80 per cent.—400,000 people—were badly advised and would have done better to have left their money where it was. The Securities and Investments Board is now engaged in a scrutiny of the individual cases and it looks as though compensation will be forthcoming in due course. But it is a mess. We have heard from the life assurance association—LAUTRO—and from the SIB. We have not heard very much from the Government who made it all possible and must have known about this sad state of affairs for quite some time.

Do not the Government have a troubled conscience about all that? Do not some of those responsible sleep a little uneasily at nights? By a fortunate chance, the Minister chosen to reply to this wide-ranging debate happens to be a Minister for the Department of Social Security. What a splendid opportunity the debate provides for him to tell us what the Government think about the whole matter and, in particular, whether—perhaps coupled with the Goode reforms—they will take steps to make pensions advisers truly independent and make it illegal for insurance companies to pay commissions. The inquiry was abundantly justified in expressing its unease about pensions—basic, personal and occupational. I trust that the Government are carefully considering its findings.

I have spoken of pensions; but there are many other issues, and that brings me to my final point; to repeat and emphasise the contention to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, refers regarding the need for a central focus in government. I suspect that in preparing for the debate, the Minister had to assemble briefs from a variety of sources. It may even be that he has developed a sneaking sympathy for the argument that there should be some part of the governmental machinery which should be responsible for bringing these issues together. Whether he will be able to say anything of comfort, we shall have to wait and see; but not for long. I hope that he can, for the report we are discussing is concerned with the well-being of a large section of our society which, in the right circumstances, could contribute so much more.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I join in the appreciation expressed to my noble friend Lord Stallard for his initiative in introducing the debate, not only on my behalf but also on behalf of the trustees of the Carnegie Trust, including the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who initiated the inquiry. The report amply justifies the decision of the trust to initiate and mainly to fund the inquiry, although in 1990 some of us felt that it warranted a full-scale Royal Commission with all the resources that would have been available. Alas, at that time Royal Commissions were out of fashion, although perhaps the Criminal Justice Royal Commission shows that it is coming back into fashion, and that is welcome. It is fortunate that the Carnegie Trust filled the gap.

As my noble friend Lord Stallard said, it is a happy coincidence that it is published in the EC Year of older people. "Solidarity between generations" is a phrase that filled me with awe when I first read it. When I saw it in German I was even more appalled, but I believe that it has a deeper meaning than I first realised. I am grateful too for the part played by Age Concern.

We, in your Lordships' House, ought to be the experts on the third age. It is sometimes said that this is the best day centre in London. I do not believe that is true. Day centres are for the fourth age, the age of dependence. Most of us typify the age of active independence after retirement—the "young-old" as we have been called. We know the advantages and disadvantages and the consolations of the third age. What we do not know—although the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, reminded us of it—is the worry of living on the edge of poverty which afflicts so many people in that age.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, reminded us, we know the value of keeping active and involved. If we are not in a rut, as he said, I suspect that that is due to the part that volunteering plays in the lives of so many Members of your Lordships' House. I shall speak specifically of that part of the report, Chapter 10—the other side of the coin to that spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.

The report draws attention both to the growing need for volunteers and to the rewards that volunteering offers, emphasising in particular that volunteering brings many of the rewards of employment, other than pay, including companionship, purpose, esteem and a time structure for one's life. Volunteering enables people to use their skills and to acquire new skills. Some of the best organisers of voluntary groups whom I know are former trade union officials and shop stewards. On the other hand, volunteering can help people to discover skills that they never knew they had, proving that everybody is good at something.

Despite that, volunteering falls in the years after retirement. As we were reminded, between the ages of 35 and 44, one-third of people are involved in volunteering; between 65 and 74 only one-fifth are involved. There is no shortage of organisations looking for older volunteers with the special gifts that they bring. In order to build bridges between voluntary organisations and potential recruits, a number of bodies have sprung up, notably the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme established by CSV. Last year the RSVP helped to place 2,000 volunteers in projects and between them they gave 400,000 hours of active participation and involvement in a range of voluntary causes—causes which ranged from providing secretarial help for the blind to the provision of multi-lingual guides for Westminster Abbey.

I commend particularly the work of the RSVP in the field of education. Many people have a wide range of skills, talent and experience to offer as volunteers in school projects. Under the guidance of teachers they can bring patience, understanding and common sense to a range of school activities. Indeed, an increasing number of schools are using older volunteers to help pupils with learning difficulties; to talk to groups about lifestyles and the customs of our younger days; and to share their special skills in such fields as art, crafts, electrical work or cookery.

RSVP emphasises that volunteers are not there to teach but to offer support to teachers. They must not substitute for or destroy paid jobs. It is important that the agreement of employees is secured before volunteers are used; that they receive appropriate training; that they are covered by insurance and receive out-of-pocket expenses. Much more needs to be done to make older people aware of the opportunities for and the satisfaction of volunteering. In a recent survey of why people over 50 do not volunteer, one of the main reasons given was, quite simply, "Nobody ever asked me". The report gives some useful advice on how central and local government can help bodies like the RSVP and the Volunteers Centre to publicise volunteering and recruit volunteers.

In particular it offers extremely useful advice on how unions and employers can help recruit and prepare older employees for volunteering, including those approaching normal retirement and those who, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, reminded us, are required to retire prematurely.

Encouraging people to live an active and fulfilling retirement should be as natural a subject for discussion between employers and unions as is the provision of proper pensions. Good employers already accept their responsibilities for the well being of their employees after retirement by providing pensions. They should be taking this a step further forward by providing information on and preparation for retirement, including information about opportunities for volunteering, and by giving people the time off to enable them to become involved in voluntary work before retirement, as well as by seconding employees to work with voluntary organisations and charities.

The obligations of industry to society do not stop when the finished product goes out of the factory gate. Managers and employees are, and should see themselves as, part of the society in which they live. For one thing, one day they are just as likely as anyone else to require the services and support of voluntary organisations, such as the Alzheimers Disease Society, the Red Cross or MENCAP. So it is in the interests of both managers and employees to support such bodies financially, to encourage people to become involved and to become involved themselves.

Another way in which management and unions can help to meet the needs of third agers was brought out in the chapter on caring in the report. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is to speak later and I know that with the depth of her knowledge of and commitment to this area she will undoubtedly speak very much more eloquently than I can about the problems and opportunities of carers. However, I should like to underline a couple of points. As my noble friend Lord Stallard and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, have already pointed out, the report underlines the fact that one-fifth of third agers—that is, people aged between 50 and 74—are carers, and nearly half of all carers are in that age group. They are the main providers of care in the community. I hope that we shall not fall into the trap of delineating the concept of "the third age" simply by age because we should think of it as the time of independence before one degenerates and becomes dependent, at whatever age that might be.

Perhaps I may pick out for special emphasis—as does the report—the impact on so many carers of having to give up their jobs to care for a loved one. Not only do they lose their pay, but they lose their pensions and are thus condemned to lifetime poverty. What is more, when they stop work they often lose contact with their friends and are cut off from society. The report spells out the nature of and the reasons for the poverty of people in that category. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will speak about the improvements in benefits that are needed.

I should also like to point out, as has the Alzheimers Disease Society recently, the desperate need for more NHS psycho-geriatric continuing-care beds. Noble Lords have long drawn to the attention of the Government the scandal of the precipitate closure of psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps the Government will begin to listen as the death toll from suicide and violent attacks rises.

Returning to the report itself, it is not only central and local government which have obligations in this area. Where possible, carers should be encouraged and enabled to go on working, where appropriate on a part-time basis and with flexible hours and time off when that is essential. That, too, could well be the subject of joint initiatives by management and unions at local level, possibly linking up with the voluntary organisations in providing respite care and in offering, for example, transport facilities to disabled people and their carers.

A particularly valuable feature of the inquiry is that its work did not cease with the publication of the report. As my noble friend Lord Stallard pointed out, the Carnegie UK Trust has established a third age programme to follow up the report and to work with a range of governmental and non-governmental organisations to give effect to its proposals. I very much hope that the members of that programme including, I am delighted to say, my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden, will, among other things, be able to persuade employers and unions to put volunteering and caring on their agenda for action.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Dahrendorf

My Lords, I should like first to associate myself with those noble Lords who have spoken before me and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for initiating this important debate. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the Carnegie UK Trust for having undertaken the inquiry and produced a report which is full of information and ideas. It is a quarry—perhaps a treasure trove—in which we shall continue to find new elements as we return to it.

We are talking about a group that comprises 16 per cent. of the population of this country, rising to 20 per cent. in the next 40 years. Your Lordships will have noted the figures that I have used. Those percentages refer to the number of people in the population who are over 65. If there is one point on which I do not find the report excessively useful, it is on the age limits that it has chosen. That is true at both ends of the scale. As far as I can see, people of 50 and 55 are very active in our society, in our economy and in our lives in general. It is a sad fact that nowadays they are often the first hit by redundancies. I suspect that we shall see more redundancy among white-collar workers as the process of restructuring in industry and the services continues. However, that sad fact does not mean that we should immediately identify 50 and 55 year-olds with the third age.

I have long had a lot of respect for the late Congressman Pepper in the United States Congress, who, when he was 75, got legislation through Congress which raised the retiring age to 70 and who, when he was over 80, managed to get legislation through Congress which abolished the retiring age altogether with certain very limited exceptions, such as for airline pilots. In other words, I do not think that we should define "the third age" at too early an age.

Furthermore, I do not think that we should add the concept of "the fourth age" to that of the third age as we discuss this new and important issue. After all, it is barely more than two weeks since I saw in this House two noble Lords who, sadly, have since passed away but for whom I have long held great respect. I refer to Lord Bessborough, whom I knew when he was a Member of the European Parliament and who was active to the end of his days, and to Lord Hirschfield, whom I knew as a governor of the London School of Economics and who was also active to the end of his days. Both were 80. In my view, "active" is the key word. Activity is what is necessary for human beings at all stages in their lives. If there is a problem, it is in creating favourable conditions for activity for people who are 60, 65, 70, 75 or more.

I am sure that those of us who have at any stage been responsible for institutions can all remember the sad occasions when retirement led men in particular to a fairly rapid deterioration in physical appearance and in ability to organise their days. It is in that regard that many of us should start to think about alternatives. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, quoted the reference in the report to occupational trends favouring the kind of work which third agers often want". Now that I am head of a small business—I refer to the Oxford college of which I have the honour to be warden—I could not exist without retired police officers, car workers and secretaries who help in many ways, and sustain the institution itself, by their presence, contributions and experience, and, incidentally, not least by their ability to talk to young people, given the special relationship between grandparents and children, as against parents and children, at least in some cases.

In this connection, let me say a special word about education. Those of us who have taught, or who are teaching, know that there may be no group more grateful for education than those who have retired or who are in the more generously defined third age, as I should like to use the term. There is no group of people more grateful, because those people are highly motivated and they bring to bear on the education process an experience which one often has to begin to construct for young students, because they have not seen the world which education has to put into some sort of order for them.

Third age people learn for fun and for a purpose. They are therefore extraordinary students. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for using an example told to me by a Canadian friend who was dean of a faculty. He spoke of a lady of 86 who wanted to enrol in a computer course. When he asked her, "Do you have any previous knowledge of computing?", she said, "None". He said, "Well, in that case I recommend that you take the course which starts next spring". She said, "But who knows whether I shall still be around by that time?" I have told that story as an illustration of a particular kind of motivation. Something that is possibly useful, but, above all fun; something that people want to do; education which people genuinely seek; that education is not a matter of course nor is it a mere appendix to more traditional forms of education. In my experience, it is not good enough to say that it is nice to see a few elderly people in a class which is essentially a class of young students. A special effort is needed to satisfy the special needs of that group of people.

If I were not so much against government agencies—of many kinds—I should be tempted to say that instead of a teachers' training agency we should perhaps have a third age education agency. However, as I say, I am not sure that we should have any such agencies, but we should encourage, and encourage in every conceivable way, the opportunities which a University of the Third Age—a small, private, important initiative—and other institutions at many levels are already offering. We should encourage them, and ultimately there will need to be some financial support for some of them, but no doubt that is a matter which will be raised in further discussions in the House.

The important point is that people in the third age want to, and have to, do something rather than just sit around. It is bad enough that, as the Carnegie study tells us, working adults spend about 18 hours a week watching television, with, I believe, a little radio tacked on. In the case of working adults, radio is insignificant. It is worse when older men—it is less true of women, and there is a special question as to why in many cases women find it easier to cope with the challenges of the third age than men —spend 25 hours watching television. That is nearly a quarter of their waking hours. I am sure that one of the reasons for that is that there are not enough opportunities to do something, not enough opportunities for activity. By "activity" I mean doing something useful, meaningful and satisfying.

Of course—and here I support strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said—basic income security is a precondition. It is for that reason that pension arrangements are critical. It is probably no accident that the Reagan and Bush Administrations in the United States, whatever else they may have done, never touched what in America is called social security; that is, arrangements for old people. It is no accident because in America more than in this country, old people make their voices heard. It is on that note that I wish to conclude my brief reflection, which is highly supportive, on the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard.

We should not talk about the third age in terms of charity. We should not talk about the third age as if it embraced a group of fellow citizens for whom we feel sorry, or for whom we need to feel sorry; we should perhaps talk about them in the language of responsibility which we all have for everyone in our society. We should be aware also of the fact that third age people are independent. They are, for example, independent voters. They do not necessarily make up their minds on the basis of where they belong professionally, but think harder than others who find it more automatic to vote for one party or another. Who knows? —the kind of movement one has seen in some countries under the name of Gray Panthers may not turn into a political party, but it is a political force. We are not talking about a luxury. We are not talking about a charity. We are talking about one of the essential elements of a civilised society.

7.27 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this report, and I am grateful for the report itself. Perhaps I may draw attention to the fact that the Church of England produced a report on a similar subject but called it, rather depressingly, Ageing. I am happy to say that the study guide attached to it is called Happy Birthday Anyway. That seems to be better.

I wish to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said: there seems to be something arbitrary about taking the ages 50 to 74. I hope that we shall not become hooked on that bracket, and just use statistics from that bracket, which have an artificiality about them. Nevertheless, it helps us to focus on certain issues. The first upon which I should like to spend just a moment or two is the question of the right attitude to older people. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, has just said that we must not consider those people as people to be pitied.

It is strange how terminology often gives away our fundamental attitudes. We tend to talk about older people as being dependants, as are children, as though independence is the real, full humanity, and dependants are, to that extent, weaker and substandard. Surely the reality is that everyone is interdependent. We are all individuals, but we are all interdependent. Many so-called dependent people, like many handicapped people, have a major and positive contribution to make. Those of us who have handicapped people in our families, recognise that it is not a question of some people being handicapped and others not, we recognise that we are all handicapped; it is just that handicaps take different forms. Some people can be handicapped by slowness of mind and movement while others can be handicapped by quickness of tongue and temper. All of us are interdependent and have particular contributions to make.

Older people in the third age have a much better perspective of time. They are not so "busy-bodying", bustling and pre-occupied with trying to do too much. In 1855 Gladstone advised his son: We should deal with our time as we see a grocer deal with tea and sugar, or a haberdasher with stuffs and ribands: weighing or measuring it out in proportions adjusted to that we are to get for and by it". That was of course before the days of supermarkets. It indicates the way in which those of an older age group can produce a measured wisdom. By being the kind of people they are they give a surer perspective in relation to our tendency to busyness.

The Carnegie Report rightly focuses on the many activities open to people in the third age. It is also a time when people ask themselves fundamental questions about meaning and achievement and about worth and the purpose of life. We should encourage people in the latter part of their lives to feel good about life, to be grateful for it and to recognise that it has worth. I say do that; it can help people of other age groups to be more positive and less critical and questioning.

Other noble Lords have spoken about the opportunities for continuing learning. I know that many other countries have a University of the Third Age. I understand that the concept originated in France and now there are 160 Universities in Europe, mostly for people who have retired from paid employment. We have our Open University. I am not convinced that we want a University of the Third Age because a great deal can be gained by mature students being present with younger students. The interaction between them can be immensely beneficial.

The Carnegie Report looks at the opportunities across the board for adult learning. It rightly calls for the monitoring of some of the recent changes in our adult education pattern. Some of us expressed anxieties about that during debates on the Further and Higher Education Bill. I note that the Carnegie Report calls for funding procedures which will foster provision for older adult learners. I was glad to read that. Encouraging people of all ages to continue their education, formally or informally, could be a stimulus not only to them but to education as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, spoke in particular about volunteering. It is from this age group that we naturally look for voluntary carers, voluntary workers for charity and so forth. This is an enormous resource in our society. There is no fear that volunteers will replace paid employees but they could supplement and extend their work. It is slightly disappointing to note that there are not more volunteers from this age group. Page 83 of the Carnegie Report indicates that unless people volunteer earlier in life they will hesitate to give voluntary service in later years. That underlines the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Murray, about the importance of encouraging employers to allow their employees to undertake voluntary work.

I wonder whether our society has increasingly put a cash value on everything, including service and care. Perhaps that occurred because we were too readily supposing that there were unlimited financial resources for everything. But if one puts a cash value on everything, including caring for other people, that could lead people to believe, although it should not do so, that nothing is worthwhile unless it is paid for and that no service is worth doing unless you are paid for it. However inadvertently, that can discourage voluntary work. We need to think much more carefully about the need to encourage voluntary work among people in younger age groups so that those who have more time at their disposal can give even more. In doing that they can find immense fulfilment and a real purpose and can discover the need for further education and the value of it.

It seems to me that we have in this Third Age a growing resource which could benefit society. For that reason I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity to study this wide-ranging report. Much of it ought to be studied in the years to come.

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I echo those who have said that it is a great mistake to categorise people by age to the extent that it has been done in this report and in this debate. I take great exception to the cut-off age of 74, and there are other noble Lords in the Chamber who might agree with me. But we like to put labels on people. While I have the opportunity I shall get another objection off my chest. I strongly object to being called a senior citizen. No one talks about junior citizens. I do not mind being called an old woman because that is a statement of fact, but I shall not put up with being called a senior citizen.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this subject and wish to pick up some of the important and interesting points that have been made. I begin in particular with the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, about conflicts which may arise in dealing with this issue. Of course there are conflicts, but what is beneficial to people in their older years can be of great direct benefit to society as a whole. It need not be in conflict with the other objectives that we are pursuing or with the solutions to other problems that we are confronting.

I turn in particular to the aspect of employment. I notice that Professor Handy was a member of the Rowntree Committee. He made an important and convincing point: increasingly there will be a relatively small number of people who have what our generation has called "a normal working life" of full-time employment from leaving school or university until retirement but that many people will have what he calls "a portfolio of other jobs", which is a fortunate but slightly pretentious title. It will be made up of part-time and temporary work which, if that could be combined with some form of citizen's income, would be a satisfactory way of dealing with the employment problems of many people. It is what many women, either from choice or perforce, have done for a long time.

The need for a large number of people who can be employed on a part-time basis, which will be economic for employers because that is what they require, can fit in very well with the desires of older people. Surely it is the experience of us all that when people are reaching retirement age they do not want to work full-time until the age of 60 or 65 and then to stop dead. In too many cases that has been a literal description of what has happened. Most people want gradual retirement. They want the opportunity to change to part-time work earlier than the formal retirement age so that there is not a sharp break between being part of the world of work and being pushed outside to be on their own. Since that is the way we are going, surely we should seize this opportunity and plan so that we can make and develop schemes which give us the best possible opportunity of making it work.

That leads on to the point about the "trainability" of old people. Many years ago it was thought that one was quite incapable of learning anything after a comparatively early age. When I went into industry I was told—and the unions and everybody else believed it—that you could not take on a woman to be a stitcher over the age of 20. Come the war, we employed grandmothers as stitchers, and very good they were. It is farcical to believe that older people cannot learn new things.

It is at least 25 years since the Belbins in Cambridge demonstrated that old dogs, and for that matter old bitches, can learn new tricks, but they have to be taught in rather different ways. Given proper teaching and training methods, the learning capacity of older people is now beyond question.

A considerable help towards the desire of people for part-time work and gradual retirement to dovetail in with the needs of industry and the economy would be a decade of retirement. The idea that there is a particular age at which you retire is not only inappropriate for the requirements of today but also emphasises an approach to the whole question which is just the approach that we should get rid of; namely, that you go on in what is wrongly regarded as normal employment until a certain age and then you disappear off the scene and, with any luck, disappear out of everybody's way. That is not the way it will be and it is not the way that it should be.

There are plenty of opportunities for seizing the chance that part-time work can give. It is a case of going through the legislation and looking at ways in which quite small alterations could make those desirable developments very much better.

Other noble Lords have referred to the Bill to prevent discrimination on grounds of age in employment, which the late Lady Phillips took through your Lordships' House. She did not ask for anything very extensive but merely that people should at least be given the opportunity to reach the interview stage because it was to be prohibited to ask for the date of birth on an application form. While the date of birth is on the application form in times of unemployment, anybody involved in employment who wishes to reduce the application list is all too tempted to cut out people if they are above a certain age. That means that there is no opportunity for people even to reach the starting point of a job.

A task which I believe your Lordships' House should undertake is to go through the relevant legislation to see where quite small adjustments—in some cases they would not be small but in others they would—could make it easier for older people to obtain jobs, to stay in jobs and to receive training. A revival of the Bill proposed by Lady Phillips is surely long overdue and is a matter to which we should give immediate attention.

However, we are not concerned only with employment, important and central though I believe that to be. I am quite sure that it is keeping going which keeps people going. The fact that your Lordships' House has such a record of longevity I have no doubt has something to do with that.

There are other issues, matters and ways in which the Government could help directly by taking action which would not be difficult for them to take; for example, providing jobs for older people which meet publicly recognised needs. Many older retired people have skills or knowledge of some kind which could be extremely useful if an attempt were made to use it. The right reverend Prelate referred to the University of the Third Age in other countries. There is a flourishing organisation in this country which calls itself the University of the Third Age. It is run by people who contribute voluntarily lectures and programmes which they are able to give from their knowledge, expertise and previous careers. It is a very active and thriving undertaking. There are a great many examples of its work. It is extremely strong in London but it exists also in other parts of the country.

Among those people, there are a number whose skills could be tapped to meet urgent needs at the present time. Those of us who have had anything to do with teaching know that there are many people for whom one-to-one teaching is of enormous value in achieving results. That was shown, was it not, in the literacy campaign? On a voluntary basis a great deal of literacy work was done with individual people coaching individual illiterate persons until they reached a level of literacy. We know that among our school-leavers and adult population there are still far too many illiterate, innumerate people. If we could harness the skills of older people on a one-to-one basis to coach those people, we should achieve very good results.

The same applies to languages. Among the University of the Third Age people, there are a number who came to this country as immigrants whose mother tongue is not English. Their abilities could be harnessed for teaching languages on a one-to-one or small-group basis where that knowledge is needed urgently. We must realise that if we are to penetrate not only the European markets but markets throughout the world, we must improve our language competence. A trawl through to find people who could give help with the learning of languages and with passing on their skills and knowledge would be a way in which those older people could increase their incomes and which would give them something very valuable to do. Moreover, it would meet needs with which we need to deal urgently.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, thought that I should say something about carers. As he pointed out, there are a large number of carers in the older age group. There is no doubt that their needs are acute and immediate. They call for immediate action. Of course, it is not quite nine months since the community care programme came into being, but, not surprisingly, there are already signs that there are weaknesses in the present scheme. If the Government are serious about helping people in the older age groups, it is important that they should look at what is going on.

I speak as the president of the Carers National Association and the president of the National Council for Domiciliary Services. Both of those organisations are deeply concerned about the limitations which still apply to the working of community care. The Carers National Association carried out a survey of 3,000 people. It has found that in far too many cases the advice which is being given is based not on an assessment of what is needed but on an assessment of what the local authority can afford at the time. We realise that all needs cannot be met, but the carers are asking—and cannot this be put across?—that the assessment should be based on what is needed. It should then be possible to work out what can be afforded. Far too often a package of help is presented which is not necessarily what the people concerned want.

I have an interesting example in which a man who was looking after his invalid wife wanted a home help, by which he meant someone who would help with the cleaning and washing up. However, he was offered instead someone who would bath his wife, whereas his wife preferred that he should bath her. Indeed, what they both wanted was someone not to wash her but to wash the floor. The system is so rigid that you can have someone you do not want to bath your wife but you cannot have someone to wash the dishes. It should not be difficult to alter. Of course, one would like more money put into the system, but at the very least we are asking that the available money should be spent in a way that is most suitable to meet the needs of the person and not in a way that fits the pattern that the local authority thinks appropriate.

I have one further point to make about the carers' issue. There was a very valuable attempt in another place to pass legislation to ensure that people offering private domiciliary care services were registered so that standards could be maintained. However, that Bill fell. It is vital that that should be done. The good private organisations offering such care want to be registered. The whole area is a happy hunting ground for cowboys. I am not saying that there are a great many of them, but people can offer domiciliary services to those needing care who are not in a position to protest about it if they do not like it. Such people can easily become the victims of a most undesirable —although no doubt small—group of people who are exploiting the situation. Registration such as that which the Member of the other place tried to introduce needs to be put in place so that the people involved can be inspected.

The two points that I have mentioned on community care represent action that the Government can take here and now to ensure that the desires and needs of the carers are looked at first. I underline the fact that I am not asking for more money—although perhaps that is the case. But with the given resources, the importance of registering people should be reconsidered. After all, they are going into the homes of other people who are vulnerable and in a very weak position to protest. I have tried to talk about the broader issues and also about the immediate action that the Government can take here and now if they take the problem seriously.

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, as other speakers have done, I should like first to thank my noble friend Lord Stallard for introducing a debate on such an important subject. I should, perhaps, explain that I am myself a member—a relatively new one—of the advisory committee established to follow up the recommendations made in the report. I believe it is quite important that that has been done. It shows that the intention is to try to follow through what has been recommended in the report.

My noble friend Lord Stallard explained what the third age is. The report identifies it as a new phenomenon. The increase in healthy life expectancy has been, as the report says, one of the greatest achievements of this century. When the state pension was first introduced in 1908 on a means-tested basis for those over 70, it was intended to provide for a very short period between 70 and death. The period then was very short. Indeed, I believe that only a relative minority of people actually reached the age of 70 at that time. In 1911, there were about 900,000 people qualified for that pension, whereas today we have 10 million state pensioners.

The report identifies the third age as people between the ages of 50 and 74. I have some sympathy with the remarks of some noble Lords who believe that it is all rather arbitrary. Nevertheless, it is an attempt to identify a major stage of life which now nearly everyone experiences. It is a time which can either be fulfilling and enjoyable—with children now reaching adulthood and no longer requiring support and with, perhaps, a lifestyle already established —or it can be one of decline and depression, with concerns growing about loss of income, loss of status possibly arising from job loss and concerns about health. Unfortunately, far too many of our fellow citizens appear to fall in that second category.

However, people in the categories covered by the report have a great deal to offer. Almost every speaker in the debate has made that point. The argument advanced in the report is that to disregard the potential would be a disaster both economically and socially. But the report also says that changes are needed in policy, attitude and behaviour. The report is enormously comprehensive, covering a wide range of issues. But I should like to concentrate on just three aspects, all of which are of particular concern to me.

First, there is employment. We all know that age discrimination takes place in employment. For example, I know from my own experience of cases where so-called voluntary redundancy has involved persuading people who do not want to retire to do so on an early pension. They will often feel that it is somehow not right for them to have jobs when other younger people do not have them. Sometimes employers have made mistakes in getting rid of older, experienced employees.

There is also the practice of advertising jobs with an age cap. Several speakers this evening made reference to my late friend Lady Phillips, who is unfortunately no longer with us. I well remember the attempt that she made in this House to get her Private Member's Bill, which would have outlawed such age discrimination, on to the statute book. She was successful in this Chamber, but I understand that the Bill made no further progress in the other place. Had Lady Phillips been with us this evening, I am sure that she would have been a participant in the debate.

The kind of discrimination that we have been discussing means that once many older people have lost their jobs the only prospect is of long-term unemployment. That is demoralising for them, leads them more quickly towards bad health and involves more costs for the NHS than would otherwise have been the case. Incidentally, when talking about long-term unemployment, I should like to say how concerned I am about the Government's proposal in that regard. I refer to the proposal that, in future, unemployment pay will cease as of right after six months and, thereafter, people will be dependent upon income support, with all that that means if there is a partner who is earning.

Much more could be done to utilise the skills and experience of older people. The section of the report on health clearly shows that those who enjoy good health in the older age groups are those who have retained the ability to participate fully in society, often by means of paid employment but also through voluntary or charitable work of the kind to which my noble friend Lord Murray referred.

There is a set of recommendations for government. It is interesting that, while reference is made to the legislative approach involved in, say, Lady Phillips' Bill, the report favours a voluntary approach—at least in the beginning. One option suggested is that the Government should adopt a policy of eliminating wage discrimination except where specifically justified and that that should be backed up by a code of practice. It is suggested that when that occurs it should be monitored and that legislation should only follow if the voluntary approach does not work. That seems to me to be a sensible approach. I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about that particular recommendation.

Secondly, I turn to the whole question of pension provision, so ably dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. I almost referred to him as my noble friend, and I would really mean that—the noble Lord was chairman of the Occupational Pensions Board when I was a new recruit to that body. I am glad that the signals from government recently appear to indicate that they do not intend—at least, for the time being—to touch the basic state pension. That pension forms the largest part of the income of about two-thirds of current pensioners—although this may change as people increasingly retire on occupational pensions—which covers about 11 million people at the present time. Nevertheless, many occupational pensions are based on the assumption that everyone will have a first-tier state pension.

Although there does not appear at present to be any thought of eroding that, I should like to point out, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, already has, that it means a great deal less in relation to wages than it once did. The commitment to increase it in line with the RPI rather than the wages index, which was the original intention, means that pensioners become progressively worse off in relation to the working population. Of course the Government have been committed to the promotion of individual personal pensions. I have always agreed that there is a place for such provision but, for the bulk of the working population, I believed that they were likely to prove a disastrous mistake. People are almost always better served by remaining in their firm's occupational pension scheme. Many are much better served by remaining in SERPS, the State-Earnings Related Pension Scheme. Indeed for poorer people—those on low wages or in casual employment—public provision was always going to be the only real solution because such people are simply not a commercial proposition so far as the private insurance industry is concerned.

It now transpires that people who have been persuaded out of good occupational pension schemes and into private personal pensions are beginning to realise that they have been wrongly advised and have made serious mistakes. I am glad that the Securities and Investment Board has announced that it is undertaking an investigation and is proposing compensation for those who have lost out as a result of pressurised, wrong advice. Of course it is easy to blame the insurance salesmen but salesmen are often put under enormous pressure to sell. Targets are set for them and in some cases they are aware that unless these targets are reached they will be out of a job and will have to join the dole queues, as there is now as much unemployment in the finance sector as everywhere else.

I do not even blame the companies. They are, after all, operating in a highly competitive market and are themselves competitive beasts in the entrepreneurial jungle. No: I blame the Government. They offered national insurance rebates to try to get people out of SERPS and into the private market. They were quite willing to allow good occupational schemes to be undermined in order to promote private personal pensions. As a result millions of people have been sold financial products which are not in their best interests.

I still believe in SERPS: I regret that the Government saw fit to undermine it, although I welcome the extension of the home responsibility allowance to SERPS, as that will help a great many women. However, the fact remains that, whether pension provision is made by the public or the private sector, the economy as a whole has to pay for it. Of course the Government are right to look to the future when there will be increasing numbers of elderly people needing support, but they are making a mistake if they think that this social obligation can be effectively borne by the private sector.

The concept of the original pensions legislation of the mid-seventies was good; namely, the idea of a partnership between the state and good occupational pension provision. That was a good idea but there will be people—and their numbers seem to be increasing—who are in low-paid employment and who move from one employer to another, for whom there is no occupational pension provision and who simply cannot be effectively catered for by private personal pensions. I therefore fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, had to say about this. I wonder whether those in Government who were responsible for this disaster can sleep peacefully at night in view of what they have done to what was essentially a good pension structure which provided for poorer people. It has been undermined.

Thirdly, I wish to touch on that section of the report dealing with education, training and learning. The report argues that we need to take a completely fresh look at the way in which people of all ages are educated and trained. We can no longer look at these processes as stages we go through at the beginning of life: the business of learning has to be lifelong. The report urges that we should set in place systems of lifelong education and training which would mark us out as an advanced economy. All this will of course need a government initiative and appropriate funding. But the UK has taken innovative steps before. I think that one of the enduring monuments to the administration of my noble friend Lord Wilson was the Open University, which enabled large numbers of people, including many older people, who had missed out on education earlier in life to secure qualifications. If we are to give people in the older age groups the opportunity of self-fulfilling activity later in life, a positive approach must be made to ensure that the facilities are available.

Employers, too, should develop positive policies towards older workers and should put age onto the equal opportunities agenda as well as race and gender. I am glad to say that the report also acknowledges the contributions that unions can make in this as in other areas. The unions have a good track record as regards co-operation in training and employment schemes.

I have chosen to concentrate on those aspects of the report with which I am most concerned personally, but it has an enormous amount of material in it covering other aspects of third age living. There is a section on health, which, as I have already indicated, reaches the not surprising conclusion, among others, that the active and involved stay healthier longer. Activity is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, has said. It is important in keeping people involved and healthy.

There is a section on citizenship which draws attention, rightly, to the often negative images of the elderly with which we are faced in the media. That applies to people in the older age groups and not just to the elderly. Also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has indicated, there is—and this is important—a section on caring. Many people —I believe they are mostly women—find themselves, in their 50s and 60s, caring for older relatives. There are many other aspects of life for people in the third age, including leisure, travel, the effect of crime and other matters which are dealt with in this excellent report. I hope the Government will give it serious study and that its many recommendations will perhaps be enacted in some form or even be reflected in some kind of legislation.

8.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for drawing your Lordships' attention to the importance of the Carnegie Inquiry into the Third Age. The final report of the inquiry—Life, Work and Livelihood in the Third Age—is a detailed and wide-ranging document. There are now 14 million people in the UK between the ages of 50 and 75 who can regard themselves as "third agers". They are an enormously important section of our society. No one should underestimate the contribution those in the third age make to society and to our national wellbeing. But, as the report identifies, they also have particular needs and concerns. Fundamental is the need for financial security. And the need for financial security in retirement becomes ever more important as people live longer and continue to want to play an active part in society. The inquiry is now being followed up by the Carnegie Trust through the Carnegie Third Age Programme. Its aim will be to take forward the recommendations of the report over the course of the next three years.

The Government welcome the debate the Third Age Programme seeks to promote. How to enable "third agers" to maintain and prolong a healthy, active life and to contribute to society are important issues. But action to change attitudes, to improve educational and job opportunities, to improve financial security is not the role of government alone. As the report acknowledges, employers, trades unions, local authorities, voluntary organisations, providers of health and education each have a contribution to make.

I would like to comment on a number of issues raised in the report. I shall turn first to pension provision. The Third Age Programme wishes to promote a debate on pension provision. I endorse this proposal. It is precisely the sort of open public debate that we want to encourage. The Government's policy is clear. We want to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their post-retirement income, with a choice between different means of doing so and with sufficient knowledge and understanding to plan and choose sensibly. We want people to have confidence in the framework and institutions within which pensions are provided. We want to expand and consolidate the partnership between state and private provision. And we want to see a thriving pensions industry which is strong, diverse, and internationally competitive.

The Government have made considerable progress towards these objectives. The scope for individuals to take control of their own pension arrangements was enormously increased by the 1986 Social Security Act. The consequences for pensioners' living standards are clearly apparent. More people are retiring with occupational pension rights. Some 69 per cent. of recently retired pensioners have an occupational pension, and those rights are becoming more valuable.

However, it has always been of the utmost importance that pension rights should be secure. The report rightly emphasises that. Your Lordships will not need reminding of the death of Robert Maxwell and the consequent collapse of his business empire and the pension schemes linked to it. Enormous difficulties resulted for those directly affected, difficulties which led to rapid and significant help from the Government. The problems faced by the Maxwell pensioners led to questions being asked much more widely about the adequacy of the governance of pension schemes and the regulatory framework within which they operate.

The Government were determined to restore confidence in the security of pension schemes. In June last year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security set up the Pension Law Review Committee under Professor Goode to look at all of these questions. The group was given very broad terms of reference to allow it to explore the issues thoroughly. The committee presented its report at the end of September and the report was immediately published.

In a Statement in another place on 3rd November my right honourable friend the Secretary of State expressed his gratitude to Professor Goode and the committee and described the report as important work in the development of pension law well into the next century and beyond.

The Goode Report is an immensely thorough and comprehensive piece of work. It demands full and thorough consideration, and that is exactly what the Government intend it to receive. To help in that process my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has arranged for the publication of a series of discussion papers on the issues raised by the Goode Committee. The first five papers in the series have now been issued. Their purpose is to identify the issues on which we need advice and help from the pensions industry and others, including and especially those who represent the interests of scheme members themselves. We have made those papers available to the Third Age Programme Committee.

As the pension system changes, so does people's need for information. Individuals' choices must be based on a sound understanding of the options open to them. Consumers must have the facts they need in order to make informed choices. There is clearly still a long way to go. Research findings published as part of the Goode Report showed a general reluctance to think of pensions and widespread ignorance about details of occupational pension schemes. The Government are eager to pursue ways of ensuring that individuals are given relevant advice in a form which they understand.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, asked me about the SIB review of pension transfers. The Government are satisfied that the programme of action announced by the Securities and Investments Board is an appropriate way of tackling anxieties raised by evidence of poor compliance with rules on selling personal pensions. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has made it clear to the SIB that concerns about compliance must be fully and properly investigated to determine the extent of any problems. The extent of poor advice is not yet clear. Nor is it clear whether any investors have been disadvantaged. The SIB's initiative will help establish to what extent remedial action is called for. Once the SIB has completed its investigation, we expect the regulators, together with the life insurance industry, to deliver prompt and effective remedies in cases where investor protection has been inadequate and to define standards for future personal pension sales.

The evidence of poor compliance with rules on selling practice is confined to cases where investors have transferred from or opted out of an occupational pension scheme. In due course the SIB will undertake further work on the sale of personal pensions to people contracting out of the state earnings related pension scheme, although the chairman of the SIB has made it clear that he has no evidence of systematic compliance problems in that area. Current personal pension investors need not take precipitate action. If individuals have any questions about their personal pensions they should get in touch with the pension provider. The Government expect remedies to be put in place for all investors who have been disadvantaged as a result of poor advice.

Personal pensions remain an excellent way of saving for an income in retirement, offering flexibility and choice to those who take them out in the appropriate circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, implied that low interest rates mean that pensioners' savings will diminish and they will receive less income. It is important to remember that the lower rates of interest in recent years have been accompanied by much lower rates of inflation. Returns on savings have remained higher than inflation, thus protecting pensioners' capital and the real value of their income, unlike, for example, between 1974 and 1979, when high inflation all but wiped out many pensioners' savings. My right honourable friend the Chancellor also introduced a new savings bond for older people in his recent Budget Statement.

Although I have spoken of how we want to encourage people to make their own provision for retirement, I must make it clear that we are committed to the retention of the basic state pension as the foundation stone of financial provision for retirement. We are pledged to maintain the value of the basic pension, as we have since 1979. Basic pensions have risen in real terms since then. We shall continue to focus additional resources on the safety net of income-related benefits to help the less well off pensioners and those without other income.

The Carnegie Report rightly draws attention to poverty in old age. However, we have a good record. Since 1988 we have provided extra help above the normal upratings to pensioners on income-related benefits amounting to around £1 billion a year. Of course we announced a widely welcomed and significant increase in the basic state pension to help all pensioners with the extra cost of VAT on fuel.

I should say something about the state pension age. The Government have made a clear commitment to end the present inequality in state pension age, and we have recently published a White Paper, Equality in State Pension Age, which announces our decision to equalise the state pension age at 65, the change to start in the year 2010 and to be fully in place by 2020.

We believe that 65 is the right choice. It recognises women's changed role in the workplace. Women now represent 50 per cent. of the labour force and unequal treatment has been outlawed at work. People are living longer, healthier lives, drawing their pensions for four years longer on average than they did in Beveridge's time. That means an increasing proportion of elderly people to be supported by the working population of the day. With pensions spending set to double in the next century, it is essential to take measures now which will make the balance of support easier to sustain.

We also plan other changes which will significantly improve the retirement incomes of many people—mainly women—with family and caring responsibilities and people with disabilities. In particular, we have confirmed our intention to extend home responsibilities protection to the state earnings-related pension. That will significantly improve many women's retirement incomes. I am sure that that change will be welcomed.

I should now turn to the three other important issues referred to in the report: education, employment and health provision in the third age. There is much to welcome in the report and we agree that age should be no barrier to learning. One of the most important messages is that, if people are to be flexible in their approach to work and life, they need a solid foundation of basic skills on which to build. Literacy and numeracy are important, yet some 5.5 million adults have problems with those basic skills. The Government have now included basic skills courses within the responsibilities of the new Further Education Funding Council.

I also welcome the reference in the report to the importance of distance learning opportunities for those in their third age. We need flexible approaches to learning, particularly for adults who were not able to take full advantage of the schools system and for whom the prospect of returning to any kind of formal education may be far from attractive. The Government have urged the Further Education Funding Council to encourage distance learning. Our spending plans for the new further education sector imply an increase in the number of students, including older students, of 25 per cent. by the year 1995–96.

If the resource represented by people in their third age is to be fully utilised it is necessary to consider the issues relating to employment. I should make it clear that those issues include: for society, an economy that generates real jobs and provides an adequate level of support for those unable to provide for themselves; for all employers, in the face of increasing competition, the need to follow the lead of the best and abandon age discrimination; and, for individuals, the freedom, ability and responsibility to compete for work on merit, regardless of their age.

Older people have a wealth of skills and experience to offer. But all too many employers continue to discriminate simply on age grounds by setting age bars in recruitment and refusing to promote or train older workers. Whether conscious or unconscious, such discrimination makes no economic sense. I am sure your Lordships will agree that overcoming age discrimination in employment is clearly one of the key issues that we must address. There is widespread evidence that employment discrimination occurs. We recognise that it is wasteful for the economy as well as harmful to the individuals.

The Government have set up an Advisory Group on Older Workers chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Employment Department. Its 11 members bring expertise from employers, the recruitment industry, personnel management, race relations, trade unions, and organisations campaigning for older people. With the help of that group, we are determined to persuade employers that it is in their own best interests to abandon age discrimination now. We expect that the group will receive regular reports on what TECs, LECs and the Employment Service are providing for older workers.

We recently launched a continuing campaign which offers five practical steps employers can take to select, develop, promote and retrain people on merit, regardless of age. Through the advisory group, the Employment Department plans to produce guidance for employers, building on the five steps, giving practical advice on what to do and setting out the benefits to them of doing so.

Unemployment, especially if coupled with age discrimination, can be a source of real frustration. Those who want to work are entitled to the best help possible. Already the full range of back to work help is open to all those looking for work. That includes access to vacancies, job search, job-winning skills, and vocational training. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, that from April that help will be available up to the age of 63. That is offered through over 1,000 Employment Service Jobcentres and 82 training and enterprise councils up and down the country. Through the promotion of Investors in People we are persuading employers that to be successful they must develop their staff, regardless of age.

Turning to health matters, the Government's aim is to reduce avoidable illness and disability in later life by positive programmes of health education and sickness prevention. In the words of the World Health Organisation, we want not only to "add years to life", but to "add life to years".

Much work is being done to examine the health of older people in great detail, to inform our future public health strategies for later life. The White Paper Health of the Nation, published last year, took for the first time a long-term view of avoidable illness. Key areas of cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, accidents and mental illness are all particularly relevant to older people. The paper has also identified the health of older people as a key area for future development and research.

Work on this has already begun. We are determined to keep the health of older people at the top of the policy agenda. We aim to increase for people after the age of 65 the years of life that are free from disease and disability. We have commissioned an important piece of research to enable us to identify more accurately the major risk factors.

Among initiatives which the Government are supporting in this area is a three-year programme by Age Concern. The overall aim is to give older people access to information, advice and support which will enable them to make choices about enjoying a healthier lifestyle and increased years free from disability.

The report stresses how important it is that carers receive practical help and support services to lighten the burden of caring. Carers are at the very heart of our community care reforms, and one of the key aims of those reforms is to promote the development of support services for carers and improved respite care. Local authorities and health authorities are expected to provide an appropriate range of support services for carers. The £565 million which will be made available in 1993–94 to local authorities as a ring-fenced special transitional grant for their new community care responsibilities will enable them to provide more support to carers. For 1994–95, the special transitional grant will be £736 million. In addition, the reforms give local authorities an increased incentive to provide adequate support for carers, as a means of ensuring that people can be cared for in the community rather than in residential care or in nursing homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, asked me about the need to help carers who are in employment. We are keenly aware of how valuable it is to a large number of carers to be able to obtain or keep a paid job, both from the financial point of view and because it gives them an interest outside their caring responsibilities. Recently we have been looking at ways of helping carers who are in employment. The additional day services which the community care reforms seek to develop will clearly help. In addition, in March this year the Department of Health held a seminar attended by carers and employers to discuss ways in which employers can help their staff who are carers to overcome the problems they face in combining regular employment with caring responsibilities. A report of the seminar has been published and distributed widely. The Department of Health has also provided funding towards the cost of a further series of seminars on the subject being held by the carers national association and the Industrial Society. The objective of those initiatives is to spread good practice among employers, which helps carers on their staff.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made a number of points about caring. I have taken careful note of them. It is important to say that the community care reforms should ensure that services are more sensitive and responsive to users' and carers' needs. First, an assessment is conducted involving social care professionals and, if appropriate, health workers and other professionals. From that, an integrated package of care should be designed. The user and the carer should be involved in the assessment. The local authority should then commission services, using the private sector where appropriate. The contract made should ensure the quality of the services provided. Those reforms are quite new. They will take some time to settle down.

It is significant that the debate should take place this year, which is the European Year of Older People and Solidarity between Generations. Throughout the year both my department and the Department of Health have been working closely with our opposite numbers in other member states, with non-governmental agencies and with the Commission to promote the exchange of experience and good practice on issues which affect older people.

It has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I am conscious that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House speaking in the debate who is a second ager (if I may use that term). I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that the age differentials are somewhat arbitrary. However, all ages play an important part. Indeed all ages play an important part in your Lordships' House. I remember taking my seat in your Lordships' House in my first age. I became a Minister in my second age. I have eight years to go to my third age. Since becoming a Minister, I have spent many hours debating with the fourth age. I am sure that the redoubtable noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will still be entertaining your Lordships in his fifth age.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, the noble Viscount is falling into precisely the trap against which we have warned him. My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby is firmly in the third age; and long may he remain there.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, having listened to and debated many times across the Chamber with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I am firmly of the opinion that the noble Lord is somewhere between the first and second age. He certainly has not reached the third age.

The report has reinforced the need to pay more attention to the needs of the huge untapped resource of older adults. We owe it to them and to ourselves to ensure that we all create the right environment in which those in the third age can continue to make a full and fulfilling contribution to our society.

8.29 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all those who have taken part in what I consider to have been an enjoyable and interesting debate. It is true that there were some criticisms, in particular of the age range. The report pointed out that there is a difficulty in giving a precise definition. We ought not to put too much importance on the figures of 50 to 74. What we were trying to say was, "Here is a valuable resource, not a demographic time-bomb, an economic problem or a burden, but a resource." It must be organised, and we have to plan for the organisation of that resource. That came through too as a general opinion across the Chamber, and it is always good to receive cross-Chamber support and agreement on issues as important as this one.

I wish to thank the Minister for his winding up speech, especially the parts with which I agreed. I shall say no more about the other parts until we come to the next debate on the implementation proposals that come from the third age programme. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.