HL Deb 13 July 2000 vol 615 cc365-7

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will raise the compulsory retirement age of the legal secretary to the Law Officers and other senior officials in the Law Officers' Department from 60 to 65.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, no. The legal secretary to the Law Officers and his staff ably assist both the Solicitor General and me. Almost all staff at the Legal Secretariat are on loan from either the Crown Prosecution Service or from other areas of the government legal services. They continue their careers with their home departments after a period of secondment.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that it is an ageist anomaly to force senior officials out of his department at the age of three score years? Is my information correct that he is fast approaching that age and that all right thinking Members of this House hope that he will continue in his present office for many shining and mature years to come?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the age of the Law Officers is subject to the Freedom of Information Bill and therefore cannot be disclosed in any circumstance.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, now that people are living considerably longer and that many people in their 60s and 70s enjoy improved health, should not people be encouraged to work longer and should not the Government set an example? Is there reason to believe that a significant number of officials in the Law Officers' Department or in any other government department will be incapable of doing their job by the time they are 65? Is it not a case in which the Government should take a lead?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that when the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, speaks of government servants working to more advanced years he has in mind the Lord Chancellor and myself. I am happy to tell your Lordships that we both intend to go on and on and on.

There is the opportunity for officials in the Law Officers' Department to stay on until age 63 if the head of department agrees, therefore there is a degree of flexibility. But as my noble friend Lady Scotland said on an earlier occasion, post-60 there are many opportunities.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, does not experience teach us that no one is indispensable, whatever views we may have about our own claims? Furthermore, is it not the case that the government legal service provides ladders of promotion which enable people to move up and across departmental boundaries? Would it not be a bad thing if a blockage were to be imposed, such as that proposed in the Question, on the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers, who are responsible for the government legal service?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right. The quality of achievement and capacity in the government legal service is remarkable and remarkably unsung. I can give two illustrations. A former legal secretary, whom he knows well, Juliet Wheldon, has now been appointed the first woman Treasury solicitor, and the present legal secretary to the Law Officers has been promoted to be the senior legal officer in the Home Office. That amply demonstrates the value and validity of the points which the noble and learned Lord made.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who, unfortunately, is now 64. Would the noble and learned Lord agree that the legal secretary to the Law Officers should be judged on his or her individual merits regardless of age in the same way as he or she is judged regardless of colour, gender or ethnic origin? What is the justification for fixing such a low arbitrary age limit?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it may be regarded in some quarters as being low but it is not arbitrary. It is the common age across the whole Civil Service, subject to the extension. Increasingly in private industry, that is the kind of age at which people retire if they have not earlier demonstrated proved incompetence and been able to leave with a vast golden pay off.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as someone approaching 50. If I may be allowed to speak of those of my generation, would not the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General agree that it is important that there is not a blockage in the system by those of an older age getting in the way of appropriate and proper promotion for those of my generation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I wish that the noble Lord had not fixed me with quite such a beady eye when he described me as a "blockage". However, I am sure that the noble Lord is rapidly approaching that time of life which would entitle him to paid government employment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in considering this and further matters concerning age, will the noble and learned Lord bear in mind that people are now living longer, that they mature at different ages, and also that some people retain their full ability and their intelligence far beyond the age of 60?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, having been present for the whole 28 days of the House of Lords reform debates, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord that people mature in different ways.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, are we not approaching the time when age should be totally irrelevant, with competence and ability the only criteria by which people should be judged, so that competence testing rather than age limits should be imposed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, that is an interesting argument, to coin a phrase, but there must come a time when we must all put down the baton of civilisation and make way for others. As I said earlier, there are plenty of other things to do post-full-time employment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General aware of the framework directive which is about to come before the social affairs council of the European Union and which proposes to outlaw discrimination on a number of grounds, one of which is age?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I was aware of it and I am bound to say that not every emanation from Europe necessarily is perfect.

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