HL Deb 22 November 2000 vol 619 cc807-10

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take action to remove rules within the Civil Service which discriminate on grounds of age, and in particular the requirement to retire at the age of 60.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, it is government policy that there should be no unfair discrimination in the Civil Service on the basis of age. Best practice to remove any discrimination on the grounds of age in recruitment, training and promotion is contained in my department's guidance to departments and agencies on age diversity.

Departments and agencies are free to set the normal retirement age for their own staff outside the senior Civil Service. This can be above 60. In the light of the Winning the Generation Game report by the Performance and Innovation Unit, the Cabinet Office is currently considering with departments and agencies changes in their policy on normal retirement age, as recommended in the report, and will consider the implications of extending any changes to the senior ranks of the Civil Service.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer, particularly for the first signs of change in the Civil Service. Surely, it is by definition a form of unfair discrimination to force people into retirement at the age of 60 and the Civil Service above all should not engage in it. I can see no reason why any government department should be permitted to impose a form of institutionalised ageism of the worst kind.

Will my noble friend accept that, if it applied to people in this House, whether for their work here or elsewhere, many of us, including my noble friend Lord Winston, would be driven out of work at just the age when we are becoming mature and ready to serve society at our best?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know when my noble friend Lord Winston will be driven out of work but I agree that in many cases the age of 60 is the wrong age to require people to retire. The effect of the report of the Performance and Innovation Unit, Winning the Generation Game, was that all government departments are required to see whether they can extend the retirement age. They are in the process of doing so and by 30th September 2001 they must come back to the Cabinet Office with a case for not extending it to the age of 65.

Lord Winston

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that I can still get to my feet? A serious issue exists because population profiles of the United Kingdom show that within the next decade, and certainly this century, approximately 1 per cent of the population will be over 100 years old. Many people in the older age group will be increasingly fit. Moreover, if the existing retirement age limit continues, less than 40 per cent of the population will be earning. Is not there a clear need to re-evaluate the use of older people in our society as working members of that society?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am pleased to see that my noble friend is still able to get to his feet! I agree entirely with what he said. Far too many people lose the opportunity both to fulfil themselves and to give to society by being forced out of work at much too young an age. We need to look fundamentally at the way in which people can be more engaged in work and make other contributions in the years after 60.

Lord Lipsey

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend agree that there is at least the consolation that many senior civil servants who retire at 60 undertake useful work after retirement, including many in this House? Will he also agree that there exists within the senior Civil Service a dilemma that unless the older ones go the younger ones will not stay because they are not paid much and the prospect of promotion is the one thing which keeps many of them on?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that many senior civil servants who retire at the age of 60 have many opportunities to work in other walks of life in both the public service and the private sector. I also agree that the retirement age must be examined in terms of encouraging younger people to begin careers in the Civil Service. However, an appropriate balance must be struck.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend add to the answer he gave to a previous question? Will he agree that the issue relates not only to career prospects but also to finding employment for youngsters who enter the job market after leaving school? If there is no retirement age somewhere along the line, will there not be higher unemployment in the younger age group?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that is the point which was made in a different form by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. A balance must be struck between, on the one hand, ensuring that people have an opportunity to fulfil themselves after age 60 but, on the other, ensuring that there are gaps enabling younger people to take jobs and to be promoted when they have them.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, will the Minister accept that as regards the Armed Forces a retirement age of 60 and above may well be wrong and that we do not want to end up with a "Dad's Army"?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I stray with diffidence into the case of the Armed Forces. I can see the problem with a "Dad's Army" but, as the noble and gallant Lord proves, many able and gallant soldiers have much to contribute after 60.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, some 30 years ago when I was—I believe—in day-to-day charge of the Civil Service I was very worried by the fact that those who reached the age of 60—for example, ambassadors who had just got to terms with the countries to which they had been appointed—had to leave the service. Is the noble and learned Lord aware that I am very glad to hear that consideration is to be given to the introduction of flexibility into the present arrangements?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's support for the proposal. The fact that the noble Earl was head of the Civil Service 30 years ago indicates how many useful years he had beyond that post.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as to flexibility, will reconsideration of this matter include the possibility of part-time employment? Does the Minister agree that a considerable number of people with careers in the Civil Service, engineering and elsewhere have much to contribute but may not want to do it as a full-time occupation? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that if it was part-time work it would not stand in the way of younger people who thrust forward?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is right that that very important point should also be considered. Obviously, a balance must be struck between the opportunities for part-time work and the creation of opportunities for people as they pursue their careers.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, does the Minister agree that another balance to be struck is between the worthy aim of individuals to have different careers, with the avoidance of logjams in the promotion of young people, and the question of pensions and the funding thereof? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that we must be extremely careful about what rabbits we allow to run here because the implications for pensions, particularly in the Civil Service, are horrendous?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the retirement age is the age for which pension funds make appropriate funding. However, pension entitlement and the extent to which a person should be allowed to continue to work may be two different matters.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that a retirement age well before 60 should be encouraged for those involved in criminal acts?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I believe that that very much depends on the criminal act.

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