HL Deb 27 September 2000 vol 616 cc771-3

2.49 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will increase the compulsory retirement age for senior officials in the Cabinet Office from 60 to 65.

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

My Lords, the retirement age for members of the Senior Civil Service within the Cabinet Office follows the policy laid down in the Civil Service Management Code for Senior Civil Servants, which specifies a normal retirement age of 60. In the light of the Performance and Innovation Unit report, Winning the Generation Game, the Cabinet Office will be considering, as recommended in the report, whether any change to the normal retirement age is required.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer and especially for promising to look into the question of forcing people out of work at the age of 60 simply because they have reached that age. Does he accept that to do so, whether in the Cabinet Office or anywhere else, is a form of totally unacceptable ageism? Does he not recognise that in this House the vast majority of people have learned from their own experience that it is only after the age of 60 that one acquires full skill, experience and knowledge?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not sure about the second point; everyone is able to judge that for themselves. As regards the first point, the PIU report, Winning the Generation Game, makes clear that people retiring at the age of 60 results in a large section of employers losing what may be a beneficial period of work. The report prescribes that the Civil Service should consider whether the normal retirement age could be increased to 65 where that is not already the case. That matter is now being examined.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the Minister consider going a stage further? Will he accept that the whole concept of compulsory retirement at a time when we are all living longer and finishing our education later may not make a great deal of sense? Will he consider the experience of the United States in this respect? Given the difficulties of financing adequate increases in the state pension for ordinary people, does he recognise that different conditions as well as different levels of pension are the source of an innate sense of injustice?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the noble Baroness's first point about whether the concept of a normal retirement age is now appropriate is important. However, the normal retirement age has two aspects. First, it affects pensions and the funding of pensions, which is an important and difficult issue; secondly, people who join organisations must believe that there will be scope for them to progress within those organisations. That is a difficult balance to bear in mind. As I said, the noble Baroness makes an important point. There is much to be learned from the experience of the United States in this regard.

Lord Renton

My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord witnessed that many people of 60 still have a lot to learn? It is a terrible waste of talent within the Civil Service if people are made to go at 60 merely to transfer their abilities to business while they are still much needed by the state.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is often the case that people of all ages, even, from time to time, those over 60, have much to learn. However, I agree with the essential point that the noble Lord makes; namely, that, particularly within the Civil Service, much talent may well be lost if people retire at the normal age. The private sector may be the beneficiary of what the whole nation could benefit from if someone stayed in the Civil Service.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I encourage my noble and learned friend on the course of virtue which he is now beginning to pursue. I urge him and his colleagues to proceed as rapidly as possible. We comprise an ageing population which retains a good deal of its health longer into old age. For the Government to insist on retiring people compulsorily at the age of 60—people often of great ability and experience—is an absurdity. If it is not ageism, it is still absurd.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is important that we learn the lesson implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Shore, says. A timetable has been set for the process on which we have embarked within the Civil Service. Each department must report back by 30th September of next year with a view to implementing what is in effect an increase in the normal retirement age to 65 by 2005.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that this Question comes 13 years too late for one retired senior official of the Cabinet Office? Is he also aware—if he is not, I hope that he will in due course become so—that life does not stop at 60 and those who retire from the public service at 60 are still able to deploy their talents and energies not merely in the private sector but also in public service of many and various kinds? I refer to membership of departmental committees, conducting special reviews and many other different activities, including, for a fortunate few, membership of this House. Finally, when the noble and learned Lord considers raising the final retirement age, will he also consider the possibility of a more flexible retirement age so that officials can retire without feeling that that is discreditable at any time between 55 and 65 if the public service needs allow and encourage that? I believe that that could be of great benefit to the public service.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am well aware that as regards this House and other organisations what is now proposed by the Government has come much too late for too many people. I also take the point that people can contribute to other sectors than the private sector once they have retired from the public sector. I hope that the department will consider flexibility when it conducts the review that the PIU report calls for.