HL Deb 16 June 2003 vol 649 cc518-21

2.41 p.m.

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultation they plan to undertake regarding the implementation of the European Union directive on age discrimination.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the Government are committed to introducing legislation under the European employment directive outlawing age discrimination in employment and vocational training by December 2006. The Government have already sought views on a number of general age issues in the consultation document, Towards Equality and Diversity, and we aim to publish a further consultation document on specific proposals before the summer recess.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that reply, perhaps I may say that 2006 is not that far off either for Parliament or for business. Will we not need to see the proposed legislation by next year's Session, covering 2004–05, if employers are to be given a reasonable length of time to prepare? Can the Minister confirm that the practical impact of the directive will be that compulsory retirement ages are to be abolished?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the timetable we are following means that we shall consult this summer on specific proposals. A final consultation on the draft regulations will take place in 2004, and we intend to have the legislation in place, but not in force, by the end of 2004 so that people will have plenty of time to prepare before the 2006 implementation date. It is important that sufficient time is made available for those who need to make preparations.

One of the issues we shall look at is that of the upper age limit on unfair dismissal, but there is no point in consulting on it if one has already decided on what action to take.

Lord Sheldon

My Lords, my noble friend's answer to that question is very important indeed. Will the proposals he has suggested deal with the upper age limit for vital services in health such as bypass operations, kidney dialysis, breast cancer screening and so forth? Will it also deal with the special cost ceiling for expenditure on social care for the elderly? These are important matters and I hope that he will be able to respond positively to them.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the directive deals simply with issues of employment and training and therefore the matters raised by my noble friend would not be covered. However, I shall check on it and. if I am wrong, I shall let him know.

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, that is all very well, but in order for people to be employed near and beyond pension age, employers need access to insurance while potential employees need access to education and transport. Those I regard as just as important as a maximum or minimum age or goods and services. Will the forthcoming White Paper on the single equal treatment commission cover these very important subjects?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as I said, these are simply regulations relating to the European directive. They will cover those matters and not other issues, which are of course important, but separate.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister accept that he did not answer a fundamental question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross: will the envisaged legislation include the commitment to abolish the compulsory retirement age? Does he recollect a commitment to that effect made in another place by Andrew Smith on 19th March 2002? Does he also accept that I am not asking these questions because I have just had a significant birthday?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we were talking about consultation and this is one of the issues, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, on which we shall consult. We have of course the commitment referred to by the noble Lord.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, can the Minister reassure me that the sensible proposal published in the pensions Green Paper in December 2002 to provide financial incentives to delay the taking of the state pension will not be delayed pending the introduction of the directive? As well as outlawing age discrimination in employment, does the Minister agree that we need to provide greater incentives to people to work beyond the age of 65, as do your Lordships?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the state pension is exempted from the scope of the directive and we intend to take advantage of Article 6(2), which allows occupational pension schemes to set ages of admission to or entitlement to retirement benefits, as well as the use of age criteria in actuarial calculations. As regards providing incentives for people to work longer, that concerns removing discrimination. I appreciate that Members of the House have a great interest in incentives for working longer, but that is not the subject of this legislation.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I recognise that if we are to avoid age discrimination it will be necessary to adjust the existing law in respect of unfair dismissal, particularly in terms of redundancy. But is my noble friend saying that the legislation will provide that if a person is dismissed from employment at the age of 65, irrespective of any other circumstances, such a dismissal will automatically be unfair?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I think that it is the other way around. Currently there is an age limit on bringing a claim for unfair dismissal. The question we are debating is whether that limit should be removed altogether if an employer does not have a retirement age.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does the Minister believe that, if the British people had been aware in 1975 when they voted to stay in what they were assured was merely a common market, they would have voted for this kind of initiative from Brussels?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it is probable that this will be an extremely popular piece of legislation, particularly in this House. If such a vision had been before them at the time, I think it would have moved people to be even more enthusiastic.