HL Deb 05 July 2004 vol 663 cc510-2

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Greengross

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will publish the draft regulations on age discrimination in employment and vocational training following the Equality and Diversity: Age Matters consultation paper, published in July 2003.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government are currently reviewing the timetable for future consultation on the legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of age in employment and vocational training. We are doing so in light of our clear commitment to give those with rights and responsibilities as much time as possible to prepare for the new legislation coming into force. We remain on course for the legislation coming into force on 1 October 2006. We shall announce the new timetable as soon as possible.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. We all wait with bated breath for the Government's view; the sooner we hear that, the better. However, I urge the noble Lord to be brave and opt for no mandatory retirement age, even though I fully understand the difficulties many employers face, or will face.

Does the noble Lord agree with this week's Economist that "culling by age" is a reflection of "lazy management", and that we will have to tackle this difficult issue sooner or later? Is he aware of how important it is to get across to the media, as well as employers and employees, the fact that retirement age is not the same as pension age?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Baroness is a powerful advocate in this cause. She will recognise that the Government are also concerned to emphasise that there is no relationship between retirement age and when the state pension is paid.

On the broader issue, the noble Baroness, who has many friends in government, will also know that there is much to be debated in the country as a whole. The long-term issues are quite clear, but she will appreciate that the short-term costs are frequently borne by business. That is why we need to engage in full consultation on these issues.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, why are the Government proposing to express this matter not in the form of primary legislation, which can be amended, but in regulations, which cannot, given the scale and latitude of discretion which the directive affords us in this country?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we are intending to conduct the fullest possible consultation on the nature of the legislation, bearing in mind the important point that we need to get the legislation right. That is why we have been engaged in consultation during the past year on the Age Matters framework. We shall of course not be introducing any legislation until October 2006. By that time, we expect to get the legislation right.

Lord Peston

My Lords, is the Minister aware that your Lordships' Economic Affairs Committee studied this subject at enormous length and published a major report on it? Perhaps he is not aware of it because it has been six months since the report appeared and we have not yet found a minute in which to debate it. None the less, in that report, we showed the enormous scale of ageism and age discrimination in employment in this country. We showed in particular that among the worst offenders was the public sector itself. We do not need legislation for the public sector to put its house in order and stop discriminating against the employment, the education and the training of older people."Older" these days seems to mean over 40, which, in this House, would mean that we would all be finished long ago.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, my noble friend is another powerful voice in the cause as is the committee which he chairs. He will recognise that while our consultation is going on—the public bodies too are playing their part in it—we will be bearing in mind how the argument is developing. I assure him that we are on course to meet our requirements under the directive. Lest noble Lords think that the Government look unduly tardy on this issue, I emphasise how difficult the issues are and that, as my noble friend knows, all other countries in the European Union, with very few exceptions, are very wary about the decisions that they intend to take, because they are of profound significance to our societies.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a perception that while the DTI may be, in his words, "unduly tardy", the DWP is not? Older people who are seeking to extend their working life may ultimately find themselves caught between the two. Does the Minister agree that there is a greater need to change the attitudes of employers than those of older people who want to work?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, on complex and difficult issues such as this, it is not entirely surprising that different government departments start out from different positions and those need to be reconciled in government policy and future legislation. The noble Baroness is quite right. In my original Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, I was seeking to emphasise that there are key issues with regard to the attitudes of employers in this country to age discrimination and that it is not an easy issue for us to resolve. Nevertheless, we recognise the developing strength of opinion that ageism, like any other form of arbitrary discrimination, is not acceptable in our society.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that a major problem for older workers who seek new employment is the existence of company pension schemes which mitigate against late entry? Would the regulations prohibit the treating of such pensions as a valid reason for not employing older workers?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is a very important dimension. That is why the Government have been concerned to increase the flexibility of pensions. We all recognise that it is a severe barrier to people changing jobs if enormous costs are to be borne in terms of their pension entitlements. That is one of the many factors which make this issue very difficult for us to resolve and why it is important that we should get the matter right.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords—

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, we are on 15 minutes.