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Age Discrimination

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

4. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure the enforcement of anti-age discrimination measures in Scotland. (92538)

This is an important and enlightened measure, which came into effect earlier this month, and whose enforcement will be, as in other strands of discrimination legislation, mainly through employment tribunals and sheriff courts.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, but does he share my disappointment that some sections of the business community have used the opportunity of the introduction of this legislation to complain about burdens on business? Does he agree that they would do far better to welcome this legislation as a real opportunity to ensure that all sections of the community get a fair deal?

I am in sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point. I think that any modern business would want to be able to recruit and retain staff on the basis of competence and skills, rather than their age. This is a classic example of the sort of measure that will undoubtedly benefit the United Kingdom’s businesses in the long term. There is no contradiction between running a business efficiently and running a business fairly.

I very much welcome the legislation. However, an estimated 56,000 Scots between the ages of 16 and 21 earn less than their older colleagues, solely on the basis of their age. Does the Secretary of State agree that such age discrimination is probably illegal and certainly unacceptable, and that it is time for the lower minimum wage rates for younger workers to go?

Mr. Speaker, forgive my concern for the crocodile tears expressed about youth unemployment and the minimum wage. We considered the matter very carefully in government after 1997. Of course, the Conservative party then claimed that 1 million jobs would be lost as a consequence of what they judged would be a dangerous and reckless policy. In fact, the only people who ended up losing their jobs because of the manner in which we introduced the minimum wages were the Conservative MPs who opposed it. The serious point behind the measures that we took and the fact that we introduced a different rate for young workers was our profound concern to avoid significant youth unemployment, which is still too common in continental Europe. The virtual eradication of long-term youth unemployment has been one of the Government’s most significant achievements. I believe that our measured and sensible approach to the introduction of the minimum wage has played a significant role in that success.

The Opposition fully support the new regulations. However, does the Secretary of State acknowledge that there has been a failure to convey to businesses, particularly small businesses in Scotland, the detail of the regulations? What proposals does he have to remedy that?

I do not accept that suggestion. The Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which will come into force next year, will of course have a key role in education about and promotion of the regulation, but in the meantime sources of information are available to both small and large businesses to make sure that there is effective implementation of the regulation henceforth.